Changing dynamics

A change in market dynamics appears to be taking place. Nervousness over a prospective paring back in US quantitative easing as the Fed ponders the timing of a tapering in asset purchases taken together with elevated volatility in Japanese markets is leading to a decrease in risk appetite, higher core bond yields and weaker equity markets. Consequently emerging market assets especially high beta currencies are coming under significant pressure under the weight of capital outflows and rising risk aversion.

Unsurprisingly the USD has been a major beneficiary although it did lose steam last week. In Japan “Abeconomics” is leading to a rise in inflation expectations and higher Japanese government bonds (JGB) yields which could in turn derail recovery unless the rise in yield is capped by the Bank of Japan’s policy actions. Overall, the background is set for a further increase in uncertainty and market volatility this week.

The lack of clarity over Fed policy in particular is fuelling market volatility and given the intense focus on the Fed and in turn the Fed’s focus on the jobs market, the US May jobs report at the end of the week will be crucial to determine the direction of activity over the coming weeks. The consensus forecast for May payrolls is 165k. Opportunity to refine the forecast will follow the release of ISM manufacturing confidence (today) and ADP private sector jobs data (Wed).

Other potentially market moving events include the European Central Bank (Thu), Bank of England (Thu) and Reserve Bank of Australia meetings (Thu). None of the central banks are likely to change policy settings although there is potential for a dovish statement from the ECB (possible discussion of negative deposit rates and/or liquidity provision).

Currencies are reacting to higher US yields, which have driven the USD to multi month highs. EUR/USD in particular has a high correlation with 2 year bond yield differentials. As noted last week was less positive for the USD, with both the EUR and JPY making up some ground, with further direction coming from relative yield movements. In the case of the JPY, reduced risk appetite is also playing for a firmer currency. Nonetheless, it will be difficult for EUR/USD to sustain any gain above 1.3000 and USD/JPY to sustain any drop below 100.

Better than forecast Chinese manufacturing confidence data over the weekend has helped give some support to AUD, NZD and Asian currencies although it may provide limited relief, especially to Asian currencies which are suffering from increased risk aversion and the impact of higher US yields. While Asia has recorded the strongest inflow into equity markets compared to past years concerns about capital outflows from the region are intensifying. Korea and Thailand have suffered in particular from equity outflows over recent weeks.

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Firmer JPY and CNY fixings to support Asian FX

The USD has lost steam as US yields appear to have temporarily topped out. The fact that aggregate (minus MXN) USD speculative positioning is marginally below its all time high also points to the risk of position squaring / profit taking on USD longs. However, any downside risks to the USD will be limited.

Consumer confidence data today will highlight the ongoing improvement in sentiment driven by both equity and housing wealth gains. In the debate about early Fed tapering the confidence data will err on the side reducing Fed asset purchases sooner rather than later. Consequently, it seems unlikely that the yields and the USD will drop much further.

Hopes of a calm start to the week were dashed as Japanese equity markets extended their slide and the JPY strengthened. Heightened volatility is frustrating policymaker’s efforts to contain the rise in Japanese bond yields. Although Bank of Japan governor Kuroda noted that Japan could cope with rising interest rates, higher yields could dampen growth at a time when the economy is finally showing signs of life.

Higher JGB yields have led to a narrowing in the US Treasury yield advantage over JGBs, which in turn has helped to push the JPY higher versus USD. Unless the BoJ succeeds in curtailing the rise in yield, USD/JPY is at risk of breaking back below 100.

Like the JPY, the CHF has strengthened in part due to increasing risk aversion. For a change the CHF may garner some direction from domestic news this week, with Q1 GDP, April trade data and the May KoF Swiss Leading Indicator scheduled for release later in the week. The data will likely show that Switzerland is escaping the downdraft from weak Eurozone activity, helped to some extent by the CHF cap.

Encouraging economic news will not imply any change in the CHF cap, however especially given the benign inflation outlook. Higher risk aversion will keep the CHF supported in the near term but any move in EUR/CHF back to 1.24 should be bought into.

The rebound in the JPY and strong CNY fixings have given Asian currencies some support although sideways trading is expected in the near term. Equity capital outflows over recent days in the wake of higher risk aversion suggest some caution, however. South Korea in particular has been a major casualty of equity portfolio outflows this year although a factor that prevented the KRW from strengthening. Our models show PHP and THB as likely outperformers over coming weeks.

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.

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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