Green light for a break of USD/JPY 100

Growth concerns came back to the fore in the wake of disappointing releases in the US and China as well as a downward revision to global growth forecasts by the International Monetary Fund. Data releases this week will not do much to allay growth fears. Although the advance reading of Q1 US GDP is likely to reveal a firm 3% QoQ annualised outcome the momentum in the US economy clearly tailed off towards the end of the quarter as more forward looking data releases attest to. The US and global economy is likely to pick up steam as the year progresses but admittedly recent data releases point to a similar pattern as recent years of firm Q1 activity followed by weakness later.

Meanwhile in Europe, purchasing managers’ indices and the German IFO business sentiment survey will show some further moderation, while credit conditions remain constrained indicating a downbeat outlook over the rest of the year. Consequently pressure for a policy rate cut from the European Central Bank is likely to intensify, with a cut likely by the end of this quarter. EUR/USD continues to trade above its 1.3001 technical support level but momentum is fading. Weaker economic data this week will likely undermine the EUR further.
gold
Following last week’s strong volatility in commodity and gold prices in particular some stability is likely over coming days, with gold retracing some of its losses and regaining the USD 1400 level. Equity markets finished the week in firmer mood after falls earlier in the week but the plethora of US Q1 earnings scheduled over coming days will help to determine whether the gains can be held. So far earnings have beaten expectations on balance, but notably expectations have been fairly low in the first place.

There was plenty of attention on currencies at the G20 meeting but the final outcome left the door open to further JPY weakness while the communiqué highlighted the “unintended negative side effects” for easier monetary policy. Although this was a veiled warning about potential build up of asset price bubbles as central banks ease policy, it is unlikely to sway the Bank of Japan from accelerating its balance sheet expansion. Aside from a probable breach of USD/JPY 100 there is unlikely to be much follow through from the G20 meeting this week.

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Bernanke eyed for QE clues

Range trading is likely to dominate. However, the news flow remains negative, with disappointing retail sales data in the US combined with more the decision by the German constitutional court to delay its decision on the ESM bailout fund until September 12, highlighting the lack of potential for any rally in risk assets in the near term.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) provided markets with a further dose of caution, with its warning that risks to global growth “loom large” as it cut its forecasts for global growth. Pressure on policy makers to provide more stimulus will grow, but the room for and efficacy of such stimulus is questionable.

The weaker than expected June US retail sales report released yesterday has resulted in fuelling expectations that Fed Chairman Bernanke will announce a shift towards more quantitative easing later today. Consequently the USD has come under pressure losing ground so far this week.

While the USD is set to be restrained ahead of Bernanke’s speech to the Senate we do not believe he will announce a change in stance. Therefore, any USD weakness is likely to prove temporary in the short term. The inability of risk appetite to improve further and the ongoing uncertainties in the Eurozone reinforce the view that the USD’s downside will be limited.

Today’s US releases are likely to reveal gains in June industrial production, and a likely strengthening in long term capital flows in May, factors that will help to provide the USD with further support.

Although the EUR has bounced this week data today will only serve to reinforce its overall downward trajectory. The July German ZEW survey is set to decline further. The range of forecasts for this volatile survey is wide between -10 to -30, with our forecast towards the lower end.

The plethora of negative news in terms of policy progress continues to dampen sentiment and hamper the EUR’s ability to recover. Whether its persistent downgrades of economic growth across Eurozone countries, stalling of reforms and austerity plans, or delays in implementing agreed upon measures, the news is unambiguously bad.

Dashed hopes of progress towards finding and implementing solutions have led to a renewed deterioration in speculative appetite for EUR. Although the potential for short covering remains high, the trigger for any short covering is decidedly absent. We maintain the view that EUR/USD will test 1.2000 over coming weeks.

Dollar still in a stupor

The increase in the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) funding by $430 adds another layer of firepower to provide help to the Eurozone periphery should it be required. Nonetheless, many other worries continue to afflict markets suggesting that any positive boost will be short lived. There are plenty of data and events this week including central banks in the US, Japan and New Zealand. Additionally US corporate earnings will remain in focus while bond auctions in the Eurozone will also provide direction. I continue to see risk aversion creeping higher against this background.

It is unlikely that the FOMC meeting tomorrow and Wednesday will provoke any change in the currently low FX volatility environment given that policy settings will remain unchanged, with the majority of FOMC members likely to look for the first tightening at the earliest in 2014. The Fed is therefore unlikely to wake the USD out of its stupor and if anything a softening in durable goods orders, little change in new home sales and a pull back in consumer confidence will play in favour of USD bears over coming days. Even a relatively firm reading for Q1 GDP will be seen as backward looking given the slowing expected in Q2.

The EUR will have to contend with political events as it digests the aftermath of the first round of the French presidential elections. The fact that the political process will continue to a second round on 6 May could act as a constraint on the EUR. Various ‘flash’ purchasing managers indices (PMI) readings and economic sentiment gauges will offer some fundamental direction for the EUR but largely stable to softer readings suggest little excitement. Consequently EUR/USD will largely remain within its recent range although developments in Spain and Italy and their debt markets will have the potential to invoke larger moves in EUR.

The JPY is usually quite insensitive to Japanese data releases and this is unlikely to change this week. Key releases include March jobs data, CPI inflation, industrial production and retail trade. Although inflation has moved into barely positive territory the BoJ is still set to increase the size of its asset purchase programme. This will act as a negative factor for the JPY but unless US Treasury yield differentials renew their widening trend against Japanese JGB yields and drop in the JPY will be limited.

AUD risks, CHF speculation, CAD upside

News that the IMF revised up its global growth forecasts, decent demand for a Spanish bill auction and a stronger than expected reading in the April German ZEW investor confidence survey helped to calm market nerves overnight. Some solid US Q1 earnings also supported equities too.

Weaker readings for US industrial production and housing starts were largely ignored. Hopes of an expansion of IMF funds were boosted by the news that Japan will be provide an extra $60 billion. High beta currencies rallied overnight but notably the EUR failed to register gains despite a narrowing in peripheral Eurozone bond yields.

AUD has undergone some major gyrations. The boost from by a strong jobs report last week was quickly undone by a relatively dovish set of RBA minutes, which appeared to confirm the view that a rate cut would take place in May. Of course, as the RBA pointed out the April 24 Q1 inflation report would be essential to provide the final clues to the rate decision.

As a rate cut is already priced in, an upside inflation surprise may actually result in a bounce in the AUD but any positive impetus will have to contend with a more fragile risk environment, yesterday’s risk rally not withstanding. AUD is one of the most highly sensitive currencies to risk aversion and bounced overnight as risk appetite improved but we suspect the risk rally will fade in the short term putting the AUD under renewed downward pressure.

EUR/CHF continues to track the 1.20 ‘line in the sand’ closely, but rumours of a shift in the floor continue to do the rounds. Swiss officials have not confirmed such speculation but have highlighted the impact of a strong CHF in fuelling deflation pressures. The case for a move higher in the CHF ceiling is therefore quite high, but the cost could also be high if speculators test the resolve of the Swiss authorities.

Although the Swiss economy continues to suffer it appears that the pain of a strong CHF is lessening slightly although not enough to ease concerns about the strength of the currency. The March KoF Swiss leading indicator revealed a second straight increase, albeit from a low level. Further gains may be limited however, given the ongoing downward pressure emanating from weaker growth in the Eurozone.

The Bank of Canada left policy rates unchanged at 1% but the accompanying statement appeared to pave the way for higher interest rates. Consequently expectations of rate hikes have been brought forward, with the CAD rallying due to its strong correlation with interest rate differentials. Firmer commodity prices also helped to boost CAD.

Our quantitative models show scope for further CAD gains over the short term, suggesting more gains ahead. Further direction will come from the BoC Monetary Policy Report today, with USD/CAD setting its sights on a test of technical support around 0.9766 in the near term.

Resilient Markets

Risk assets have registered a good start to the year despite ongoing tensions in the Eurozone. US stocks rose overnight, with the S&P 500 extending its rally to 4% year to date. Evidence that markets are becoming increasingly resilient to bad news emerged from the muted reaction to sharp downgrades in growth forecasts by the World Bank, with the world economy expected to grow by 2.5% this year compared to a June forecast of 3.6%.

US markets also reacted positively to news that the US NAHB Homebuilders index rose to its highest level in more than 4 years and while industrial output expanded, albeit less than expected. Markets will continue to keep one eye on earnings to ascertain whether the equity rally can be sustained, with at least 48 S&P 500 companies reporting earnings this week including Morgan Stanley Bank of America, Intel and Google today. So far, relatively more companies have fallen short of expectations than have beaten expectations.

Even in the Eurozone the news has been slightly more encouraging than of late, with reports that a deal between Greece and private creditors on the extent of debt writedowns could be reached by the end of this week. Moreover, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is reported to be raising $500 billion in new funds for bail out funds, another factor that has helped to shore up market sentiment. The net result has been to see peripheral bond yields ease further and the EUR to strengthen, helped by the fact that the market is extremely short.

There is still plenty of event risk on the horizon, however, including debt auctions in Spain and France today although these ought to pass relatively smoothly. US data are likely to be mixed today, with benign inflation keeping the door open to more Fed quantitative easing (QE) while a gain in the Philly Fed manufacturing survey will continue to reveal signs of economic recovery. In the short term risk assets look supported but given the risks ahead any bounce still looks to be short-lived.

Beware of EUR short covering

Europe has plenty of events to focus on over the next couple of days including the European Central Bank (ECB) Council meeting, and debt auctions in Spain and Italy. While I am by no means a EUR bull the risk is skewed towards some short term recovery or at least stabilization around EUR/USD 1.28. The speculative market is extremely short EUR while policy makers, specifically German Chancellor Merkel and French President Sarkozy are making the right noises. it appears to have finally dawned on Eurozone officials that its not just about austerity but also about growth and reform.

News that Fitch ratings is unlikely to downgrade France’s ratings this year has provided a boost to Eurozone confidence. Greece could yet spoil the party given the ongoing discussion with the Troika (Euuropean Commission, International Monetary Fund and ECB) to finalise the second bailout package for the country. Opposition resistance within Greece suggests that more austerity may not be easy to implement. Meanwhile there are ongoing questions about the extent of writedowns that Greek debt will undergo. Despite these issues it appears that markets are becoming somewhat more immune to events in the Eurozone. While still high bond yields for Italy and other debt still point to ongoing trouble, risk appetite has firmed.

One factor that is helping to boost sentiment is the encouraging news out of the US. Although the Q4 earnings season has not began particularly well data releases look somewhat more positive. Not only has positive impact of last week’s US December jobs report continued to filter through the market but so has other news such as a pick up in small business confidence and a rise in consumer credit. These lesser watched data highlight the gradual recovery process underway in the US and the growing divergence with the Eurozone economy and support the view of medium term USD outperformance versus EUR.

The Devil is in the details

The “partial solution” delivered by European Union (EU) leaders last week has failed to match the high hopes ahead of the EU Summit. Nonetheless, the deliverance of a “fiscal compact”, acceleration of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) to July 2012 , no forced private sector participation in debt restructuring (outside Greece), and possible boost to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) of up to EUR 200 billion, are steps in the right direction. The fact that UK Prime Minister Cameron threw a spanner in the works to veto a joint proposal to revise the EU Treaty should not detract from the progress made.

Nonetheless, the measures may not be sufficient to allay market concerns, with disappointment at the lack of European Central Bank (ECB) action in terms of stepping up to the plate as lender of the last resort still weighing on sentiment. Data will add to the disappointment this week as “flash” Eurozone purchasing managers indices (PMI) drop further in December.

This week events in the US will garner more attention, including the Federal Reserve FOMC meeting, November inflation and retail sales data plus manufacturing confidence gauges as well as November industrial production on tap. The Fed will not shift its policy stance at this meeting but may sound a little more upbeat on the economy following recent firmer data. Inflation will likely remain subdued while the other data will continue to show gradual recovery.

Overall, the market is likely to thin further as the week progresses and holidays approach, with ranges likely to dominate against the background of little directional impetus. Our call to sell risk assets on rallies remains in place, however. The EUR will likely struggle to make much headway in the current environment, especially given that many details of the EU agreement still need to be ironed out and once again the risk to market confidence lies in implementation or lack of it. A range of EUR/USD 1.3260-1.3550 is likely to hold over the short term.

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