Sweden Riksbank preview

There is almost no disagreement about expectations for today’s Riksbank policy decision. The central bank last lowered the repo rate in December and is unlikely to alter policy settings again so soon, with the policy rate likely to be maintained at 0.75%

The SEK is unlikely to be impacted by today’s rate decision, with the currency benefitting from the recent improvement in risk appetite. However, a relatively dovish statement from the Riksbank may undermine the SEK especially as it approaches EUR/SEK support around 8.75.

Further out, we expect SEK to continue to appreciate gradually but its worth noting that gains in the currency are not comfortable for the Swedish authorities, who have called for stricter capital rules on its banks to help weaken the currency (via keeping policy rates low).

GBP resilience, SEK vulnerable

Signs of some further flexibility on both sides reveal that negotiations over the US fiscal cliff are progressing, albeit very slowly. Discussions between President Obama and House speaker Boehner yesterday appeared to go relatively well but the chances of a deal by year end remain slim. Against this background US equities posted gains while risk measures improved ignoring the weaker than expected reading for the December Empire manufacturing survey.

There is little else in terms of directional influence today, with highlights including RBA December board minutes, a vote on the Italian 2013 budget, UK inflation data and an interest rate decision in Sweden. The overall tone is likely to continue to be constructive for risk assets.

While I expect GBP to show some resilience over the coming year especially against the EUR, I look for the currency to eventually end the year weaker against the USD. The principal risk to GBP revolves around the UK economy. It seems very likely that the UK economy has contracted in the final quarter of the year. Worryingly, a weaker external environment taken together with the relative resilience of GBP has resulted in a deteriorating trade deficit, which could ultimately inflict pressure on GBP to weaken.

The fact that the UK basic balance (direct investment + portfolio flows + current account) position remains in negative territory also suggests that the underlying support for GBP is weak. Given these soft economic fundamentals it is difficult to see GBP breaking significantly higher over the coming months. Although the relationship is not perfect, my expectation that EUR/USD will drift lower over the course of 2013 will act to drag EUR/GBP lower too, with my forecast at 0.79 by end year.

EUR/SEK has probed higher over recent weeks and look to register further upside. Today’s Riksbank policy meeting will be the next focal point for SEK but with a rate cut largely priced in following recent deterioration in employment data and other signs of slowing growth, the SEK is unlikely to find any support in the near term. Sweden’s industry body and the OECD have highlighted the policy room to lower interest rates, with the OECD also noted the fiscal leeway that Sweden has should economic conditions worsen.

Officials are also targeting the exchange rate given recent comments by Sweden’s finance minister Borg about increasing foreign exchange reserves over the longer term. The implication is that the SEK will suffer as other currencies are bought against it. The weakness in the SEK is consistent with my quantitative models and a break of EUR/SEK 8.80 is looming over the short term.

JPY, SEK and GBP view

USD/JPY remains stuck within a tight range having reversed its recent break higher towards the 80.00 level, once again settling back below 79.00. Once again the main determinant of the exchange rate appears to be yield differentials and notably the JPY has had a very low sensitivity to gyrations in risk over recent months.

For JPY bears it it’s worth noting that US 2-year bond yields have began to edge higher this week, suggesting some upward pressure on USD/JPY. The speculative market remains net long JPY suggesting scope for a drop in JPY speculative appetite too, but any upside is set to be gradual, with a technical hurdle at around 79.37 likely to be tough level to break above.

EUR/SEK has edged higher over recent days following its dramatic multi month drop. Why has the currency pair turned now? One of the key factors appears to be an increased sensitivity to risk which is playing negatively now that risk aversion is rising again. Indeed my risk barometer has been moving higher since around the middle of the month, in turn dragging SEK lower.

My quantitative model estimate based on interest rate differentials, relative equity performance and risk aversion, suggests that the SEK has further to weaken especially against the EUR. Based on the results of the model I suggest playing for such a move, targeting 8.7252, with a stop loss at 8.1616.

Another currency for which I am bearish on versus EUR is GBP. Although the move higher in EUR/GBP has been a slow grind, I continue to see value in this trade. Indeed, my models show that there is still much upside potential left for EUR/GBP based on the current levels of yield differentials and risk aversion.

As for cable (GBP/USD) it appears to be stuck to the coattails of EUR/USD but I expect it to lag any move higher in EUR/USD going forward. Moreover, if as I expect EUR/USD loses momentum into next week, this will leave GBP/USD rather exposed to downside risks.

Spain moves to the epicentre

Risk appetite has continued to firm but caution prevails. Rumours overnight of a Eurozone bank rescue fund (later denied) helped sentiment, but the ECB’s rejection of plans to recapitalise Bankia in Spain via an injection of EUR 19 billion of sovereign bonds and a downgrade of Spain’s credit ratings, once again brought a dose of reality back to markets. Additionally a Xinhau news agency report that China has no plans to introduce a major stimulus package will also dampen sentiment. Against this background it is difficult to see any rally in risk being sustained.

Admittedly equity valuations look more compelling, with the price / earnings ratio on the S&P 500 below its long term average, but that does not mean that now is the time to buy stocks or risk assets in general. The USD remains the winner on the FX front and will continue to edge higher over coming days and weeks, with the currency interestingly verging on a close above its 100 month moving average.

Once again the EUR has failed to hold onto gains, with the currency making lower highs and lows, dropping below 1.2500 overnight. Even a firmer tone to equity markets and slightly better risk appetite has failed to provide any support to EUR as Greece passes the baton to Spain as the new epicentre of market attention. A new poll showing increased support for pro bailout parties in Greece has helped to alleviate Greece concerns slightly there.

Today’s data slate in Europe will come as little relief to the EUR. A further deterioration in economic confidence surveys in May will only serve to highlight the growing growth disparity between the Eurozone and US although the surprisingly large drop in May US consumer confidence was hardly encouraging. The data will leave the EUR vulnerable to further slippage and follow through below 1.2500, with a test of technical support around 1.2300 on the cards.

Like most other currencies the sensitivity of USD/SEK to risk aversion has increased over recent weeks. According to my calculations it has been one of the most highly correlated currency pairs with Risk Aversion over the past 3-months. This has been reflected in the drop in SEK against the USD which accelerated during May. However, USD/SEK has stabilised lately while EUR/SEK has dropped sharply.

A further drop to around 8.95 (trend line from beginning April) is on the cards in the near term but further SEK gains are unlikely unless risk aversion improves. On the positive side, Swedish economic data is at least perking up as reflected in the bigger than expected jump in May consumer confidence yesterday. GDP data today ought to confirm that the drop in growth in Q4 will not be sustained, which will to provide short term relief to the SEK.

SNB shakes up FX markets – Pressure now on Japan?

The action by the Swiss National Bank yesterday rippled through FX markets fuelling sharp moves across major currencies. In case you missed it the SNB introduced a currency floor in EUR/CHF at 1.20 and committed itself to buy FX in unlimited amounts. The last time the SNB did something similar was in 1978 when a ceiling was set against the Deutsche Mark. The sharp initial reaction to the news saw EUR/CHF jump by around 8.5% largely as a result of the shock from the announcement.

The SNB will not need to worry about the inflationary implications of pumping CHF into the market while it is clear that the currency is highly overvalued, supporting their cause. However, the real test will be evident over coming days and weeks in the commitment to hold the 1.20 level at a time when the situation in the eurozone periphery continues to deteriorate and demand for CHF remains strong. The risk is that the SNB may have simply set up a target for markets to attack. One other implication of the SNB’s move is that it could be a trigger for an intensification of ‘currency wars’.

The onus is now on the Japanese authorities to act more aggressively especially if safe haven flows focus increasingly on the JPY and less on the CHF given the new EUR/CHF floor. So far FX interventions have clearly not worked as was the case in Switzerland and Japan’s new Prime Minister is likely to want to prove his credentials. Japan has had a tendency to underwhelm with regard to JPY measures in the past and unless there is a major announcement today USD/JPY is likely to move lower again below 77.00.

Scandinavian currencies are also set to be beneficiaries of the SNB’s decision. EUR/SEK has come under increasing downside pressure over recent weeks even as risk aversion has intensified and it appears that safe haven flows out of Europe are now targeting Scandinavian currencies. As the CHF is now less attractive in this respect, the SEK as well as NOK will find themselves under further upside pressure over coming days and weeks. Both NOK and SEK versus EUR and USD have had insignificant correlations with risk over recent months, highlighting their appeal as anti-EUR currencies.

FX Winners and Losers

There has been a sense of mean reversion in FX markets so far this year as some of last year’s winners have become losers. Namely NZD, CHF, JPY and AUD have all lost ground whilst EUR and GBP have gained ground. The odd one out is the SEK which has strengthened over 2010 and in 2011 versus USD. I expect this pattern to change and the likely winners over the next 3- months are NZD, AUD and CAD, with CHF and JPY the likely losers.

EUR held up reasonably well in the wake of slightly disappointing growth data, with eurozone GDP rising less than expected in Q4, and a smaller than expected gain in the February German ZEW investor confidence survey (economic sentiment component). My sense is that the net long EUR speculative position has already been pared back somewhat over recent days reducing the potential selling pressure on the currency in the near term.

Given that EUR/USD is one of the only major currency pairs being influenced by interest rate differentials, its direction will hinge more on policy expectations but in the near the announcement by the German Finance Minister this morning of a restructuring plan for WestLB may give the currency some support.

Perhaps one explanation for the stability of EUR/USD around the 1.3500 level is that US data was also disappointing yesterday. January retail sales rose less than forecast whilst revisions to back months suggest less momentum in Q4 consumer spending than previously envisaged. As with the eurozone data weather likely played a role in contributing to the outcome.

The net impact on currencies is that they are largely stuck within tight ranges. Further direction will come from the release of the Fed FOMC minutes for the January 26th meeting. The minutes may undermine the USD if a likely dovish slant continues to be expressed but given that the FOMC decision at that meeting to hold policy setting unchanged had no dissenters this should not come as a surprise.

Whilst the battle between the USD and EUR ended in a stalemate GBP outperformed in the wake of the increase in UK January CPI inflation and in particular the letter from the BoE governor to the Chancellor keeping open the door to a rate hike. The Quarterly Inflation Report (QIR) today will be particularly important to determine whether the bounce in GBP is justified.

I remain hesitant to build on long GBP positions given the net long speculative overhang in the currency. The risks following yesterday’s jump in GBP are asymmetric, with a hawkish QIR likely to have less impact on the currency than the negative impact from a more dovish than expected report.

Econometer.org has been nominated in FXstreet.com’s Forex Best Awards 2011 in the “Best Fundamental Analysis” category. The survey is available at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/fx_awards_2011

G20 Leaves The US Dollar Under Pressure

The G20 meeting of Finance Ministers and Central bankers failed to establish any agreement on clear targets or guidelines. Perhaps the problem of trying to achieve consensus amongst a variety of sometimes conflicting views always pointed to an outcome of watered down compromise but in the event the G20 summit appears to pass the buck to November’s summit of G20 leaders in Seoul where more concrete targets may be outlined.

Officials pledged to “move towards more market determined exchange rate systems” and to “refrain from competitive devaluation of currencies”. What does this actually mean? The answer is not a great deal in terms of practical implications. The first part of the statement is the usual mantra from such meetings and the addition of the latter part will do little to stop central banks, especially in Asia from continuing to intervene given that no central bank is actually devaluing their currency but rather preventing their currencies from strengthening too rapidly.

The communiqué highlighted the need for advanced economies being “vigilant against excess volatility and disorderly movements in exchange rates”, but once again this is the mantra found in the repertoire of central bankers over past years and is unlikely to have the desired effect of reducing the “excessive volatility in capital flows facing some emerging countries”. In other words many emerging countries will continue to have an open door to impose limited restrictions on “hot money” flows.

Although the language on currencies was stronger than in previous summits it arguably changes very little in terms of the behaviour of central banks and governments with respect to currencies. The communiqué is wide open to varying interpretations by countries and is unlikely to prevent the ongoing trend of USD depreciation and emerging market country FX appreciation and interventions from continuing over coming weeks.

The onus has clearly shifted to the November summit of G20 leaders but once again it seems unlikely that substantial agreements will be found. In the interim the November 3 Fed FOMC meeting will be the next major focus and if the Fed embarks on renewed asset purchases as widely expected FX tensions will remain in place for some time yet.

So whilst a “currency war” was always unlikely “skirmishes” will continue. In the meantime the USD is set to remain under pressure although it’s worth noting that speculative positioning has recorded a reduction in net aggregate USD short positions over the last couple of weeks, suggesting that some of the USD selling pressure may have abated. Whether this reflected caution ahead of the G20 meeting (as the data predates the G20 meeting) or indicated the USD having priced in a lot of quantitative easing (QE2) expectations already, is debatable.

The path of least resistance to USD weakness remains via major currencies including AUD, CAD and NZD. Officials in Europe are also showing little resistance to EUR strength despite the premature tightening in financial conditions and negative impact on growth that it entails. Scandinavian currencies such as SEK and NOK have also posted strong gains against the USD and will likely continue to show further outperformance.

The JPY has been the best performing major currency this year followed not far behind by the CHF despite the FX interventions of the authorities in Japan and Switzerland. Although USD/JPY is fast approaching the 80.00 line in the sand level expected to result in fresh FX intervention by the Japanese authorities, the path of the JPY remains upwards. Japan is unlikely to go away from the G20 meeting with any change in policy path as indicated by officials following the weekend deliberations.

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