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.

Italy downgrade adds to EUR woes

The USD index remains firm but it remains unlikely that the USD is being bought on its own merits but rather on disappointments in the eurozone. Nonetheless, speculative USD sentiment has turned positive for the first time since June 2010 according to the CFTC IMM data, reflecting a major shift in appetite for the currency. Clearly there are risks to the USD including the potential for more QE3 being announced at this week’s FOMC meeting but this risk is likely to be small.

In contrast, the reversal in speculative sentiment for the EUR has been just as dramatic but in the opposite direction as the net short EUR position has increased over recent weeks, with positioning now at its lowest since June 2010. Sentiment is likely to have soured further overnight following news that Italy’s credit rating was cut by S&P to A from A+ despite the recent passage of an austerity package.

This outweighed any boost to sentiment from what was noted by the Greek Finance Minister as “productive” talks yesterday. Another conference call today is scheduled but the longer markets wait for approval of the next loan tranche the bigger the risk to the EUR. In addition Greek and Spanish T-bill auctions and European Central Bank (ECB) cash operations will be in focus. The EUR remains vulnerable to a test of support around 1.3500.

GBP has continued to slide over recent weeks, having fallen by around 5% since its high just above 1.66 a month ago. However, it has managed to hold its own against the EUR which looks in even more of a sorry state than the pound. The fact that GBP has been unable to capitalise on the EUR’s woes is largely attributable to growing expectations of further UK quantitative easing.

The minutes of the last Bank of England meeting on September 8 to be released on Wednesday will give more clues as to the support within the Monetary Policy Committee for further QE but its likely that the MPC will want to see the next Quarterly Inflation Report in November before committing itself to any further easing. In the meantime, GBP will find it difficult to sustain any recovery, with its drop against the USD likely to extend to around 1.5583 in the short term.

Japan returns from its Respect for the Aged holiday today but local market participants will have missed little action on the JPY, with the currency remaining confined to a very tight range. The inability of USD/JPY to move higher despite the general bounce in the USD index reflects 1) the fact that USD/JPY is very highly correlated with 2 year bond yield differentials and 2) the fact that US yields continue to be compressed relative to Japan. Additionally, risk aversion continues to favour the JPY and combined, these factors suggest little prospect of any drop in the JPY versus USD soon.

Greek Decision Delayed

European Union Finance Ministers have agreed that additional funding for Greece will come from both official and private investors, with the later likely through a voluntary rollover of existing Greek debt as per the ‘Vienna Initiative’ of 2009 applied at the time to Emerging Europe. Agreement was reached following the decision by Germany to ease its demands for private sector participation in a debt restructuring. The news brought some relief to markets on Friday.

However, the announcement today that a final decision on a further tranche of aid and a second bailout package will not take place until early July will come as a blow to markets and likely lead to a more cautious start to this week. The onus is now on Greek Prime Minister Papandreou to gain approval for further austerity measures following the recent government cabinet reshuffle and in the face of a no confidence vote tomorrow. Failure to pass the confidence motion could provoke a political crisis, leading to likely contagion across Europe.

Europe has given the Greek government until the end of this month to implement measures including budget cuts and asset sales, with failure to pass further austerity measures likely to lead to a delay of any further aid. There will be plenty of noise surrounding Greece over coming days, with the issue likely to dominate the EU summit in Brussels on June 23-24. In the meantime the EUR/USD looks like it will settle into a range over the short-term, with support around the 100 day moving average of 1.4165.

EUR speculative positioning is currently around its 3-month average, with the market continuing to hold a sizeable long position in EUR/USD according to the CFTC IMM data. The risks remain skewed to the downside as nervousness about a Greek deal grows. Should the Greek Prime Minister pass a no confidence motion there will be some short term relief but tensions are likely to persist for a long while yet. Moreover, other eurozone countries are not in the clear yet as reflected by Moody’s announcement that Italy’s AA2 government bond rating is on review for possible downgrade.

US Dollar Finding Support

The US dollar is finding growing relief from the fact that the Fed is putting up a high hurdle before more quantitative easing (QE3) is even considered. As highlighted by Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke last week he is not considering QE3 despite a spate of weak US data. Of course until US bond yields move higher the USD will fail to make much of a recovery and in turn this will need some improvement in US economic data.


The May retail sales release is unlikely to provide this with headline sales likely to undergo an autos related drop while core CPI released on Wednesday is set to remain benign in May. There will be better news on the US manufacturing front, with surveys and hard data likely to bounce back.

There is still plenty of scope for USD short covering as reflected in the fact that IMM USD positions fell further as of the 7th June, with the market still heavily short USDs. The USD index has likely found a short term bottom, with a break above the 50-day moving average level around 74.6874 in focus.

EUR has lost momentum , with the European Central Bank’s (ECB) confirmation of a July policy rate hike prompting a major sell off in the currency, even with interest rate markets barely flinching. The EUR is susceptible to developments regarding Greece and the news on this front is not good. Divisions between policy makers including the ECB about the extent of private sector involvement in a second bailout package threaten to prolong the pain.

Similarly divisions within the Greek parliament about further austerity measures needed to secure a second bail could also derail the process. Further negotiations this week will be closely scrutinised, likely taking more importance than data releases, with only the final reading of May inflation and industrial production of note this week.

As revealed by the CFTC IMM data, EUR long positions jumped early last week leaving plenty of scope for unwinding, something that is likely to take place this week. Nonetheless, support around the 30 May low of EUR/USD 1.4256 is likely to prove difficult to break on the downside this week.

GBP took a hit in the wake of yet more weak activity data in the form of May industrial and manufacturing production data. The economic news will be no better this week, with retail sales set to drop in May and CPI inflation set to rise further in April. The data will only add further to the confusion about UK monetary policy as the dichotomy between weak data and persistently high inflation continues.

Admittedly the weak data releases can at least partially be explained away by the Royal wedding and Easter holidays but this will provide little solace to GBP bulls. GBP will likely struggle against a firmer USD this week although its worth noting that GBP speculative position has been negative for 3-straight weeks, suggesting that at least there is less room for GBP position unwinding. GBP/USD is likely to hold above support around 1.6055 this week.

Greece’s trials and tribulations

Two main influences on markets continue to weigh on sentiment. Firstly the trials and tribulations of the eurozone periphery remain centre of attention. The failure of Greek Prime Minister Papandreou to win cross party support for austerity measures at the end of last week highlights the problems Greece is facing both domestically and externally.

Reports that European officials are negotiating tough bailout conditions including major external intervention in terms of tax collection and privatisation suggest that gaining further aid will not be easy. The second weight on market sentiment is global growth concerns, with a string of disappointing data releases over recent weeks leading to an intensification of concerns about the pace of recovery.

Markets will likely remain nervous in this environment and it is difficult to see risk appetite improving to any major degree. This has proven bullish for bond markets, with the tone set to continue this week. Currencies remain in ranges and holidays today in the US and UK will likely result in thin trading. The resilience of the EUR to peripheral concerns has been impressive but at the same time Greek concerns will limit any gains. Meanwhile, gold and precious metals look to remain well supported, with gold’s safe haven bid remaining solid.

USD sentiment has improved sharply according to the latest CFTC IMM report which reveals that net USD short positions have been cut in half over the last two weeks with positioning well above the 3-month average. Conversely net EUR longs continue to shrink as speculative investors off load the currency. The fact that the EUR is not weaker than it is points to the influence of official demand for the currency, especially from Asia.

This week will likely be dominated by ongoing discussions about Greece and given the opposition to austerity measures and potentially strict bailout terms, forging an agreement will not be easy. Reports suggest that around half of Greece’s financing needs until the end of 2013 could be accounted for without new loans via privatisation and changes in terms for private bondholders, with Europe and the IMF needed to lend an additional EUR 30-35 billion on top of the EUR 110 already slated.

Data releases are likely to take a back seat but there will still be plenty of attention on the key release of the week, namely the May US jobs report. The market looks for a 185k increase in payrolls, with the unemployment rate edging lower to 8.9%. This would mark the lowest payrolls reading in 4 months. Clues to the jobs data will be garnered from the May ADP jobs report, ISM manufacturing survey and consumer confidence data earlier in the week.

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