USD softens on Bernanke, GBP firm, AUD oversold

Fed Chairman Bernanke did not deliver anything particular new in his testimony yesterday but still managed to provide further reassurance to markets. The Fed chief noted that asset purchases are not on a preset course while highlighting that ‘tapering’ will only occur if economic data warrants it. His concerns about high unemployment and very low inflation emphasized the Fed’s commitment to easy policy settings.

Assisted by a weaker than expected housing starts report bonds liked what they heard, with 10 year Treasury yields dropping below 2.5% while equities rallied and the USD softened. Gold struggled however, failing again to break above USD 1300 and settling back into its USD 1270-1300 range.

Overall, Bernanke’s comments remain consistent with tapering beginning later this year, most likely in September. He will repeat the testimony to the Senate Banking Committee today but markets will look for further clues in the Q&A session.

The positive tone will likely creep into Asian trading today in the absence of other key market drivers, with the USD likely to be restrained against both major and Asian currencies although Asian currencies may struggle given the IMF’s more cautious comments on Chinese growth in which they highlighted the growing downside risks to their growth forecast.

GBP/USD has registered a solid recovery since its recent low just above 1.48. Helped by a hawkish surprise in the Bank of England MPC minutes in which the vote was 9-0 to maintain current monetary settings as new governor Carney managed to unite the MPC view, GBP looks well supported in the days ahead.

What’s surprising is the lack of GBP progress against the EUR especially given the relative outperformance of UK economic data recently and prospects of strengthening momentum into H2 13. Given the potential for alternative monetary policy instruments in the months ahead some caution on GBP may be warranted.

Nonetheless, as GBP is positioned short versus both EUR and USD, its downside looks limited and if anything it will register gains versus EUR. Today’s retail sales may be a risk, but any set back to GBP is likely to prove temporary.

A lot of bad news is already priced into the AUD and sentiment has become overly bearish even if Australia’s government and central bank would prefer to see further currency weakness. There is a risk of an AUD rally in the event of better economic news given that market positioning has become extremely short (close to the all-time low).

A combination of improving risk appetite, renewed search for carry, stabilization in commodity prices and reasonably strong growth in China will eventually help to spur the AUD higher. Clearly there are risks to AUD as the transition process to Fed tapering and higher US yields takes effect but assuming that US yields move gradually as opposed to rapidly higher it is unlikely to stand in the way of an AUD recovery.

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