EUR higher but resistance looms

EUR and risk currencies in general were buoyed by the passage of the austerity bill in the Greek parliament. The implementation bill is also likely to be passed later today opening the door for the disbursement of EUR 12 billion from the European Union / IMF from the EUR 110 bailout agreed for the country. Combined with news that German banks are progressing towards agreeing on a mechanism to roll over Greek debt alongside French banks as well as likelihood of an European Central Bank (ECB) rate hike next week, the EUR is set to remain supported over the short term.

Nonetheless, it once again looks as though a lot of good news is priced in and it would be surprising if EUR/USD could extend to above strong resistance around 1.4557 given the many uncertainties ahead, not the least of which includes the stance of ratings agencies on any Greek debt rollover.

USD/JPY is the only major currency pair that is correlated with bond yield differentials at present (2-year yields) and therefore it should not come as a surprise that USD/JPY has moved higher as the yield differential between the US and Japan has widened by around 10bps over the past week. Indeed, yesterday’s move above 81.00 was spurred by the move in yield differentials although once again the currency pair failed to build sufficient momentum to close above this level.

Further gains will require US bond yields to move even higher relative to Japan but perhaps the end of QE2 today may mark a turning point for US bond markets and currencies. The end of QE2 taken together with a jump in bond supply over coming months, will see US Treasury yields will move sharply higher, implying much more upside for USD/JPY.

AUD has bounced back smartly over recent days, with the currency eyeing resistance around 1.0775 versus USD. A general improvement in risk appetite has given the currency some support but markets will be unwilling to push the currency much higher ahead of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) meeting next week. On the plus side, there are no rate hikes priced in for Australia over the remainder of the year, suggesting an asymmetric risk to next week’s meeting.

In other words, unless the RBA openly discusses rate cuts in the statement, the AUD will likely remain supported. Conversely any indication that a rate hike may be in prospect will be AUD supportive. In any case we continue to believe the AUD offers better value especially relative to NZD and maintain our trade idea to buy AUD/NZD.

US dollar on the rise

Risk aversion is on the rise as uncertainties about Greece and worries about weaker economic data weigh on sentiment. A number of key events rather than data will be the main drivers this week. First and foremost amongst these is the vote in the Greek parliament on the country’s budget reform plan, which if passed will pave the way for the way for a disbursement of EUR 12 billion from the European Union / IMF and a new bailout package.

Meanwhile in the US talks on raising the debt ceiling are likely to resume in earnest, with the market likely to become increasingly nervous about the lack of resolution on the issue. Nonetheless, it is Europe that will dominate the headlines and on this front even if the reform plan is passed any market relief is likely to be limited given the ongoing uncertainty about private sector participation in any Greek debt roll over. This suggests that the EUR will remain under pressure over the week despite reassuring comments from Chinese Premier Wen.

Data releases will be relegated to background noise but what there is will not help sentiment. Signs of slowing activity remain evident as revealed in disappointing eurozone manufacturing surveys last week and this will be echoed in the US ISM manufacturing survey at the end of this week. Economic sentiment gauges in Europe are also set to reveal a decline. Given the lack of ammunition and/or unwillingness to risk using further stimulus from the Fed, the sensitivity of markets to weak data will be high, keeping risk aversion elevated.

Indeed, although well flagged the end of the Fed’s QE2 this week will mark a major shift in market dynamics, especially in currency markets where the USD will finally see a massive weight lifted from its shoulders. As indicated by Fed Chairman Bernanke following the FOMC meeting the Fed is not considering a further round of asset purchases, a fact that will help the USD to find firmer support.

Notably the USD index moved has above its 100-day moving average providing a positive technical signal given that it has failed on its last two attempts. The USD index now looks set to break its April high around 76.610.

Asian currencies vulnerable to equity outflows

Asian currencies are set to continue to trade cautiously. One big headwind to further appreciation is the fact that there has been a substantial outlook of equity capital over recent weeks. Over the last month to date Asian equity markets have registered an outflow of $3.3 billion in outflows. However, whilst Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand and India have seen outflows Indonesia, Philippines, and Vietnam have registered inflows.

The net result is that equity capital inflows to Asia so far this year are almost flat, a stark contrast from 2009 and 2010 when inflows were much higher at the same point in the year. The odds for further strong inflows do not look good, especially as the Fed ends QE2 by the end of June. While a sharp reversal in capital flows is unlikely, it also seems unlikely that Asia will register anywhere near as strong inflows as the last couple of years.

This will have a significant impact on Asian currencies, whose performance mirrors capital flows into the region. Almost all Asian currencies have dropped against the USD so far this month and could remain vulnerable if outflows continue. Given the relative stability of the USD over recent weeks and imminent end to QE2, the better way to play long Asia FX is very much against the increasingly vulnerable EUR.

The THB has been the worst performing currency this month but its weakness has been attributable to upcoming elections on July 3, which has kept foreign investor sentiment cautious. Thailand has seen an outflow of $812mn from its equity market this month. Polls show the PM Abhisit’s party trailing the opposition and nervousness is likely to persist up to the elections at least. THB weakness is not likely to persist over coming months, with USD/THB forecast at 29.2 by year end.

USD/KRW has been whipsawed over the past week but made up ground despite a continued outflow of equity capital over recent days. KRW has been particularly resilient despite a firmer USD environment and a drop in consumer sentiment in June. Next week the KRW will likely continue to trade positively, helped by a likely firm reading for May industrial production on Thursday. USD/KRW is set to trade in a 1070-1090 range, with direction likely to come from Greece’s parliament vote on its austerity measures.

TWD has traded weaker in June, having been one of the worst performing currencies over the month. USD/TWD does not have a particularly strongly correlation with movements in the USD or risk aversion at present but the currency has suffered from a very sharp outflow of equity capital over recent weeks (biggest outflow out of all Asian countries so far this month). Next week’s interest rate decision on Thursday by the central bank (CBC) will give some direction to the TWD but a 12.5bps increase in policy rates should not come as a big surprise. TWD is likely to trade with a weaker bias but its losses are likely to be capped around the 29.00 level versus USD.

Fed’s status quo fuels caution

The Fed’s status quo did little to stir markets overnight although there was a decidedly negative tone to equities and commodities, perhaps spurred by the downgrading of US growth forecasts. The fact that the Fed did not indicate that it is considering further asset purchases but instead will keep its balance sheet at around $,2800 billion also acted as a drag on markets.

The major concern for markets remains the depth and length of the current ‘soft patch’. The Fed believes it will be temporary and we concur, but clearly the slide in equity markets over recent weeks, suggests that there has been a divergence between stock market expectations and reality. The USD however, may actually be finding a medium term bottom, with the fact that the Fed is not considering QE3,

The downbeat Fed stance combined with a cautious reaction to the Greek government’s passage of a confidence motion indicates that markets will remain cautious over the near term. Indeed, comments by the Greek opposition that they will not support further austerity measures dashed any hopes of unity and will add another obstacle towards an easing in Greek tensions.

As it is the continued wrangling between European officials over private sector participation in any debt rollover as well as uncertainty over how ratings agencies will react, threatens to keep sentiment under pressure. The EUR has remained surprisingly resilient but its muted reaction to the passage of the confidence motion has given way to some weakness and the currency remains a sell on rallies.

GBP was a major underperformer weighed down by the relatively dovish Bank of England MPC minutes in which some members were even discussing further asset purchases. The currency faces further risks from a the CBI reported sales data for June where a decline in sales is likely to be reported. GBP/USD looks vulnerable to a drop below its 200 day moving average around 1.6027.

Euro unimpressed by Greek confidence vote

News that the Greek government won a confidence vote has left the EUR unimpressed and gains will be limited ahead of the June 28 vote on the country’s 5-year austerity plan. The EUR was in any case rallying ahead of the vote, which the government won by 155-143 votes, and has actually lost a little ground following the vote.

EUR sentiment is likely to remain somewhat fragile given the ongoing uncertainties, but now that the first hurdle has been passed markets there is at least a better prospect of Greece receiving the next EUR 12 billion aid tranche before the July 15 “do or default” deadline. Over the near term EUR/USD upside is likely to remain capped around the 1.4451 resistance level (15 June high).

The next key event for markets is the Fed FOMC meeting outcome and press conference. This is unlikely to bode particularly well for the USD given that the Fed is set to downgrade its growth forecasts, with the comments on the economy likely to sound a little more downbeat given the loss of momentum recently as reflected in a string of disappointing data releases.

Nonetheless, monetary settings are unlikely to be changed, with the Fed committed to ending QE2 by the end of June. I remain positive on the USD’s prospects but its recovery is fragile due to the fact that US bond yields remain at ultra low levels.

Whilst only AUD/USD and USD/JPY have maintained significant correlations with bond yield differentials over the past three months, it will eventually require US bond yields to move higher in relative terms for the USD to find its legs again on a more sustainable basis.

In the meantime the approach of the end of QE2 by the end of June will on balance play positively for the USD as at least the Fed’s balance sheet will no longer be expanding even if the reinvestment of principle from its holdings of US Treasuries suggest that there will not be a quick or immediate reduction in the size of the balance sheet anytime soon.

There is little appetite to intervene to weaken the JPY at present, with the Japanese authorities blaming the strengthening in the JPY versus USD on the latter’s weakness rather than the former’s strength. Until yield differentials widen, USD/JPY will continue to languish at current levels or even lower.

GBP will garner direction from the release of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee meeting minutes. Whilst GBP has edged higher against the USD it has remained vulnerable against EUR. A likely dovish set of minutes reflecting some weak activity data, easing core inflation and soft wage growth, suggests little support for GBP over the short term.

Contest of the uglies

Although there is plenty of event risk in the form of the Greek confidence motion today market sentiment has taken a turn for the better as a ‘risk on’ mood has filtered through. There was little justification in the turn in sentiment aside from some reassuring comments from the EU’s Juncker but clearly markets are hoping for the best.

The contest of the ugly currencies continues and recently the EUR is running neck and neck with the USD. News that a final decision on a further tranche of aid for Greece and a second bailout package will not take place until early July was not digested well by European markets, although EUR/USD managed to show its resilience once again overnight.

EUR/USD looks like it will settle into a range over the short-term, with support around the 100 day moving average of 1.4170 and resistance around the 15 June high of 1.4451. A weak German June ZEW investor confidence survey may result in the EUR facing some resistance but the data is likely to be overshadowed by events in Greece.

Although Greece continues to dominate the headlines, the looming Fed FOMC meeting and press briefing tomorrow may just keep USD bulls in check especially given the likelihood of downward growth revisions by the Fed and no change in policy settings. Ahead of this news on the housing market is likely to remain bleak, with a likely drop in May existing home sales as indicated by pending home sales data.

USD/JPY continues to flirt with the 80 level but as yet it has failed to sustain a breach below this level. Contrary to speculation the JPY is not particularly reactive to risk aversion at present but instead continues to be driven higher by narrowing US – Japan bond yield differentials. This is pretty much all due to declining US Treasury yields rather than any increase in Japanese bond (JGB) yields.

However, while Japanese officials continue to back off the idea of FX intervention, even at current levels, data releases such as the May trade balance yesterday continue to build a strong case for weakening the JPY. Even economy minister Yosano sounded worried on the trade front in his comments yesterday. Despite such concerns, it will take a renewed widening in bond yield differentials to result in renewed JPY weakness which will need an improvement in US data to be forthcoming.

Greek Decision Delayed

European Union Finance Ministers have agreed that additional funding for Greece will come from both official and private investors, with the later likely through a voluntary rollover of existing Greek debt as per the ‘Vienna Initiative’ of 2009 applied at the time to Emerging Europe. Agreement was reached following the decision by Germany to ease its demands for private sector participation in a debt restructuring. The news brought some relief to markets on Friday.

However, the announcement today that a final decision on a further tranche of aid and a second bailout package will not take place until early July will come as a blow to markets and likely lead to a more cautious start to this week. The onus is now on Greek Prime Minister Papandreou to gain approval for further austerity measures following the recent government cabinet reshuffle and in the face of a no confidence vote tomorrow. Failure to pass the confidence motion could provoke a political crisis, leading to likely contagion across Europe.

Europe has given the Greek government until the end of this month to implement measures including budget cuts and asset sales, with failure to pass further austerity measures likely to lead to a delay of any further aid. There will be plenty of noise surrounding Greece over coming days, with the issue likely to dominate the EU summit in Brussels on June 23-24. In the meantime the EUR/USD looks like it will settle into a range over the short-term, with support around the 100 day moving average of 1.4165.

EUR speculative positioning is currently around its 3-month average, with the market continuing to hold a sizeable long position in EUR/USD according to the CFTC IMM data. The risks remain skewed to the downside as nervousness about a Greek deal grows. Should the Greek Prime Minister pass a no confidence motion there will be some short term relief but tensions are likely to persist for a long while yet. Moreover, other eurozone countries are not in the clear yet as reflected by Moody’s announcement that Italy’s AA2 government bond rating is on review for possible downgrade.

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