Risk appetite remains fragile

Fortunately for the USD the situation in the eurozone has become so severe that the problems in the US are all but being ignored. Even in the US, attention on the nomination of the Republican presidential candidate has over shadowed the looming deadline for an agreement on medium term deficit reduction measures.

The Joint Select Committee on deficit reduction is due to submit a report to Congress by November 23 and a final package would be voted on by December 23. A lack of agreement would trigger automatic deficit reduction of $1.2 trillion, a proportion of which would take place in 2012. If this is the case it could potentially tip the economy into recession, necessitating QE3 and consequently a weaker USD.

Reports that the eurozone could fall apart at the seams as countries exit have shaken confidence, yet the EUR has managed to hold above the psychologically important 1.35 level. The strong reluctance of the European Central Bank (ECB) to embark on unsterilized bond purchases and to act as lender of the last resort, suggests that the crisis could continue to brew for a long while to come.

Nonetheless, the EUR found a semblance of support from news that former ECB vice-president Papademos was named new Prime Minister of Greece, the ECB was reported to be a strong buyer of peripheral debt, Italy’s debt auction was not as bad as feared, affirmation of the EFSF’s AAA rating by Moody’s and France’s AAA rating by S&P (following an erroneous report earlier). EUR/USD remains a sell on ralliesup to resistance around 1.3871, with initial resistance around the 1.3665 level.

The underlying pressure over the near term is for further JPY strength in the face of rising risk aversion and a narrowing in the US yield advantage over Japan. Given that the situation in the eurozone remains highly fluid as well as tense, with little sign of resolution on the horizon, risk aversion is set to remain elevated. Moreover, yield differentials have narrowed sharply and the US 2-year yield advantage over Japan is less than 10bps at present.

Against this background it is not surprising that the Japanese authorities are reluctant to intervene aggressively although there are reports that Japan has been conducting secret interventions over recent weeks. However, given that speculative and margin trading net JPY positioning have dropped significantly the impact of further JPY intervention may be less potent. In the meantime USD/JPY will likely edge towards a break below 77.00.

Swiss officials have continued to jawbone against CHF strength, with the country’s Economy Minister stating that the currency remains massively overvalued especially when valued against purchasing power parity. Such comments should be taken at face value but the CHF is unlikely to embark on a weaker trend any time soon.

Although the EUR/CHF floor at 1.20 has held up well while the CHF has lost some its appeal as a safe haven the deterioration in the situation in the eurozone suggests that the CHF will not weaken quickly.

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Dollar firmer, Euro vulnerable, Yen wary

multitude of market moving events last week led to severe gyrations in risk appetite but with no clear direction for currencies. Indeed, currency markets were whipsawed as the news flow shifted back and forth. Major events such as the European Central Bank (ECB) and US Federal Reserve meetings, and US jobs data provided plenty of volatility points for markets. This week’s US data slate is less littered with first tier data, with trade data and Michigan confidence, the highlights of the week. Against this background the USD will take direction from events in the eurozone and in our view will likely trade with a firmer bias given that eurozone tensions will not ease quickly.

The EUR was relatively resilient despite a referendum (later cancelled) that could have spelled the beginning of the end of Greece’s membership in the eurozone. Nonetheless, the currency still dropped over the week. This week will be no different as markets sift through various pieces of news regarding Greece and the EU rescue plan. Although the Greek Prime Minister survived a confidence vote the EUR will remain vulnerable to a lack of detail about the EU rescue plan including but not limited to how the mechanism for leveraging the EFSF bailout fund. The longer the delay in providing such details the bigger the risk to the EUR. Data releases will be unhelpful for the EUR, with hard data such as German industrial production confirming a slowdown in activity.

Japan’s FX intervention at the beginning of last week has all but been forgotten among the plethora of other market moving news. Expectations that it would be followed up by more intervention proved incorrect as the Japanese authorities refrained from more action. Perhaps the onset of the G20 meeting stayed their hand but markets will be wary of more intervention this week. However, as the strengthening current account data in Japan will likely reveal this week, Japan’s strong external position continues to feed the underlying upward pressure on the JPY for the time being.

Interestingly FX markets appear to be reacting to growth orientated central bank policy rather than yield as reflected in the fact that EUR and GBP both strengthened despite additional quantitative easing from Bank of England at its last meeting and a rate cut from the ECB last week. This week however, inaction from the BoE will provide little direction to GBP while a likely drop in industrial production will raise fears that the economy continues to be in need of more remedial action from the central bank. GBP continues to be favoured but after having made up a lot of ground versus EUR it could lose some steam this week.

Ecofin, ECB, US jobs report in focus

The USD index remains close to its recent highs, maintaining a positive tone amid elevated risk aversion. Data releases have tended to take a back seat to events over recent weeks, but this week the all important US September jobs report may provide the bigger focus for US markets. The consensus expectation is for a 50k increase in payrolls and the unemployment rate remaining at 9.1% an outcome that would do nothing to assuage US growth worries. As usual markets will gauge clues to the jobs data from the ADP jobs data and employment components of the ISM data but an outcome in line with consensus expectations will likely keep risk aversion elevated and the USD supported unless the data is so bad that it results in an increase in expectations for Fed QE3.

There will be plenty of attention on the Ecofin meeting of European finance ministers today especially given that much of the reason for the stability in markets recently is the hope of concrete measures to resolve the crisis in the region. In this respect the scope for disappointment is high, suggesting that the EUR is vulnerable to a further drop if no progress is made at today’s meeting. While the extent of short market positioning has left open some scope for EUR short covering the absence of any good news will mean the impetus for short covering will diminish.

While attention in Europe will predominately remain on finding a resolution to the debt crisis and the saga of Greece’s next loan tranche, the European Central Bank (ECB) meeting will also be in focus this week especially given expectations that the ECB will cut interest rates. While hopes of a 50 basis points rate cut may have taken a knock from the firmer than expected reading for September flash CPI released at the end of last week the EUR could actually react positively to an easing in policy given that it may at least help to allay some of the growing growth concerns about the eurozone economy. However, any EUR will be limited unless officials in the eurozone get their act together and deliver on expectations of some form of resolution to the crisis in the region.

Strong words from Japan’s Finance Minister Azumi failed to have any lasting impact on USD/JPY. Japan will bolster funds to intervene in currency markets by JPY 15 trillion and extend the monitoring of FX positions until the end of December. Japan did not intervene during September but spent around JPY 4.5 trillion in FX intervention in August to little effect. For markets to be convinced about Japan’s conviction to weaken the JPY it will require putting intervention funds to active use, something that doesn’t seem to be forthcoming at present. A factor that may give some potential upside momentum for USD/JPY is the slight widening of US versus Japan bond yield differentials over recent days, which could finally result in a sustained move above 77.00 if it continues into this week.

SNB shakes up FX markets – Pressure now on Japan?

The action by the Swiss National Bank yesterday rippled through FX markets fuelling sharp moves across major currencies. In case you missed it the SNB introduced a currency floor in EUR/CHF at 1.20 and committed itself to buy FX in unlimited amounts. The last time the SNB did something similar was in 1978 when a ceiling was set against the Deutsche Mark. The sharp initial reaction to the news saw EUR/CHF jump by around 8.5% largely as a result of the shock from the announcement.

The SNB will not need to worry about the inflationary implications of pumping CHF into the market while it is clear that the currency is highly overvalued, supporting their cause. However, the real test will be evident over coming days and weeks in the commitment to hold the 1.20 level at a time when the situation in the eurozone periphery continues to deteriorate and demand for CHF remains strong. The risk is that the SNB may have simply set up a target for markets to attack. One other implication of the SNB’s move is that it could be a trigger for an intensification of ‘currency wars’.

The onus is now on the Japanese authorities to act more aggressively especially if safe haven flows focus increasingly on the JPY and less on the CHF given the new EUR/CHF floor. So far FX interventions have clearly not worked as was the case in Switzerland and Japan’s new Prime Minister is likely to want to prove his credentials. Japan has had a tendency to underwhelm with regard to JPY measures in the past and unless there is a major announcement today USD/JPY is likely to move lower again below 77.00.

Scandinavian currencies are also set to be beneficiaries of the SNB’s decision. EUR/SEK has come under increasing downside pressure over recent weeks even as risk aversion has intensified and it appears that safe haven flows out of Europe are now targeting Scandinavian currencies. As the CHF is now less attractive in this respect, the SEK as well as NOK will find themselves under further upside pressure over coming days and weeks. Both NOK and SEK versus EUR and USD have had insignificant correlations with risk over recent months, highlighting their appeal as anti-EUR currencies.

Payrolls sour mood, Eurozone concerns intensify

The market mood has soured further and risk aversion has increased following disappointing August US jobs report in which the change in payrolls was zero and downward revisions to previous months has reinforced the negative mood on the US and global economy while raising expectations of more Federal Reserve action. Moreover, the report has put additional pressure on US President Obama to deliver fresh jobs measures in his speech on Thursday though Republican opposition may leave Obama with little actual leeway for further stimulus.

There is plenty of event risk over coming days, with a heavy slate central bank meetings including in Europe, UK, Japan, Australia, Canada and Sweden. The European Central Bank will offer no support to a EUR that is coming under growing pressure, with the Bank set to take a more neutral tone to policy compared its previously hawkish stance. In the UK, GBP could also trade cautiously given recent comments by Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee members about potential for more UK quantitative easing.

The EUR has been unable to capitalise on the bad economic news in the US as news there has been even worse. The negative news includes the weekend defeat of German Chancellor Merkel’s centre-right bloc in regional elections, which comes ahead of a vote in Germany’s constitutional court on changes to the EFSF bailout fund.

The withdrawal of the Troika (ECB, IMF and EU) from Greece has also put renewed emphasis on the country at a time when protests are escalating. If all of this is not enough there is growing concern about Italy’s apparent backtracking on austerity measures, with the Italian parliament set to discuss measures this week. Separately Germany, Holland and Finland will hold a meeting tomorrow on the Greek collateral issue. On top of all of this is the growing evidence of deteriorating growth in the euro area.

Data releases are unlikely to garner a great deal of attention amidst the events noted above, with mainly service sector purchasing managers indices on tap and at least threw will look somewhat better than their manufacturing counterparts. In the US the Beige Book and trade data will be in focus but all eyes will be on Obama’s speech later in the week. The USD has maintained a firm tone despite the jobs report but its resilience may be better explained by eurozone negativity rather than US positivity. Even so, the USD is looking less uglier than the EUR in the current environment.

Japan FX Measures Underwhelm

Currencies continue to show remarkable stability in the face of elevated risk aversion which has prompted huge volatility in other asset markets. Although FX volatility has risen over recent weeks its rise is nothing compared to the jump in the VIX ‘fear gauge’ equity volatility measure. FX markets are in some form of limbo where there are conflicting forces at play and where there is no obvious currency to play. The lack of clarity in markets suggests that this situation will not change quickly.

The USD (index) is trading at the lower end of its recent ranges and verging on a retest of its July 27 low around 73.421, with the currency perhaps suffering from expectations that Fed Chairman Bernanke will announce a desire to embark on more quantitative easing at Friday’s Jackson Hole symposium. Its losses could quickly reverse as such expectations are quickly dashed.

Indeed, while Bernanke will likely keep all options open any hint at QE3 is unlikely as the Fed maintains a high hurdle before any prospect of further quantitative easing is entertained. One option on the table is ‘sterilised’ large scale asset purchases which would not result in an increase in the size of the Fed’s balance sheet. This would be far less negative for the USD than a fresh round of QE and may even prompt a rally in the currency as markets shift away from the idea of QE3.

The USD will benefit from high risk aversion except against safe havens such as the CHF and JPY. In this respect the USD remains a better bet than the EUR which has failed to garner much benefit from renewed ECB peripheral bond buying. Nonetheless, data yesterday failed to feed into negative EUR sentiment despite mixed manufacturing surveys and a sharp drop in the German ZEW investor confidence survey. EUR/USD remains trapped in a broad 1.42-1.45 range.

News that Moody’s ratings agency has downgraded Japan’s sovereign ratings by one notch to Aa3 is unlikely to have much impact on the JPY. Moody’s left the outlook stable while unlike the US and Europe around 95% of Japanese debt is held domestically, suggesting little FX and JGB impact. USD/JPY continues to garner some influence from yield differentials and given that the US bond yield advantage versus Japan has continued to narrow, USD/JPY continues to face downward pressure.

Japan announced measures to deal with JPY strength including the creation of a $100 billion emergency credit facility. However, the main impact on the JPY could come from increased monitoring of FX transactions with firms having to report on FX positions held by dealers. The statement made no comment on FX intervention and this is where there will be most disappointment for JPY bears. Overall, the actions are somewhat underwhelming and are unlikely to have much impact on the JPY. If anything, the JPY may actually strengthen given the lack of comment on FX intervention. USD/JPY downside could face strong technical support around 75.93, however.

Edging Towards A European Deal For Greece

The momentum towards some form of agreement at the Special EU Summit today is growing, with French and German leaders reaching a “joint position on Greece’s debt situation”. Details of this position are still unknown, however. EUR has found support as expectations of a positive outcome intensify.

However, given that positive news is increasingly being priced in, and the market is becoming increasingly long, upside EUR potential will be limited even in the wake of a comprehensive agreement. A break above EUR/USD resistance around 1.4282 would bring in sight the next key resistance level around 1.4375 but this where the rally in EUR/USD is set to be capped.

Prospects of a major US debt default or at the least a government shutdown appear to be receding as the US administration has indicated some willingness to opt for a short term increase in the US borrowing limit to give more time for a bigger deficit reduction deal to be passed by Congress. Meanwhile, there will be further news on the deficit reduction plans put forward by the “gang of six” US senators, with a press conference scheduled for later today.

Debt ceiling negotiations are likely to be the main focus of market attention, with the Philly Fed manufacturing survey and weekly jobless claims relegated to the background. A speech by Fed Chairman Bernanke is unlikely to deliver anything new today. The USD is likely to be on the back foot given expectations of a deal in Europe and improved risk appetite but we expect losses to be limited.

The JPY continues to defy my bearish expectations. Over recent days the US yield advantage over Japan in terms of 2Y bonds dropped to multi-year lows below 20bps. Given the high correlation between USD/JPY and yield differentials, this has corresponded with the fall below 80.00.

Expectations of JPY weakness versus USD is highly dependent on the US – Japan yield gap widening over coming months. For this to happen it will need concerns about the US economy and expectations of more Fed asset purchases to dissipate, something that may not happen quickly given the rash of disappointing US data releases lately.

GBP found itself on the front foot following the release of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee minutes, which were less dovish than anticipated. They also revealed that the BoE expects inflation to peak higher and sooner than previously expected. However, the fact that the overall tone was similar to the last set of minutes meant there was little follow through in terms of GBP.

Further direction will come from June retail sales data today and forecasts of a bounce in sales will likely help allay concerns about a downturn in consumer spending. Nonetheless, GBP is still likely to struggle to break through resistance around 1.6230 versus USD.

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