Data, Earnings, Central Banks and Virus Cases In Focus

Risk appetite took a turn for the better at the end of last week despite an array of the usual suspect risk factors (accelerating Covid-19 cases, US-China tensions, rich valuations). This kept the US dollar under pressure given the inverse relationship between equities and the USD over recent weeks.  Market positioning continues to show sentiment for the USD remaining negative (CFTC IMM data revealed that aggregate USD speculative positions have been net short for 15 out of the last 17 weeks, including the last 5).  Increasingly risks of a US fiscal cliff as stimulus programs run out, with Republicans and Democrats wrangling over more stimulus and US Presidential elections will be added to the list of factors testing market resilience in the days and weeks ahead.

This week there are several key data and events including China June trade data (Tue), China Q2 GDP (Thu), US June  CPI (Tue), US June retail sales (Thu), Australia June employment data and several central bank decisions including Bank of Japan (Wed), European Central Bank (Thu), Bank of Canada (Wed), Bank Indonesia (Thu), Bank of Korea (Thu), and National Bank of Poland (Tue).  Aside from economic data and events the path of virus infections will be closely watched, especially in the US given risks of a reversal of opening up measures.  Last but not least the Q2 earnings season kicks off this week, with financials in particular in focus this week.  Low real yields continue to prove supportive for equities and gold, but very weak earnings could prove to be a major test for equity markets.

On the data front, Chinese exports and imports likely fell in June, but at a slower pace than in the previous month, China’s Q2 GDP is likely to bounce, while US CPI likely got a boost from gasoline prices, and US retail sales likely recorded a sharp jump in June. Almost all of the central bank decisions this week are likely to be dull affairs, with unchanged policy decisions amid subdued inflation, although there is a high risk that Bank Indonesia eases.  The EU Leaders Summit at the end of the week will garner attention too, with any progress on thrashing out agreement on the recovery package in focus.  Watch tech stocks this week too; FANGS look overbought on technical including Relative Strength Index (RSIs) and more significantly breaching 100% Fibonacci retracement levels as does the Nasdaq index, but arguably they have looked rich in absolute terms for a while.

There has been plenty of focus on the rally in Chinese equities over recent weeks and that will continue this week.  Last week Chinese stocks had their best week in 5 years and the CSI 300 is up close to 19% year to date.  Stocks have been helped by state media stories highlighting a “healthy” bull market, but the rally is being compared to the bubble in Chinese stocks in 2014/15, with turnover and margin debt rising.  At that time stock prices rallied sharply only to collapse.   However, Chinese equity valuations are cheaper this time and many analysts still look for equities to continue to rally in the weeks ahead.  China’s authorities are also likely to be more careful about any potential bubble developing.

EUR range, CAD looks good versus AUD

Ahead of the European Central Bank (ECB) meeting and outcome of the Greek private sector involvement (PSI) debt swap it is very difficult to see the EUR moving out of ranges. I expect no surprises from the ECB and therefore little FX impact. Downward revisions to ECB growth forecasts will however, underpin the more negative tone to the EUR exhibited over recent days.

The bigger risk is the outcome of the PSI. Reports that Greece is nearing the minimum level of PSI participation of 66% will help erase market concerns of a complete collapse of the debt deal, but the risk of forcing a collection action clause and triggering credit default swaps (CDS) remains very much alive. EUR/USD is unlikely to recoup much of its recent losses against this background but will also not sustain any drop below technical support around 1.3055.

The CAD has pivoted around the parity level with the USD over recent weeks, showing little inclination to undertake a significant move in either direction. Notably USD/CAD has failed to sustain gains above its 200-day moving average level around 0.9997. Nonetheless, the CAD has held up relatively well compared to its commodity currency peers, specifically the AUD and NZD, which have both fallen over recent days.

The breakdown in correlation highlights the fact that CAD is regaining some of its old allure as a ‘turbo dollar’. My quantitative estimates show that USD/CAD has some further downward potential but I prefer to play potential CAD upside versus the AUD. The Bank of Canada (BoC) meeting today will do little to derail the CAD, with an unchanged policy decision in prospect, leaving the CAD to maintain gains against AUD.

G7 Intervention Hits Japanese Yen

One could imagine that it was not difficult for Japan to garner G7 support for joint intervention in currency markets given the terrible disaster that has hit the country. Given expectations of huge repatriation flows into Japan and a possible surge in the JPY Japanese and G7 officials want to ensure currency stability and lower volatility. Moreover, as noted in the G7 statement today officials wanted to show their solidarity with Japan, with intervention just one means of showing such support.

Although Japanese Finance Minister Noda stated that officials are not targeting specific levels, the psychologically important level of 80.00 will likely stick out as a key level to defend. Note that the last intervention took place on 15 September 2010 around 83.00 and USD/JPY was trading below this level even before the earthquake struck. The amount of intervention then was around JPY 2.1 trillion and at least this amount was utilised today. The last joint G7 intervention took place in September 2000.

Unlike the one off FX intervention in September 2010, further intervention is likely over coming days and weeks by Japan and the Federal Reserve, Bank of France, Bundesbank, Bank of England, Bank of Canada and other G7 nations. The timing of the move today clearly was aimed at avoiding a further dramatic drop in USD/JPY, with Thursday’s illiquid and stop loss driven drop to around 76.25 adding to the urgency for intervention. USD/JPY will find some resistance around the March high of 83.30, with a break above this level likely to help maintain the upside momentum.

The JPY has become increasingly overvalued over recent years as reflected in a variety of valuation measures. Prior to today’s intervention the JPY was over 40% overvalued against the USD according to the Purchasing Power Parity measure, a much bigger overvaluation than any other Asian and many major currencies. The trade weighted JPY exchange rate has appreciated by around 56% since June 2007. In other words there was plenty of justification for intervention even before the recent post earthquake surge in JPY

Although Japanese exporters had become comfortable with USD/JPY just above the 80 level over recent months, whilst many have significant overseas operations, the reality is that a sustained drop in USD/JPY inflicts significant pain on an economy and many Japanese exporters at a time when export momentum is slowing. Japan’s Cabinet office’s annual survey in March revealed that Japanese companies would remain profitable if USD/JPY is above 86.30. Even at current levels it implies many Japanese companies profits are suffering.

Upward pressure on the JPY will remain in place, suggesting a battle in prospect for the authorities to weaken the currency going forward. Round 1 has gone to the Japanese Ministry of Finance and G7, but there is still a long way to go, with prospects of huge repatriation flows likely to make the task of weakening the JPY a difficult one. The fact that there is joint intervention will ensure some success, however and expect more follow up by other G7 countries today to push the JPY even weaker over the short-term.

Losing Your Addiction

An interesting thing happened to me last week. On a business trip to Europe my blackberry broke and failed to work for the rest of the week. I felt like an addict coming off an addiction. The first couple of days were very tough; my usual instinct to constantly check for messages resulted in constant fidgeting and major withdrawal symptoms.

Once this had worn off I must admit I felt liberated. My addiction gone, it felt great to be weaned off my crackberry. The message here is that life goes on without access to mail. It’s an experience I would recommend to all users of such devices.

Back to reality and my view from Hong Kong this week is as follows. The risk-off tone as reflected in related to the turmoil in Libya and the increase in oil prices (as supply concerns intensify), may help to limit the pressure on the USD this week, but the overall tone is set to remain weak.

Much will depend on this week’s key US data releases and a testimony by Fed Chairman Bernanke to the US Senate, to determine whether the USD will find a more stable footing. Clearly the more hawkish tone of the European Central Bank (ECB) and Bank of England (BoE) in contrast to the lack of inclination by the Fed towards a tighter monetary policy stance could undermine the USD.

In this respect, it is doubtful that Bernanke will change his stance of the Fed failing to meet its dual mandate due to too low inflation. The main event is the February US jobs report at the tail end of the week. The consensus expectation of a 190k increase in payrolls will be finalised after gaining more clues from the US February ISM surveys and ADP jobs report earlier in the week. The week’s releases will likely reveal further improvements in US economic data, but given that this will do little to budge the Fed’s stance, the USD may be left somewhat underwhelmed.

The intensification in risk aversion over recent days has also been felt in the Eurozone periphery where bond market pressures have resumed. Nonetheless, the fallout on the EUR has been limited by hawkish ECB jawboning. Thursday’s ECB meeting will surely maintain this stance, and following the release of data on Tuesday likely to show a further increase in inflation in February, upside inflation risks are likely to be highlighted by ECB President Trichet in the press conference.

A likely pre-emptive strike from the ECB cannot be ruled out. Two rate hikes in H2 2011 are now likely even as the Bank maintains liquidity support for weaker peripherals. No change in policy but a hawkish press statement on Thursday will on the face of it play for a firmer EUR but i) the fact that the market has already discounted the possibility of early rate hikes and ii) the proximity of the US payrolls data on Friday and iii) uncertainty over the impact of the Irish election outcome in which the Fine Gael party won a clear victory, suggest that EUR risks are asymmetric. The net long positioning overhang also points to some downside risks to EUR.

There are plenty of other events and data on the calendar this week including Japan’s slate of month end releases, interest rate decisions by the Reserve Bank of Australia and Bank of Canada, UK PMI manufacturing survey data and Swedish Q4 GDP data.

The bottom line is that currencies will be driven by the conflicting influences of improving economic data on the one hand and elevated risk aversion on the other. The main beneficiaries of higher risk aversion will be the CHF and JPY though both have risen far whilst the USD will be restrained by a dovish Fed.

In contrast the EUR and GBP may yet extend gains but in both cases, markets have already shifted policy tightening expectations sharply over recent weeks and we suspect EUR/USD will be capped at resistance around 1.3860, whilst GBP/USD will similarly struggle to break its year high around 1.6279.

Data and earnings focus

Friday’s round of US data were generally upbeat, highlighting that consumer spending is coming back to life. Inflation pressures however, remain benign at least on the core reading highlighting the Fed’s concern that inflation is running below the level consistent with its mandate. In other words it will be a long time, probably late into 2012 before policy rates increase.

While the Fed is no hurry to raise rates despite a few hawkish rumblings within the FOMC the European Central Bank (ECB) in contrast appears to have become more eager to pull the trigger for higher rates. ECB President Trichet’s hawkish press conference last week set the cat amongst the pigeons and marked a clear shift in ECB rhetoric towards a more hawkish stance.

A very big problem for the ECB is that the eurozone economy is not performing along the lines that its hawkish rhetoric would suggest, especially in the periphery. Growth momentum in the core in contrast, as likely reflected in the January ZEW investor confidence and IFO business confidence survey data this week in Germany, remains positive. Both surveys are likely to stabilize at healthy levels but how long can the likes of Germany drag along the eurozone periphery?

There will be relatively more attention on the meeting of Eurogroup/Ecofin officials, with focus on issues such as enlarging the size of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) bailout fund and development of a “comprehensive plan” to contain the eurozone crisis. Don’t look for any conclusive agreements as this may have to wait until the European Union (EU) Council meeting on 4 February assuming (optimistically given ongoing German resistance) some agreement can even be reached.

Following the success (albeit at relatively high yields) of the eurozone debt auctions last week, sentiment for peripheral debt will face further tests this week in the form of debt sales in Spain, Belgium and Portugal.

The US Martin Luther King Jr. holiday will result in a quiet start to the week for markets but there will be plenty to chew on. This week’s key earnings reports include several banks scheduled to release Q4 earnings. Financials are a leading sector in the rally in equities at present and these earnings will be critical to determine whether the rally has legs.

The US data slate includes January manufacturing surveys in the form of the Empire and Philly Fed, both of which are likely to post healthy gains whilst existing home sales are also likely to rise. This will not change the generally weak picture of the US housing market, with high inventories and elevated foreclosures characterizing conditions. As if to prove this, housing starts are set to drop in December. On the rates front, the Bank of Canada is likely to keep its policy rates on hold this week.

After coming under pressure last week much for the USD will depend on the eurozone’s travails to determine further direction. Concrete evidence of progress at the Ecofin may bolster the EUR further, with resistance seen around 1.3500 but don’t bank on it. The ability of eurozone officials to let down often lofty expectations should not be ignored. In any case following sharp gains last week progress over coming days for the EUR will be harder to achieve.

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