Markets remain skittish as caution prevails

There has been a slight easing in tensions overnight as reflected in the small decline in my risk barometer and the VIX ‘fear gauge’. However, markets remain skittish and the mood is somewhat cautious as the focus remains on emerging market travails.

Additionally a sharp fall in Apple shares in after hours trading may also dampen equity markets today. Although specific country specific factors may have provoked the current bout of pressure contagion has spread quickly, reminiscent of the onset of previous crises.

The current bout of pressure may yet be contained but there is still some way to go before market stress is alleviated. Consequently correlations between asset classes have strengthened, in particular for currencies. Indeed most emerging market currencies have depreciated especially those of the “fragile 5”.

Overnight US yields rose while US and European equities continued to sell off and gold prices dipped following recent gains. The USD index held gained slightly following the rise in US yields.

Aside from emerging markets attention will focus on the US, with President Obama’s State of the Union address, December durable goods orders and January consumer confidence on tap most attention will quickly shift to tomorrow’s Fed FOMC policy decision. UK Q4 GDP will also garner some attention.


USD edges higher, AUD supported, KRW in focus

US equities and risk assets in general edged higher overnight as US politicians edged towards a budget deal. The nomination of Janet Yellen as next Fed Chairman was met with a positive reaction from risk assets as it was perceived that she would be more likely to maintain the easy policy of her predecessor, with markets in any case delaying expectations of tapering into next year.

The Fed FOMC minutes released overnight gave little clarity on the timing of Fed tapering however, but it did highlight the split within the FOMC between those wanting to begin tapering in September and those preferring to wait. More consolidation is likely today as markets await political developments in the US.

Contrary to our expectations the USD has actually edged higher over recent days shaking off some the pressure associated with the budget impasse in the US. News that President Obama will meet around 20 senior Republicans from the House following a similar meeting with Democrats highlights progress of sorts, with hints of compromise in the air.

A slight uptick in US bond yields has managed to provide the USD with a semblance of support and further consolidation is likely in the short term as market fears over a US default gradually recede. Indeed, it appears that the USD is in a bottoming out process at present, with short term pain likely to give way to medium term gain.

GBP has lost ground over recent days undermined yesterday by disappointing August manufacturing/industrial production data and a worse than expected trade deficit. The data is unlikely to affect the outcome of today’s Bank of England MPC meeting however, with an unchanged outcome both on policy rates and asset purchases on the cards.

Despite yesterday’s data disappointments UK data has been improving and point to a reasonably good growth outcome in Q3 and a reduced likelihood of further asset purchases by the BoE. Nonetheless, GBP’s gains look overdone, with scope for short covering having diminished. Further pressure is expected against both EUR and GBP in the short term.

Australian jobs data revealed an increase of 9.1k in employment evenly split between full time and part time jobs and a surprise drop in the unemployment rate to 5.6%. The headline increase in employment was below consensus. Moreover, there was a marginal drop in the participation rate which helped to push the unemployment rate lower. On balance, the data will leave the AUD unperturbed, with the AUD/USD likely to remain supported over the short term. AUD/USD looks primed to test resistance around the 0.9530.

Asian currencies are on the back foot in the face of a slightly firmer USD. KRW will be in focus, with the Bank of Korea delivering an unchanged policy outcome but revising lower its growth and inflation forecasts. Against this background KRW appreciation looks overdone and appears to face strong resistance on any breach down to USD/KRW 1070. Nonetheless, downside risks will be limited. Encouragingly Korea has been a major beneficiary of the prospects of a delayed Fed tapering, with the country recording a strong return of equity portfolio flows over recent weeks

Little respite for the dollar

Given that the government shutdown has reduced the number of market moving US data releases on tap, tensions surrounding the US budget and likely debt ceiling impasse continue to weigh on sentiment. Signs that senior Republicans are becoming less focussed on defunding Obamacare hint at potential for a compromise. However, a deal looks a long way off and nervousness is set to grow ahead of the October 17 debt ceiling deadline.

Reflecting this, risk measures rose overnight, with the VIX “fear gauge” spiking higher and equity markets lower. Safe haven currencies including CHF and JPY remain well supported against this background although gold prices have been range bound. Giving some relief from politics markets will be able to focus on the onset of the US Q3 earnings season this week.

The USD is susceptible to further slippage as traction towards a US budget deal remains out of reach. The USD index has now dropped by over 5% in the last three months, undermined more recently by a potential delay in Fed tapering and lower US Treasury yields. Uncertainty about the economic impact of the budget delay and prospective failure to raise the debt ceiling over coming weeks suggests that any upside traction for the USD will be extremely limited.

What is clear is that the longer the delay in reaching a deal the bigger hit on the economy and in turn the bigger the pressure on the USD. A delay in the release of trade data originally scheduled for release today will mean that market angst over the political impasse will be the bigger driver of the USD today. The USD index is set to edge further below the 80.00 level over coming days.

JPY is a clear beneficiary of the malaise in the US over recent days and looks set to strengthen further in the short term especially as risk aversion continues to increase and US yields remain constrained. The day’s ahead will be particularly important for the JPY from a domestic policy perspective too. Japan’s parliament meets from October 15 to December 16, marking a crucial period to pass legislation on Prime Minister Abe’s “growth strategy”.

Given past disappointment with Abe’s “third arrow” markets will look for strong evidence that reforms will move Japan to a higher and non deflationary growth trajectory. This is by no means guaranteed. Further disappointment would imply a firmer JPY. Having tested its 200 day moving average around 96.72 near term technical support for USD/JPY is seen around 95.92.

US budget impasse deepens

There has been no sign of agreement between the US administration/Democrats and Republicans over resolving the budget impasse that has caused a partial government shutdown as well as havoc with the timing of government data releases. If anything both sides have become more entrenched in their positions, implying that any agreement on raising the debt ceiling required by October 17 also looks out of reach.

Market reaction so far has been relatively muted in the expectation of an agreement but such hopes may prove optimistic. Following the delay in the US employment report which was originally scheduled for release last Friday markets will also be scrambling for clues as to the impact on the timing of any Fed tapering.

US data releases will not help the market mood or the USD, with consumer confidence set to soften, which will play for further delay in tapering. US September retail sales and August trade data are likely to be delayed although the Federal Reserve FOMC minutes of the last meeting will hopefully provide some clues to the timing of tapering.

Markets are set to become increasingly nervous over coming days suggesting an increase in risk aversion. Consequently pressure on risk assets is likely unless some sign of rapprochement is seen. So far US Treasury yields are holding above 2.6% while the USD index has stabilised around the 80.00 level.

Surprisingly gold has failed to benefit from the lack of budget agreement in the US. The VIX ‘fear gauge’ dropped slightly but none of this will last if Congress does not get its act together. A deal soon would minimise the economic impact but a protracted impasse would be much more negative for growth. Either way the beginning of Fed tapering looks to have been pushed into next year.

USD pressure is set to extend further against most major currencies, with safe havens, in particular JPY and CHF set to be well supported in the days ahead. The drop in US Treasury yields will help yield sensitive currencies especially the likes of the INR but higher risk aversion will counter any positive impact on high beta currencies.

The EUR meanwhile, looks well placed to take advantage of further USD weakness, especially given the prospects of firmer data releases this week including a series of industrial production data.

Swiss franc under pressure

The US debt ceiling continues to garner most attention in markets, with US Treasury Secretary Geithner warning in a letter to Congress about the adverse economic impact of the failure to raise the ceiling. President Obama gave a similar warning, but with current extraordinary measures due to run out between mid February and early March timing is running out.

While Fed Chairman Bernanke echoed this assessment markets found some relief in his speech as it did not repeat the views of some Fed officials in hinting at an early ending of QE. Bernanke qualified his comments by stating that believes that inflation will stay below 2% over the medium term.

EUR/USD could not hold onto highs around 1.3404 but the currency pair does not looks as though it is running out of momentum. As sentiment towards the Eurozone periphery continues to improve and inflows into Eurozone assets increases the EUR is finding itself as a key beneficiary. However, the strength of the currency will only reinforce the weak economic backdrop across the region, which eventually will come back to bite the EUR.

Indeed data today is likely to confirm that the German economy recorded a weak pace of growth over 2012 finishing the year with a contraction in activity over Q4. Our forecast of no growth in the Eurozone this year could face downside risks should the EUR continue to rise. This is unlikely to stem the near term upside for EUR/USD but adverse growth and yield differentials compared to the US will mean that gains in EUR/USD will not be sustained.

The long awaited move higher in EUR/CHF appears to be finally occurring. EUR/CHF is trading at its highest level in over a year and looks set to make further gains. The fading of Eurozone crisis fears, better global economic developments and search for yield, are combining to pressure the CHF versus EUR although USD/CHF is trading near multi month lows.

Additionally improving sentiment outside of Switzerland is not echoed within the country as domestic indicators have worsened recently such as the KoF leading indicator, adding further pressure for a weaker CHF. Recent inflation data revealing a 0.4% YoY in December, the 15th month of annual declines have reinforced the fact that the currency is overly strong. EUR/CHF looks set to move higher, with the December 2011 high of 1.2444 the next target.

Sell USD / Asia FX on rallies

The biggest move this year appears to have come from the VIX ‘fear gauge’ which has dropped sharply contributing to an overall improvement in risk appetite. Although the VIX dropped further overnight equity sentiment overall continues to sour as fiscal cliff euphoria faded further and markets brace for the reality of likely protracted negotiations to raise the debt ceiling and avert huge spending cuts.

Caution over a plethora of fourth quarter earnings reports over coming weeks is also limiting upside for risk assets. Economic drivers were thin on the ground overnight but weak German exports data (which likely contributes to an overall decline in GDP in Q4) an increase in Eurozone unemployment and rumours of a French ratings downgrade did not help.

In the US the news was a little better as small business confidence reversed its sharp November drop. A limited data slate today will leave markets focussed on upcoming earnings, with consensus estimates for Q4 at a relatively low 2.9% QoQ.

Asian currencies have registered mixed performances so far this year. Resistance from some Asian central banks, notably Korea, has limited the appreciation of currencies. The incentive to prevent further strength has increased especially as a key competitor the JPY has weakened.

Maintaining its robust performance over 2012 the PHP has been the best Asian FX performer so far in 2013 followed by the THB. Similarly the IDR has maintained its negative performance registered last year. SGD is also likely to underperform further as the currency finds itself being increasingly used as a funding currency for taking long positions in other Asian FX.

We note that risk appetite has a limited correlation with Asian currencies at present but firm capital inflows will continue to provide support, with a sell USD / Asia FX on rallies environment set to persist.

Euro falls, yen rises as risk aversion picks up

The USD index is quickly slipping back to its mid September lows, although downside momentum has been restrained by an overnight jump in risk aversion. The USD had been undermined by a continued improvement in risk appetite as markets expect (hope) that a deal to avert the fiscal cliff can be averted although recent developments have not been encouraging on this front. Additionally, given the relative strong performance of US equities this year there may be an element of profits repatriation out of the US weighing on the USD. A likely upward revision to US Q3 GDP, rise in the Philly Fed survey manufacturing, and existing home sales, will if anything imply firmer risk appetite and consequent USD weakness.

EUR/USD is trading close to multi month highs but dropped from a high of 1.3309 overnight despite a firmer than expected reading for the December German IFO survey on renewed caution over a deal to avert the fiscal cliff. News flow has provided some impetus to the EUR over recent weeks following recent agreements by European leaders on issues such as banking supervision and a positive Greek debt buyback. Such progress has set the background for a firm end to the year for the currency. Nonetheless, as reflected in its drop overnight any increase in risk aversion will limit the ability of the EUR to move higher. Additionally the EUR will be restrained by caution expressed by the Greek finance minister in the FT over the country’s future highlighting that Greece is not out of the woods yet.

The JPY’s slide has continued unabated ahead of today’s BoJ policy decision. Markets have already priced in further easing in the form of an increase in asset purchases and any outcome that reveals anything less than JPY 10 trilion in asset purchases will provoke JPY buying in a market that is heavily short. However, the LDP’s strong showing in elections implies that markets will need to take seriously threats of more aggressive policy action over coming months, especially with regard to JPY strength. Indeed, weak export data revealed yesterday, while not solely attributable to JPY strength, will nonetheless, fuel more pressure for a weaker currency. Therefore, any pull back in USD/JPY will prove short lived as investors once again eye the JPY as the favoured short leg of carry trades.

Please note this will be my last blog post for 2012. Thank you for reading econometer.

Seasons Greetings and best wishes for the new year to all readers.

ps. if you haven’t checked it out please click on the link below to order my new book, Chronology of a Crisis.

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