IMF Hopes For Italy

Following a week in which risk aversion increased further and equity markets fell sharply the start of this week looks a little steadier. Reports in the Italian press that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is readying a EUR 600 billion loan for Italy in the event of a worsening in the debt crisis may help to support markets as the week kicks off.

Moreover a report in the German press that German Chancellor Merkel and French President Sarkozy are preparing a fast track “Stability Pact” for euro countries similar to the Schengen agreement, that may be announced this week, will also help to steady market nerves. However, neither report has been confirmed suggesting that as usual the scope for disappointment is high. The sell on risk on rallies environment is likely to persist for a while longer despite such reports.

Liquidity is likely to thin further this week and scope for volatility is high given that there are plenty of events and data on tap. Included among these are debt auctions in Belgium and Italy today and France and Spain later in the week against the background where Germany’s failed bond auction last week has fuelled even more nervousness in bond markets. A European Finance Ministers meeting beginning tomorrow will also come under scrutiny, especially given the lack of progress so far on many issues including the issue of Eurobonds.

The key data of the week will arrive from the US, with the November jobs report, ISM manufacturing survey, Beige Book and consumer confidence reports scheduled for release. Following what appears to be strong Thanksgiving holiday weekend spending the US data will continue to show improvement although this may not be enough to stem speculation that the Fed is verging on buying of mortgage backed securities in a third round of quantitative easing.

Risk currencies have commenced the week in strong firm, with the EUR and AUD rallying. Any gain in the EUR will prove limited and unsustainable unless the weekend press reports are confirmed. EUR/USD will find upside resistance around the 1.3412 level, while the risk of a downside test of support around its October 4 low at 1.3146 remains high over coming days.

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Germany Caught in the Contagion

Equity markets came off their lows overnight despite a 236 point drop in the Dow Jones, but sentiment remains extremely fragile and any let up in pressure on risk assets will prove temporary. A weak bond auction in Germany highlights the severity of contagion across Europe. If the core is being hit then there is no safe haven in Europe anymore. On a positive note it might just make German officials finally realise that they need to act quickly to provide solutions to the crisis.

Weak data notably outside the US adds to the malaise, with in particular China’s HSBC November weaker purchasing managers’ indices coming in below the 50 boom/bust level. Europe’s weaker purchasing managers indices highlight the prospects of looming recession while the news in Germany is not only bad on the bond front bad also on the data front. Today’s German November IFO survey will continue in the same vein, with further weakness in this business survey expected.

Bearing in mind the US Thanksgiving holiday today thin liquidity will mean that conditions are ripe for exaggerated market moves. EUR/USD has already sustained a drop below the important 1.3500 level as even the underling strong Asian demand appears to have been pulled back. More downside is expected but technicals suggests that it will be hard trudge lower, with near term support seen around 1.3285 (10 day Bollinger Band). The near term range is likely to be 1.3285-1.3505 although given the US holiday the range may be even tighter.

Aside from the IFO attention today will focus on a meeting between Chancellor Merkel, President Sarkozy and Prime Minister Monti. As usual expect a lot of hot air but little action. Also note there is a general strike in Portugal today protesting against austerity measures in the country.

Super Failure By Supercommittee

The USD remains a clear beneficiary in the ‘risk off’ environment enveloping markets at present. Indeed as reflected in the latest jump in USD (IMM) speculative positioning the market is turning increasingly to the USD at a time of intense stress. Moreover, the run of better economic data over recent weeks including October existing home sales yesterday points to less need for further Fed quantitative easing, which comes as further relief to the USD.

Further information on this front will be revealed in the Federal Reserve FOMC minutes on Wednesday, with the Fed set to keep the option open. Even the lack of agreement by the US Congressional Supercommittee on a deal to cut the US budget deficit by $1.2 trillion has failed to dent the USD’s progress as the failure of deficit talks was largely expected. Further USD gains are likely but the pace of its upside move will slow.

Although sentiment towards the Eurozone has deteriorated further EUR/USD is just about clinging onto the 1.3500 level despite several forays lower. More active European Central Bank (ECB) bond buying likely helped dampen some bearishness on the currency although reports suggest that the central bank has imposed a limit of EUR 20 billion on such purchases.

The EUR is not being helped however, by ongoing rumblings of a EUR break up despite Greek Prime Minister Papademos attempting to downplay talk of a Greek EUR exit. A meeting today between Italian Prime Minister Monti and EU officials will be in focus, with markets looking to see further signs of commitment to reforms. We expect no let up in pressure on the EUR, though further declines are likely to be slower, with last week’s low around 1.3420 providing short term support.

GPB has been an underperformer, with the currency on the path for a re-test of the 6 October low around 1.5272. News this week will not be helpful for the currency, with potentially dovish Bank of England monetary policy committee (MPC) minutes likely to inflict further damage, with support from the MPC for more QE set to be revealed.

Ahead of the minutes, UK public finances data today will not make for attractive reading just over a week away from UK Chancellor Osborne’s Autumn statement, which will likely reveal a downward revision to growth forecasts and an upward revision to deficit forecasts. GBP has even lost ground against the beleaguered EUR although we continue to believe that the overall trend will continue to be lower for EUR/GBP over coming weeks.

Extreme Uncertainty

The level of uncertainty enveloping global markets has reached an extreme level. Who would have thought that close to 13 years after its introduction at a time when it has become the second largest reserve currency globally (26.7% of global reserves) as well as the second most traded currency in the world, European leaders would be openly talking about allowing countries to exit the EUR? No less an issue for currency markets is the sustainability of the USD’s role as the foremost reserve currency (60.2% of global reserves). The US debt ceiling debacle and the dramatic expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet have led to many official reserve holders to question their use of the USD. Perhaps unsurprisingly the JPY has been the main beneficiary of such concerns especially as global risk aversion has increased but to the Japanese much of this attention is unwanted and unwelcome.

The immediate focus is the travails of the eurozone periphery. Against the background of severe debt tensions and political uncertainties it is perhaps surprising that the EUR has held up reasonably well. However, this resilience is related more to concerns about the long term viability of the USD rather than a positive view of the EUR, as many official investors continue to diversify away from the USD. I question whether the EUR’s resilience can be sustained given that it may be a long while before the situation in the eurozone stabilises. Moreover, given the now not insignificant risk of one or more countries leaving the eurozone the long term viability of the EUR may also come into question. I believe a break up of the eurozone remains unlikely but such speculation will not be quelled until markets are satisfied that a safety net / firewall for the eurozone periphery is safely in place.

In this environment fundamentals count for little and risk counts for all. If anything, market tensions have intensified and worries about the eurozone have increased since last month. Politics remain at the forefront of market turmoil, and arguably this has led to the worsening in the crisis as lack of agreement between eurozone leaders has led to watered down solutions. Recent changes in leadership in Italy and Greece follow on from government changes in Portugal and Ireland while Spain is widely expected to emerge with a new government following elections. Meanwhile Chancellor Merkel has had to tread a fine line given opposition from within her own coalition in Germany while in France President Sarkozy is expected to have a tough time in elections in April next year. The likelihood of persistent political tensions for months ahead suggests that the EUR and risk currencies will suffer for a while longer.

Eurozone contagion spreading quickly

Contagion from the eurozone debt crisis is spreading quickly, threatening to turn a regional crisis into a global crisis. As highlighted by Fitch ratings further contagion would pose a risk to US banks. Consequently risk assets continue to be sold but interestingly oil prices are climbing. Taken together with comments earlier in the day from the Bank of England that failure to resolve the crisis will lead to “significant adverse effects” on the global economy, it highlights the risks of both economic and financial contagion.

Predominately for some countries this is becoming a crisis of confidence and failure of officials to get to grips with the situation is resulting in an ever worsening spiral of negativity. Although Monti was sworn in as Italian Prime Minister and Papademos won a confidence motion in the Greek parliament the hard work begins now for both leaders in convincing markets of their reform credentials. Given that there is no agreement from eurozone officials forthcoming, sentiment is set to worsen further, with safe haven assets the main beneficiaries.

EUR/USD dropped sharply in yesterday’s session hitting a low around 1.3429. Attempts to rally were sold into, with sellers noted just below 1.3560. Even an intensification of bond purchases by the European Central Bank (ECB) failed to prevent eurozone bond yields moving higher and the EUR from falling.

Against this background and in the absence of key data releases EUR will find direction from the Spanish 10 year bond auction while a French BTAN auction will also be watched carefully given the recent increase in pressure on French bonds. Having broken below 1.3500, EUR/USD will aim for a test of the 10 October low around 1.3346 where some technical support can be expected.

US data releases have been coming in better than expected over recent weeks, acting to dampen expectations of more Fed quantitative easing and in turn helping to remove an impediment to USD appreciation. While the jury is still out on QE, the USD is enjoying some relief from receding expectations that the Fed will forced to purchase more assets. Further USD gains are likely, with data today including October housing starts and the November Philly Fed manufacturing confidence survey unlikely to derail the currency despite a likely drop in starts.

Contagion spreading like wildfire

EUR continues to head lower and is is destined to test support around 1.3484 versus USD where it came close overnight. Contagion in eurozone debt markets is spreading quickly, with various countries’ sovereign spreads widening to record levels against German bunds including Italy, Spain, France, Belgium and Austria. Poor T-bill auctions in Spain and Belgium, speculation of downgrades to French, Italian and Austrian debt, and a weak reading for the November German ZEW investor confidence index added to the pressure.

A bill auction in Portugal today will provide further direction but the precedent so far this week is not good. The fact that markets have settled back into the now usual scepticism over the ability of authorities in Europe to get their act together highlights the continued downside risks to EUR/USD. Although there is likely to be significant buying around the 1.3500 level, one has to question how long the EUR will continue to skate on thin ice.

The Bank of Japan is widely expected to leave policy unchanged today but the bigger focus is on the Japanese authorities’ stance on the JPY. Finance Minister Azumi noted yesterday that there was no change in his stance on fighting JPY speculators. To some extent the fight against speculators is being won given that IMM speculative positions and TFX margin positioning in JPY has dropped back sharply since the last FX intervention to weaken the JPY.

However, this has done little to prevent further JPY appreciation, with USD/JPY continuing to drift lower over recent days having already covered around half the ground lost in the wake of the October 31 intervention. Markets are likely therefore to take Azumi’s threats with a pinch of salt and will only balk at driving the JPY higher if further intervention takes place. Meanwhile, USD/JPY looks set to grind lower.

GBP will take its direction from the Bank of England Quarterly Inflation Report and October jobs data today. There will be particular attention on the willingness of the BoE to implement further quantitative easing. A likely dovish report should by rights play negatively for GBP but the reaction is not so obvious. Since the announcement of GBP 75 billion in asset purchases a month ago GBP has fared well especially against the EUR, with the currency perhaps being rewarded for the proactive stance of the BoE.

Moreover, the simple fact that GBP is not the EUR has given it a quasi safe haven quality, which has helped it to remain relatively resilient. Nonetheless, GBP will find it difficult to avoid detaching from the coat tails of a weaker EUR and in this respect looks set to test strong support around GBP/USD 1.5630 over the short term.

Data releases in focus

For a change the markets may actually concentrate on data releases today rather than political events in the eurozone. The October US retail sales report and November Empire manufacturing survey are likely to paint a less negative economic picture of the US. The data will help to dampen expectations of more quantitative easing in the US but we will be able to hear more on the subject from the Fed’s Bullard and Williams in speeches today.

Overnight the Fed’s Fisher poured more cold water on the prospects of further QE by highlighting that the economy is “poised for growth”. While speculative data in the form of the CTFC IMM data shows a drop in USD sentiment to its lowest in several weeks we do not expect this to persist. The USD will likely benefit from the data today and we see the currency retaining a firmer tone over the short term especially as eurozone concerns creep back in.

The vote by German Chancellor Merkel’s party to approve a measure for a troubled country to leave the EUR opens up a can of worms and will hit EUR sentiment. But rather than politics there are several data releases on tap today that will provide some short term influence on the EUR, including Q3 GDP and the November German ZEW survey. FX markets will likely ignore a positive reading for GDP given that the outlook for Q4 is going to be much worse. The forward looking ZEW survey will record a further drop highlighting the risks to Europe’s biggest economy.

T-bill auctions in Spain and Greece may garner even more attention. Following on from yesterday’s Italian debt sale in which the yield on 5-year bond came in higher than the previous auction but with a stronger bid/cover ratio, markets will look for some encouragement from today’s auctions. Even if the auctions go well, on balance, relatively downbeat data releases will play negatively for the EUR.

When viewing the EUR against what is implied by interest rate differentials it is very evident that the currency is much stronger than it should be at least on this measure. Both short term (interest rate futures) and long term (2 year bond) yield differentials between the eurozone and the US reveal that EUR/USD is destined for a fall.

Europe’s yield advantage has narrowed sharply over recent months yet the EUR has not weakened. Some of this has been due to underlying demand for European portfolio assets and official buying of EUR from central banks but the reality is that the EUR is looking increasingly susceptible to a fall. EUR/USD is poised for a drop below the psychologically important level of 1.35, with support seen around 1.3484 (10 November low).

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