NZD outperforms

NZD has been the best performing major currency so far this year outshining other currencies by a wide margin. We expect further NZD/USD appreciation, albeit at a much more gradual pace over the coming months.

The kiwi has been propelled higher by a host of positive economic indicators including jobs data which has revealed an improving trend against the background of strengthening consumer and business confidence.

Economic growth is on track to reach our forecast of 3% this year. Additionally supportive of the NZD is the fact that NZ’s major commodity exports especially dairy products have remained high. NZD will also be helped by a likely healthy reading for Q4 GDP expected to come in at 3.7% YoY on Thursday.

NZD/USD looks set to target the 2013 high of 0.8676 as the next key target, a level that will provide strong resistance.

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NZD hit by FX intervention

Following previous warnings threatening intervention to weaken the NZD the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) intervened to sell the currency. The impact was sharp, with NZD falling versus USD and against key crosses including AUD. The NZD has been one of the best performing major currencies this year although its appreciation of 1.33% is not dramatic. However, going back to its cyclical low in March 2009 NZD had appreciated by a massive 72.6% versus USD prior to today’s intervention.

Previous warnings by RBNZ governor Wheeler include a speech in February when he noted that the “kiwi is not a one-way bet”. However, he noted that while the central bank is prepared to intervene to weaken the NZD any intervention would “only attempt to smooth the peaks”.

The last time that the RBNZ confirmed that it had intervened was way back in June 2007 when NZD/USD was trading around 0.75. The intervention failed to prevent further NZD strengthening until late July 2007 when the kiwi slid around 17% against the USD but this fall was notably not due to FX intervention.

Although Wheeler noted today that the RBNZ is capable of more intervention he added the intervention is “designed to take the top off the currency” consistent with his earlier comments. The bottom line is that more smoothing is likely but a significant push to change NZD direction is highly unlikely. The overall trend in NZD is likely to remain gradually upwards although gains will likely be more gradual given likely market caution over further RBNZ smoothing operations.

Taking a broader view the RBNZ is playing a similar game to many other central banks in attempting to weaken or at least prevent strength in their currencies. The Bank of Japan (BoJ) is clearly succeeding in finally weakening the JPY, while the RBA in part cut policy rates yesterday due to the strength of the AUD. While a full blown currency war remains unlikely currency frictions are picking up. I prefer to play the latest move in NZD by selling it versus AUD where we I see more value.

All Eyes On Europe

EUR looks range bound ahead of key events including the European Central Bank (ECB) meeting, European Union Summit and release of bank stress test results. A senior German official poured cold water over expectations of a concrete outcome from the EU Summit, dampening EUR sentiment as a result.

There will be plenty of attention on the ECB to determine whether they will give a little more ground and provide further assistance to the Eurozone periphery. While a refi policy rate cut is highly likely as well as additional liquidity measures I do not expect any move in the direction of more aggressive action to support peripheral bonds in terms of becoming “lender of the last resort’.

If however, the ECB hints at intensifying its securities market purchases of Eurozone bonds this will likely bode well for the EUR. Indeed, reports overnight suggest that the ECB will announce a set of measures to stimulate bank lending including easing collateral requirements for banks.

More weak UK data in the form a bigger than consensus drop in manufacturing and industrial production in October add to the soft BRC retail sales and house price data, in putting pressure on the Bank of England (BoE) to increase its quantitative easing at today’s policy meeting. While the BoE is set to keep policy unchanged it is only a matter of time before additional asset purchases are announced.

Despite the weaker IP data GBP has held up relatively well against the USD although downside risks appear to be intensifying. If I am correct in the view of no change by the BoE today we expect little change in GBP although there could be a risk of a push higher in EUR/GBP if the ECB delivers some positive news, with resistance seen around 0.8665.

The RBNZ unsurprisingly left policy rates unchanged at 2.5%, sounded less hawkish than the previous meeting and also lowered growth forecasts. The NZD was left unmoved by the rate decision and looks well supported at current levels perhaps due to relief that the statement was not more dovish. The kiwi has been an underperformer over the year but unlike the AUD it has not been particularly influenced by gyrations in risk aversion.

Interest rate futures differentials have seen a renewed widening versus the US over recent weeks. This is significant given that the NZ-US interest rate differentials have a very strong correlation with the performance of NZD/USD. If this widening is sustained it will point to upside potential for the Kiwi.

EUR Supported, AUD dives, NZD jumps

Today is probably not the best day to sell EUR given that the ECB policy decision looms on the horizon. Whilst there is a risk of a ‘buy on rumour, sell on fact’ impact on the EUR following the European Central Bank (ECB) decision later today the relatively high probability that the ECB flags a rate hike in July will likely give further support to the EUR especially as it is not fully priced in by the market.

Of course should ECB President Trichet fail to mention “strong vigilance” in his press conference the EUR could suffer but this is likely to be a lower probability event. Some justification for higher rates will come from an upward revision in the ECB’s inflation forecasts. Consequently EUR/USD looks well supported around 1.4450.

The Bank of England is unlikely to deliver any surprises today, with an unchanged policy rate outcome and asset purchases target likely. The outcome will keep GBP restrained versus USD but given the likely contrast with the ECB, EUR/GBP could head higher as the currency pair continues to set its sights on the 0.90 level.

Even against the USD, GBP is unlikely to extend its gains, with 1.6474 likely providing a near term technical cap. The dichotomy of weaker activity and higher inflation is clearly causing a problem for policy makers but we still believe a rate hike is likely later in the year. In the meantime GBP remains vulnerable to further data disappointments over coming weeks.

There was more bad news for the AUD today in the form of a weak than forecast May employment report. The data will reinforce expectations that the RBA will not hike interest rates over coming months, with July and August effectively ruled out, though a hike in September remains probable.

The data had major impact on AUD which dropped sharply below the 1.0600 handle versus USD. Clearly the combination of the RBA statement and weak jobs data has resulted in a major headwind against further near term AUD appreciation. AUD will remain under downward pressure in the short-term, with technical support seen at 1.0440.

Unlike the RBA the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) opened the door for higher interest rates following its unchanged policy decision today, with the Bank stating that “a gradual increase in the overnight cash rate over the next two years will be required”. Despite noting some caution about the strength of the NZD and its impact on the economy the Kiwi strengthened versus the USD

Interest Rate Decisions Galore

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) decision to cut policy rates by a bigger than expected 50bps does not necessarily mark the onset of a new wave of NZD selling. Indeed, whilst the NZD was hit by the rate cut it recovered quickly.

The NZD was aided by comments from the RBNZ Governor Bollard that short term inflation may spike due to the earthquake but this tempered by another RBNZ official who stated that the central bank may hold rates at 2.5% at least until January 2012. The post meeting statement indicated that the RBNZ will not embark on a series of rate cuts, a fact that will provide some relief to the Kiwi. Moreover, the currency looks increasingly oversold especially relative to the AUD as indicated by relative positioning.

Weaker than expected employment data in Australia will also help to stem AUD strength versus NZD. After many months of positive surprises the labour market is showing signs of cracking. Admittedly full time employment rose but this was outweighed by an even bigger drop in part time employment, resulting in a 10.1k fall in overall employment.

Although the AUD is unlikely to face too much downside markets the data will likely dampen expectations of possible rate hikes in the months ahead. My preferred way of playing possible AUD underperformance is via the NZD. AUD/NZD is likely to face plenty of resistance around the 1.3800 level and eventually as indicated by our quantitative models the currency pair is likely to move lower over coming weeks.

In sharp contrast to the RBNZ, the Bank of Korea hiked interest rates by 25bps in a further move to normalize policy. The decision was not much of a surprise and the statement indicated that more rate hikes should be expected. The KRW remains rangebound but the currency remains on path for further appreciation over coming months. The surprise trade deficit in China has weighed on Asian currencies in general but weakness is likely to be limited.

The Bank of England is the next central bank on tap today but is unlikely to hike rates despite the hawkish shift within the Monetary Policy Committee. A rate hike is moving closer but the Bank will likely wait until at least May before moving. Further details about today’s decision will as usual wait for the minutes in two weeks time. GBP looks vulnerable and whilst a rate move today is not expected the currency may lose ground over coming days against the background of a firmer USD.

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