Markets have become rather skittish, with attention gyrating between sovereign deficit/debt concerns on the one hand and better news on the corporate and economic front on the other. This week the latter appears to be gaining the upper hand helped by an easing of concerns about Greece. Although the Greek saga is by no means close to an end, especially given the new deadlines set by the EU Commission on adherence to budget cuts, the chances of the worst case scenario of default or pull out from the EU looks to have diminished.
Renewed attention on other EU members, especially in light of the derivatives transactions carried out by Greece and potentially by other European countries to disguise the extent of their budget problems suggests that there is still more pain ahead. Nonetheless, it is increasingly clear that investors are differentiating between Europe and the rest of the world much to the chagrin of the EUR.
Differentiation between the eurozone and the US was particularly apparent in the wake of stronger than forecast earnings and data in the US. Two more companies joined the three-quarters of S&P 500 companies beating earnings forecasts whilst economic reports including US January industrial production and housing starts came in ahead of forecasts. This pattern is set to continue today, with the US Philly Fed manufacturing index set to increase to around 17 in February from 15.2 in January.
In contrast, data in Europe has been much less impressive, with for example, the February ZEW survey of investor confidence recording its 5th consecutive decline in February. The eurozone economic news may look a little better in the form of likely increases in manufacturing Purchasing Managers Indices (PMIs) but unless the data reveals particularly strong readings the growing perception that Europe is falling behind in the recovery process will remain in place.
Despite the improvement in risk appetite the USD has taken a firmer tone, appearing to react more to positive data and implications for a reduction in policy accommodation by the Fed. In particular, the USD was spurred by the FOMC minutes of the January 26-27 meeting, in which the Fed debated its exit strategy from quantitative easing. Some officials even went as far as pushing for asset sales in the “near future” to reduce the size of the Fed’s balance sheet.
Even though the USD has taken a firmer tone it will continue to be buffeted by the conflicting forces of improved risk appetite and shifting interest rate expectations. Correlations reveal that risk is still the dominant FX factor suggesting that there may still be some further downside left for the USD as risk appetite improves.
Although commodity currencies have also come under pressure due to the generally firmer USD tone overnight, the downside in these currencies is likely to prove limited especially given strong data releases. For example, data overnight revealed that business confidence rose to its highest level in 15 years in Australia. Added to upbeat comments from RBA deputy governor Lowe and strong labour market data, it highlights the growing probability of a March rate hike by the RBA.
The EUR remains the weak link and although it may benefit from easing Greek concerns the growing evidence of a relatively slower economic recovery in the eurozone suggests any upside in the EUR will be limited. Having dropped below technical support around 1.3580, EUR/USD looks vulnerable to a further push lower in the short-term.