Peripheral debt concerns intensify

European peripheral debt concerns have allowed the USD a semblance of support as the EUR/USD pullback appears to have gathered momentum following its post FOMC meeting peak of around 1.4282. The blow out in peripheral bond spreads has intensified, with Greek, Portuguese and Irish 10 year debt spreads against bonds widening by around 290bps, 136bps and 200bps, respectively from around mid October.

The EUR appears to have taken over from the USD, at least for now, as the weakest link in terms of currencies. EUR/USD looks vulnerable to a break below technical support around 1.3732. Aside from peripheral debt concerns US bonds yields have increased over recent days, with the spread between 10-year US and German bonds widening by around 17 basis points in favour of the USD since the beginning of the month.

The correlation between the bond spread and EUR/USD is significant at around 0.76 over the past 3-months, highlighting the importance of yield spreads in the recent move in the USD against some currencies. Similarly high correlations exist for AUD/USD, USD/JPY and USD/CHF.

Data today will offer little direction for markets suggesting that the risk off mood may continue. US data includes the September trade deficit. The data will be scrutinized for the balance with China, especially following the ongoing widening in the bilateral deficit over recent months, hitting a new record of $28 billion in August. Similarly an expected increase in China’s trade surplus will add to the currency tensions between the two countries. FX tensions will be highlighted at the Seoul G20 meeting beginning tomorrow, with criticism of US QE2 gathering steam.

Commodity and Asian currencies are looking somewhat precariously perched in the near term, with AUD/USD verging on a renewed decline through parity despite robust September home loan approvals data released this morning, which revealed a 1.3% gain, the third straight monthly increase.

However, the NZD looks even more vulnerable following comments by RBNZ governor Bollard that the strength of the Kiwi may reduce the need for higher interest rates. As a result, AUD/NZD has spiked and could see a renewed break above 1.3000 today. Asian currencies are also likely to remain on the backfoot today due both to a firmer USD in general but also nervousness ahead of the G20 meeting.

Advertisement

Week Ahead

The market mood can be characterised as uncertain and somewhat downbeat, as reflected by the downdraft in US equity markets which posted their second weekly loss last week. Conversely, there has been a bullish run in government bonds, with the notable exception of peripheral debt. Over the last week markets had to contend with more data disappointment, in the wake of soft Japanese Q2 GDP, and a plunge in the August Philly Fed into negative territory, its first contraction since July 2009. Additionally a jump in jobless claims, which hit 500k highlighted the slow improvement in US job market conditions currently underway.

Despite all of this, the USD proved resilient and instead of the usual sell-off in the wake of soft data it benefited instead from increased risk aversion. The USD is set to retain some of this resilience though range-trading is likely to dominate over much of the weak. Reflecting the USD’s firmer stance, speculative positioning in the form of the CFTC IMM data revealed a reduction in aggregate USD short positioning in the latest week and although positioning is well below the three-month average, the improvement over the latest week and current magnitude of short positioning, highlights the potential and scope for further short-covering.

Negative data surprises have forced many to downgrade their forecasts for growth and policy implications, especially in the US. Markets will look for further clarity on the economic outlook this week but it is not clear that anything conclusive will be delivered. At the end of the week Q2 GDP will be revised sharply lower and whilst the data is backward looking it will reveal the weaker momentum of growth going into the second half of the year.

US Housing data will be mixed, with existing home sales set to drop in July as the impact of the expiration of home buyers tax credits continues to sink in whilst new home sales will likely increase but only marginally and will remain well below the April levels. Overall the picture of housing market activity remains bleak and this week’s data will do little to shake this off. On a more positive note July durable goods orders and August Michigan confidence will rise, the latter only marginally though. There will be plenty of attention on Fed Chairman Bernanke’s speech at the Jackson Hole Fed conference at the end of the week, especially given speculation of more quantitative easing in the pipeline.

The European data slate kicks off today with the release of manufacturing and service sector PMIs. Both are likely to register small declines, albeit from high levels. Nonetheless, taken together with a likely drop in the August German IFO survey on Wednesday and weaker June industrial orders tomorrow, the data will highlight that the momentum of growth in the region is coming off the boil, with the robust GDP outcome registered in Q2 2010 highly unlikely to be repeated. Against this background EUR/USD will find it difficult to make any headway. Technically further donwnside is likely over the short-term, with a test of 1.2605 support on the cards

Japan releases its slate of month end releases including jobs data, household spending and CPI. A slight improvement in job market conditions and increased spending will be insufficient to allay growth and deflation concerns, especially with CPI remaining firmly in negative territory. The onus will remain on the authorities to try to engineer a weaker JPY, which remains stubbornly around the 85.00 level versus USD. Talk of a BoJ / MoF meeting today has been dismissed, suggesting the prospect of imminent action is small. Meanwhile, speculative JPY positioning has dropped slightly in the last week but remain close to historical highs.

Aside from various data releases this week markets will digest the outcome of Australia’s federal elections. From the point of view of markets the outcome was the worst possible, with no clear winner as both the incumbent Prime Minister of the ruling Labour Party and opposition Liberal-National Party leader Tony Abbot failed to gain an outright majority. The outcome of a hung parliament will likely keep the AUD on the back foot, with trading in the currency likely be somewhat volatile until a clear outcome is established as both candidates try to garner the support of a handful of independents. However, it is notable that apart from an initial drop the AUD has managed to hold its ground. Nonetheless, the given the fluidity of the political situation there will be few investors wanted to take long positions at current levels around 0.8900 versus USD.

Pandemonium and Panic

Pandemonium and panic has spread through markets as Greek and related sovereign fears have intensified. The fears have turned a localized crisis in a small European country into a European and increasingly a global crisis.  This is reminiscent of past crises that started in one country or sector and spread to encompass a wide swathe of the global economy and financial markets such as the Asian crisis in 1997 and the recent financial crisis emanating from US sub-prime mortgages.  

The global financial crisis has morphed from a credit related catastrophe to a sovereign related crisis. The fact that many G20 countries will have to carry out substantial and unprecedented adjustments in their fiscal positions over the coming years means the risks are enormous as Greece is finding out. The IMF estimate that Japan, UK, Ireland, Spain, Greece, and the US have to adjust their primary balances from between 8.8 in the US to 13.4% in Japan. Such a dramatic adjustment never been achieved in modern history.

Equity markets went through some major gyrations on Thursday in the US, leading to a review of “unusual trading activity” by the US Securities and Exchange Commission in the wake of hundreds of billions of USDs of share value wiped off in the market decline at one point with the Dow Jones index recording its biggest ever points fall before recouping some of its losses. Safe haven assets including US Treasuries, USD and gold have jumped following the turmoil in markets whilst risk assets including high equities, high beta currencies including most emerging market currencies, have weakened. Playing safe is the way to go for now, which means long USDs, gold and Treasuries.

There is plenty of expectation that the G7 teleconference call will offer some solace to markets but this line of thought is destined for disappointment. Other than some words of comfort and support for Greece’s austerity measures approved by the Greek government yesterday, other forms of support are unlikely, including intervention to prop up the EUR. The ECB also disappointed and did not live up to market talk that the Bank could embark on buying of European debt and it is highly unlikely that the G7 will do so either. Into next week it looks like another case of sell on rallies for the EUR.   Remember the parity trade, well it’s coming back into play. 

Aside from the turmoil in the market there has been plenty of attention on UK elections. At the time of writing it looks as though the Conservatives will win most seats but fall short of a an overall majority. A hung parliament is not good news for GBP and the currency is likely to suffer after an already sharp fall over the last few days. GBP/USD may find itself back towards the 1.40 level over the short-term as concerns about the ability of the UK to cut its fiscal deficit grow. A warnings by Moody’s on Friday that the “UK can’t postpone fiscal adjustments any longer” highlights the risk to the UK’s credit ratings and to GBP.

Why Buy Asian FX (Part 1)

Given all the attention on Greece and European fiscal/debt woes over recent weeks it’s been easy to forget about the success story of Asian economies. Of course, there has been a lot of attention on China and the international pressure to revalue its currency. However, the stability and resilience of Asian economies has been impressive throughout the financial crisis and recent Greek saga, helping to boost the attraction of Asian currencies.

Asia has managed to avoid the fiscal/debt problems associated with many developed economies, due to much better fiscal management over recent years. There are a couple of exceptions however, including the Philippines and India, but the fiscal positions in these countries have seen an improvement and are unlikely to lead to anywhere near the same sort of problems associated with Greece and other European countries.

So far this year capital inflows into Asian equity markets have much been stronger than 2009, albeit after a rocky start to the year when flows dried up due to rising risk aversion. Since then inflows have resumed strongly. The comparison to 2008 is even more dramatic as much of Asia registered significant capital outflows that year. South Korea, India and Taiwan, respectively, have led the way in term of inflows into equity markets in 2010, with inflows of $4.3 billion, $3.7 billion and $3.3 billion, respectively.

It is no coincidence that Asian currencies are most sensitive to the performance of Asian equity markets, with strong capital inflows and rising equities leading to stronger currency performance. Asia is set to continue to be a strong destination for equity flows over coming months, which given the high Asian equity correlation with local currencies, will lead to further appreciation in most Asian FX. A likely CNY revaluation in China will also help to fuel further Asian FX upside.

Tarnishing The Euro

I am just finishing up a client trip in Japan and waiting to take a flight back to Hong Kong. The time ahead of the flight has allowed some reflection on my meetings here. One thing that has been particularly evident is the strong interest in all events European. Some I have spoken to have wondered out loud whether this the beginning of the end of the European project.  At the least it is evident that fiscal/debt problems in Greece and elsewhere in Europe have tarnished the image of the EUR.

Markets continue to gyrate on any news about Greece and the potential for support from the Europe Union and/or IMF. The divergent views between European countries about how to deal with the problem has intensified, suggesting that reaching an agreement will not be easy. Some countries including the UK and Sweden have suggested enrolling the help of the IMF but this has been resisted by other European countries. Germany and France are trying to rally support ahead of today’s crucial meeting of European officials.

The EUR reacted positively to news that some form of support package is being considered but nothing concrete has appeared yet, leaving markets on edge. The EUR has been heavily sold over recent weeks; speculative market positioning reached a record low in the latest week’s CFTC Commitment of Traders’ IMM report. The fact that EUR positioning has become so negative suggests that the EUR could rebound sharply in the event that some support package for Greece is announced.

Any package will not come without strings attached, however, as European officials will want to avoid any moral hazard. A couple of options hinted at by German officials include fresh loans or some form of plan to purchase Greek debt. Either way, any solution to Greece’s problems will not be quick and will likely result in a sharp contraction in economic activity as the government cuts spending especially as Greece does not have the option of the old remedy of devaluing its currency. Meanwhile, strikes and social tensions in the country could escalate further. A solution for Greece will only constitutes around 2.5% of eurozone GDP will also not prevent focus from continuing to shift to Portugal, Spain and other countries with fiscal problems despite comments by Moody’s ratings agency to differentiate between the countries.

Even if the EUR rebounds on any positive news about support for Greece any relief is likely to prove temporary and will provide better levels to sell into to play for a medium term decline in the currency. Ongoing fiscal concerns, a likely slower pace of economic recovery, divergencies in views of European officials, and the fact that the EUR is still overvalued suggests that the currency will depreciate over much of 2010, with a move to around EUR/USD 1.30 or below in prospect over coming months.

%d bloggers like this: