GBP/USD struggling above 1.6700

Although the Bank of England meeting is likely to be a non event today from a market perspective GBP/USD is clearly struggling to sustain a move above 1.6700. GBP/USD has breached 1.6700 12 times since mid February but only closed above this level 4 times. Over the near term strong resistance around 1.6769 will cap gains in the currency pair, with GBP continuing to look vulnerable above 1.6700. Some recent misses on the data front have not helped GBP’s cause, suggesting that caution for GBP bulls is warranted. GBP bulls may find more traction versus EUR instead of USD, with EUR/GBP set to come under further downward pressure as the EUR weakens anew. A break below 0.8200 beckons.

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GBP well supported ahead of GDP data

UK Q4 GDP today is likely to offer some further encouraging news on the economy. Indeed, the risk of an upside surprise compared to the consensus expectation of 0.7% QoQ suggests that GBP will also benefit.

After hitting a high around 1.6669 on 24 January GBP/USD slipped slightly but is showing little sign of reversing its gains and has jumped strongly this morning. A break of GBP/USD 1.6669 will open the door to a test of 1.6747

The fact that speculative sentiment for GBP is by no means excessive, suggests scope for even more gains in the weeks ahead. In particular, given the view that EUR/USD is set to decline further, I would suggest on capitalizing on further GBP appreciation prospects by playing the currency versus EUR too.

USD and EUR contrasts

Finally markets appear to be reacting rationally to economic data. There was always a risk that strong US data releases would prompt renewed Fed tapering fears and result in a sell off in risk assets as has been the case in the past. However, the reaction to Friday’s much stronger than expected US October jobs data (+204k + upward revisions to previous months) was what would be normally be expected. US equities rallied, US yields rose and the USD strengthened.

While the US data added further weight to the potential for Fed tapering in December or January it was also recognised as evidence of a growing economy, and one that barely flinched in the wake of the government shutdown. This week’s US data is unlikely to detract from this view, with the November Empire manufacturing survey and October manufacturing production likely to have shown further improvements. This should ensure that the USD remains firmly supported over coming days.

In Europe, the opposite is true. Faced with very low inflation (this is an issue across most major economies) the European Central Bank cut policy rates last week and looks set to intensify its dovish shift with other policy measures to reinforce its forward guidance. Consequently the EUR sold off sharply and is set remain under pressure.

This week’s Eurozone data releases will add more weight to the argument for further policy actions, with Eurozone GDP set to barely expand in Q3 while inflation likely to be confirmed at 0.7% YoY in October. Meanwhile industrial production is set to have declined in September (-0.4%). Given the contrasts in data releases and in policy stance, EUR/USD is set to decline further, with initial support seen around 1.3295.

In the UK, there will be attention on the Bank of England’s Quarterly Inflation Report, with jobs data and retail sales also on tap. Faced with mounting evidence of firming growth, the BoE will likely have to revise its assumptions upwards. Consequently this bodes well for GBP and while gains against the USD are likely to be limited, EUR/GBP is set for a further downward correction, with a break 0.8300 on the cards shortly.

USD buoyant

After finally returning from a two week trip visiting clients across North America it appears that the USD continues to remain in buoyant mood. I have been highlighting the prospects for a stronger USD against major currencies for some time and this has been borne out by the strong USD performance since early February.

Despite a lackluster performance for US stocks overnight overall sentiment remains largely upbeat as reflected by the fact that my risk barometer has breached its lower threshold and has moved into risk loving territory. Similarly the VIX fear gauge is trading at multi year lows although it did move higher overnight.

The sharp drop in UK industrial production and a warning by the Bundesbank’s Weidmann that the Eurozone crisis was not over added a dose of caution to the market. On a more positive note the Baltic Dry Index is at its highest level so far this year, sending a positive signal for global growth expectations.

While there is still much wrangling in the US over budget proposals, and in Europe, Italian political uncertainty continues, markets remain focused on the positives of improving growth against the background of highly accommodative monetary policies. Nonetheless, the divergence between the US and Europe in terms of growth is set to continue. A likely bigger than forecast increase in US February retail sales in contrast to a bigger than forecast fall in Eurozone industrial production in January will attest to this.

EUR/USD has managed to garner a semblance of stability over recent days, with the currency pair finding it difficult to sustain any decline below the psychologically important 1.3000 level. The drop in EUR/USD over much of February has been more aggressive than implied by the performance of Eurozone peripheral bonds but this is no surprise given that this is not the biggest influence on the currency.

Instead the explanation for the EUR decline is found when viewing the move in US 2 year Treasury yields relative to 2 year bunds. The strong correlation with EUR/USD highlights this relationship, reflecting the impact of lower bund yields and higher Treasury yields. The EUR’s stability over recent days is therefore a function of a slight drop in the US yield advantage.

Given that the trend of firmer US data and weaker Eurozone data is set to continue, this stability is likely to be short lived. Our quantitative model suggests EUR/USD may rally in the short term but we suggest selling into it.

GBP/USD’s decline has continued unabated and there appear to be little to stand in the way of further weakness apart perhaps from the fact that a lot of bad news is priced in. Sentiment for GBP has clearly deteriorated as reflected in the CFTC IMM data revealing four straight weeks of negative positioning. The deviation with the 3 month average positioning has widened significantly, highlighting the pace of the move but also that the drop is beginning to look excessive.

Nonetheless, the bigger than expected drop in January industrial production data revealed yesterday has helped to compound the negativity towards the currency in the wake of deteriorating economic data and in turn heightened expectations of more BoE quantitative easing. Strong technical support around GBP/USD 1.4767 may hold in the short term but momentum indicators are showing no sign of a slowing in GBP selling pressure.

For GBP bulls (if there any left) there may be more value in looking to eventually re-enter long positions against EUR but we would not rush into this trade. .

Euro capped ahead of ECB meeting

Having failed to get above the 1.2650 barrier EUR/USD looks restrained going into today’s European Central Bank (ECB) meeting. Reports overnight of a great ‘plan’ to buy bonds up to 3 years in unlimited size in sterilised fashion, helped provide some support to the currency but further gains will be limited. The ECB has already let the cat out of the bag and FX markets are quite correct to go into the ECB meeting with a dose of caution.

How will the EUR react? Given that much of what the ECB will do today has already been leaked the scope for positive surprises is limited, suggesting any upside for EUR will be capped although comments on yield targets (if any), conditionality, and the seniority issue will be important.

Profit taking, lowered expectations over recent days and uncertainty ahead of the US jobs report tomorrow will limit the damage to the currency, however. A drop to support around 1.2431 is the most that can be expected in the short term.

Unlike a likely rate cut from the ECB the Bank of England (BoE) is set to stay pat having embarked on further asset purchases in July. Weaker growth and upside inflation risk do not make for an enviable concoction. Although I anticipate further asset purchases later in the year, further action today is unlikely. This will mean that EUR/GBP in particular will lack independent direction and continue to track moves in EUR/USD (very strong sensitivity over the last 3-months). Given the potential for some further short term slippage in EUR/USD, EUR/GBP will likely follow suit.

As for GBP/USD it will struggle to sustain a break above this week’s high of 1.5935 unless US payrolls data tomorrow disappoints. Long speculative positioning means that GBP is vulnerable to profit taking especially having strengthened by over 3% since the beginning of June. The 28 August low around 1.5754 will provide near term support.

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