The massive upside surprise to US payrolls could prove to be a significant indicator for the USDs fortunes in the months ahead. To summarize, payrolls dropped by 11k, much less than expected. Net revisions totaled +148k, the workweek rose and the unemployment rate fell to 10%, also better than forecast and likely a surprise to the US administration who hinted at a rise in the unemployment rate.
Equity and bond market reaction was as would be expected; equities rallied and bonds sold off. Gold prices dropped sharply too. However, and this is what was most interesting, the dollar strengthened. Why is this odd? Well, over the past 9 months any news that would have been perceived as positive for risk appetite was associated with dollar weakness. This reaction clearly did not take place following the jobs data.
It’s worth noting that going into the payrolls data markets were very short USDs as reflected in the CFTC Commitment of Traders IMM data which revealed the biggest aggregate net short USD position since 25 March 2008. The bounce in the USD could have reflected a strong degree of short covering especially against the JPY where net long JPY positions had jumped to close to its all time high. Going into year end expect to see more position adjustment, perhaps indicating a return of the JPY funded carry trade is back on the cards.
The dollar’s reaction to the payrolls data was reminiscent of its pre-crisis relationship of buying dollars in anticipation of a more aggressive path for US interest rates and indeed markets brought forward expectations of higher rates following the data. It is probably too early to believe that the dollar’s movements are once again a function of interest rate differentials but it is a taste of things to come. In any case, markets will be able to garner further clues from a speech by Fed Chairman Bernanke today.
The post payrolls dollar reaction could have also reflected the fact that EUR/USD failed to break above the 1.5145 high over the week resulting in a capitulation of stale long positions, especially as the move towards reducing liquidity provision by the ECB also failed to push the EUR higher. If the S&P 500 stays above 1100 EUR/USD could retrace higher for the most part a broad 1.48-1.51 range is likely to dominate over the week. Nonetheless, a break below 1.4820 could provoke an accelerated stop loss fuelled drop in EUR/USD. ECB President Trichet speaks today and may reiterate that the ECB’s measures to begin scaling back its liquidity provision should not be taken as a step towards monetary tightening.
USD/JPY proved interesting last week pushing higher in the wake of strong rhetoric by the Japanese authorities threatening intervention to prevent JPY strength. The BoJ’s attempt to provide more liquidity to banks also helped on the margin to weaker the JPY but the impact of the move is likely to prove limited. Nonetheless, exporters and Japanese officials may be more relaxed this week, if USD/JPY can hold above 90.00. However, a likely sharp revision lower to Japanese Q3 GDP tomorrow will help maintain calls for a weaker JPY.