No respite for the Euro

Following a relatively positive session for European stocks yesterday, the enthusiasm did not carry through to US markets which registered losses overnight. Commodity prices dropped led by gold while equity volatility rose.

Marginal progress at the meeting of European Finance officials, with the decision to furnish Spain with the first EUR 30 billion of funds for its banks, helped sentiment in Europe. Moreover, officials edged closer to purchasing bonds in the secondary market by agreeing a separate accord to use the European Central Bank (ECB) as a buying agent for bond purchases by the bailout funds.

However, questions such as how Greece would get through next month’s bond redemptions following a delay in a loan tranche for the country were left unanswered while the timing of setting up a single banking supervisor was also unclear. Meanwhile, the German constitutional court hearings on complaints about the ESM bailout fund mean that the ESM’s implementation continues to be delayed.

All-in-all, despite the marginal progress made yesterday there is a long climb ahead before markets can be appeased. Coupled with growing concerns about the US earnings outlook following several profit warnings by US companies market sentiment will remain fragile, with little headway likely for risk assets. Hopes of further Fed stimulus may offer some solace to markets but the reality is that the Fed is unlikely to be close to a further round of quantitative easing.

High beta / risk currencies remain pressured although it is notable that there is at least a little relative resistance from the likes of the AUD as indicated by the drop in EUR/AUD. European officials are doing just enough to prevent the EUR from gapping lower but not enough to enable the currency to rally. Having already dropped by around 3% against the USD since the start of the month EUR/USD looks set to test tech technical support around 1.2193 before next support around 1.2151.

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EUR slides as summit hopes fade

Any boost to confidence following the recent EU Summit is fading fast. Policy easing from the European Central Bank, Bank of England, and PBoC in China, have done little to turn things around. Moreover, the weaker than expected US June jobs report has added to the calls for the Federal Reserve to inject more monetary stimulus via another round of quantitative easing but this is unlikely anytime soon.

Admittedly the jobs data which reported an 80k increase in payrolls and unemployment rate remaining at 8.2%, was disappointing but it was not weak enough to trigger imminent Fed action. Congressional testimony by Fed Chairman Bernanke on July 17 and 18 will provide the next key clues to whether the Fed is moving closer to more QE.

This leaves markets in a miserable state of being. It was hoped that the recent EU Summit would provide much needed breathing space and relief to Eurozone peripheral bond markets. However, renewed policy implementation doubts, concerns that the Summit did not go far enough and opposition from Finland and the Netherlands who appear to have taken an even tougher stance than Germany, have resulted in Spanish and Italian bonds facing significant pressure once again with yields higher than pre summit levels.

A delay in the ESM permanent bailout fund, timing of the setting up of a banking supervisory authority and doubts about the size of the bailout fund given that the ECB appears to have ruled out a banking license as a means of leveraging up the ESM, are just a few of the concerns afflicting markets. Meanwhile, added to this list is the fact that Greece’s next bailout tranche has been delayed to mid September. Many of these issues as well as the bailout of Spanish banks will be discussed at today’s Ecofin meeting but the chances of much progress remain limited.

The EUR which is of course not uncrorrelated with peripheral bond yields has itself fallen sharply. Thin trading conditions have helped to exacerbate the drop in the EUR while the realisation that the EU summit has been no game changer is increasingly weighing on the currency. I had thought that the Summit may have helped to at least provide a floor under the EUR but this now looks like a case of misplaced optimism.

The only supportive factor for the currency is that it looks heavily oversold, with market positioning extremely short. However, if a break below the 2012 EUR/USD low around 1.2288 can be sustained markets will quickly latch onto 1.20 as the next target. Given the lack of major events or data releases over coming days there looks like little to offer the EUR any support.

FX volatility declining, AUD still vulnerable

FX options appear to be increasingly comfortable with the current lack of movement in currencies. For example, 3-month EUR/USD implied volatility has dropped to multi-year lows while my measure of G3 implied volatility has been at very low levels over recent months.

This has corresponded with the drop in risk aversion as market fears over US growth and Eurozone debt issues recede. Over the short term there appears to be little to jolt markets out of their stupor and if anything EUR/USD is likely to continue to drift higher according to our short term quantitative models.

Indeed, firmer risk appetite, despite the odd hiccup, plays positively for the EUR while the pull back in US bond yields has restrained the USD. The Ecofin meeting beginning tomorrow will likely give further support to the EUR, if as expected, ministers bolster the Eurozone ‘firewall’.

It has been a one step forwards, two steps back motion for AUD/USD over recent weeks as it continues to edge lower. Although US bond yields have pulled back Australian yields have pulled back relatively more, reducing Australia’s yield advantage and weighing on the AUD in the process.

Over recent weeks speculative AUD positioning has also fallen, reflecting deteriorating sentiment for the currency, but the fact that the market is still long suggests scope for further short term downside.

Aside from yield differentials most of the usual correlations with AUD have broken down suggesting that the AUD is getting a dose of independent weakness. However, China news remains a key focal point for AUD and the decline in the Shanghai composite stock index has become an interesting lead indicator for AUD performance. Over the near term AUD will likely continue to weaken in jagged steps.

Dear readers please note that there will be very limited updates of econometer.org over the next couple of weeks due to my Easter vacation.

Ecofin, ECB, US jobs report in focus

The USD index remains close to its recent highs, maintaining a positive tone amid elevated risk aversion. Data releases have tended to take a back seat to events over recent weeks, but this week the all important US September jobs report may provide the bigger focus for US markets. The consensus expectation is for a 50k increase in payrolls and the unemployment rate remaining at 9.1% an outcome that would do nothing to assuage US growth worries. As usual markets will gauge clues to the jobs data from the ADP jobs data and employment components of the ISM data but an outcome in line with consensus expectations will likely keep risk aversion elevated and the USD supported unless the data is so bad that it results in an increase in expectations for Fed QE3.

There will be plenty of attention on the Ecofin meeting of European finance ministers today especially given that much of the reason for the stability in markets recently is the hope of concrete measures to resolve the crisis in the region. In this respect the scope for disappointment is high, suggesting that the EUR is vulnerable to a further drop if no progress is made at today’s meeting. While the extent of short market positioning has left open some scope for EUR short covering the absence of any good news will mean the impetus for short covering will diminish.

While attention in Europe will predominately remain on finding a resolution to the debt crisis and the saga of Greece’s next loan tranche, the European Central Bank (ECB) meeting will also be in focus this week especially given expectations that the ECB will cut interest rates. While hopes of a 50 basis points rate cut may have taken a knock from the firmer than expected reading for September flash CPI released at the end of last week the EUR could actually react positively to an easing in policy given that it may at least help to allay some of the growing growth concerns about the eurozone economy. However, any EUR will be limited unless officials in the eurozone get their act together and deliver on expectations of some form of resolution to the crisis in the region.

Strong words from Japan’s Finance Minister Azumi failed to have any lasting impact on USD/JPY. Japan will bolster funds to intervene in currency markets by JPY 15 trillion and extend the monitoring of FX positions until the end of December. Japan did not intervene during September but spent around JPY 4.5 trillion in FX intervention in August to little effect. For markets to be convinced about Japan’s conviction to weaken the JPY it will require putting intervention funds to active use, something that doesn’t seem to be forthcoming at present. A factor that may give some potential upside momentum for USD/JPY is the slight widening of US versus Japan bond yield differentials over recent days, which could finally result in a sustained move above 77.00 if it continues into this week.

Waiting for a solution to Europe’s crisis

The boost to sentiment following Germany’s approval of changes to the EFSF bailout fund was brief. Although the outcome of the vote was not particularly surprising political concerns were assuaged by the fact that Chancellor Merkel secured support from within her coalition. Markets were also helped by a bigger than expected drop in weekly US jobless claims but this also failed to provide a lasting impact.

The bottom line is that there is still a huge degree of scepticism on the ability of policymakers to resolve the crisis in the eurozone periphery while growth worries have not receded. Even the approved changed to the EFSF bailout fund are increasingly being seen as old news given the view that it will need deeper changes including ‘leveraging’ it up.

Consequently risk aversion remains at a highly elevated level and is showing no sign of easing. It may be difficult to turn sentiment around as we go into the final quarter of the year, especially as those investors registering profits for the year may want to capitalise on these profits rather than sit through continued volatility in the weeks ahead. Indeed the sharp drop in gold prices over the last couple of weeks even in an environment of elevated risk aversion may reflect this.

Similarly risk assets may struggle to recover over coming weeks unless there is a major improvement in the situation in Europe or in growth data. Markets will go into the end of this week looking ahead to key events next week including an Ecofin meeting at the beginning of next week, a European Central Bank (ECB) meeting and the US September jobs report.

There will be plenty of attention on the Ecofin meeting of European Finance Ministers on Monday especially given that much of the reason for the stability in markets recently is the hope of concrete measures to resolve the crisis in the region. In this respect the scope for disappointment is high, suggesting that the EUR is vulnerable to a further drop.

While the extent of short market positioning at the beginning of week left open some scope for EUR short covering the absence of any good news will mean the impetus for short covering diminishes. Unless the Ecofin meeting delivers on expectations EUR/USD will likely re-test the 26 September low around 1.3363.

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