US dollar pull back to prove short lived

Having spent the tail end of last week in Singapore and Phnom Penh presenting the Global outlook for 2014 to clients as part of our Asian roadshow it struck me that there is a strong consensus view about a number of market movements this year. In particular, most expect the USD to strengthen over 2014. Indeed just as it looked as though the USD was going to surge into the new year, along comes the US jobs report to spoil the party. Clearly, it’s not going to be a one way bet in 2014.

The surprisingly weak US December payrolls data in which only 74k jobs were added compared to consensus expectations of close to 200k helped to support expectations that Fed tapering would take place only gradually, lending a helping hand to risk assets at the turn of this week.

I don’t believe the jobs data materially changes the picture for the Fed. Adverse weather may have played a role in the weakness in jobs while complicating matters was the drop in the unemployment rate to 6.7% largely due to around 350,000 people leaving the labour force. The data resulted in a drop in US bond yields and a weaker USD although equity market reaction was more mixed. Meanwhile gold and other commodity prices rose.

While risk assets may find some support in the wake of the jobs report this week much of the US data slate will if anything highlight that economic growth is strengthening, suggesting a reversal of some of the price action in US Treasuries, USD and gold. Data releases include a likely healthy increase in core US retail sales in December together with gains in manufacturing confidence surveys (Empire and Philly Fed) and industrial output as well as a further increase in consumer confidence (Michigan sentiment survey).

Additionally several Fed speakers are on tap over coming days, which may give more colour on Fed thinking in the wake of the jobs report. However, it is doubtful that they will indicate that the Fed will not taper as expected in January.

Clearly markets were caught overly long USDs last week as reflected in CFTC IMM speculative positioning data as of 7th January which showed that net USD long positions had reached their highest since September 2013. The pull back in the USD is set to be short lived, however, especially if US data over coming days reveals further improvement as expected.

USD/JPY in particular bore the brunt of the pull back in US yields, as long positions were unwound. A Japanese holiday today may limit activity but much will depend on the propensity for US yields to bounce back, with 10 year US Treasury yields currently around 2.85% compared to around 2.97% on Friday.

Asian currencies have been the most sensitive to US Treasury yields gyrations over the past three months. In order of sensitivity to US 10 year Treasury yields the highest is the JPY, followed by MYR, THB, PHP and SGD. These currencies would be expected to benefit the most in the wake of the drop in yields at the end of last week although as noted any pull back in US yields is likely to prove temporary. While the THB may suffer from political concerns in the near term the other currencies are likely to see some short term gains.

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