ECB meeting, Brexit, Fed minutes, China trade, India elections in focus

This week there a number of key events to focus attention on including European Central Bank (ECB) policy meeting, Federal Reserve FOMC March minutes, the commencement of India’s general elections, China data, and further Brexit developments as UK Prime Minister May tries to gain a further short extension to the Brexit deadline, until June 30.

The better than expected US March jobs report, revealing a bigger than expected 196k increase in jobs, with a softer than expected 0.1% monthly increase in hourly earnings, which effectively revealed a firm jobs market, without major wage pressures, helped US markets close off the week on a positive note. The data adds to further evidence that the Fed may not need to hike policy rates further.

The European Central Bank decision is likely to prove uneventful though recent comments by ECB President Draghi have fuelled speculation that the central bank will introduce a tiered deposit system to alleviate the impact of negative rates on banks.   EUR is unlikely to benefit from this.  Separately Fed FOMC minutes will be scrutinised to ascertain how dovish the Fed has become as the markets shift towards pricing in rate cuts, but it is unlikely that the minutes provide further fuel to interest rate doves.

Friday is the deadline to agree on an extension with the EU to prevent a hard Brexit.  Meanwhile PM May is set to restart talks with opposition Labour Party leader Corbyn to thrash out a cross party agreement on Brexit terms ahead of an EU summit on Wednesday that will look at her request for a Brexit extension until June 30.  GBP has lost momentum lately and investors appear to be fatigued with the daily Brexit news gyrations.

Meanwhile, US-China trade talks appear to be edging towards some sort of a deal while Chinese data this week is also likely to be supportive for risk assets.   As China eases financing conditions, evidence of a pick up in the credit impulse will be evident in March aggregate financing, new loans and money supply data this week.   Meanwhile China’s March trade data is likely to look better or at least less negative than over recent months. This suggests that risk assets will likely fare well this week.

India will be in the spotlight as India’s multi stage elections kick off on Thursday.  Prime Minister Modi is in good stead to ahead of elections, boosted by his government’s reaction to recent terrorist attacks on Indian paramilitary in Kashmir.   Concerns that Modi’s ruling BJP would lose a significant amount of seats in the wake of state election losses towards the end of last year have receded.  Nonetheless, election uncertainties may keep the INR on the backfoot this week.

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Volatility Within Ranges

Most investors will likely be happy to see the tail end of May given the sharp losses in many asset classes over the month. At least over the last few days there was a sense of some healing, particularly in risk assets though it is questionable how long this can continue given the still many and varied uncertainties afflicting markets. A reminder of this came late on Friday, with Fitch downgrading Spain’s sovereign credit ratings despite the passage of austerity measures.

The Fitch decision highlights that Spain is rapidly becoming the new epicenter of the crisis; focus on the savings banks or Cajas is intensifying ahead of the June 30 deadline for mergers to qualify for government money, the minority government’s popularity is in further decline, whilst unions are threatening more strikes across the country. Unions in Greece and Italy are also pushing for coordinated strikes, highlighting the difficulties in pushing through austerity measures.

At least economic data is providing some solace to markets. Releases last week in the US highlighted the fact that consensus expectations are underestimating the pace of recovery; consumer confidence, durable goods orders and new home sales all came in above expectations. The same story is likely this week, but there is really only one piece of data that attention will focus on and that’s the May jobs report. The consensus is for a strong 508k increase in non-farm payrolls following a 290k increase in April, though around three-quarters of this will be related to census hiring. The unemployment rate is likely to dip slightly to 9.8%.

Markets are likely to be in limbo, with volatility in ranges likely this week. USD sentiment remains strong as reflected in the CFTC IMM data where net aggregate positioning is at an all time high, but further USD gains may be harder to come by ahead of the US jobs report and G20 meeting this weekend. Stretched USD positioning has proven no barrier to USD strength over recent weeks but the fact that markets are very long USDs could at the least result in a slower pace of further appreciation.

EUR speculative sentiment remains close to all time lows although there are signs of some relative stability over recent weeks. EUR/USD is likely to range between 1.2134 and 1.2475 this week. There was a sharp drop in net short JPY positions over the week (ie short-covering) though this appears at odds with the fall in the JPY. GBP speculative positions showed little improvement, languishing close to all time lows, whilst net longs in commodity currencies were pared back sharply, especially in AUD where net longs were cut by around half though sharp declines in positioning were also registered for NZD and CAD.

GBP could suffer due to worries about the UK government’s plans to reduce its burgeoning budget deficit following the resignation of Treasury Minister David Laws, following an expense scandal. The resignation hits the coalition just three weeks before the emergency budget and could result in complications on the negotiations between the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives on the substance of the deficit cutting measures. GBP/USD is likely to find support around 1.4260 and resistance around 1.4612 this week.

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