CHF pressures

USD/CHF and EUR/CHF enjoyed a bounce as risk aversion eased but continued uncertainty over the situation in the Ukraine suggests that any upward momentum will be limited. The fact that the largest economic impact from any worsening in tensions with Russia will be felt in the Eurozone highlights that life may become difficult once again for the Swiss National Bank as renewed safe haven inflows move into the country. Indeed the EUR/CHF floor at 1.20 may be tested over coming weeks. Data tomorrow will likely give further reason for the SNB to oppose CHF strength, with the annual rate of CPI inflation set to remain very low.

EUR/CHF still clinging to 1.2000

The job of the Swiss National Bank has become increasingly tougher over recent weeks. Speculation of a Greek exit or ‘Grexit’ and continued flight of capital from Greece as well as other peripheral countries mean that there is more prospect of upside for the CHF than downside versus EUR. The EUR/CHF 1.2000 floor has not deterred investors from parking such capital in CHF, much to the chagrin of the SNB, which has even warned about implementing capital restrictions.

Elevated risk aversion means that inflows of capital to Switzerland from the Eurozone periphery will persist. As a result, EUR/CHF looks set to trade around the 1.2000 floor for some time to come, with the risk that the SNB increasingly has to buy EUR to protect the floor. My forecasts reflect the view that any CHF weakness versus EUR will be extremely gradual in the months ahead as I expect any improvement in risk appetite to be similarly slow.

On the economic front the arguments for CHF weakness have actually lessened. Consumer confidence increased to its highest in a year in April. More importantly from the point of view of the SNB, Switzerland has registered positive CPI readings on a monthly basis for the past three months. Unfortunately, CPI is still negative on an annual basis, meaning that deflationary concerns continue to persist. On balance, the SNB’s fears over deflation will eventually lessen, suggesting in turn that worries about CHF strength will also be pared back.

Although the CHF has remained strong against the EUR it has weakened against the USD, but this is attributable to EUR weakness (due to the EUR/CHF floor) rather than inherent CHF weakness.
It will not be a one-way bet lower against the USD for both the EUR and CHF. The speculative market is highly short both currencies and they could rally in the event of any good news from Greece or the Eurozone. The CHF may also find itself weakening against the EUR if the news is sufficiently good to help stem outflows of capital from Greece and other parts of the Eurozone, but I believe this is unlikely. For the next few weeks at least, ahead of Greek elections, EUR/CHF is set to continue to cling to the 1.2000 floor, with the market set to test the SNB’s resolve.

US dollar restrained, Swiss franc too strong

Better than expected March US new home sales, stable consumer confidence and firmer than consensus earnings, all contributed to boost markets overnight. In Europe, decent demand for Dutch, Spanish and Italian debt auctions helped to reassure markets in the region. Apple earnings added to the good news, contributing to more than 82% of S&P 500 companies topping estimates so far for Q1 2012 earnings.

Despite encouraging news on the data and earnings front US equities only registered small gains, failing to echo the larger gains in European equity markets, suggesting that investors remain cautious. Ahead of the Fed FOMC outcome today trading is likely be relatively restrained, with the risk rally struggling to make much headway.

The Fed FOMC rate decision will be critical to determine USD direction over coming sessions. Assuming that the Fed does not alter its policy setting but instead only tinkers with its economic forecasts, the USD will escape any further selling pressure. Any reference or hint to further quantitative easing would play negative for the USD but I do not expect this to occur.

If anything I expect the USD to edge higher over coming sessions as risk aversion continues to rise. An expected drop in March durable goods orders today will not give the USD much help, however. I don’t expect the FOMC outcome to mark an end to speculation of more QE, and in this respect the USD will continue to be restrained until there is more clarity on the economy and in turn Fed thinking.

EUR/CHF continues to flat line close to the 1.20 line in the sand implemented by the Swiss National Bank (SNB). Renewed tensions in the Eurozone have if anything renewed the appeal of the CHF, making the job of the SNB even more difficult. The fact that risk aversion has been rising suggests CHF demand will remain firm in the short term. CHF demand is occurring in the face of speculation of a shift in FX stance.

Although the SNB has not hinted at any change in the level of the EUR/CHF floor, market speculation that the SNB will move it higher, possibly to around 1.30 from 1.20, has intensified. The problem for the SNB is that the CHF is substantially overvalued and this in turn is fuelling persistent deflationary risks as reflected in six straight months of declining CPI. Against this background it would not be surprising if the EUR/CHF floor is lifted.

Weak USD will not persist, CHF to drop eventually

Risk appetite has deteriorated slightly since the Bernanke fuelled bounce earlier this week but there does not appear to be much of a directional bias for markets either way. Interestingly Treasury yields continue to pull back even while equity markets have softened overnight.

Data has been mixed, with US consumer confidence dipping in March albeit not as much as expected while US house prices also did not drop by as much as anticipated. Data releases on tap today include monetary aggregates in the Eurozone and durable goods orders in the US. The tone will likely continue to be slightly ‘risk off’.

The USD has come under growing pressure since its mid March high, with the EUR in particular taking advantage of its vulnerability. A combination of improving risk appetite and a correction lower in US Treasury yields in the wake of relatively Fed comments have been sufficient to deal the USD a blow.

However, the outlook for the USD is mixed today as on the one hand it will be helped by a reduction in risk appetite but hit on the other by a drop in US Treasury yields overnight. Data today should be a little more constructive for the USD, with a likely bounce back in durable good orders in February.

Overall, I do not expect the weak USD bias to persist especially as it is based on unrealistic expectations that the Fed will still implement more quantitative easing. Indeed, while further Fed easing is possible it may not need to involve an expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet.

EUR/CHF remains pinned to the 1.20 ‘line in the sand’ imposed by the Swiss National Bank while the CHF has strengthened over recent weeks against the USD. Economic data has deteriorated over recent months, with the forward looking Swiss KoF leading indicator pointing to a further weakening.

We will get further news on this front on Friday with the latest KoF release, with a slight a bounce expected. In turn, bad news on the economic front is adding to pressure for CHF weakness. Market positioning in CHF is negative but there is plenty of scope to increase short positioning in the months ahead given that short CHF positions remain well off their all time highs.

Eventually as risk appetite improves and the US yield advantage widens against Switzerland, both EUR/CHF and USD/CHF will move higher.

The case for Swiss franc weakness

EUR/CHF has continued to hug the 1.2000 ‘line in the sand’ enforced by the Swiss National Bank. CHF currently shows little sign of weakening although we continue to see risks of a higher EUR/CHF. Against the USD the CHF has been similarly stable but we look for USD/CHF to move higher eventually. The main imponderable is the timing of CHF weakness. Ongoing Eurozone doubts even after the agreement of a second bailout for Greece mean that the CHF remains a favoured destination for European money.

The outlook for EUR/CHF will depend on how the situation in the Eurozone develops. The recent agreement for a second Greek bailout received a muted reaction from markets, and there is a long way to go before confidence towards a resolution of the debt crisis can be fully restored. Assuming that there will be an eventual improvement in risk appetite, CHF will weaken given the strong correlation between EUR/CHF and risk over the past three months.

EUR/CHF has enjoyed a strong relationship with movements in interest rate differentials over the past few months, with both bond yields and interest rate futures. This implies that it will take a relative rise in German yields versus Swiss yields for EUR/CHF to move higher. This is certainly viable given the deterioration in Swiss economic data over recent months. Indeed, as reflected in the KoF Swiss leading indicator and manufacturing PMI data, the economy is heading downwards.

The threat of deflation has also increased in the wake of unwelcome CHF strength, which has left the currency extremely overvalued according to our measures of ‘fair value’. Growth will be weak this year but the economy may just avoid a negative GDP print. Against this background Swiss bond yields will remain low, along with policy rates. While the outlook for the Eurozone economy is not much better, bond yield differentials between the Eurozone and Switzerland are likely to widen, which will eventually help lead to a higher EUR/CHF exchange rate.

My blog posts will be less frequent over coming days as I am on a business trip to New York. Happy trading.

Why is the Swiss franc so strong?

All eyes remain focussed on Greek developments today as the country vacillates towards acceptance of further austerity measures in order to gain the Troika’s (EU, IMF, ECB) approval for a second bailout for the country. The stakes are high with a potential disorderly default and Eurozone exit on the cards should no agreement be reached.

Against this background market nervousness is intensifying as reflected in the slippage in global equity markets and drop in risk assets in general overnight. The data and events slate today includes an RBA policy meeting and German industrial production, but neither of these will be significant enough to deflect attention and calm fraying nerves as markets await further Greek developments.

Contrary to many commentaries, the fall in EUR/CHF cannot be attributed to higher risk aversion (it has had a low correlation with my Risk Aversion Barometer over recent weeks). Instead, EUR/CHF is another currency pair that is highly correlated with interest rate differentials. Indeed, its high sensitivity provides a strong explanation for the drop in EUR/CHF since mid December 2011. This move has occurred despite an improvement in risk appetite over this period, a factor that would normally be associated with CHF weakness.

The implied interest rate futures yield advantage of the Eurozone over Switzerland has narrowed by around 47 basis points since mid December 2011. This is a problem for the Swiss National Bank, who will increasingly be forced to defend its 1.20 line in the sand for EUR/CHF. However, given that the drop in EUR/CHF has closely tracked yield differentials, any intervention is likely to have a limited impact unless there is renewed widening in the yield gap.

Risk appetite remains fragile

Fortunately for the USD the situation in the eurozone has become so severe that the problems in the US are all but being ignored. Even in the US, attention on the nomination of the Republican presidential candidate has over shadowed the looming deadline for an agreement on medium term deficit reduction measures.

The Joint Select Committee on deficit reduction is due to submit a report to Congress by November 23 and a final package would be voted on by December 23. A lack of agreement would trigger automatic deficit reduction of $1.2 trillion, a proportion of which would take place in 2012. If this is the case it could potentially tip the economy into recession, necessitating QE3 and consequently a weaker USD.

Reports that the eurozone could fall apart at the seams as countries exit have shaken confidence, yet the EUR has managed to hold above the psychologically important 1.35 level. The strong reluctance of the European Central Bank (ECB) to embark on unsterilized bond purchases and to act as lender of the last resort, suggests that the crisis could continue to brew for a long while to come.

Nonetheless, the EUR found a semblance of support from news that former ECB vice-president Papademos was named new Prime Minister of Greece, the ECB was reported to be a strong buyer of peripheral debt, Italy’s debt auction was not as bad as feared, affirmation of the EFSF’s AAA rating by Moody’s and France’s AAA rating by S&P (following an erroneous report earlier). EUR/USD remains a sell on ralliesup to resistance around 1.3871, with initial resistance around the 1.3665 level.

The underlying pressure over the near term is for further JPY strength in the face of rising risk aversion and a narrowing in the US yield advantage over Japan. Given that the situation in the eurozone remains highly fluid as well as tense, with little sign of resolution on the horizon, risk aversion is set to remain elevated. Moreover, yield differentials have narrowed sharply and the US 2-year yield advantage over Japan is less than 10bps at present.

Against this background it is not surprising that the Japanese authorities are reluctant to intervene aggressively although there are reports that Japan has been conducting secret interventions over recent weeks. However, given that speculative and margin trading net JPY positioning have dropped significantly the impact of further JPY intervention may be less potent. In the meantime USD/JPY will likely edge towards a break below 77.00.

Swiss officials have continued to jawbone against CHF strength, with the country’s Economy Minister stating that the currency remains massively overvalued especially when valued against purchasing power parity. Such comments should be taken at face value but the CHF is unlikely to embark on a weaker trend any time soon.

Although the EUR/CHF floor at 1.20 has held up well while the CHF has lost some its appeal as a safe haven the deterioration in the situation in the eurozone suggests that the CHF will not weaken quickly.

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