Swiss franc under pressure

The US debt ceiling continues to garner most attention in markets, with US Treasury Secretary Geithner warning in a letter to Congress about the adverse economic impact of the failure to raise the ceiling. President Obama gave a similar warning, but with current extraordinary measures due to run out between mid February and early March timing is running out.

While Fed Chairman Bernanke echoed this assessment markets found some relief in his speech as it did not repeat the views of some Fed officials in hinting at an early ending of QE. Bernanke qualified his comments by stating that believes that inflation will stay below 2% over the medium term.

EUR/USD could not hold onto highs around 1.3404 but the currency pair does not looks as though it is running out of momentum. As sentiment towards the Eurozone periphery continues to improve and inflows into Eurozone assets increases the EUR is finding itself as a key beneficiary. However, the strength of the currency will only reinforce the weak economic backdrop across the region, which eventually will come back to bite the EUR.

Indeed data today is likely to confirm that the German economy recorded a weak pace of growth over 2012 finishing the year with a contraction in activity over Q4. Our forecast of no growth in the Eurozone this year could face downside risks should the EUR continue to rise. This is unlikely to stem the near term upside for EUR/USD but adverse growth and yield differentials compared to the US will mean that gains in EUR/USD will not be sustained.

The long awaited move higher in EUR/CHF appears to be finally occurring. EUR/CHF is trading at its highest level in over a year and looks set to make further gains. The fading of Eurozone crisis fears, better global economic developments and search for yield, are combining to pressure the CHF versus EUR although USD/CHF is trading near multi month lows.

Additionally improving sentiment outside of Switzerland is not echoed within the country as domestic indicators have worsened recently such as the KoF leading indicator, adding further pressure for a weaker CHF. Recent inflation data revealing a 0.4% YoY in December, the 15th month of annual declines have reinforced the fact that the currency is overly strong. EUR/CHF looks set to move higher, with the December 2011 high of 1.2444 the next target.

US dollar restrained, Swiss franc too strong

Better than expected March US new home sales, stable consumer confidence and firmer than consensus earnings, all contributed to boost markets overnight. In Europe, decent demand for Dutch, Spanish and Italian debt auctions helped to reassure markets in the region. Apple earnings added to the good news, contributing to more than 82% of S&P 500 companies topping estimates so far for Q1 2012 earnings.

Despite encouraging news on the data and earnings front US equities only registered small gains, failing to echo the larger gains in European equity markets, suggesting that investors remain cautious. Ahead of the Fed FOMC outcome today trading is likely be relatively restrained, with the risk rally struggling to make much headway.

The Fed FOMC rate decision will be critical to determine USD direction over coming sessions. Assuming that the Fed does not alter its policy setting but instead only tinkers with its economic forecasts, the USD will escape any further selling pressure. Any reference or hint to further quantitative easing would play negative for the USD but I do not expect this to occur.

If anything I expect the USD to edge higher over coming sessions as risk aversion continues to rise. An expected drop in March durable goods orders today will not give the USD much help, however. I don’t expect the FOMC outcome to mark an end to speculation of more QE, and in this respect the USD will continue to be restrained until there is more clarity on the economy and in turn Fed thinking.

EUR/CHF continues to flat line close to the 1.20 line in the sand implemented by the Swiss National Bank (SNB). Renewed tensions in the Eurozone have if anything renewed the appeal of the CHF, making the job of the SNB even more difficult. The fact that risk aversion has been rising suggests CHF demand will remain firm in the short term. CHF demand is occurring in the face of speculation of a shift in FX stance.

Although the SNB has not hinted at any change in the level of the EUR/CHF floor, market speculation that the SNB will move it higher, possibly to around 1.30 from 1.20, has intensified. The problem for the SNB is that the CHF is substantially overvalued and this in turn is fuelling persistent deflationary risks as reflected in six straight months of declining CPI. Against this background it would not be surprising if the EUR/CHF floor is lifted.

Weak USD will not persist, CHF to drop eventually

Risk appetite has deteriorated slightly since the Bernanke fuelled bounce earlier this week but there does not appear to be much of a directional bias for markets either way. Interestingly Treasury yields continue to pull back even while equity markets have softened overnight.

Data has been mixed, with US consumer confidence dipping in March albeit not as much as expected while US house prices also did not drop by as much as anticipated. Data releases on tap today include monetary aggregates in the Eurozone and durable goods orders in the US. The tone will likely continue to be slightly ‘risk off’.

The USD has come under growing pressure since its mid March high, with the EUR in particular taking advantage of its vulnerability. A combination of improving risk appetite and a correction lower in US Treasury yields in the wake of relatively Fed comments have been sufficient to deal the USD a blow.

However, the outlook for the USD is mixed today as on the one hand it will be helped by a reduction in risk appetite but hit on the other by a drop in US Treasury yields overnight. Data today should be a little more constructive for the USD, with a likely bounce back in durable good orders in February.

Overall, I do not expect the weak USD bias to persist especially as it is based on unrealistic expectations that the Fed will still implement more quantitative easing. Indeed, while further Fed easing is possible it may not need to involve an expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet.

EUR/CHF remains pinned to the 1.20 ‘line in the sand’ imposed by the Swiss National Bank while the CHF has strengthened over recent weeks against the USD. Economic data has deteriorated over recent months, with the forward looking Swiss KoF leading indicator pointing to a further weakening.

We will get further news on this front on Friday with the latest KoF release, with a slight a bounce expected. In turn, bad news on the economic front is adding to pressure for CHF weakness. Market positioning in CHF is negative but there is plenty of scope to increase short positioning in the months ahead given that short CHF positions remain well off their all time highs.

Eventually as risk appetite improves and the US yield advantage widens against Switzerland, both EUR/CHF and USD/CHF will move higher.

Euro and Swiss franc under pressure

Positive momentum in risk assets slowed, with higher core bond yields in the US and Europe weighing on sentiment. The USD in particular has been buoyed by higher US bond yields, with the move in line with my long held medium term view of a firmer yield led gain in the USD. Commodity prices in contrast have come under growing pressure, with gold and copper prices sliding in particular. Risk measures continue to improve including my risk barometer, suggesting that the overall tone to risk assets will remain positive.

The main focus today will be on a plethora of US data releases including industrial production, Philly Fed and Empire manufacturing confidence while in Europe attention will be on Spanish and French bond auctions. US data will likely remain upbeat, while the auctions should be well received.

EUR has pulled back sharply over recent not just against the USD but also on the crosses, with EUR/GBP finally playing some catch up yesterday. It’s interesting that the drop in the EUR has occurred despite generally improving conditions for peripheral Eurozone as reflected in narrowing yield spreads between peripheral countries and Germany.

The bottom line is that the EUR is suffering from a widening in the US / Europe (Germany) bond yield differential as it is becoming increasingly clear that the US economy will strongly outperform the Eurozone economy this year. As noted at the beginning of the week EUR/USD was set to drop to below support around 1.3055. Having hit this level, strong support around the 1.2974 level moves into sight.

Ahead of today’s quarterly Swiss National Bank meeting at which no change in policy is widely expected, EUR/CHF has taken a sharp lurch higher, finally moving away from around the 1.2050 level it has been trading at over recent weeks. While I am bearish on the CHF over the medium term further upside in EUR/CHF will be limited over the short term given that the move in the currency is at odds with interest rate differentials which have actually narrowed between the Eurozone and Switzerland. Technical resistance around 1.2298 will cap gains over coming sessions.

As for USD/CHF the picture remains a bullish one, with general USD strength driven by higher yields, pushing the currency pair higher. I look for a test of resistance around 0.9393 over coming sessions.

The case for Swiss franc weakness

EUR/CHF has continued to hug the 1.2000 ‘line in the sand’ enforced by the Swiss National Bank. CHF currently shows little sign of weakening although we continue to see risks of a higher EUR/CHF. Against the USD the CHF has been similarly stable but we look for USD/CHF to move higher eventually. The main imponderable is the timing of CHF weakness. Ongoing Eurozone doubts even after the agreement of a second bailout for Greece mean that the CHF remains a favoured destination for European money.

The outlook for EUR/CHF will depend on how the situation in the Eurozone develops. The recent agreement for a second Greek bailout received a muted reaction from markets, and there is a long way to go before confidence towards a resolution of the debt crisis can be fully restored. Assuming that there will be an eventual improvement in risk appetite, CHF will weaken given the strong correlation between EUR/CHF and risk over the past three months.

EUR/CHF has enjoyed a strong relationship with movements in interest rate differentials over the past few months, with both bond yields and interest rate futures. This implies that it will take a relative rise in German yields versus Swiss yields for EUR/CHF to move higher. This is certainly viable given the deterioration in Swiss economic data over recent months. Indeed, as reflected in the KoF Swiss leading indicator and manufacturing PMI data, the economy is heading downwards.

The threat of deflation has also increased in the wake of unwelcome CHF strength, which has left the currency extremely overvalued according to our measures of ‘fair value’. Growth will be weak this year but the economy may just avoid a negative GDP print. Against this background Swiss bond yields will remain low, along with policy rates. While the outlook for the Eurozone economy is not much better, bond yield differentials between the Eurozone and Switzerland are likely to widen, which will eventually help lead to a higher EUR/CHF exchange rate.

My blog posts will be less frequent over coming days as I am on a business trip to New York. Happy trading.

Risk currencies buoyed

Positive developments helped to buoy markets. Although US durable goods orders were weaker than forecast a jump in US consumer confidence to its highest since February 2011 gave equity markets and risk assets in general a lift. Even in Europe the news was encouraging as Italy managed to auction 10-year debt at a cheaper rate than previously while Portugal passed a third review of its bailout programme and noted that unlike Greece it would need a second bailout.

There was some negative news however, with the European Central Bank (ECB) temporarily suspending the eligibility of Greek bonds as collateral for its funding operations and Ireland calling a referendum on the European fiscal compact. Nonetheless, hopes of a healthy take up at today’s ECB second 3-year Long term refinancing operation (LTRO) will keep markets in positive mood in the short term.

The USD index continues to look restrained when risk assets are rallying. Given the positive equity market mood overnight it is no surprise that the USD came under further pressure while the EUR looks firm ahead of today’s 3-year LTRO by the ECB. Fed Chairman Bernanke’s testimony will give the USD some direction but we do not expect him to deliver any big surprises. EUR/USD will continue to rally if we are correct about a strong EUR 600-700 billion take up at the LTRO but the currency pair will meet resistance around 1.3550.

JPY has lost ground against various cross including USD, EUR and AUD. Much of its weakness is related to widening yield differentials but our models reveal that USD/JPY in particular has overshot its implied value. Unless US yields widen further versus Japan, JPY could even rebound over coming days. EUR/JPY has breached its 200 day moving however, which is a bullish signal for the currency pair. A generally firm EUR tone likely to be maintained in the short term will also be exhibited versus JPY.

Warnings by Swiss National Bank head Jordan reiterating his stance of defending the EUR/CHF floor of 1.20 has done little to push the currency pair higher. EUR/CHF has enjoyed a strong relationship with movements in interest rate differentials. This implies that it will take a relative rise in German yields versus Swiss yields for EUR/CHF to move higher. This is certainly viable given the deterioration in Swiss economic data over recent months. Eventually EUR/CHF will move higher but over the short term it is unlikely to move far from the 1.20 level.

EUR/GBP upside overdone, CHF overly strong

Disappointing Eurozone service sector and manufacturing purchasing managers’ confidence indices as well as a contraction in Chinese manufacturing confidence sets the scene for a drop in risk assets. In addition in the US, existing home sales rose less than expected taking into account revisions to previous data.

Meanwhile scepticism over Greece’s ability to implement agreed upon reforms and reported resistance from Germany to increasing the firewall around peripheral Eurozone countries has delivered a further dose of negativity to markets. The market was probably looking for an excuse to sell after a strong rally and found plenty in yesterday’s news.

GBP has followed on the coat tails of the EUR over recent weeks, with the currency showing little independent direction. Reflecting this is the fact that EUR/GBP had until recently been trapped in a 0.83-0.84 range. As with the EUR I see downside risks to GBP over the short term against the USD.

Against the EUR, GBP will largely track the movement in yield differentials as it has done over recent months. Relatively dovish MPC minutes, with two members voting for bigger amounts of quantitative easing helped to put GBP under further pressure but the move higher in EUR/GBP look overdone.

My medium term view continues to show GBP appreciation versus EUR and current levels highlight a good opportunity to go short EUR/GBP. Markets are rewarding central banks that are proactive in their policy prescriptions. I exect this to result in some GBP resilience even if the BoE announces more QE.

EUR/CHF has continued to hug the 1.2000 line in the sand enforced by the Swiss National Bank. Ongoing Eurozone doubts even after the agreement of a second bailout for Greece mean that the CHF remains a favoured destination for European money. This is reflected by the fact that EUR/CHF has been highly correlated with Risk Aversion over the past 3-months.

It will take also take a relative rise in German yields versus Swiss yields for EUR/CHF to move higher. This is certainly viable given the deterioration in Swiss economic data over recent months. Indeed, as reflected in the KoF Swiss leading indicator and manufacturing PMI data, the economy is heading downwards. Assuming that there will be an eventual improvement in risk appetite, CHF will weaken given the strong correlation between EUR/CHF and risk aversion over the past 3-months.

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