US dollar tracking Treasury yields

Despite the firmer tone to risk appetite the USD index moved higher tracking the move in US Treasury yields. Indeed, the USD’s reaction was actually opposite to what would be expected given the rally in risk assets but its move clearly reflects the growing influence of yields.

The surprisingly robust April ISM manufacturing survey following the disappointing Chicago PMI for the same month highlights that recovery is not straightforward, suggesting that USD gains will also not be straightforward.

March factory orders are on tap today but the bigger focus will be on the April ADP jobs report, which will give important clues to Friday’s payrolls data. Expectations centre on a 170k outcome for the ADP report, a smaller increase than the 209k registered in March. In the meantime I expect the USD to hold its gains.

As noted at the start of the week EUR/USD was poised to edge higher despite the bad economic news emerging from the region. EUR/USD has continued to strengthen over recent weeks despite the release of data showing Eurozone economic underperformance relative to the US. A case in point is the April Eurozone purchasing manager’s data to be released today, which will reveal further weakness, especially in peripheral countries.

Some easing in peripheral bond yields has helped to support sentiment for the EUR leading to further short covering in the currency but further gains are expected to be limited. EUR/USD now sits around the middle of its 1.30-1.35 range but further upside will be restricted ahead of the key US jobs data on Friday. EUR/USD resistance is seen around the 1.3385 level.

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Awaiting US jobs data

The USD continues to languish as market hopes/expectations of further US Federal Reserve stimulus including possibly more quantitative easing or QE3 weigh on the currency. There may also be some hesitation to buy USDs ahead of tomorrow’s August jobs report. The omens from the US ADP jobs data yesterday were not particularly positive, with a below consensus 91k private jobs reported.

As the Fed FOMC minutes earlier this week highlighted there are a few in the FOMC who are prepared to take more aggressive action which would equate to an even weaker USD. Ahead of the jobs data today’s August ISM manufacturing survey will offer some direction for markets but if our forecast of a sub 50 outcome proves correct it will only play into expectations of more Fed stimulus leaving the USD on the back foot.

EUR/USD struggled to sustain any move above 1.45 this week but has continued to withstand various peripheral bond concerns without too much difficulty, an ability it has managed to maintain for the past several months. Although it has pulled back EUR/USD may struggle to sustain a drop below its 100-day moving average at 1.4362.

Although there have been various fresh worries over recent days such as the collateral issues between Greece and Finland as well as well as questions about German demands for Greece’s bailout, the EUR is likely to remain unperturbed. Whether the EUR will be able to withstand growing evidence of slowing growth in the eurozone is another question altogether, especially as it is leading to a reassessment of European Central Bank (ECB) policy expectations, something that will likely be confirmed at next week’s ECB meeting.

GBP has had problems of its own to deal with and has failed to capitalise on any USD tone while losing ground against the EUR. Data yesterday did not help, with consumer sentiment falling for a third straight month according to the GfK confidence index. It appears that speculation of further Fed monetary stimulus may also be rubbing off on GBP, with potential for more UK QE likely to act as a weight on the currency.

Bank of England MPC member Posen added fuel to the fire in comments that he made supporting the need for central banks to undertake more QE. GBP looks destined for more weakness in the short term, with support around GBP/USD likely 1.6111 likely to be tested. A below 50 reading for the August manufacturing PMI today, will only add to downside pressure.

USD weaker, EUR resilient, JPY supported, CHF pressure

Why has the USD come under pressure even after Fed Chairman Bernanke failed to signal more QE? The answer is that Bernanke offered hope of more stimulus and gave a shot in the arm to risk trades even if QE3 was not on the cards. Consequently the USD has looked vulnerable at the turn of this week but we suspect that a likely batch of soft US data releases over coming days including the August jobs report at the end of the week, ISM manufacturing survey on Thursday and consumer confidence today, will erase some of the market’s optimism and leave the USD in better position. The FOMC minutes today may also give some further guidance to the USD as more details emerge on the potential tools the Fed has up its sleeve.

The EUR’s ability to retain a firm tone despite the intensification of bad news in the eurozone has been impressive. Uncertainty on various fronts in Germany including but not limited to concerns about the outcome of the German Bundestag vote on the revamped EFSF on September 30, German commitment to Greece’s bailout plan and German opposition party proposals for changes to bailout terms including the possibility of exiting the eurozone, have so far gone unnoticed by EUR/USD as it easily broke above 1.4500. EUR was given some support from news of a merger between Greece’s second and third largest banks. Likely weak economic data today in the form of August eurozone sentiment surveys may bring a dose of reality back to FX markets, however.

The lack of reaction of the JPY to the news that Japan’s former Finance Minister Noda won the DPJ leadership and will become the country’s new Prime Minister came as no surprise. The JPY has become somewhat used to Japan’s many political gyrations over recent years and while Noda is seen as somewhat of a fiscal hawk his victory is unlikely to have any implications for JPY policy. Instead the JPY‘s direction against both the USD and EUR continues to be driven by relative yield and in this respect the JPY is likely to remain firmly supported. Both US and European 2-year differentials versus Japan are at historic lows, with the US yield advantage close to disappearing completely. Until this picture changes USD/JPY is set to languish around current levels below 77.00.

EUR/CHF has rebounded smartly over recent weeks, the latest bounce following speculation of a fee on CHF cash balances, with the currency pair reaching a high of 1.1972 overnight. The pressure to weaken the CHF has become all the more acute following the much bigger than anticipated drop in the August KOF Swiss leading indicator last week and its implications for weaker Swiss growth ahead. The ‘risk on’ tone to markets following Bernanke’s speech has provided a helping hand to the Swiss authorities as safe haven demand for CHF lessens but given the likely weak slate of economic releases this week his speech may be soon forgotten. Nonetheless, the momentum remains for more EUR/CHF upside in the short term, at least until risk aversion rears its head again.

CHF and JPY remain on top

It’s been a tumultuous few week for global markets. First a debt deal in Europe and then a debt ceiling agreement in the US. In both cases any boost to sentiment has and will be limited. Europe’s debt deal, while comprehensive, left quite a few questions in terms of implementation, scope and mutual country agreements.

In the US the deal to raise the US debt ceiling by $1.2 trillion hammered out between Republican and Democrat party leaders helps to stave off a debt default but is far smaller and less comprehensive in terms of deficit reduction measures than had been hoped for and may still be insufficient to prevent a credit ratings downgrade by S&P and/or more ratings agencies. The deal will prove a disappointment to USD bulls.

Markets in the US have failed to find much to rally them despite the debt deal. Indeed, all that has happened is that attention has shifted back towards economic growth worries in the wake of a disappointing ISM manufacturing index in the US (50.9 in July, a reading which is just about in expansion territory) which follows on from a run of soft data in the US including the Q2 GDP report. Unfortunately data elsewhere is no better as a series of weak manufacturing surveys have highlighted this week.

Weak data and the US debt deal have pushed Treasury yields lower but despite this the USD has rallied, especially against the EUR, which is not only suffering from renewed peripheral debt concerns and weaker growth, but also from a run of disappointing earnings releases in contrast to the US where earnings have on the whole beaten forecasts. The USD may have benefited from a renewed increase in risk aversion and in this respect further US equity weakness may provide the USD with further support.

Whether EUR/USD will extend its recent losses is doubtful, however. Much will depend on Friday’s US July jobs report and if there is another weak outcome as looks likely, speculation of another round of Fed asset purchases could dent USD sentiment. The currencies that remain on top in this environment are the CHF and to a lesser extent the JPY much to the chagrin of the Swiss and Japanese authorities

US dollar on the rise

Risk aversion is on the rise as uncertainties about Greece and worries about weaker economic data weigh on sentiment. A number of key events rather than data will be the main drivers this week. First and foremost amongst these is the vote in the Greek parliament on the country’s budget reform plan, which if passed will pave the way for the way for a disbursement of EUR 12 billion from the European Union / IMF and a new bailout package.

Meanwhile in the US talks on raising the debt ceiling are likely to resume in earnest, with the market likely to become increasingly nervous about the lack of resolution on the issue. Nonetheless, it is Europe that will dominate the headlines and on this front even if the reform plan is passed any market relief is likely to be limited given the ongoing uncertainty about private sector participation in any Greek debt roll over. This suggests that the EUR will remain under pressure over the week despite reassuring comments from Chinese Premier Wen.

Data releases will be relegated to background noise but what there is will not help sentiment. Signs of slowing activity remain evident as revealed in disappointing eurozone manufacturing surveys last week and this will be echoed in the US ISM manufacturing survey at the end of this week. Economic sentiment gauges in Europe are also set to reveal a decline. Given the lack of ammunition and/or unwillingness to risk using further stimulus from the Fed, the sensitivity of markets to weak data will be high, keeping risk aversion elevated.

Indeed, although well flagged the end of the Fed’s QE2 this week will mark a major shift in market dynamics, especially in currency markets where the USD will finally see a massive weight lifted from its shoulders. As indicated by Fed Chairman Bernanke following the FOMC meeting the Fed is not considering a further round of asset purchases, a fact that will help the USD to find firmer support.

Notably the USD index moved has above its 100-day moving average providing a positive technical signal given that it has failed on its last two attempts. The USD index now looks set to break its April high around 76.610.

US Economic Data Disappointments

Risk gyrations continue, with a sharp shift back into risk off mood for markets driven in large part by yet more disappointing US economic data as the May ADP jobs report came in far weaker than expected at 38k whilst the ISM manufacturing index dropped to 53.5 in May, its lowest reading since September 2009. This was echoed globally as manufacturing purchasing managers indices (PMI) softened, raising concerns that the global ‘soft patch’ will extend deeper and longer than predicted.

The market mood was further darkened by news that Moodys downgraded Greece’s sovereign credit ratings to Caa1 from B1, putting the country on par with Cuba and effectively predicting a 50% probability of default.

The resultant jump in risk aversion was pretty extensive, with US Treasury yields dipping further, commodity prices dropping led by soft commodities, and equity volatility spiking although notably implied currency volatility has remained relatively well behaved.

Global growth worries led by the US have now surpassed Greek and eurozone peripheral country concerns as the main driver of risk aversion, especially as it increasingly looks as though agreement on a further bailout package for Greece is moving closer to being achieved. Moreover, it seems as though a ‘Vienna initiative’ type of plan is moving towards fruition involving a voluntary rollover of debt.

The lack of first tier economic data releases today suggests that it will be a case of further digestion or perhaps indigestion of the weak run of US data releases over recent weeks and the implications for policy. For instance, it is no coincidence that QE3 is now being talked about again following the end of QE2 although it still seems very unlikely.

Bonds may see some respite from the recent rally given the lack of data today although this may prove short-lived as expectations for the May US jobs report tomorrow are likely to have been revised sharply lower in the wake of the weak ADP jobs data and ISM survey yesterday, with an outcome sub 100k now likely for May US non-farm payrolls.

Meanwhile, FX markets are caught between the conflicting forces of higher risk aversion and weaker US data, leaving ranges to dominate. On balance, risk currencies will likely remain under pressure today and the USD may get a semblance of support in the current environment.

This may be sufficient to prevent EUR/USD from retesting its 1 June high around 1.4459 as markets wait for further developments on the Greek front. Once again the likes of the CHF and to a lesser extent JPY will do well in a risk off environment whilst the likes of the AUD and NZD will suffer.

Greece’s trials and tribulations

Two main influences on markets continue to weigh on sentiment. Firstly the trials and tribulations of the eurozone periphery remain centre of attention. The failure of Greek Prime Minister Papandreou to win cross party support for austerity measures at the end of last week highlights the problems Greece is facing both domestically and externally.

Reports that European officials are negotiating tough bailout conditions including major external intervention in terms of tax collection and privatisation suggest that gaining further aid will not be easy. The second weight on market sentiment is global growth concerns, with a string of disappointing data releases over recent weeks leading to an intensification of concerns about the pace of recovery.

Markets will likely remain nervous in this environment and it is difficult to see risk appetite improving to any major degree. This has proven bullish for bond markets, with the tone set to continue this week. Currencies remain in ranges and holidays today in the US and UK will likely result in thin trading. The resilience of the EUR to peripheral concerns has been impressive but at the same time Greek concerns will limit any gains. Meanwhile, gold and precious metals look to remain well supported, with gold’s safe haven bid remaining solid.

USD sentiment has improved sharply according to the latest CFTC IMM report which reveals that net USD short positions have been cut in half over the last two weeks with positioning well above the 3-month average. Conversely net EUR longs continue to shrink as speculative investors off load the currency. The fact that the EUR is not weaker than it is points to the influence of official demand for the currency, especially from Asia.

This week will likely be dominated by ongoing discussions about Greece and given the opposition to austerity measures and potentially strict bailout terms, forging an agreement will not be easy. Reports suggest that around half of Greece’s financing needs until the end of 2013 could be accounted for without new loans via privatisation and changes in terms for private bondholders, with Europe and the IMF needed to lend an additional EUR 30-35 billion on top of the EUR 110 already slated.

Data releases are likely to take a back seat but there will still be plenty of attention on the key release of the week, namely the May US jobs report. The market looks for a 185k increase in payrolls, with the unemployment rate edging lower to 8.9%. This would mark the lowest payrolls reading in 4 months. Clues to the jobs data will be garnered from the May ADP jobs report, ISM manufacturing survey and consumer confidence data earlier in the week.

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