Optimism dissipates

Markets have been highly fickle so far this year. Optimism about strong recovery led by China – recall the fact that disappointment from the surprisingly weak US non-farm payrolls report in December was outweighed by strong Chinese trade data – has dissipated. Instead of rejoicing at China’s robust GDP report last week, which revealed a 10.7% rise in the fourth quarter of 2009, investors began to fret about whether China would have to move more aggressively to tighten monetary policy. Fuelling these fears was the release of Consumer price data which showed inflation rising above expectations to 1.9% YoY in China.

If such fears were not sufficient to hit risk appetite, US President Obama’s plan to limit the size and trading activities of financial institutions dealt another blow to financial stocks. The plan followed quickly after the Democrats lost the state of Massachusetts to the Republicans and managed to shake confidence in bank stocks whilst fuelling increased risk aversion. Meanwhile, rumblings about Greece continue to weigh on markets and Greek debt spreads continued to widen even as global bond markets rallied.

Following the US administration’s plans to restrict banks’ activities the fact that the rise in risk aversion was US led rather than broad based led to an eventual pull back in the dollar which helped EUR/USD to avoid a break below 1.40. Risk trades including the AUD came under pressure as risk appetite pulled back. A drop in commodity prices did not help. The AUD was also hit by news that Australia’s Henry Tax Review would look to tax miners in the country. As a result AUD/USD dropped below 0.90 though this level is likely to provide good buying levels for those wanted to take medium term AUD long positions. The one currency that did benefit was the JPY which managed to drop below sub 90 levels.

The aftermath of the “Volker Plan” will reverberate around markets this week keeping a lid on equity sentiment. Meanwhile Greece will be in the spotlight especially its bond syndication. A bad outcome could be the trigger for EUR/USD to sustain a move below 1.40 though it looks as though it may find a bottom around current levels, with strong support seen around 1.4029. The German IFO business survey for January will be important to provide some direction for EUR and could be a factor that weighs on the currency if as expected it reveals some loss of momentum in the economy.

Aside from the Fed the other G3 central bank to meet this week is the Bank of Japan but unless the Bank is seen to be serious about fighting deflation, USD/JPY may remain under downward pressure against the background of elevated risk aversion. Below 90.0 there does appear to be plenty of USD/JPY buyers however, suggesting that further upside for the JPY will be limited. USD/JPY will find strong support around 88.84.

Much will depend on the key events in the US this week including the Fed FOMC meeting and the President’s State of the Union speech. USD bulls will look for some indication that the US government is serious about cutting the burgeoning budget deficit. Also watch out for the confirmation vote on the renomination of Bernanke as Fed Chairman which could end up being close. There is a heavy slate of data to contend with including new and existing home sales, consumer confidence, durable goods orders, the first glance at Q4 GDP and Chicago PMI.

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