There are several words that can be used to describe current highly risk averse market dynamics including panicked, nervous, fickle, tense, jittery, risky, volatile etc, all of which spark negative thoughts in the minds of investors. Aside from real worries such as renewed banking sector concerns, especially in Europe and in particular with regard to Spanish savings banks, there are also plenty of rumours afflicting market sentiment. In this environment deriving fact from fiction is not particularly easy whilst battling against the heavy weight of negative sentiment.
Although the pull back in risk appetite over recent weeks looks small compared to the peak in risk aversion during the financial crisis, the pace of the drop in markets has been dramatic and the withdrawal of risk seeking capital has been particularly aggressive. For example, in less than one month Asian equity markets have registered an outflow of around half of the total equity capital flows so far this year. Worryingly and despite the backstop in terms of central bank liquidity provision there are signs of renewed tensions in the money markets, with the libor-OIS spread and TED spread widening over recent days.
One of the most interesting observations in the current environment is that risk aversion has been increasing despite encouraging economic data. Not only has economic data been positive but in general has been coming in above consensus, showing that the market has underestimated the bounce in growth in the second quarter. Why is positive data not soliciting a more positive market reaction? Recent data is perhaps being seen as backward looking, and there is growing concern about the likely downdraft on economic activity in H2 2010, especially in Europe as deficit cutting measures bite.
News on the budget front in Europe has been relatively positive too, with Greece registering a sharp decline in its deficit, as well as announcing plans to tighten tax administration procedures. Meanwhile, the Italian cabinet reportedly approved a package of measures to reduce its deficit. On the flip side budget cuts across Europe are leading to growing public opposition, testing the resolve of eurozone governments to pass austerity measures. The public opposition means that the real test is in the implementation and execution of austerity measures. Signs of progress on this front will be key to turn confidence in the EUR around.
The USD remains king in the current environment and any pull back is likely to be bought into though Moody’s ratings agency’s warnings that the US AAA sovereign rating may come under pressure if there was no improvement in the US fiscal position, highlights the risks over the medium term to this currency. The EUR is set to remain under pressure though it is worth noting that the pace of its decline appears to be slowing, leaving open the potential for some consolidation. Near-term technical support for EUR/USD is seen at 1.2142 but a broader range of around 1.18.23-1.2520 is likely to develop over coming weeks.