Highlights this week

Better than expected Chinese data over the weekend, speculation that Greece is close to reaching its debt buyback target and even some signs of progress in reaching a resolution to avert the fiscal cliff set up risk assets for a generally positive start to the week. Talks between the administration and senior Republicans will continue this week but it appears that some senior Republicans are willing to give up their objections to tax hikes on the very wealthy.

The November US jobs report released at the end of last week which revealed a 146k increase in payrolls and a drop in the unemployment rate to 7.7% is likely to have little influence at the turn of the week. The report was met with a muted reaction. While on the face of it the data was better than expected, downward revisions to past months and a surprising lack of impact from Hurricane Sandy left markets somewhat perplexed.

However, not everything is rosy. Last week’s sharp downward growth revisions to Eurozone growth by the European Central Bank (ECB), a plunge in US consumer sentiment and comments from Italian Prime Minister Monti that he intends to resign will cast a shadow over markets, restraining any upside.

Although activity will likely continue to thin as holidays approach there is still plenty too chew on this week. In the US the Fed is set to continue purchasing USD 85 billion of longer dated securities following the end of Operation Twist but this should come as little surprise to the market and therefore will yield little reaction. There will be some encouraging news on the consumer as retail sales bounce back in November.

Across the pond the European Council meeting beginning on Thursday will be in focus, with banking union and bank recapitalisation among the topics up for discussion. Given the hint of monetary easing by the ECB markets will scrutinise upcoming data for the timing but a likely increase in the German ZEW investor confidence survey in December and stabilisation in the Eurozone composite purchasing manager’s index will not prove compelling enough to warrant an imminent rate cut.

Elsewhere in Japan the upcoming elections will mark the highlight of the calendar over the weekend although the weaker than expected Q3 GDP reading this morning (-0.9% QoQ) and expected deterioration in the Tankan survey later in the week will maintain the pressure for more aggressive policy action and a weaker JPY.

EUR took a hit from the ECB’s dovish stance last week and will not take too kindly to the news of Monti’s intended resignation after the fiscal 2013 budget in Italy. EUR/USD 1.2880 still marks a solid support level for the currency.

USD/JPY continues to probe higher but extreme short market positioning will likely limit the ability of the currency pair to push higher. On the topside 83.15 will market strong resistance for the currency pair.

AUD and NZD look generally well supported, with Chinese data over the weekend giving further support although for AUD/USD 1.0519 will continue to act a tough technical barrier to crack.

ECB to Hike, BoJ, BoE & RBA on Hold

The better than expected March US jobs report will likely help to shift the debate further towards the hawkish camp in the Fed. There is little this week to match the potency of payrolls in terms of market moving data this week. Instead attention will focus on a raft of Fed speakers over coming days as well as the minutes of the March 15 FOMC meeting.

This week’s Fed speakers include Lockhart, Evans, Bernanke, Kocherlakota, Plosser and Lacker. Of these only Lockhart and Lacker are non voters. Given the intense focus on recent Fed comments FX markets will be on the lookout for anything that hints a broader Fed support for a quicker hike to interest rates and/or reduction in the Fed’s balance sheet.

In any case the USD may struggle to make much headway ahead of an anticipated European Central Bank (ECB) rate hike of 25 basis point on Thursday. Much will depend on the press statement, however. If the ECB merely validates market expectations of around 75bps of policy rate hikes this year the EUR will struggle to rally.

It may also be possible that once the ECB meeting is out of the way the EUR may finally be susceptible to pressure related to ongoing peripheral tensions. Last week the outcome of the Irish bank stress tests, and political vacuum in Portugal ahead of elections set for June 5 were well absorbed by the EUR but it is questionable whether the dichotomy between widening peripheral bond spreads and the EUR can continue.

The Tankan survey in Japan released today unsurprisingly revealed a deterioration in sentiment. The survey will provide important clues for the Bank of Japan (BoJ) at its meeting on April 6 & 7th. Although a shift in Japan’s ultra easy monetary policy is unlikely whilst strong liquidity provision is set to continue, pressure to do more will likely grow. This will be accentuated by a likely downward revision in the economic outlook by the BoJ.

The JPY will not take much direction from this meeting. Nonetheless, its soft tone may continue helped by foreign securities outflows (particularly out of bonds), with USD/JPY eyeing the 16 December high around 84.51. Speculative positioning as reflected in the CFTC IMM data reveals a sharp deterioration in JPY sentiment as the currency evidence that finally the currency maybe regaining its mantle of funding currency.

It is still too early for the Bank of England to hike rates despite elevated inflation readings and MPC members are likely to wait for the May Quarterly Inflation Report before there is decisive shift in favour of raising policy rates. Even then, members will have to grapple with the fact that economic data remains relatively downbeat as reflected in the weaker than expected March manufacturing purchasing managers index (PMI) data.

Today’s PMI construction data will likely paint a similar picture. The fact that a rate hike is not expected by the market will mean GBP should not suffer in the event of a no change decision by the BoE this week but instead will find more direction from a host of data releases including industrial production. GBP has come under growing pressure against the EUR since mid February and a test of the 25 October high of 0.89415 is on the cards this week.

Finally, congratulations to the Indian cricket team who won a well deserved victory in the Cricket World Cup final over the weekend. The celebrations by Indians around the world will go on for a long while yet.

Speculators bail out of USDs

Risk appetite held up reasonably well last week, with markets failing to be derailed by concerns over Ireland’s banking sector and growing opposition to austerity measures across Europe. The main loser remained the USD, with the USD index hitting a low marginally above 78.00 and speculative positioning as reflected in the CFTC IMM data revealing a further sharp drop in sentiment to its lowest since Dec 2007.

This week is an important one for central bank meetings, with four major central banks deliberating on monetary policy including Bank of Japan (BoJ), Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), European Central Bank (ECB) and Bank of England (BoE). The major event of the week however, is Friday’s release of the September US employment report. The RBA is set to hike its cash rate by 25bps, the BoJ may announced more easing measures whilst in contrast both the ECB and BoE are unlikely to alter their policy settings.

Whilst the BoJ is widely expected to leave its policy rate unchanged at 0.1%, it may announce further measures against the background of persistent JPY strength, a worsening economic outlook as reflected in last week’s Tankan survey and decline in exports. Japanese press indicate that the BoJ may increase lending of fixed rate 3 to 6 month loans to financial institutions as well as buy more short-term government debt.

The measures alongside risks of further JPY intervention may prevent USD/JPY slipping further but as reflected in the increase in speculative net long JPY positions last week, the market is increasingly testing the resolve of the Japanese authorities. Strong support is seen around USD/JPY 82.80, with the authorities unlikely to allow a break below this technical level in the short-term.

Although we will only see details of the voting in two weeks in the release of the UK BoE Monetary Policy Commitee (MPC) minutes it is likely that there was a three-way split within the MPC as reflected in recent comments, with MPC member Posen appearing to favour more quantitative easing whilst the MPC’s Sentance is set to retain his preference for higher rates. As has been the case over recent months the majority of the MPC are likely to have opted for the status quo.

GBP was a laggard over September as markets continued to fret over potential QE from the BoE. This uncertainty is unlikely to fade quickly suggesting limited gains against the USD and potentially more downside against the EUR. GBP speculative sentiment has improved but notably positioning remains short. EUR/GBP will likely target resistance around 0.8810.

In contrast to GBP the EUR has taken full advantage of USD weakness and looks set to extend its gains. Although there is a risk that speculative positioning will soon become overly stretched it is worth noting that positioning is well below its past highs according to the IMM data. EUR may have received some support from Chinese Premier Wen’s pledge to support Greece, and a stable EUR. Whilst there continues to be risks to the EUR from ongoing peripheral debt concerns such comments likely to be repeated at the EU-Asia summit today and tomorrow, will keep the EUR underpinned for a test of 1.3840.

The Week Ahead

As last week progressed there was a clear deterioration in sentiment as growth worries crept back into the market psyche. It all started well enough, with a positive reaction to China’s de-pegging of the CNY but the euphoria faded as it became evident that there was still plenty of two-way risk on the CNY. A change in Prime Minister in Australia, which fuelled hopes of a resolution to a controversial mining tax, and an austere budget in the UK, were also key events. However, sentiment took a hit as the Fed sounded more cautious on the US economy in its FOMC statement.

The US Congress finalised a major regulatory reform bill towards the end of the week and markets, especially financial stocks, reacted positively as the bill appeared to give some concessions to banks and was not as severe as feared. However, equity market momentum has clearly faded against the background of renewed growth concerns including sprouting evidence of a double-dip in the US housing market as well as fresh worries about the European banking sector. As if to demonstrate this US Q1 GDP was duly revised lower once again, to a 2.7% annualised rate of growth.

The US Independence Day holiday and World Cup football tournament will likely keep liquidity thin in the run up to month and half year end. However, there is still plenty to digest this week including the all important employment report and consumer confidence data in the US. In Europe economic sentiment gauges, purchasing managers indices and the flash CPI estimate will be in focus. Elsewhere, Japan’s Tankan survey and usual slate of month end Japanese releases, Switzerland’s KoF leading indicator and Australian retail sales will be of interest.

On balance, economic data this week is unlikely to relieve growth concerns, with Eurozone, US and UK consumer and manufacturing confidence indicators likely to post broad based declines due to a host of factors. The data will further indicate a slowing in growth momentum following Q2 2010, with forward looking surveys turning lower, albeit gradually. Whilst a double-dip scenario still seems unlikely there can be no doubt that austerity measures and the waning of fiscal stimulus measures are beginning to weigh on growth prospects even if there is still plenty of optimism for emerging market and particularly Asian growth prospects.

This suggests that Q3 could turn into a period of heightened uncertainty in which equity markets and risk assets will struggle to gain traction. In addition to growth worries, some tensions in money markets remain in place whilst banking sector concerns seem to be coming back to the fore, especially in Europe and these factors will prevent a sustained improvement in risk appetite from taking place over the coming quarter. Some more clarity may come from the results of European stress tests but much will depend on just how stressful the tests are.

In the near term, the main focus of attention will be on the US June jobs report released at the end of the week. Non-farm payrolls are set to record a decline over the month due to a reversal in census hiring, with a consensus expectation of a 110k fall. Private sector hiring is likely to record a positive reading, however, suggesting some improvement in the underlying trend in jobs growth, albeit a very gradual one. Downside risks to consensus suggest plenty of scope for disappointment.

Interestingly, weaker US data of late, has managed to restrain the USD, suggesting that cyclical factors and not just risk aversion are beginning to play into FX movements. Notably the USD was on the back foot against a number of currencies as last week progressed. Even the beleaguered EUR managed to end the week well off its weekly low and close to where it closed the previous week whilst risk currencies such as the AUD and NZD as well as GBP also posted firm performances.

Perhaps some reversal of the optimism towards US recovery prospects give USD bulls some cause for concern, but pressure is likely to prove temporary, especially given that the US economy is still on course to outperform many other major economies. Over the short-term, especially ahead of the US jobs report markets are set to remain cautious with range trading likely to dominate in the week ahead, suggesting that EUR/USD is unlikely to breach the key level of 1.2500. GBP performance has been robust but even this currency is likely to make much headway above GBP/USD 1.5000, where there are likely to be plenty of sellers.

FX / Economic Preview

The European Union (EU) aid package for Greece and extension of collateral requirements by the European Central Bank (ECB) helped return a semblance of confidence to markets. Although the probability of a Greek default now looks extremely small, further austerity measures, fiscal issues in other EU countries and the negative impact on growth that all of this implies, suggest that Europe will be plagued by various problems for some time yet.

As a result of more favourable market conditions Greece is set to launch a syndicated bond issues today or tomorrow of up EUR 5 billion according to press reports. Attention will also turn to Greek debt rollovers, beginning with EUR 8.2 billion on April 20.

Improving sentiment following the Greece deal has extended to the EUR, with the currency bouncing off its lows around 1.3267. EUR/USD will now look to break through resistance around 1.3446, which would set up a test of 1.3516. There is plenty of scope for short-covering to help the EUR as reflected in the latest IMM Commitment of Traders’ report (a gauge of speculative market positioning) which revealed net EUR positions reaching yet another record low in the week to 23rd March. Whilst sovereign/official buying interest may keep EUR/USD supported this week the currency pair is best played as a sell on rallies.

A similar assessment applies for GBP. Speculative sentiment for the currency also hit a record low in the latest week but unlike the Greek deal helping the EUR, last week’s UK budget has done little to boost GBP’s prospects. Moreover, a report in the Financial Times highlighting hedge funds bets against GBP, suggests that there are still plenty of headwinds against the currency.

Volumes are set to thin out this week ahead of upcoming holidays, whilst the US March jobs report at the end of the week will likely prevent moves out of current ranges ahead of its release. The consensus forecast is for a 190k increase in non-farm payrolls though much of this is likely to reflect hiring for the 2010 US consensus and a rebound from adverse weather effects in February.

In Europe March economic confidence surveys will be watched closely to determine how much damage Greece and general fiscal woes are having on sentiment. Some improvement, in line with the Eurozone Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) and the German IFO business confidence survey, is expected, which will help to give further, albeit limited relief to the EUR.

The Japanese data slate kicked off the week in good form, with the release of February retail sales data, revealing its biggest annual increase in 12-years. It is difficult to see the recovery in sales taking much greater hold given persistent deflation pressures however, and part of the gain probably reflects the government’s shopping incentive program.

Aside from industrial production and jobs data in Japan the key release will be the results of the Q1 Tankan survey on Wednesday. The survey of manufacturers’ confidence is set to show further improvement. USD/JPY is likely to remain supported around 91.67 but will need a further widening in US/Japan 10-year bond yield spreads to push higher.

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