JPY and Asian FX outlook

JPY is facing a double whammy of upward pressure related to both rising risk aversion and a narrowing US yield advantage over Japan. The latter influence has been significant, with 10 year US Treasury yields dropping by around 70bps since the end of last year, versus 10 year Japanese JGB yields. The net result is that the currency pair has fallen sharply over recent weeks and will remain constrained until US yields resume their ascent.

In the near term the escalation of tensions in the Ukraine will fuel increased safe haven demand for JPY potentially leading to a test of a test of technical support around USD/JPY 100.62 (11 September 13 high). However, strong demand around the 101.20-30 level suggests that it may require another leg lower for US yields to fuel a further sharp drop in USD/JPY.

Asian currencies are set to continue to show some relative resilience to events in Ukraine although a weaker bias is expected. Most currencies remain relatively insensitive to gyrations in risk appetite except KRW which registers the biggest correlation with our risk barometer.

Overall, lower US yields will help provide some support to Asian currencies and investors will continue to differentiate based on domestic factors rather than shifts in risk appetite. Additionally some relative stability in the CNY / CNH may also help to limit pressure on Asian currencies.

Australian dollar rallies, Korean won bounces back

On the currency front, the best performers so far this year have been an odd combination of JPY, NZD and AUD versus USD. JPY has benefitted from both compressed yield differentials with the US and risk aversion but its gains are likely to reverse over the coming weeks as these factors reverse.

I have been generally more constructive on AUD and NZD than the consensus and remain so. Both AUD and NZD look oversold and will gradually appreciate further, especially as both the RBA and RBNZ have now likely ended their easing cycles, with the latter set to raise policy rates by the end of this quarter. AUD/USD breached 0.90 this morning helped by a strong business confidence reading for January.

Most Asian currencies have rebounded so far this month, with some of the biggest losers over January recording gains. The KRW has been the best performer in February recording gains despite continued outflows of equity capital. Korea has recorded $1.26 billion in equity outflows so far this month, the highest among Asian countries.

In contrast bond inflows into Korea have been relatively solid over January and this continued into February, helping to provide some support to KRW despite equity outflows. Helping the KRW is the fact that is much less sensitive to US bond yields than many other Asian currencies helping it to avoid any fallout from higher US yields in February. USD/KRW is on path for a break below support around 1070.

Asian currencies under pressure

The close to 1% drop in the USD index over recent days is misleading in terms of the USD’s performance against emerging market currencies where it has registered strong gains. For example the ADXY (Asian USD index) has dropped to its lowest level since early September 2013 and looks set to decline further as Asian currencies face more pressure. The best performers in this environment are traditional safe havens, especially JPY and CHF while the EUR and Scandinavian currencies have also capitalised on the weaker USD.

The drop in the USD against many major currencies reflects the fact that positioning had reached extreme levels prior to the sharp moves at the end of last week. For instance, net long USD speculative positions (according to the CFTC IMM data) had risen to the highest level since June 2013 while in contrast EUR positioning had dropped to its lowest since July 2013. The subsequent position adjustment will have proved to be a healthy correction that will set the USD up for an eventual rebound and the EUR for a sell off.

The sharp drop in US Treasury yields will undermine the USD further in the near term, however, and the mixed slate of US data releases will offer the currency little assistance. Nonetheless, the USD is expected to stay firm against Asian currencies. Notably capital flows from Asian equity markets have increased over recent weeks, with Philippines, South Korea, and Thailand on track to register outflows for the first month of the year. Against this background it is unsurprising that both the KRW and PHP are the two worst performing Asian currencies so far this year. While I expect a reversal in both, the near term outlook is for further pressure.

Rising risk aversion

The US ADP November jobs report and October new home sales both beat expectations yesterday piling on the pressure on US Treasuries and adding further weight to support those looking for the Fed to taper at the December 17-18 FOMC meeting. Consequently non farm payrolls expectation will likely be revised higher from the current consensus of around 180k. In contrast the ISM non manufacturing index came in below consensus, with the jobs component slipping. US equities ended marginally lower while the USD held its ground. However, risk measures such as the VIX “fear gauge” moved higher. Rising risk aversion may reflect expectations of imminent tapering and some angst ahead of US budget talks.

US November payrolls data to be released tomorrow will be crucial to provide more decisive clues to the timing of Fed tapering. Attention ahead of the jobs report will turn to the European Central Bank policy decision where no action is expected although some downward revisions to staff forecasts are likely. We continue to expect a more aggressive ECB stance into 2014. The Bank of England and Norges Bank will also decide on policy rates but no change is expected in both cases. In the US an upward revision to Q3 US GDP is expected to around 3.1% QoQ annualised while jobless claims will also be in focus. Market nervousness is likely to continue today although activity is likely to be limited ahead of the US payrolls data tomorrow.

The USD should be supported due to higher US Treasury yields although USD/JPY has lost some ground in the wake of higher risk aversion. The large short JPY market position may also be limiting the JPY’s downside for now. EUR/USD is trading shy of its recent highs above 1.36 and could be vulnerable to a dovish ECB statement today as well as to growth forecast downgrades by the ECB. AUD continues to remain under pressure having traded just below 0.90 overnight in the wake of disappointing GDP data yesterday and is likely to remain vulnerable to further slippage. CAD was further undermined by a relatively dovish Bank of Canada statement following the decision overnight to leave policy rates unchanged.

Given that US Treasury yields have risen by around 33bps since the end of October it is worth looking at which currencies are most sensitive to rising yields. In Asia the most correlated currencies with 10 year US Treasury yields over the last 3 months and therefore most vulnerable currencies are the SGD, THB, and MYR. The least sensitive have been CNY, IDR and KRW. Playing long KRW / short SGD appears to be a good way of playing an environment of rising US yields, especially given that yields are set to continue to rise over the coming months.

Awaiting the Fed

Another positive day for US equities overnight reflected the ongoing gradual but steady improvement in risk sentiment. The USD also managed to shake off some of its malaise, rising against most major currencies although US Treasuries continued to flat line. Data in the US did little to change expectations for the Fed FOMC policy decision tonight; headline retail sales dropped (-0.1%) in September but core orders looked healthier (0.4%), while US consumer confidence slipped by more than expected in October (71.2) and US house prices rose (0.93%) in August.

Direction will be limited ahead of the Fed outcome where markets hope to garner some clues on the timing of the beginning of tapering. However, given that the consensus has clearly shifted to a March 2014 beginning of tapering it is difficult to see how the Fed could build on already dovish market expectations. Ahead of the Fed decision we will be able to assess further evidence on the state of the private sector jobs market, with October ADP jobs scheduled for release.

Given the risk / reward around today’s Fed meeting we remain constructive on the USD, with further albeit gradual recovery ahead. Indeed, it is encouraging that the EUR failed to hold onto gains even after ECB member Nowotny effectively gave the green light for further EUR strength when he noted that policy makers `have to live with` a strong EUR. EUR will continue to look a sell on rallies above 1.3800.

Nototny’s sanguine tone is not shared elsewhere as reflected in attempts by RBA Governor Stevens to talk down the AUD this week or by NZ’s central bank, noting that the strength of the NZD could give scope to delay interest rate hikes. GBP also seems to be failing to shake off the after effects of relative dovish comments by Bank of England MPC members over recent days. The overall winner appears to the USD especially as a lot of dovishness is already priced into the currency.

The USD is also set to take a firmer tone against Asian currencies over the short term. Asian currencies most sensitive to USD strength are SGD, MYR and PHP and these currencies will be most exposed in the short term to further downside risks. IDR also looks vulnerable given the continued outflows of equity portfolio capital from Indonesia over recent weeks (month to date outflows USD 175 million). KRW looks more stable although disappointing September industrial production data released this morning will put a firm cap on the currency.

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