It is highly interesting that markets could take fright from a rate hike in India but this appears to be what has happened. India’s surprise 25bps rate hike has provoked another bout of risk aversion whilst the lack of any concrete agreement on a framework for a Greek bail out dealt a further blow to confidence. FX tensions between the US and China have not helped, with China threatening retaliation to any US move to name the country as a currency manipulator in the mid April US Treasury report.
Should we really be worried by a rate hike in India or China? Whilst the India rate move reflects the fact that emerging market central banks are moving far more aggressively to raise rates than their G7 counterparts, global fears that India’s move will dampen recovery prospects are unfounded. Monetary tightening in India and China and other economies is taking place against the backdrop of economic strength not weakness.
As such the global impact on growth should be limited. Rising inflation pressure in Asia is reflection of the much quicker economic recovery, relatively low rates and undervalued currencies in the region. Not only will central banks in Asia have to raise interest rates but will also have to allow further currency appreciation.
There is still plenty of confusion about a bail out for Greece ahead of the 25-26th March EU summit. German Chancellor Merkel dampened expectations of a bailout by stating that it was not even on the agenda for the summit. In contrast, EU President Barroso has pushed EU members to agree on an explicit stand-by aid agreement for Greece as soon as possible.
There is also disagreement about whether there should be any IMF involvement, with Germany favouring some help from the Fund whilst France opposes it. Meanwhile, the Greek Prime Minister has reportedly given an ultimatum that should no aid plan be forthcoming at the EU summit, Greece will turn to the IMF for assistance.
All of this suggests more downside for EUR/USD, with a test of support around 1.3422 looming. In the event that the EU summit offers good news for Greece, EUR/USD sentiment could turn quickly so a degree of caution is warranted. Speculative sentiment for the EUR has improved according to the latest CFTC Commitment of Traders (IMM) data for the week to 16th March, with net short EUR positions at their lowest since the beginning of February. Nonetheless, the short covering seen over the past week could come to an abrupt end should there be no aid package for Greece.
The most volatile currency over the past week was GBP/USD and after hitting a high of around 1.5382 it has slid all the way back to around the 1.5000 level. Much of this was related to the gyrations in EUR/USD but GBP took on a life of its own towards the end of the week and has not been helped by comments by BoE MPC member Sentence who highlighted the risk of a “double-dip” recession in the UK.
GBP is highly undervalued and market positioning is close to a record low but a sustainable recovery looks unachievable at present. Attention this week will centre on the 2010 UK Budget announcement and markets will scrutinise the details of how the government plans to cut the burgeoning budget deficit. Failure to restore some credibility to the government’s plans will dent GBP sentiment further and lead to a sharper decline against both the EUR and USD.