Strengthening risk appetite hitting the dollar

Strengthening risk appetite is taking its toll on the USD, with the USD index now down around 3.5% from its 4 October peak. Although equity markets probably liked the news the USD was dealt another blow from the FOMC minutes which revealed that some Fed officials were keen on embarking on further large-scale asset purchases after recognizing that the impact of Operation Twist will not be so potent.

Earnings will have some impact on risk and in turn the USD, with Q3 earnings from JP Morgan and Google on tap today. However, risk appetite looks well supported and in a market that became long USDs very quickly, this suggests some scope for squaring long positions in the short term.

What comes next for the EUR? The currency has bounced from its lows and has made considerable ground against the USD over recent sessions. Markets quickly got over Slovakia’s initial rejection of the EFSF’s enhancement as agreement was reached by officials in the country to approve the mechanism in a second vote. However, there is not much news on the progress on issues such as European banking sector recapitalisation, ‘leveraging’ the EFSF or the any change in creditor participation in any Greek debt restructuring.

Although European Commission President Barroso gave some broad outlines of what should be done to recapitalise banks disagreement among officials meant that there was little detail. Perhaps no news is good news and in any case markets will have to wait for the delayed EU Summit for further news, but the longer the wait the greater the scepticism and attendant downside risks to EUR.

The Swiss National Bank must be content with their stance on the CHF. Since the imposition of a ceiling for CHF versus EUR at 1.2000, and after an initial sharp jump higher the currency pair has continued to edge upwards. Meanwhile, speculation that the SNB may even raise the ceiling to 1.30 has grown as domestic complaints such as those from the country’s largest telecoms operator yesterday about the ongoing strength in the currency, continue.

The SNB has not indicated that it favors such a move and may be content with a gradual decline in the CHF as is taking place now, but should the fragile market calm at present disintegrate the SNB may have another battle on their hands as appetite for the currency strengthens anew. On the top side resistance is seen around 1.2469 for EUR/CHF.

Like many other high beta currencies AUD is being influenced less by domestic factors and more by risk aversion. Even more influential to the direction of AUD/USD is the movement in commodity prices and like risk aversion this had a negative influence on AUD as commodity prices dropped sharply over September.

Due to a bounce in both risk and commodities AUD has bounced sharply from its recent lows back above parity with the USD. AUD will have found further support from the firm September jobs report today. It is difficult to go against rising risk appetite at present but there is still a significant risk that hopes of a solution to the eurozone’s woes do not materialise while growth expectations are pared back further. Against this background the AUD will remain susceptible to sharp

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Euro unimpressed by Greek confidence vote

News that the Greek government won a confidence vote has left the EUR unimpressed and gains will be limited ahead of the June 28 vote on the country’s 5-year austerity plan. The EUR was in any case rallying ahead of the vote, which the government won by 155-143 votes, and has actually lost a little ground following the vote.

EUR sentiment is likely to remain somewhat fragile given the ongoing uncertainties, but now that the first hurdle has been passed markets there is at least a better prospect of Greece receiving the next EUR 12 billion aid tranche before the July 15 “do or default” deadline. Over the near term EUR/USD upside is likely to remain capped around the 1.4451 resistance level (15 June high).

The next key event for markets is the Fed FOMC meeting outcome and press conference. This is unlikely to bode particularly well for the USD given that the Fed is set to downgrade its growth forecasts, with the comments on the economy likely to sound a little more downbeat given the loss of momentum recently as reflected in a string of disappointing data releases.

Nonetheless, monetary settings are unlikely to be changed, with the Fed committed to ending QE2 by the end of June. I remain positive on the USD’s prospects but its recovery is fragile due to the fact that US bond yields remain at ultra low levels.

Whilst only AUD/USD and USD/JPY have maintained significant correlations with bond yield differentials over the past three months, it will eventually require US bond yields to move higher in relative terms for the USD to find its legs again on a more sustainable basis.

In the meantime the approach of the end of QE2 by the end of June will on balance play positively for the USD as at least the Fed’s balance sheet will no longer be expanding even if the reinvestment of principle from its holdings of US Treasuries suggest that there will not be a quick or immediate reduction in the size of the balance sheet anytime soon.

There is little appetite to intervene to weaken the JPY at present, with the Japanese authorities blaming the strengthening in the JPY versus USD on the latter’s weakness rather than the former’s strength. Until yield differentials widen, USD/JPY will continue to languish at current levels or even lower.

GBP will garner direction from the release of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee meeting minutes. Whilst GBP has edged higher against the USD it has remained vulnerable against EUR. A likely dovish set of minutes reflecting some weak activity data, easing core inflation and soft wage growth, suggests little support for GBP over the short term.

Australian dollar hit by weak jobs data

The USD’s bounce since the beginning of the month appears to be gaining more traction, with the USD index up over 3% from its recent lows. I’m still cautious about whether this move can extend much further in the absence of a back up in US bond yields especially given ongoing asset purchases / global USD liquidity injections by the US Federal Reserve at least until the end of June.

Nonetheless, given the magnitude of USD short positioning, which had moved ever close to revisiting record levels, the potential for short-covering was significant. US data today could provide some influence, with attention on April retail sales data, PPI inflation and jobless claims. A relatively positive outcome for retail sales could give the USD further support.

The day has started badly for the AUD, with the currency hit by an awful jobs report, with employment dropping by 22.1k in April compared to consensus expectations of +17k. The details were even more negative than the headline reading, with full time employment dropping by 49.1k and only partially mitigated by a 26.9k rise in part time employment.

The Reserve Bank of Australia will likely pay close attention to the data and it will likely result in any residual expectation of a rate hike by the RBA next month being taken off the table. Already today there has been a sharp rally in bank bill futures as markets pare back interest rate expectations and markets are not even pricing in a further full 25bps rate hike by year end.

The data weighed heavily on the AUD, with AUD/USD hitting a low below 1.06. AUD is likely to trade with a heavy tone over coming sessions, with the currency already under pressure from a generally firmer USD. Moreover, the rally in Australian bank bill futures will add further pressure to the currency as Australia’s favourable rate differential narrows further with the US.

Taken together with the fact that AUD positioning is close to its all time highs and that even compared to interest rate differentials its gains look overdone, it suggests more downside risks over the short-term, with AUD/USD 1.0537 seen as a near term technical support level.

In contrast GBP benefitted from a back up in UK bond yields in reaction to the Bank of England’s Quarterly Inflation Report. Inflation forecasts were revised higher but growth forecasts were revised lower as expected. The In truth, the reaction looked overdone but GBP has gained some momentum versus EUR and looks set to extend its gains, with focus on the 200 day moving average level of 0.8558.

Australian Dollar Looking Stretched

Central bank decisions in Japan, Europe and UK will dictate FX market direction today. No surprises are expected by the Bank of Japan (BoJ) and Bank of England (BoE) leaving the European Central Bank (ECB) decision and press conference to provide the main market impetus. Although a hawkish message from ECB President Trichet is likely the market has already priced in a total of 75 basis points of tightening this year. We retain some caution about whether the EUR will be able to make further headway following the ECB meeting unless the central bank is even more hawkish than already priced in.

EUR/USD easily breached the 1.4250 resistance level and will now eye resistance around 1.4500. News that Portugal formally requested European Union (EU) aid came as no surprise whilst strong German factory orders provided further support to the EUR. The data highlights upside risks to today’s February German industrial production data. The EUR will find further support versus the USD from comments by Atlanta Fed’s Lockhart who noted that he doesn’t expect the Fed to hike interest rates by year end.

USD/JPY is now around 7.5% higher than its post earthquake lows. Japanese authorities will undoubtedly see a measure of success from their joint FX intervention. To a large degree they have been helped by a shift in relative bond yields (2-year US / Japan yield differentials have widened by close to 30 basis points since mid March, and are finally having some impact on USD/JPY as reflected in the strengthening in short-term correlations. Whilst the BoJ is unlikely to alter its policy settings today the fact that it is providing plenty of liquidity to money markets, having injected around JPY 23 trillion or about 5% of nominal GDP since the earthquake, is likely playing a role in dampening JPY demand.

AUD/USD has appreciated by close to 6% since mid March and whilst I would not recommend selling as yet I would be cautious about adding to long positions. My quantitative model based on interest rate / yield differentials, commodity prices and risk aversion reveals a major divergence between AUD/USD and its regression estimate. Clearly the AUD has benefitted from diversification flows as Asian central banks intervene and recycle intervention USDs. However, at current levels I question the value of such diversification into AUD.

Speculative AUD/USD positioning as indicated by the CFTC IMM data reveals that net long positions are verging on all time highs, suggesting plenty of scope for profit taking / position squaring in the event of a turn in sentiment. Moreover, AUD gains do not match the performance of economic data, which have been coming in worse than expected over recent weeks. Consequently the risks of a correction have increased.

Beyond Expectations

Egypt worries continue to reverberate across markets, yet there appears to be growing resilience or at least some perspective being placed on problems there. Encouraging economic data, particularly in the US has helped to shield markets to some extent, with equity market rallying and US bond yields rising last week. The main impact of Egypt and worries about Middle East contagion continues to be felt on oil prices.

Even the mixed US January jobs report has failed to dent market sentiment; the smaller than expected 36k increase in payrolls was largely attributed to severe weather. A further surprising drop in the unemployment rate to 9.0% due mainly to a significant drop in the labor force was also well received by the market.

There will be less market moving releases on tap this week and the data are unlikely to dent recovery hopes. Michigan confidence is set to record an improvement in February whilst the December trade deficit is set to widen to around $41.0 billion. There are also plenty of Federal Reserve speakers this week including a testimony by Chairman Bernanke.

One central bank that has softened its hawkish rhetoric is the European Central Bank (ECB), with President Trichet dampening speculation of an early rate hike last week and alleviating some of the pressure on eurozone interest rate markets. Consequently the EUR fell as the interest rate differential with the USD became somewhat less attractive. The EUR was also undermined by the opposition from some member states to French and German ideas for greater fiscal policy coordination, an aim apparently not shared across euro members.

Data in Europe will be largely second tier. The EUR will look increasingly vulnerable to a further drop this week especially given the increase in net positioning over the past week to (1st February) according to the CFTC IMM data. The potential for position squaring looms large as positioning is now well above the three-month average. Stops are seen just below EUR/USD 1.3540.

In the UK the Bank of England policy meeting will take centre stage but there is unlikely to be any change in policy settings. Clues to policy thinking will be available in the monetary policy committee meeting minutes in two weeks times but it seems unlikely that any more members have joined the two voting for a hike at the last meeting.

Recent data have been a little more encouraging helping to wash off the disappointment of the surprise drop in Q4 GDP. The UK industrial production report is likely to be similarly firm on Thursday, with the annual pace accelerating. GBP/USD may however, struggle to make much headway against the background of a firmer USD and the weigh of long positioning, with GBP/USD 1.6279 seen as strong resistance.

There are plenty of releases in Australia this week to focus including the January employment data, consumer confidence, and a testimony by RBA governor Stevens in front of the House of Representatives on Friday. The data slate started off somewhat poorly this week, with December retail sales coming in softer than expected, up 0.2% MoM. AUD/USD is likely to be another currency that may struggle to sustain gains this week but much will depend on data over coming days. Resistance is seen around 1.0255.

On a final note, the weekend’s sporting events highlight how it’s not just economic data or moves in currencies that don’t always go as expected. After a solid run in the Ashes cricket England slumped to a 6-1 series loss to Australia in the one-day series, putting the Ashes win into distant memory. A similarly solid performance by Man United was dented with their unbeaten record broken by bottom of the table Wolves.

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