Asian currencies weaken

Asian currencies are facing pressure today in the wake of a generally firmer USD tone although the fact that US Treasury yields continue to edge lower will provide some relief. There has been some good news on the flow front, with the region registering a return of equity portfolio flows so far this month to the tune of USD 1.56 bn, with all countries except Vietnam registering equity inflows. Notably however, India has registered strong outflows of equity capital this week, which could cap gains in the INR.

Weakness in the CNY and CNH has been sustained with the USD grinding higher against both. Recently weaker economic news and expectations of some form of policy measures on the FX front (perhaps band widening) soon after the end of the National People’s Congress will keep the CNY and CNH under pressure.

March’s biggest outperformer the IDR has been an underperformer overnight although its drop has been small compared to the magnitude of recent gains. Nonetheless, USD/IDR may have found a tough level to crack around 11400.

The INR is set to trade with a marginally weaker tone but further direction will come from today’s releases of January industrial production and February CPI inflation data. A move back to 61.50 for USD/INR is likely unless the data comes in strong.

The week ahead

There are plenty of events to chew on over coming days including central bank decisions in Japan tomorrow and New Zealand on Wednesday. The Bank of Japan is unlikely to ease policy further so soon after its actions to boost loan growth while in contrast the RBNZ is set to begin its hiking cycle. On the data front US releases will still be weather impacted to some extent although February retail sales is likely to post a small gain. Moreover, Michigan confidence is set to rise, boosted by higher equity prices.

In Europe, attention will focus on industrial production releases in January, with French and Spanish IP data due to be released today. Overall production is likely to have expanded at a healthy clip of 0.4% MoM in the Eurozone as indicated by survey data. Finally, Australian jobs data is set to show some improvement on Thursday as the pace of deterioration in job market conditions slows.

In Asia the reverberations from the weaker Chinese data will likely impact sentiment across the region. Exports dropped by whopping 18.1% in February while imports rose more strongly than expected at 10.1% yielding a trade deficit of USD 22.99 billion. Central bank decisions in Korea and Thailand are on tap this week. Thailand is a close call, with risks of another policy rate cut but we expect the BoT to stay on hold. Currencies in Asia strengthened last week led by the IDR and INR. Gains this week will be morel limited, especially against the background of higher US yields.

On track for a positive end to the year

A solid revision higher to US Q3 GDP at the end of last week sets up a positive tone for risk assets into year end even as they digest the imminent onset of Fed tapering. The data revealed a revision higher to a 4.1% QoQ annualised pace of growth and if anything lent credence to the Fed’s decision to begin tapering. The GDP data will be followed by a series of positive data releases in the US this week including November personal income and spending and a likely upward revision to December Michigan consumer confidence both on tap today.

Tomorrow, November durable goods orders and next week December Conference Board consumer confidence will also paint a picture of broadening improvement in economic conditions, providing further validation to Fed tapering. Against this background US yields should be well supported along with the USD. Into next year US economic outperformance will continue, leading to both higher US yields and a firmer USD.

A Japanese holiday (Emperor’s birthday) today will dampen market action although Japanese data releases over the rest of the week will highlight further progress on the economic front, with November inflation pushing higher and industrial output expanding at a healthy clip. USD/JPY retained a foot hold above 104 but the large extent of short JPY positioning highlights scope for profit taking. Even so, the rise in US Treasury yields suggest limited downside risks for USD/JPY.

There is on little on tap on the data front in the Eurozone allowing markets to digest the steps towards banking union announced last week. Consequently EUR/USD is set to remain rangebound around 1.3650-1.3750.

There may be more interest in events in China as money market conditions and confidence surveys garner interest. Tight money market conditions will weigh on regional sentiment. A likely decline in both the manufacturing and service sector purchasing managers’ indices will also act to dampen Asian currencies reinforcing the pressure already in place from a broadly stronger USD. News in Thailand that the opposition Democratic Party has decided to boycott the Feb 2 elections will add to political uncertainty and pile more pressure on the THB although the regional underperform remain the IDR.

Overall, a thinning in market conditions as both liquidity and market participants disappear for the holidays imply limited activity over coming days. The fact is that the end of the year will market a solid year for equities and a poorer year for bonds but at least the debate over Fed tapering timing has finally been put to the rest. More of the same is likely next year but notably the growth gap between developed and developing economies will narrow, which at a time of heightened competition for capital amid Fed tapering, suggests that capital flows will increasingly be steered towards developed economies.

Dear readers, this is my last post for 2013. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog posts. I wish all Econometer readers happy holidays, success, prosperity and good health in the year ahead.

Plenty of data and events before winding down

Although markets already appear to be in wind down mode ahead of the year end holidays there is plenty of data and events over coming days that could change the complexity of market activity. To begin the week news that that China’s official November purchasing managers’ index remained at an 18 month high will bode well for markets, especially in Asia.

Elsewhere it is still too early to gauge how well the four day spending over the US Thanksgiving holiday fared for US retailers although initial indications suggest that spending will be down on last year. Over coming days there will be plenty of evidence to finalise opinions about what the Federal Reserve will do at its December 17-18 FOMC meeting. US data releases this week include the November ISM manufacturing survey, home sales, Fed’s Beige, US Q3 GDP revision and the November jobs report.

Ahead of the Fed meeting other central banks will be in focus this week including the European Central Bank, the Bank of England and the Reserve Bank of Australia. No change in policy is expected from any of them leaving all the attention on the US jobs report. This ought to ensure that the asset allocation shift from bonds to equities will leave equities around record highs while core bond yields continue to edge higher.

The USD has failed to benefit versus EUR despite higher US yields but has made gains against the JPY and many commodity and EM currencies. I look for the USD to move higher over coming weeks. Overall risk appetite is likely to remain supported into year end although much will depend on the plethora of data releases and central bank meetings this week.

EUR is looking increasing stretched around current levels, especially given the likelihood that the ECB will sound relatively dovish this week, with staff growth forecasts likely to be revised lower and inflation forecasts remaining below target. The strength of the EUR is clearly acting as a counterweight to efforts to ease policy but efforts to sell the currency continue to face renewed buying interest. Technical resistance around EUR/USD 1.3627 ought to provide a short term cap.

GBP has made somewhat better progress against the EUR and there appears to be little to stop its upward progress at present. Meanwhile USD/JPY remains under upward pressure, with last week’s inflation data highlighting that there has been some progress on ending deflation although the likelihood of more Bank of Japan easing in the months ahead suggests that further JPY downside is in store.

Aside from the JPY last month’s biggest underperformers in Asia were the IDR and THB. There is little sign of this pattern changing. Indeed, in terms of Asian FX relative value in terms of North versus South East Asia continues to pay dividends. Both Indonesia and Thailand registered outflows of equity capital last month compounding the pressure on the currencies.

THB has taken another leg lower in the wake of escalating protests over the weekend and looks set to test its 6 September USD/THB high at 32.480. As noted by the BoT governor the protests are affecting the economic outlook. In Indonesia questions about the external balance remain a weight on the currency An expected widening in the October deficit and higher November inflation will not help the IDR today.

JPY, AUD and Asian FX

Risk appetite remains relatively well supported, with US and Asian equities edging higher and the VIX ‘fear gauge’ moving lower. There is a lack of first tier data releases today, with only German and UK CPI inflation data on tap as well as the US NFIB small business optimism index. Attention will instead centre on various Fed and ECB speakers for further policy clues.

Indeed, markets will look for any hints of reinforced forward guidance by ECB speakers and further insight into the timing of tapering from Fed officials. ECB speakers include Angeloni, Weidmann, Nowotny and Asmussen while Kocherlakota and Lockhart are scheduled to speak from the Fed. There will also be plenty of interest in speeches by the Fed’s Yellen and Bernanke on Thursday.

The JPY appears to be finally succumbing to the pressure of a generally firmer USD and higher US yields although the currency has yet to break out of its recent ranges and correlations suggest that the JPY has not been as sensitive as other currencies to either factor. I remain bearish on the JPY.

While the JPY has not been as sensitive as other currencies to yield lately it has still faced some pressure and will continue to do so if we are correct in our view that US yields will push even higher against Japanese JGBs. Firmer US data has helped to shift expectations of Fed tapering to around December or January. In contrast the BoJ is showing no sign of pulling back from its balance sheet expansion and in our view could even extend asset purchases next year in order to sustain its inflation around its 2% inflation target. This remains a recipe for more USD/JPY upside.

Having rallied by around 9% since its end August low AUD has been unable to hold onto gains. Fortunately for AUD the recent rise in Australian bond yields has acted to mitigate against some of the potential pressure from rising US bond yields; since the USD began its recent rally around 28 October Australia’s yield advantage has narrowed by only 3 basis points. However, the strengthening in the USD has wreaked havoc on many currencies and the AUD has not escaped.

While AUD may face headwinds from a firmer USD, Australia’s relative yield attraction will give it some scope for recovery into year end. Indeed, if yield appetite continues to strengthen in an environment of improving risk appetite and low volatility AUD should prove to be a key beneficiary. In the near term AUD/USD will find some technical support around 0.9280.

Asian currencies have gained a little respite from general USD strength but remain vulnerable to a stronger USD over the coming weeks. Deficit currencies have renewed their position as the biggest underperformers over recent weeks, with the IDR and INR under most pressure followed by MYR. The least vulnerable to USD strength and higher US yields are North East Asian currencies especially TWD and KRW.

Reflecting renewed tapering fears most Asian countries have experienced renewed equity portfolio outflows month to date. The RMB continues to buck the trend although its relative strength may reflect the timing of China’s 3rd plenum which ends today.

Asian currencies benefit from weaker US jobs data

Weaker than forecast US September jobs data, delayed in the wake of the government shutdown, spurred risk appetite overnight pushing equities higher helped further by encouraging US Q3 earnings. The employment report revealed that jobs growth slowed to 148,000 while the unemployment rate declined slightly to 7.2%.

In contrast to the reaction in risk assets, 10 year US Treasury yields dropped to around 2.5% and the USD took another hit as the data was perceived to provide more concrete evidence that the Fed will only begin to slow its asset purchases next year, with many now looking for tapering to only begin in March 2014.

Unfortunately for the USD this effectively means its attraction as a funding currency may continue for longer than previously expected. Consequently gold prices rallied benefiting from both the drop in yields and weaker USD.

Data today (Bank of England MPC minutes, Bank of Canada rate decision, terms of the European Central Bank’s Asset Quality Review) will not be as important for markets but it is clear that fundamentals are taking a bigger grip on market direction after a period of being relegated to the sidelines in the wake of US political mayhem.

Asian currencies have benefitted from the drop in the USD overnight and the potential further delay in tapering to Mach next year. The main gainers of recent weeks are those that stand most to gain from delayed tapering (ie those with external funding requirements and that are most sensitive to US Treasury yields). In this respect the IDR, MYR and INR have been the best performing Asian currencies so far this month and look best placed to benefit in the short term from the consequences of the weaker US jobs report.

Against the backdrop of delayed tapering equity capital inflows to Asia have continued their steep recovery since the beginning of September, providing another layer of support to Asian FX. India, Korea and Taiwan have been major winners in this respect, with a surge in equity flows registered to these countries. However, the INR’s ability to benefit is partly negated by continued outflows from India’s bond markets.

Fed keeps the party going

The party goes on! The Fed decided to play on the side of caution by not acquiescing to market expectations. The FOMC maintained its current USD 85 billion of asset purchases wanting to see more evidence of economic recovery before pulling the trigger. Market expectations centred on a USD 10-15 billion paring back of asset purchases. Clearly worried about a rise in market interest rates Fed Chairman Bernanke strengthened the Fed’s forward guidance by highlighting that the first rate increase may not come until the unemployment rate is “considerably below” 6.5%. A downgrade in the Fed’s economic forecasts will also have helped to justify the inaction by the FOMC.

Clearly risk assets loved what they saw, with equities and commodities rallying and US Treasury yields dropping. Gold prices in particular jumped on the news while the VIX ‘fear gauge’ dropped. The USD was a major casualty losing ground to most currencies, with notably EUR/USD spiking above 1.35 and GBP/USD to above 1.60. High beta emerging market currencies were big winners, given the positive impact of lower US yields and prospects of ongoing capital inflows. While the Fed has merely delayed tapering this will not stop markets from following through on the positive dynamic today. The positive tone will be reinforced across Asian and European markets.

The sharp drop in US Treasury yields hit the USD hard and it is likely to remain under pressure over the short term against a variety of currencies. Although the drop in US yields is likely to prove temporary it is difficult to go against the move in the near term. In order to identify which currencies will benefit the most versus USD I have looked at their sensitivity to US 10 year Treasury yields. The biggest beneficiaries will be Asian currencies given that they register the strongest correlations. The IDR, THB, MYR and INR are at the top of the list in this respect. In any case Asia was already experiencing a resumption of capital inflow as tapering expectations were being priced in and the Fed inaction will reinforce this trend.

GBP bounced following the unanimous vote for no policy shift revealed in the Sep 3-4 Bank of England MPC meeting minutes. Its gains were reinforced by Fed inaction overnight, with GBP/USD breaking through key levels above 1.60. Although the MPC’s 9-0 vote for no change was in line with expectations there was a minority looking for one of two MPC members to have voted for increased asset purchases. Citing upside risks to the growth outlook the BoE appears more confident about the UK’s economy. However, this all but makes a mockery of “forward guidance” and attempts to cap market interest rates. A further test for GBP will come from today’s August retail sales release. There are downside risks to consensus but even this may prove to a temporary stumbling block to a resurgent GBP.

The Swiss National Bank is widely expected to keep policy unchanged today and will make no changes to the CHF ceiling. The desire to keep the ceiling in place remains strong even though the economy is showing signs of recovery, deflationary pressures are receding and capital inflows from the Eurozone have diminished and in fact showing signs of reversing, albeit slowly. Reflecting this SNB reserves growth has slowed while Swiss banks’ foreign liabilities have decreased. The fact that the currency remains overvalued however, means that there is only an extremely slim chance that the ceiling will be removed over coming months. Although the SNB will likely revise upwards its growth forecasts, expect a cautious tone to emerge from the meeting. Accordingly EUR/CHF is set to remains capped around 1.2400 over the near term.

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