Strengthening risk appetite hitting the dollar

Strengthening risk appetite is taking its toll on the USD, with the USD index now down around 3.5% from its 4 October peak. Although equity markets probably liked the news the USD was dealt another blow from the FOMC minutes which revealed that some Fed officials were keen on embarking on further large-scale asset purchases after recognizing that the impact of Operation Twist will not be so potent.

Earnings will have some impact on risk and in turn the USD, with Q3 earnings from JP Morgan and Google on tap today. However, risk appetite looks well supported and in a market that became long USDs very quickly, this suggests some scope for squaring long positions in the short term.

What comes next for the EUR? The currency has bounced from its lows and has made considerable ground against the USD over recent sessions. Markets quickly got over Slovakia’s initial rejection of the EFSF’s enhancement as agreement was reached by officials in the country to approve the mechanism in a second vote. However, there is not much news on the progress on issues such as European banking sector recapitalisation, ‘leveraging’ the EFSF or the any change in creditor participation in any Greek debt restructuring.

Although European Commission President Barroso gave some broad outlines of what should be done to recapitalise banks disagreement among officials meant that there was little detail. Perhaps no news is good news and in any case markets will have to wait for the delayed EU Summit for further news, but the longer the wait the greater the scepticism and attendant downside risks to EUR.

The Swiss National Bank must be content with their stance on the CHF. Since the imposition of a ceiling for CHF versus EUR at 1.2000, and after an initial sharp jump higher the currency pair has continued to edge upwards. Meanwhile, speculation that the SNB may even raise the ceiling to 1.30 has grown as domestic complaints such as those from the country’s largest telecoms operator yesterday about the ongoing strength in the currency, continue.

The SNB has not indicated that it favors such a move and may be content with a gradual decline in the CHF as is taking place now, but should the fragile market calm at present disintegrate the SNB may have another battle on their hands as appetite for the currency strengthens anew. On the top side resistance is seen around 1.2469 for EUR/CHF.

Like many other high beta currencies AUD is being influenced less by domestic factors and more by risk aversion. Even more influential to the direction of AUD/USD is the movement in commodity prices and like risk aversion this had a negative influence on AUD as commodity prices dropped sharply over September.

Due to a bounce in both risk and commodities AUD has bounced sharply from its recent lows back above parity with the USD. AUD will have found further support from the firm September jobs report today. It is difficult to go against rising risk appetite at present but there is still a significant risk that hopes of a solution to the eurozone’s woes do not materialise while growth expectations are pared back further. Against this background the AUD will remain susceptible to sharp

Advertisements

Caught In The Headlights

For a prolonged period of time market attention had firmly focused on the Fed and prospects for quantitative easing (QE2). Now that QE has been delivered with little surprise, as the Federal Reserve arguably did a good job of living up to market expectations, it is Europe that is back in the limelight. Until recently the major surprise about Europe was how well the economy and the EUR were doing and how quickly the European Central Bank (ECB) would diverge from the Fed in its policy path.

This all looks premature and as if to confirm the shift in outlook the slowing in eurozone growth in Q4 (0.4% QoQ) revealed last week is likely to mark the beginning of a sharp and diverging deceleration in growth over coming quarters. The EUR may still have some life left in it given the ongoing purchases via recycled intervention flows from Asian central banks but weaker growth and peripheral worries are undermining this vestige of support.

Unfortunately for Europe the region is now not being caste in a good light and the peripheral trio of Ireland, Greece and Portugal are all staring into the headlights with nowhere to run. A crash of sorts seems inevitable but will there be any casualties? Markets are being whipsawed as they determine what will happen next in this slow motion saga.

Irish officials have maintained they do not need any aid package following discussions held over the weekend. Any bailout would likely come from a EUR 60 billion fund from the European Commission meaning a quick distribution but Ireland’s refusal will likely see pressure resume on peripheral debt markets in Europe as well as the EUR.

Portugal is also in the spotlight following comments by its foreign minister that the country may be forced to abandon the EUR if there is a failure to adopt a broad coalition government to deal with the crisis. This sounds like scaremongering but nonetheless highlights the political tensions in the country.

In Greece the second round of regional elections reveals the ruling Pasok party candidates are in the lead, reducing the prospect of early general elections. Nonetheless, this will do little to alleviate pressure as the EU is set to revise higher Greece’s 2009 deficit and debt estimates implying even more difficulty in meeting this year’s targets.

An EU/IMF team will visit Greece to assess progress as well as decide on whether the country should receive its 3rd instalment of a EUR 110 billion loan. Suggestions from PM Papandreou that he does not rule out having to extend the repayment of the loan will not auger well for sentiment. Finally, the government is set to present its 2011 final budget on Thursday, suggesting plenty of event risk this week.

A meeting of EU finance ministers tomorrow and Wednesday will also garner attention. Germany’s stance that investors will only have to take the brunt of losses from debt rescheduling only from 2013 still remains a contentious issue amongst officials even though it is a slightly softer stance than previously stated. Agreement on this as well as pressure on Ireland to accept funding will be key points of discussion.

Event wise, an auction of T-bills in Greece tomorrow as well as a Spanish debt auction on Thursday will be watched to determine how far the contagion of Irish woes have spread. The news is unlikely to be good, with higher yields likely. Unfortunately tomorrow’s German November ZEW investor confidence survey will provide further signs of retreating investor sentiment in the wake of renewed peripheral debt concerns.

FX Tension

On September 22 1985 the governments of France, West Germany, Japan, US and UK signed the Plaza Accord which agreed to sharply weaken the USD. At this time it was widely agreed that the USD was overly strong and needed to fall sharply and consequently these countries engineered a significant depreciation of the USD.

It is ironic that 25 years later governments are once again intervening in various ways and that the USD is once again facing a precipitous decline as the Fed moves towards implementing further quantitative easing. This time central banks are acting unilaterally, however, and there is little agreement between countries. For instance Japan’s authorities found no help from the Fed or any other central bank in its recent actions to buy USD/JPY.

So far Japan’s FX interventions have been discreet after the initial USD/JPY buying on 15 September. The fact that Japan is less inclined to advertise its FX intervention comes as little surprise given the intensifying pressure from the US Congress on China for not allowing its currency, the CNY to strengthen. Tensions have deepened over recent weeks and the backing of a bill last week by an important Congressional committee to allow US companies to seek tariffs on Chinese imports suggests that the situation has taken a turn for the worse.

The softly softly approach to Japan’s FX intervention and US/China friction reflects the fact that unlike in 1985 we may be entering a period in which currency and in turn trade tensions are on the verge of intensifying sharply against the background of subdued global economic recovery.

The Fed’s revelation that it is moving closer to implementing further quantitative easing has shifted the debate to when QE2 occurs rather than if, with a November move moving into focus. Clearly the USD took the news negatively and will likely remain under pressure for a prolonged period as the simple fact of more USD supply weighs heavily on the currency. Markets will be able to garner more clues to the timing of QE2, with a plethora of Fed speakers on tap over coming days.

This week the US economic news will be downbeat, with September consumer and manufacturing confidence surveys likely to register declines, with consumer sentiment weighed down by the weakness in job market conditions. Personal income and spending will also be of interest and gains are expected for both. There will be plenty of attention on the core PCE deflator given that further declines could give clues to the timing of QE2.

Attention in Europe will centre on Wednesday’s recommendations for legislation on “economic governance” from the European Commission. Proposed penalties for fiscal indiscipline may include withholding of funding and/or voting restrictions but such measures would be politically contentious. Measures to enforce fiscal discipline ought to be positive for markets given the renewed tensions in peripheral bond markets in the eurozone.

The EUR was a major outperformer last week benefiting from intensifying US QE speculation and will set its sights on technical resistance (20 April high) around 1.3523 in the short-term. Notably EUR speculative positioning has turned positive for the first time this year according to the CFTC IMM data, reflecting the sharp shift in speculative appetite for the currency over recent weeks. The EUR has been surprisingly resilient to renewed sovereign debt concerns and similarly softer data will not inflict much damage to the currency this week.

Exhausted

No the title is not meant to describe how I felt this morning when I woke up but how I feel the market is looking at present in terms of risk trades. Firmer than feared economic data in the US and China and the agreement in Basel on new bank capital ratios boosted risk appetite but the moves are already beginning to fade. It would be easy to jump on the bandwagon but after the sharp gains registered over recent days I would suggest taking a cautious stance on jumping into risk trades at present.

The EUR has played a degree of catch up to risk currencies, rallying sharply against the USD, helped in part by the European Commission which raised its forecasts for the eurozone economy from 0.9% for 2010 to 1.7%. Although the change in forecasts should come as little surprise give that it is now in line with the European Central Bank’s (ECB) expectations the news bolstered the view of economic resilience in the eurozone. Unfortunately as the ECB noted following its last meeting there are plenty of downside risks to growth next year and upcoming data releases will be viewed to determine how sharply growth momentum will slow into next year.

One currency that strengthened was the JPY and this was mainly due the view that Prime Minister Kan will win the contest for leadership of the governing DPJ party in Japan. The race remains very close, with Prime Minister Kan having a slight lead according to Japanese press. The FX market will pay particular attention to the result given that the other contender Ichiro Ozawa has stated his willingness to drive the JPY lower as well as increase fiscal spending. The results of the election will be known shortly and should Ozawa win USD/JPY will likely find support although the bigger influence is likely to be a shift in relative US/Japan bond yields which due to the sell off in US Treasuries over recent days has become more supportive of a higher USD/JPY.

GBP has lagged the move in many risk currencies, failing to take advantage of the weaker USD. There was some relief overnight from an increase in consumer confidence in August according to the Nationwide index, which rose 5 points to 61, from a 14-month low in July. However, any boost to GBP sentiment will have been outweighed by a fall in UK house prices according to RICS, which revealed the sharpest one-month fall in August since June 2004. The data supports the view that the rally in UK house prices could soon be over. Weaker housing activity will also likely limit any further improvement in consumer confidence. Some of this is already priced into GBP however, and over the short-term EUR/GBP may struggle to breach the 0.8400 level.

Another underperformer overnight was the NZD which was hit by disappointing retail sales data for July, which fell 0.4%. Although the drop followed a strong gain in the previous month the data supports the view that the consumer remains cautious in New Zealand, a factor that will likely play into the view that New Zealand’s central bank, the RBNZ will keep policy on hold when they meet tomorrow. NZD slipped off its highs around 0.7347 overnight and also managed to dampen the upside momentum for AUD/USD which will likely struggle to sustain a break through resistance around 0.9350.

Today’s data will provide further direction for the days ahead, with the September German ZEW survey of investor confidence likely to be closely scrutinized. A drop in the economic sentiment gauge to around 10 is expected from 14 in August, highlighting that eurozone growth momentum is beginning to wane. Hard data in the form of eurozone industrial production will also record a weaker performance, likely to drop 0.3% in July. The data will likely cap the EUR today.

In the US the main release is the August retail sales report for which a 0.3% gain in both headline and ex-autos sales is expected. Sales will have been helped by back to school spending although major discounting will have weighed on retailers’ profits. Nonetheless, any gain even if modest will be a welcome development for Q3 growth in the US.

Selling Risk Trades On Rallies

Disappointing earnings as well as a weaker than expected outcome for data on the health of the US service sector (the ISM non-manufacturing index failed to match expectations, coming in at 50.5 in January versus consensus of 51.0) has weighed on markets, undoing the boost received from the generally positive manufacturing purchasing managers (PMIs) indices earlier in the week. It was not all bad news however, as earnings from Cisco Systems beat expectations Meanwhile US ADP jobs data fell less than expected, dropping 22k whilst data for December was upwardly revised. These are consistent with a flat outcome for January non-farm payrolls.

Various concerns are still weighing on confidence. Sovereign ratings/fiscal concerns remain high amongst these and although much has been made of the narrowing in Greek debt spreads, attention now seems to be turning towards Portugal. Greece is also far from being out of the woods, and whilst the European Commission accepted Greece’s economic plans the country would be placed under much greater scrutiny by the EC.

The US has not escaped either, with Moody’s warning that the US AAA credit rating would come under pressure unless more stringent actions were taken to reduce the country’s burgeoning budget deficit. The move follows the US administration’s forecast of a $1.565 billion budget deficit for 2010, the highest as a proportion of GDP since the second world war, with the overall debt to GDP ratio also forecast to rise further.

The current environment remains negative for risk trades and the pullback in high beta currencies has been particularly sharp over recent weeks. Sentiment for the NZD was dealt a further blow from a surprisingly weak Q4 jobs report in New Zealand. Unemployment rose to a decade high of 7.3% over the quarter whilst employment growth contracted by 0.1%. The pull back in wage pressures will also be noted by interest rate markets, as it takes some of the pressure off the RBNZ to raise rates anytime soon.

Data in Australia will not help sentiment for the AUD too. Australian retail sales dropped by 0.7% in December, a worse than expected outcome. The data will only serve to reinforce market expectations that the RBA will no hike interest rates as quickly as previously expected. Nonetheless, I would caution reading too much into the data, with real retail sales volumes rising by a solid 1.1% over Q4 whilst other data showed a strong 2.2% jump in building approvals.

The overall strategy against this background is to sell risk trades on rallies. There are still too many concerns to point to a sustained improve in risk appetite. Moreover, the market is still long in many major risk currencies. Asian currencies have so far proven more resilient to the recent rise in risk aversion however, a reflection of the fact that a lot of concerns are emanating from the US and Europe. However, Asian currencies will continue to remain susceptible to events in China, especially to any further measures to tighten policy.

Further USD strength against this background is likely, which could see EUR/USD testing support around 1.3748, AUD/USD support around 0.8735, and NZD/USD support around 0.6916.

Central banks in the spotlight

The market mood continues to be weighed down by a combination of worries including monetary tightening in China and Greece’s debt woes. Consequently, risk aversion has taken a turn for the worse over the last couple of weeks. Measures of currency and equity market volatility have also spiked. Meanwhile, risk currencies have remained under pressure, especially those that are most sensitive to risk aversion including AUD, NZD, CAD, and a long list of emerging market currencies.

Greece’s problems remain a major drag on the EUR, with speculative sentiment for the currency dropping close to the all time low recorded in September 2008, according to the CFTC IMM data. Further developments including news that the European Commission will officially recommend that Greece should implement more severe cuts on public sector spending are unlikely to help to reverse negative sentiment for the currency. A lack of confidence and scepticism over Greece’s ability to cut its budget deficit suggest little respite for the EUR in the weeks ahead.

Markets will have plenty of other things to focus on this week, with various manufacturing and service sector PMIs, four major central bank decisions, and the January US non-farm payrolls report, due for release. The PMIs are likely to confirm that output in both manufacturing and service industries remains expansionary but only consistent with limited growth rather than the rapid rebound in activity seen following past recessions.

The most interesting central bank decision this week is likely to be that of the Reserve Bank of Australia. Recent data has if anything given more reason for the central bank to raise interest rates, including the latest release which was the TD Securities inflation gauge, which jumped 0.8% in January, the biggest increase in 6-months. Although a hike is now largely discounted, some hawkish rhetoric from the RBA could be sufficient to give the AUD some support.

Although the UK Bank of England is unlikely to shift policy at its meeting on Thursday the statement will be scrutinized for clues as to whether quantitative easing is over. Any indication that there will be no further QE measures will play positively for GBP given that it has been restrained by speculation that the BoE will increase asset purchases. No change is also expected by the ECB but once again Greece will likely dominate the press conference. Meanwhile Norway’s Norges Bank is likely to pause in its policy of gradual tightening.

Clearly the funding currency of choice, the USD, has been one of the main beneficiaries of higher risk aversion and this has been reflected in the latest CFTC Commitment of Traders report, which shows that net short aggregate USD speculative positions have dropped sharply, with USD positioning close to flat again. Similarly, the other beneficiary, namely the JPY, has also seen a significant shift in positioning as shorts have been covered. Expect more to come.

Appetite for carry trades was not be helped by the news that the UK’s Lord Turner has signalled a regulatory crackdown on FX carry trades. The report in the UK press fuelled a sell of in JPY crosses but is unlikely to have more than a short term market impact given the practical difficulties in regulating carry trades. Nonetheless, the fact that speculative positioning is still quite long in the AUD, NZD and CAD suggest scope for more downside in such currencies in the current risk averse environment.

PIIGS fears fuelling risk aversion

Risk aversion has come back with a vengeance over the last 10 days driven by a host of concerns that continue to damage market sentiment. As has been evident over the past year the USD and JPY remain the best currency plays against the background of rising risk aversion and both currencies look well supported.

Market concerns are not going away quickly but some of the fears plaguing markets have at least receded especially on the US political front, with Obama’s State of the Union address, Geithner’s testimony on AIG and Bernanke’s reappointment all passing without too much incident, at least from a market perspective. I still believe that market fears are overblown but it is clearly evident that the market is not in the mood to concur. More pain is likely in the weeks ahead.

Euro-sovereign spreads continue to suffer from the ongoing Greek saga whilst the other major fear remains further monetary tightening in China. Rumours that China is about to imminently revalue the CNY are also running rife. The bigger than expected hike in the reserve ratio in India reflects the fact that Asia is on a faster track to tighten policy than Western economies.

As regular readers probably noticed, my articles on econometer.org have been sporadic recently. This is due to the fact that I have been on the road for the last two weeks giving client seminars across several countries in Asia. Without giving too much away it is evident that pessimism is pervasive and most investors I polled are looking for a “W” or “double dip” profile for economic growth in the G7 economies over coming months. Hardly anyone looked for a “V”.

The other casualty emanating from Greece’s woes, as well as worries that other European PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain) face ratings downgrades, is the EUR. EUR/USD slipped below the psychologically important level of 1.40 this week and is showing no sign of turning around. Warnings by S&P ratings that Portugal faces challenges on the fiscal front show that these sovereign concerns will be with us for a long while yet.

After letting investors believe that the European Commission would offer no support for Greece, there appears to be a growing realization that Greece is not simply a local problem but a Euro wide problem, as noted by European Commission President Barroso. Whilst this may be good for Greek debt the path to recovery is still likely to be a massively painful one, and the EUR may gain little support from this news.

The UK has not escaped the clutches of ratings agencies and warnings by S&P that UK banks are no longer among the “most stable and low-risk” in the world highlights the headwinds faced by GBP at present. The weaker than expected out-turn for Q4 GDP (0.1%) highlights the fact that UK economic recovery is fragile, which in turn plays negatively for the banking sector. This news has put a break on GBP but there appears to be plenty of demand for GBP above 1.600 vs USD.

%d bloggers like this: