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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Euphoria fades, risk currencies weaker

The euphoria emanating from last week’s eurozone agreement will likely fade into this week as renewed doubts creep in. Details of how the EFSF bailout fund will be leveraged or how the special purpose vehicle will be utilised have yet to emerge while the firewall to protect countries such as Italy and Spain may still be insufficient given that the use of the European Central Bank (ECB) to provide unlimited support has been ruled out.

With more questions than answers markets will be hungry for further details over coming weeks and until then it is difficult to see risk appetite stretching too far. One indication of such concern was the fact that Italy’s borrowing costs climbed to euro-era highs the day after the European Union (EU) plan was agreed. The G20 meeting on 3-4 November will be eyed for further developments as well as further reaction to the EU agreement.

There are plenty of events to digest this week that could add to any market nervousness. In terms of central banks we do not expect to see any change in policy stance from the ECB, Federal Reserve or Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) this week but the decisions may be close calls. The ECB under the helm of new President Draghi will be under pressure to ease policy as growth momentum has clearly weakened but the Bank will likely hold off for the December meeting when new growth and inflation forecasts will be released.

The RBA may also take some solace from a better global economic and market climate but the market disagrees having priced in a cut this week. The Fed will look to see how ‘Operation Twist” is faring before moving again but recent indications from some Fed officials suggest growing support for purchases of mortgage backed securities.

On the data front eurozone inflation today will be the key number in Europe while the US jobs report at the end of the week will be the main release in the US. Ahead of the payrolls data, clues will be garnered from the ISM manufacturing data and ADP jobs report. The consensus is for a 95k increase in non-farm payrolls and the unemployment to remain at 9.1% maintaining the trend of only gradual improvement in the US jobs market.

Recent data releases have turned less negative, however, and at the least have helped to alleviate renewed recessionary concerns. Overall, I suspect that markets will come back down to the reality of slow growth and unanswered questions this week, with risk assets likely to lose steam over coming days.

Plenty of event risk

This week is heavy with event risk, with a lot expected from EU leaders. So far the risk on tone to markets has held up, with for example the VIX fear gauge resting below the key 30.0. The G20 meeting over the weekend set the deadline for action for concrete solutions to the eurozone debt crisis for the October 23 EU Summit.

However, there will be little detail on issues such as banking sector recapitalisation, private sector involvement in any debt restructuring or ‘leveraging’ the EFSF bailout fund until the report on Wednesday night by the Troika on Greece. The reward to EU leaders would be the potential for more aid from the IMF but even now it seems that a German government official has poured cold water of a plan being announced at the EU Summit which will disappoint markets.

There are also plenty of data releases for markets to digest over coming days including inflation releases, manufacturing surveys and industrial production data in the US while in Europe the German IFO and ZEW surveys are scheduled for release. The data will follow on from the better than expected September US retail sales releases at the end of last week continuing to dampen expectations that the global economy is falling in recession though there will be a marked deceleration in European data.

Meanwhile the US Q3 earnings season rolls. The risk on tone will likely continue to weigh on the USD and weigh on bonds but unlike a few weeks ago when a lot of bad news was priced in, the scope for disappointment is becoming increasingly high.

Many currencies remain highly correlated with gyrations in risk and in this respect the improvement in risk appetite is good news for high beta / commodity. AUD, NZD, CAD and JPY are amongst the most sensitive currencies and therefore prone to a bigger reaction as risk improves, with the former three strengthening and the JPY weakening. Asian currencies poised to benefit from firmer risk appetite include INR and KRW, both with relatively high correlations with risk.

EUR/USD has made a solid recovery over recent days from its lows around 1.3146 spurred by hopes of action by European officials. Such hopes may yet be dashed but the EUR looks supported over coming days ahead of the EU summit Speculative positioning also reflects a slight improvement in EUR sentiment as IMM short positions have declined in the last week but its worth noting that this week’s European data are unlikely to be supportive for the EUR.

Euro slides as Greek worries intensify

The USD ended last week on high a note having overcome speeches by Fed Chairman Bernanke and President Obama. Bernanke’s lack of detail on potential further Fed stimulus offered the USD a lifeline as there was no mention of QE3 but nervousness may mount ahead of the September 21 FOMC meeting.

This week’s data releases (including retail sales, inflation, industrial production and regional manufacturing surveys may offer some direction to the USD and it is likely that the data over coming days will look less negative than in past weeks, giving the USD some support. Having broken above its 200 day moving average around 76.1986 for the first time in a year the USD index is set to begin the week in positive mode and will likely extend its gains over coming days.

In sharp contrast, EUR/USD crumbled at the end of last week dropping through its 200 day moving average despite positive news from Germany (rejection of bills in the constitutional court) and Italy (passage of austerity measures). The European Central Bank (ECB) did not help the EUR’s cause however, with the change in its stance to a more balanced assessment of risks from its more hawkish stance previously.

However, the real damage occurred as speculation of a Greek default intensified and ECB hawk Stark resigned from the ECB council, highlighting the divisions within the governing board. This week attention will remain on Greece as negotiations between the Troika (ECB, EU and IMF) and Greek officials resume.

Ahead of the talks Greece approved a further EUR 2 billion in austerity measures over the weekend but nonetheless, despite denials by Greek officials speculation of a debt default will continue to hammer the EUR lower. Near term technical support is seen around 1.3525 for EUR/USD.

GBP found some relief last week following the decision by the Bank of England to leave policy unchanged though it is unlikely to be able to make much if any headway against the USD over coming sessions as expectations of further UK quantitative easing may simply have been pushed back to the November meeting.

Inflation data this week will give further clues to policy but once again there is likely to be no sign of any easing in inflation pressure, limiting the room for maneuver for the BoE. Moreover, a weak outcome for UK retail sales in August will maintain the trend of soft UK data keeping up the pressure for more BoE action. As a result GBP will struggle against the USD but given that problems in Europe look even worse, GBP will likely extend gains against the EUR this week.

Euro crisis intensifies

The blowout in eurozone non-core debt has intensified and unlike in past months the EUR has been a clear casualty. The lack of a concrete agreement over a solution given divergent views of EU officials, the European Central Bank (ECB) and private sector participants threatens a further ratcheting higher of pressure on markets over coming weeks.

The only real progress overnight as revealed in the Eurogroup statement appeared to be in the renewing the option of buying back Greek debt via the eurozone bailout fund, extending maturities and lowering interest rates on loans. This will be insufficient to stem the pressure on the EUR, with the currency verging on a sharp drop below 1.40.

The USD continues to take advantage of the EUR’s woes and has actually staged a break above its 100-day moving average yesterday after several attempts previously. This sends a bullish signal and the USD is set to remain supported given that there is little in sight of a resolution to the problems festering in the eurozone.

Today’s release of the June 22 Fed FOMC minutes will give some clues to Fed Chairman Bernanke’s testimony to the House of Representatives tomorrow, but as long as the minutes do not indicate a greater willingness to embark on more asset purchases, the USD is set to remain resilient.

GBP has also benefitted from the EUR’s weakness, and unlike the EUR has only drifted rather than dived versus the USD. However, the UK economy is not without its own problems as revealed in a further drop in retail sales overnight, albeit less negative than feared, with the British Retail Consortium (BRC) like for like sales falling 0.6% in June.

A likely increase in June CPI inflation in data today to a 4.8% annual rate will once again highlight the dichotomy between weak growth and high inflation. In turn, such data will only provoke further divisions within the Bank of England MPC. While further gains against the beleaguered EUR are likely, with a test of EUR/GBP 0.8721 on the cards in the short term, GBP will struggle to sustain any gain above 1.6000 versus USD.

Both AUD and NZD are vulnerable against the background of rising risk aversion and a firmer USD in general. However, both currencies are not particularly sensitive to risk aversion. Interestingly the major currency most sensitive to higher risk aversion in the past 3-months is the CAD and in this respect it may be worth considering playing relative CAD underperformance versus other currencies.

As for the AUD it is more sensitive to general USD strength, suggesting that it will be restrained over coming sessions too and given that market positioning is still very long AUD, there is scope for further downside pressure to around 1.0520 versus USD.

US Dollar Finding Support

The US dollar is finding growing relief from the fact that the Fed is putting up a high hurdle before more quantitative easing (QE3) is even considered. As highlighted by Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke last week he is not considering QE3 despite a spate of weak US data. Of course until US bond yields move higher the USD will fail to make much of a recovery and in turn this will need some improvement in US economic data.


The May retail sales release is unlikely to provide this with headline sales likely to undergo an autos related drop while core CPI released on Wednesday is set to remain benign in May. There will be better news on the US manufacturing front, with surveys and hard data likely to bounce back.

There is still plenty of scope for USD short covering as reflected in the fact that IMM USD positions fell further as of the 7th June, with the market still heavily short USDs. The USD index has likely found a short term bottom, with a break above the 50-day moving average level around 74.6874 in focus.

EUR has lost momentum , with the European Central Bank’s (ECB) confirmation of a July policy rate hike prompting a major sell off in the currency, even with interest rate markets barely flinching. The EUR is susceptible to developments regarding Greece and the news on this front is not good. Divisions between policy makers including the ECB about the extent of private sector involvement in a second bailout package threaten to prolong the pain.

Similarly divisions within the Greek parliament about further austerity measures needed to secure a second bail could also derail the process. Further negotiations this week will be closely scrutinised, likely taking more importance than data releases, with only the final reading of May inflation and industrial production of note this week.

As revealed by the CFTC IMM data, EUR long positions jumped early last week leaving plenty of scope for unwinding, something that is likely to take place this week. Nonetheless, support around the 30 May low of EUR/USD 1.4256 is likely to prove difficult to break on the downside this week.

GBP took a hit in the wake of yet more weak activity data in the form of May industrial and manufacturing production data. The economic news will be no better this week, with retail sales set to drop in May and CPI inflation set to rise further in April. The data will only add further to the confusion about UK monetary policy as the dichotomy between weak data and persistently high inflation continues.

Admittedly the weak data releases can at least partially be explained away by the Royal wedding and Easter holidays but this will provide little solace to GBP bulls. GBP will likely struggle against a firmer USD this week although its worth noting that GBP speculative position has been negative for 3-straight weeks, suggesting that at least there is less room for GBP position unwinding. GBP/USD is likely to hold above support around 1.6055 this week.

Australian dollar hit by weak jobs data

The USD’s bounce since the beginning of the month appears to be gaining more traction, with the USD index up over 3% from its recent lows. I’m still cautious about whether this move can extend much further in the absence of a back up in US bond yields especially given ongoing asset purchases / global USD liquidity injections by the US Federal Reserve at least until the end of June.

Nonetheless, given the magnitude of USD short positioning, which had moved ever close to revisiting record levels, the potential for short-covering was significant. US data today could provide some influence, with attention on April retail sales data, PPI inflation and jobless claims. A relatively positive outcome for retail sales could give the USD further support.

The day has started badly for the AUD, with the currency hit by an awful jobs report, with employment dropping by 22.1k in April compared to consensus expectations of +17k. The details were even more negative than the headline reading, with full time employment dropping by 49.1k and only partially mitigated by a 26.9k rise in part time employment.

The Reserve Bank of Australia will likely pay close attention to the data and it will likely result in any residual expectation of a rate hike by the RBA next month being taken off the table. Already today there has been a sharp rally in bank bill futures as markets pare back interest rate expectations and markets are not even pricing in a further full 25bps rate hike by year end.

The data weighed heavily on the AUD, with AUD/USD hitting a low below 1.06. AUD is likely to trade with a heavy tone over coming sessions, with the currency already under pressure from a generally firmer USD. Moreover, the rally in Australian bank bill futures will add further pressure to the currency as Australia’s favourable rate differential narrows further with the US.

Taken together with the fact that AUD positioning is close to its all time highs and that even compared to interest rate differentials its gains look overdone, it suggests more downside risks over the short-term, with AUD/USD 1.0537 seen as a near term technical support level.

In contrast GBP benefitted from a back up in UK bond yields in reaction to the Bank of England’s Quarterly Inflation Report. Inflation forecasts were revised higher but growth forecasts were revised lower as expected. The In truth, the reaction looked overdone but GBP has gained some momentum versus EUR and looks set to extend its gains, with focus on the 200 day moving average level of 0.8558.

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