Going “The Extra Mile”

Risk assets ended last week on a soft note as Brexit uncertainties intensified amid a lack of progress towards a transition deal.  However, news overnight was a little more promising, as PM Johnson and EC President von der Leyen agreed to “go the extra mile” to try to agree up on a deal.  “Incremental” progress has reportedly been made and talks could now continue up to Christmas.  Sterling (GBP) rallied on the news and further gains are likely on any deal.  However, gains may prove short lived, with markets likely to focus on the economic difficulties ahead of the UK economy.  A no deal outcome is likely to result in a much sharper decline in GBP, however.

Progress towards fresh US fiscal stimulus progress faltered leaving US equity markets on shaky ground.  As it is, US stocks have struggled to extend gains over December after a stellar month in November and in recent days momentum has faded further.  Last week 9 out of 11 S&P sectors fell, suggesting broad based pressure.  Whether it is just a case of exhaustion/profit taking after solid year-to-date gains – for example, Nasdaq is up almost 38% and S&P up 13.4%, ytd – or something more alarming is debatable.  The massive amount of liquidity sloshing around and likely more dovishness from the Fed this week, would suggest the former.  

At the same time the US dollar (DXY) and broader BDXY are down almost 6% and 5% respectively, this year and most forecasts including our own look for more USD weakness next year.  Some of this is likely priced in as reflected in 27 straight weeks of negative aggregate USD (vs major currencies) positioning as a % of open interest (CFTC). The USD looks a little firmer this month, but gains are tentative and like equities this could simply reflect profit taking.  For example, in Asian currencies that have performed well this year such as the offshore Chinese yuan (CNH) and Korean won (KRW), fell most last week, partly due to increased central bank resistance. 

This week is a heavy one for events and data.  The main event on the calendar is the Federal Reserve FOMC meeting (Wed).  The Fed could include new forward guidance stating that quantitative easing (QE) will continue until there is clear-cut progress toward the employment and inflation goals.  The Fed may also lengthen the average maturity of asset purchases. Central bank decisions in Hungary (Tue), UK, Norway, Indonesia, Taiwan, Philippines (all on Thu), Russia, Japan and Mexico (all on Fri) will also be in focus though no changes in policy are likely from any of them.   On the data front China activity data (Tue), Canada CPI (Wed), US retail sales (Wed), and Australian employment (Thu) will be main highlights.

Payrolls sour mood, Eurozone concerns intensify

The market mood has soured further and risk aversion has increased following disappointing August US jobs report in which the change in payrolls was zero and downward revisions to previous months has reinforced the negative mood on the US and global economy while raising expectations of more Federal Reserve action. Moreover, the report has put additional pressure on US President Obama to deliver fresh jobs measures in his speech on Thursday though Republican opposition may leave Obama with little actual leeway for further stimulus.

There is plenty of event risk over coming days, with a heavy slate central bank meetings including in Europe, UK, Japan, Australia, Canada and Sweden. The European Central Bank will offer no support to a EUR that is coming under growing pressure, with the Bank set to take a more neutral tone to policy compared its previously hawkish stance. In the UK, GBP could also trade cautiously given recent comments by Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee members about potential for more UK quantitative easing.

The EUR has been unable to capitalise on the bad economic news in the US as news there has been even worse. The negative news includes the weekend defeat of German Chancellor Merkel’s centre-right bloc in regional elections, which comes ahead of a vote in Germany’s constitutional court on changes to the EFSF bailout fund.

The withdrawal of the Troika (ECB, IMF and EU) from Greece has also put renewed emphasis on the country at a time when protests are escalating. If all of this is not enough there is growing concern about Italy’s apparent backtracking on austerity measures, with the Italian parliament set to discuss measures this week. Separately Germany, Holland and Finland will hold a meeting tomorrow on the Greek collateral issue. On top of all of this is the growing evidence of deteriorating growth in the euro area.

Data releases are unlikely to garner a great deal of attention amidst the events noted above, with mainly service sector purchasing managers indices on tap and at least threw will look somewhat better than their manufacturing counterparts. In the US the Beige Book and trade data will be in focus but all eyes will be on Obama’s speech later in the week. The USD has maintained a firm tone despite the jobs report but its resilience may be better explained by eurozone negativity rather than US positivity. Even so, the USD is looking less uglier than the EUR in the current environment.

Ready for Fed QE2

The USD was already under pressure ahead of the Fed FOMC decision last night, with the EUR benefiting in particular from successful debt auctions in Ireland and Spain. The Fed statement resulted in a further lurch lower for the USD index as it fell through the 81.00 level on its way to testing the August low of 80.09. EUR/USD broke important technical resistance levels moving above its 200-day moving average (1.3215). In contrast, gold prices continued to surge hitting a new record high whilst 2-year Treasury yields fell to an all-time low.

The US Federal Reserve confirmed that it was ready to ease if needed. Although the decision to leave the Fed funds target rate at 0% to 0.25% unchanged and commitment to maintain exceptionally low levels of the rate for an “extended period” came as no surprise there was a subtle change in the language of the statement regarding further easing. The Fed noted that it was “prepared to provide additional accommodation if needed” a shift from the previous wording that it “will employ its tools as necessary”.

It appears to be a case of not if but when the Fed embarks on further quantitative easing and/or other policy accommodation. Once again the Fed offered no guideposts to determine the timing of easing and the decision will ultimately be data dependent. Nonetheless, the bias has clearly shifted towards more balance sheet expansion.

We expect core inflation to decline further over the coming months although we do not forecast a drop to as low as 0.5%. Nonetheless, declining core CPI could lead to the Fed’s disinflation concerns intensifying. Indeed, providing further rationale for the Fed’s conditional easing bias was the particularly dovish stance on inflation in the FOMC statement.

If it wasn’t obvious before it has become increasingly clear now that the USD will not relinquish its role as the ultimate funding currency for a long time to come. Although interest rate differentials are not yet the main driver for most currency pairs, with risk aversion retaining this role for now, there is a very high correlation between certain high yielding currencies and their respective interest rate differentials against the USD.

For instance, there is a high and significant correlation between interest rate differentials between Japan, Australia, Canada and the US and their respective currency pairs. AUD/USD is one to watch as the currency hit a fresh 25 month high overnight. Although the AUD looks rich at current levels, the shift in relative yield with the US overnight provides a further underpinning to the currency, with parity being talked about once again.

Even USD/JPY moved lower in the wake of the Fed statement dropping just below 85.00 although the threat of further official Japanese FX intervention will likely prevent a sharp drop in the currency pair. It will be interesting to see how far the market is prepared to go, with further threats of FX intervention by Prime Minister Kan overnight. Despite the threats the narrowing in US / Japan bond yields overnight suggests more downside pressure on USD/JPY and a fresh challenge for the Japanese authorities.

What To Watch This Week

Well so much for a “risk on” week. Market sentiment soured at the end of last week following The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) civil action against Goldman Sachs, in which they accused the bank of fraud. The impact reverberated across markets and risk trades were pulled back as a consequence. Bulls shouldn’t be too downhearted though as the drop in risk trades followed several days of gains and part of the pullback could be attributed to profit taking.

Speculation of similar probes in Europe by financial regulators will cast a shadow over markets early this week. Nonetheless, direction will at least in part come from earnings. So far the run of earnings looks upbeat, with around 83% of the 48 S&P 500 companies reporting, beating analysts’ estimates. Overall profits are forecast to increase by around 30% from a year ago but are on track to easily beat this estimate. Bellwether names including IBM, Apple, Coca-Cola, Boeing, Microsoft, and AT&T report this week.

The meeting between Greek officials, ECB, IMF and EU has been delayed until Wednesday. There is little likelihood of Greece seeing any loan money soon as the need for parliamentary approval in some EU countries and upcoming regional elections in Germany on 9 May will put a spanner in the works. An issue of EUR 1.5bn of 3-month Greek debt tomorrow will act another test of market confidence but the recent widening in Greek debt spreads suggests a less positive reception than the previous sale.

There are also a few central bank meetings to contend with this week including Canada, Sweden, India, Philippines and Thailand. The only Bank likely to hike interest rates out of this bunch is the RBI in India with another hike expected, following closely on the heels of the March move. Canada and Sweden are unlikely to shift policy until at last after the end of Q2 whilst protests in Bangkok, Thailand, and the knock on impact on consumer confidence, have effectively sealed the case for no rate move there.

On the data front, attention will turn to US housing market activity. Markets will be able to gauge further clues to whether recovery in the housing market has stalled. An increase in both existing (Thu) and new home sales (Fri) in March is expected, which may allay some concerns although any improvement is likely to continue to fragile against the background of tight credit and high foreclosure levels.

In Europe, aside from the ongoing Greek sage, sentiment surveys will garner most attention, with the release of the German ZEW (Tue) and IFO (Fri) surveys as well as manufacturing and service sector purchasing managers indices (PMIs) across Europe. On the whole the surveys are likely to reveal some improvement as confidence.

Risk aversion will be slightly elevated at the beginning of this week but strong earnings and improving data will help to prevent too much damage. Consequently Risk currencies will start the week under pressure but any pullback will be limited. Given that speculative positioning in risk currencies such as the AUD, NZD and CAD is well above their three-month average according to the latest Commitment of Traders’ IMM data there will be some scope for profit taking. EUR speculative sentiment has seen some improvement but EUR/USD remains vulnerable to a further pull back to technical support around 1.3302 this week.

Earnings in focus

The majority of US Q3 earnings have beaten market expectations resulting in a boost to risk appetite and further pressure on the US dollar. At the time of writing, 61 companies have reported earnings in the S&P 500 and an impressive 79% have beaten forecasts according to Thomson Reuters. This week there are plenty of earnings on tap and although a lot of positive news appears to be priced in the overall tone to risk appetite remains positive. This implies a weaker US dollar bias given the strong negative correlation between US equities and the USD index.

Aside from the plethora of earnings there are plenty of data releases on tap this week including housing data in the US in the form of building permits and starts as well as existing home sales. The data will likely maintain the message of housing market stabilisation and recovery in the US. There will also be plenty of Fed speakers this week and markets will once again scrutinize the speeches to determine the Fed’s exit strategy.

Highlights this week also include interest rate decisions in Canada and Sweden. Both the BoC and Riksbank to leave policy unchanged and expect a further improvement in the German IFO in October though at a more gradual pace than in recent months. There will be plenty of interest in the UK MPC minutes given conflicting comments from officials about extending quantitative easing. RBA minutes will be looked at for the opposite reason, to determine how quickly the Bank will raise interest rates again.

The USD index managed a slight rebound at the end of last week but is likely to remain under pressure unless earnings disappoint over coming days. US dollar Speculative sentiment became more bearish last week according to the CFTC IMM data, with dollar bloc currencies including the AUD, NZD and CAD benefiting the most in terms of an increase in speculative appetite. GBP short positions increased to a new record but the rally towards the end of last week may have seen some of these short positions being covered. Overall any recovery in the USD this week may just provide better levels to go short.

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