Selling Risk Trades On Rallies

Disappointing earnings as well as a weaker than expected outcome for data on the health of the US service sector (the ISM non-manufacturing index failed to match expectations, coming in at 50.5 in January versus consensus of 51.0) has weighed on markets, undoing the boost received from the generally positive manufacturing purchasing managers (PMIs) indices earlier in the week. It was not all bad news however, as earnings from Cisco Systems beat expectations Meanwhile US ADP jobs data fell less than expected, dropping 22k whilst data for December was upwardly revised. These are consistent with a flat outcome for January non-farm payrolls.

Various concerns are still weighing on confidence. Sovereign ratings/fiscal concerns remain high amongst these and although much has been made of the narrowing in Greek debt spreads, attention now seems to be turning towards Portugal. Greece is also far from being out of the woods, and whilst the European Commission accepted Greece’s economic plans the country would be placed under much greater scrutiny by the EC.

The US has not escaped either, with Moody’s warning that the US AAA credit rating would come under pressure unless more stringent actions were taken to reduce the country’s burgeoning budget deficit. The move follows the US administration’s forecast of a $1.565 billion budget deficit for 2010, the highest as a proportion of GDP since the second world war, with the overall debt to GDP ratio also forecast to rise further.

The current environment remains negative for risk trades and the pullback in high beta currencies has been particularly sharp over recent weeks. Sentiment for the NZD was dealt a further blow from a surprisingly weak Q4 jobs report in New Zealand. Unemployment rose to a decade high of 7.3% over the quarter whilst employment growth contracted by 0.1%. The pull back in wage pressures will also be noted by interest rate markets, as it takes some of the pressure off the RBNZ to raise rates anytime soon.

Data in Australia will not help sentiment for the AUD too. Australian retail sales dropped by 0.7% in December, a worse than expected outcome. The data will only serve to reinforce market expectations that the RBA will no hike interest rates as quickly as previously expected. Nonetheless, I would caution reading too much into the data, with real retail sales volumes rising by a solid 1.1% over Q4 whilst other data showed a strong 2.2% jump in building approvals.

The overall strategy against this background is to sell risk trades on rallies. There are still too many concerns to point to a sustained improve in risk appetite. Moreover, the market is still long in many major risk currencies. Asian currencies have so far proven more resilient to the recent rise in risk aversion however, a reflection of the fact that a lot of concerns are emanating from the US and Europe. However, Asian currencies will continue to remain susceptible to events in China, especially to any further measures to tighten policy.

Further USD strength against this background is likely, which could see EUR/USD testing support around 1.3748, AUD/USD support around 0.8735, and NZD/USD support around 0.6916.

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