EUR/GBP upside overdone, CHF overly strong

Disappointing Eurozone service sector and manufacturing purchasing managers’ confidence indices as well as a contraction in Chinese manufacturing confidence sets the scene for a drop in risk assets. In addition in the US, existing home sales rose less than expected taking into account revisions to previous data.

Meanwhile scepticism over Greece’s ability to implement agreed upon reforms and reported resistance from Germany to increasing the firewall around peripheral Eurozone countries has delivered a further dose of negativity to markets. The market was probably looking for an excuse to sell after a strong rally and found plenty in yesterday’s news.

GBP has followed on the coat tails of the EUR over recent weeks, with the currency showing little independent direction. Reflecting this is the fact that EUR/GBP had until recently been trapped in a 0.83-0.84 range. As with the EUR I see downside risks to GBP over the short term against the USD.

Against the EUR, GBP will largely track the movement in yield differentials as it has done over recent months. Relatively dovish MPC minutes, with two members voting for bigger amounts of quantitative easing helped to put GBP under further pressure but the move higher in EUR/GBP look overdone.

My medium term view continues to show GBP appreciation versus EUR and current levels highlight a good opportunity to go short EUR/GBP. Markets are rewarding central banks that are proactive in their policy prescriptions. I exect this to result in some GBP resilience even if the BoE announces more QE.

EUR/CHF has continued to hug the 1.2000 line in the sand enforced by the Swiss National Bank. Ongoing Eurozone doubts even after the agreement of a second bailout for Greece mean that the CHF remains a favoured destination for European money. This is reflected by the fact that EUR/CHF has been highly correlated with Risk Aversion over the past 3-months.

It will take also 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. Assuming that there will be an eventual improvement in risk appetite, CHF will weaken given the strong correlation between EUR/CHF and risk aversion over the past 3-months.

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Risk Aversion to remain elevated

It remains a tumultuous time for markets, gripped by a cacophony of concerns ranging from the lack of resolution to the Eurozone debt crisis to the failure to reach agreement on raising the US debt ceiling and associated deficit reduction plans. Mingled among these is the growing evidence that economic growth is turning out weaker than expected. Meanwhile Europe’s crisis appears to be shifting from bad to worse, as reflected in a shift in attention towards the hitherto untouched Italy although Italian concerns have eased lately.

The release of the EU bank stress test results at the end of last week have not helped, with plenty of criticism about their severity and rigour following the failure of only 8 banks out of the 90 tested. Expectations centred on several more banks failing, with much more capital required than the EUR 2.5 billion shortfall revealed in the tests. Answering to this criticism officials note that there has already been a significant amount of capital raised over recent months by banks, but this will be insufficient to stem the growing disbelief over the results.

Attention is still very much focussed on Greece and reaching agreement on a second bailout for the country, with further discussions at the special EU summit on July 21. The contentious issue remains the extent of private sector participation in any debt restructuring. The decision to enhance the flexibility of the EFSF bailout fund to embark on debt buybacks has not helped. Consequently contagion risks to other countries in the Eurozone periphery are at a heightened state. Despite all of this the EUR has shown a degree of resilience, having failed to sustain its recent drop below 1.40 versus USD.

One explanation for the EUR’s ability to avoid a steeper decline is that the situation on the other side of the pond does not look much better. Hints of QE3 in the US and the impasse between Republicans and Democrats on budget deficit cutting measures tied to any increase in the debt ceiling are limiting the USD’s ability to benefit from Europe’s woes. Moreover, more weak data including a drop in the Empire manufacturing survey and a drop in the Michigan consumer sentiment index to a two-year low, have added to the worries about US recovery prospects.

Against this background risk aversion will remain elevated, supporting the likes of the CHF and JPY while the EUR and USD will continue to fight it out for the winner of the ugliest currency contest. Assuming that a deal will eventually be cobbled together to raise the US debt ceiling (albeit with less ambitious deficit cutting measures than initially hoped for) and that the Fed does not embark on QE3, the EUR will emerge as the most ugly currency, but there will be plenty of volatility in the meantime.

Data and events this week include more US Q2 earnings, June housing starts and existing home sales. While housing data are set to increase, the overall shape of the housing market remains very weak. In Europe, July business and investor surveys will be in focus, with a sharp fall in the German ZEW investor confidence survey likely and a further softening in July purchasing managers indices across the eurozone. The German IFO business confidence survey is also likely to decline in July but will still point to healthy growth in the country. In the UK Bank of England MPC minutes will confirm no bias for policy rate changes with a 7-2 vote likely, while June retail sales are likely to bounce back.

Contest of the uglies

Although there is plenty of event risk in the form of the Greek confidence motion today market sentiment has taken a turn for the better as a ‘risk on’ mood has filtered through. There was little justification in the turn in sentiment aside from some reassuring comments from the EU’s Juncker but clearly markets are hoping for the best.

The contest of the ugly currencies continues and recently the EUR is running neck and neck with the USD. News that a final decision on a further tranche of aid for Greece and a second bailout package will not take place until early July was not digested well by European markets, although EUR/USD managed to show its resilience once again overnight.

EUR/USD looks like it will settle into a range over the short-term, with support around the 100 day moving average of 1.4170 and resistance around the 15 June high of 1.4451. A weak German June ZEW investor confidence survey may result in the EUR facing some resistance but the data is likely to be overshadowed by events in Greece.

Although Greece continues to dominate the headlines, the looming Fed FOMC meeting and press briefing tomorrow may just keep USD bulls in check especially given the likelihood of downward growth revisions by the Fed and no change in policy settings. Ahead of this news on the housing market is likely to remain bleak, with a likely drop in May existing home sales as indicated by pending home sales data.

USD/JPY continues to flirt with the 80 level but as yet it has failed to sustain a breach below this level. Contrary to speculation the JPY is not particularly reactive to risk aversion at present but instead continues to be driven higher by narrowing US – Japan bond yield differentials. This is pretty much all due to declining US Treasury yields rather than any increase in Japanese bond (JGB) yields.

However, while Japanese officials continue to back off the idea of FX intervention, even at current levels, data releases such as the May trade balance yesterday continue to build a strong case for weakening the JPY. Even economy minister Yosano sounded worried on the trade front in his comments yesterday. Despite such concerns, it will take a renewed widening in bond yield differentials to result in renewed JPY weakness which will need an improvement in US data to be forthcoming.

USD Pressured As Yields Dip

The USD came under pressure despite a higher than forecast reading for January US CPI and a strong jump in the February Philly Fed manufacturing survey. On the flip side, an increase in weekly jobless claims dented sentiment. The overnight rally in US Treasury yields was a factor likely weighing on the USD. The US calendar is light today leaving markets to focus on the G20 meeting and to ponder next week’s releases including durable goods orders, existing and new home sales.

The jump in the European Central Bank (ECB) marginal facility borrowing to EUR 15 billion, its highest since June 2009, provoked some jitters about potential problems in one or more eurozone banks. At a time when there are already plenty of nerves surrounding the fate of WestLB and news that Moody’s is reviewing another German bank for possible downgrade, this adds to an already nervous environment for the EUR.

Nonetheless, EUR/USD appears to be fighting off such concerns, with strong buying interest on dips around 1.3550. The G20 meeting under France’s presidency is unlikely to have any direct impact on the EUR or other currencies for that matter, with a G20 source stating that the usual statement about “excess volatility and disorderly movements in FX” will be omitted.

Although USD/JPY has been a highly sensitive currency pair to differentials between 2-year US and Japanese bonds (JGBs), this sensitivity has all but collapsed over recent weeks. USD/JPY failed to break the 84.00 level, coming close this week. There appears to be little scope to break the current range ahead of next week’s trade data and CPI.

Given the recent loss in momentum of Japan’s exports the data will be instructive on how damaging the strength of the JPY on the economy. In the near term, escalating tensions in the Middle East will likely keep the JPY supported, with support around USD/JPY 83.09 on the cards.

It seems that the jump in UK CPI this week (to 4.0%) provoked even more hawkish comments than usual from the Bank of England BoE’s Sentance, with the MPC member stating that the Quarterly Inflation Report understates the upside risks to inflation indicating that interest rates need to rise more quickly and by more than expected. Specifically on GBP he warned that the Bank should not be relaxed about its value.

Although these comments should not be particularly surprising from a known hawk, they may just help to underpin GBP ahead of the January retail sales report. Expectations for a rebound in sales following a weather related drop in the previous month will likely help prop up GBP, with GBP/USD resistance seen around 1.6279.

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