ECB meeting, Brexit, Fed minutes, China trade, India elections in focus

This week there a number of key events to focus attention on including European Central Bank (ECB) policy meeting, Federal Reserve FOMC March minutes, the commencement of India’s general elections, China data, and further Brexit developments as UK Prime Minister May tries to gain a further short extension to the Brexit deadline, until June 30.

The better than expected US March jobs report, revealing a bigger than expected 196k increase in jobs, with a softer than expected 0.1% monthly increase in hourly earnings, which effectively revealed a firm jobs market, without major wage pressures, helped US markets close off the week on a positive note. The data adds to further evidence that the Fed may not need to hike policy rates further.

The European Central Bank decision is likely to prove uneventful though recent comments by ECB President Draghi have fuelled speculation that the central bank will introduce a tiered deposit system to alleviate the impact of negative rates on banks.   EUR is unlikely to benefit from this.  Separately Fed FOMC minutes will be scrutinised to ascertain how dovish the Fed has become as the markets shift towards pricing in rate cuts, but it is unlikely that the minutes provide further fuel to interest rate doves.

Friday is the deadline to agree on an extension with the EU to prevent a hard Brexit.  Meanwhile PM May is set to restart talks with opposition Labour Party leader Corbyn to thrash out a cross party agreement on Brexit terms ahead of an EU summit on Wednesday that will look at her request for a Brexit extension until June 30.  GBP has lost momentum lately and investors appear to be fatigued with the daily Brexit news gyrations.

Meanwhile, US-China trade talks appear to be edging towards some sort of a deal while Chinese data this week is also likely to be supportive for risk assets.   As China eases financing conditions, evidence of a pick up in the credit impulse will be evident in March aggregate financing, new loans and money supply data this week.   Meanwhile China’s March trade data is likely to look better or at least less negative than over recent months. This suggests that risk assets will likely fare well this week.

India will be in the spotlight as India’s multi stage elections kick off on Thursday.  Prime Minister Modi is in good stead to ahead of elections, boosted by his government’s reaction to recent terrorist attacks on Indian paramilitary in Kashmir.   Concerns that Modi’s ruling BJP would lose a significant amount of seats in the wake of state election losses towards the end of last year have receded.  Nonetheless, election uncertainties may keep the INR on the backfoot this week.

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Not much good news

There are a plethora of issues weighing on asset markets though sentiment has improved slightly today.  Weak Chinese trade data over the weekend and a revision lower to Japanese GDP data yesterday added to growing global growth concerns, against the background of waning hopes of a resolution to the US-China trade war.

US administration comments that there was a hard deadline for trade talks have not helped sentiment either.  News today that Chinese Vice Premier Liu He spoke with US Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and US Trade Rep Lighthizer on a timetable and road map on trade talks provided some relief, however.

In the US, growth expectations are undergoing a shift and talk of a Fed pause is growing.  This would be considered as good news for EM if it wasn’t for the fact that a pause could be due to US growth concerns rather than any sense that the Fed was approaching its terminal rate.  US November CPI, retail sales, and industrial production data will give more clues, but I still think the Fed policy rates next week.

In the UK, Brexit worries have intensified following the decision by Prime Minister May to the delay the vote on a deal in parliament given she would most likely would have faced a defeat had it gone ahead.  May will now go on a tour of European capitals to try to improve the Brexit deal but prospects don’t look good, especially as European Council president Tusk has already ruled out any negotiation of the deal and in particular the Irish backstop.

GBP was pummeled as a result of the delay and will continue to struggle in the short term given the lack visibility.  A revised deal appears difficult while a hard Brexit and even a new referendum are all on the table.

Risk aversion edging higher

As the reverberations from China’s poor trade data, weaker loan growth and money supply, as well as continued tensions in the Ukraine ahead of a referendum next Sunday, spread through the market, risk aversion continues to edge higher according to our risk barometer.

Lingering questions over the weather impact on the US economy are also capping risk appetite even after the better than expected US jobs report at the end of last week. Although there is no sign of any panic selling of risk assets at present the tone is decidedly cautious.

Consequently safe haven assets remain in demand, with for example gold prices holding up well and US Treasury yields being capped. Additionally industrial commodity prices have taken a hit, with iron ore prices under major pressure.

There is little on the agenda today that will give a clearer picture for markets, with the Bank of Japan policy meeting and UK industrial production data, the key events for the day. As a result, caution is likely to prevail.

GBP/USD struggling above 1.6700

Although the Bank of England meeting is likely to be a non event today from a market perspective GBP/USD is clearly struggling to sustain a move above 1.6700. GBP/USD has breached 1.6700 12 times since mid February but only closed above this level 4 times. Over the near term strong resistance around 1.6769 will cap gains in the currency pair, with GBP continuing to look vulnerable above 1.6700. Some recent misses on the data front have not helped GBP’s cause, suggesting that caution for GBP bulls is warranted. GBP bulls may find more traction versus EUR instead of USD, with EUR/GBP set to come under further downward pressure as the EUR weakens anew. A break below 0.8200 beckons.

USD undermined, GBP supported for now

Despite its overnight bounce the USD index is trading close to its lowest levels this year undermined by a series of weaker economic data and related to this a failure of US bond yields to push higher. Alongside this relatively soft USD tone is a generally subdued and range bound tone to FX markets in general.

Even my quantitative models suggest little impetus for big moves in EUR/USD and USD/JPY. However, I expect this to change over coming weeks. Once the US economy shakes off the shackles of poor weather conditions the USD will be in a better position to recoup its recent losses.

In the near term Fed Chairman Yellen’s testimony today will garner some attention but the speech is unlikely to break the USD or FX markets out of their malaise.

GBP is holding up well, taking advantage of a subdued USD tone. As a consequence of firmer data the market appears to be gearing up for an eventual rate hike, with Bank of England members sounding more upbeat, even if it is unlikely to occur anytime soon.

Consequently over the near term GBP looks well supported although eventually we expect the currency to settle back to earth. In particular 3 month interest rate differentials with the USD appear to suggest that GBP/USD gains are overdone.

This doesn’t mean that its time to sell now but market positioning has turned more positive over recent weeks, above its 3-month average, suggesting further short term gains will be more gradual, with strong GBP/USD resistance around 1.6745.

Positive tone to be sustained

A quiet start to the week following the President’s Day holiday in the US saw mixed performances among European equity markets overnight. There was however, a continued improvement in risk appetite as indicated by a further decline in the VIX “fear gauge”.

The impulse provided for today’s sessions is limited although markets are likely to get off to a positive start. The USD managed to show some stability following recent pressures, albeit at a low level, while gold prices remained supported above the key 200 day moving average level.

The main event today is the Bank of Japan policy decision which will be watched closely following yesterday’s release of disappointing Q4 GDP data.

The German February ZEW survey is also on tap, with a relatively stable reading likely to be registered although attention appears to be more on the new Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzie rather than on economic data.

Additionally UK inflation data for January is set to reveal that inflation has dropped below target highlighting that the BoE is going to be in no rush to hike policy rates over coming months

GBP losing ground

The Bank of England is set to keep policy rates and asset purchases unchanged today This will offer little comfort to GBP following its recent falls from its highs around 1.6669 versus USD. GBP has also lost ground against the EUR but this is unlikely to persist. GPB was not helped by the lower than expected purchasing managers index (PMI) manufacturing survey in January although confidence in the manufacturing sector remains at a high level.

In the wake of a quicker decline in the unemployment rate than expected (the unemployment rate fell to 7.1% in the three months through November) the BoE is faced with the risk that their current forward guidance proves inappropriate. The BoE has set a rate of 7% at which it would consider raising policy rates and this could be hit very soon. Given that the BoE is highly unlikely to want to hike policy rates any time soon Governor Carney will need to allay concerns over the prospects of higher policy rates by altering its forward guidance.

Manufacturing and industrial production data tomorrow will give further direction, with healthy gains expected to provide some support to GBP. However, given that the policy meeting today is likely to prove to be a non event the Quarterly Inflation Report next week will quickly move into focus.

GBP/USD appears to be gravitating towards its 100 day moving average around 1.6252 but major technical support is seen around 1.6220.

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