US dollar grinding higher

As markets await Fed Chairman Bernanke’s semi-annual testimony to Congress over the next couple of days, sentiment has become relatively upbeat. Risk measures have shown improvement over recent weeks as reflected in gains in equity markets and the fall in the VIX ‘fear gauge’. Central banks have done a good job in massaging market fears over higher yields by implementing “forward guidance” and even in the US Treasury yields have fallen although 10 year yields look well supported above 2.5%.

Meanwhile, Q2 GDP data in China yesterday came in as expected revealing less of a slowdown than perhaps feared, while Q2 earnings in the US have for the most part have beaten forecasts so far. There is little to suggest that this tone will change even with a plethora of data releases scheduled for release today. The next trigger for market direction will come from Bernanke’s testimony.

A surprisingly weak reading for US June retail sales failed to take the shine off the USD. A spate of US data releases are on tap today including June CPI inflation, June industrial production and July NAHB housing data as well as the May TIC capital flow data. I do not expect the data to divert the USD’s path.

Given that there has been much talk that capital has been flowing to the US as US yields rise, the TIC data will be quite instructive given that US yields began their heady ascent from early May. Net long term capital flows into US portfolio assets have been negative for the previous three months and Treasuries registered major outflows in April. The USD is likely to continue to grind higher over coming days despite further revelation of capital outflows.

EUR/USD appears to be stuck around the middle of a relatively broad range at present. The build up of negative news including Portuguese political uncertainty, downgrade of France’s credit ratings, and corruption allegations in Spain among other factors, threatens to pressure the EUR lower. However, as has been the case over past months the EUR has managed to reveal an impressive resistance or “Teflon” coating to bad news.

Nonetheless, weak growth and a relatively strong move higher in US Treasury yields relative to German bunds recently suggests that downside risks to the EUR will dominate. A small gain expected in today’s release of the July German ZEW survey will do little to change this perspective.

I retain a bearish JPY stance but the move is not going to be a one way bet. Volatility will remain elevated especially ahead of Japanese Upper House elections. Prime Minister’s Abe’s LDP is likely to win but markets will be more interested in Abe’s reform program.

JPY positioning has become increasingly JPY short over recent weeks but does not look particularly stretched suggesting further scope to build JPY shorts. Fed policy expectations will drive USD/JPY, with a renewed relative increase in US yields required to push USD/JPY sustainably above the psychologically important 100 level.

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