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.

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Fed’s status quo fuels caution

The Fed’s status quo did little to stir markets overnight although there was a decidedly negative tone to equities and commodities, perhaps spurred by the downgrading of US growth forecasts. The fact that the Fed did not indicate that it is considering further asset purchases but instead will keep its balance sheet at around $,2800 billion also acted as a drag on markets.

The major concern for markets remains the depth and length of the current ‘soft patch’. The Fed believes it will be temporary and we concur, but clearly the slide in equity markets over recent weeks, suggests that there has been a divergence between stock market expectations and reality. The USD however, may actually be finding a medium term bottom, with the fact that the Fed is not considering QE3,

The downbeat Fed stance combined with a cautious reaction to the Greek government’s passage of a confidence motion indicates that markets will remain cautious over the near term. Indeed, comments by the Greek opposition that they will not support further austerity measures dashed any hopes of unity and will add another obstacle towards an easing in Greek tensions.

As it is the continued wrangling between European officials over private sector participation in any debt rollover as well as uncertainty over how ratings agencies will react, threatens to keep sentiment under pressure. The EUR has remained surprisingly resilient but its muted reaction to the passage of the confidence motion has given way to some weakness and the currency remains a sell on rallies.

GBP was a major underperformer weighed down by the relatively dovish Bank of England MPC minutes in which some members were even discussing further asset purchases. The currency faces further risks from a the CBI reported sales data for June where a decline in sales is likely to be reported. GBP/USD looks vulnerable to a drop below its 200 day moving average around 1.6027.

ECB to Hike, BoJ, BoE & RBA on Hold

The better than expected March US jobs report will likely help to shift the debate further towards the hawkish camp in the Fed. There is little this week to match the potency of payrolls in terms of market moving data this week. Instead attention will focus on a raft of Fed speakers over coming days as well as the minutes of the March 15 FOMC meeting.

This week’s Fed speakers include Lockhart, Evans, Bernanke, Kocherlakota, Plosser and Lacker. Of these only Lockhart and Lacker are non voters. Given the intense focus on recent Fed comments FX markets will be on the lookout for anything that hints a broader Fed support for a quicker hike to interest rates and/or reduction in the Fed’s balance sheet.

In any case the USD may struggle to make much headway ahead of an anticipated European Central Bank (ECB) rate hike of 25 basis point on Thursday. Much will depend on the press statement, however. If the ECB merely validates market expectations of around 75bps of policy rate hikes this year the EUR will struggle to rally.

It may also be possible that once the ECB meeting is out of the way the EUR may finally be susceptible to pressure related to ongoing peripheral tensions. Last week the outcome of the Irish bank stress tests, and political vacuum in Portugal ahead of elections set for June 5 were well absorbed by the EUR but it is questionable whether the dichotomy between widening peripheral bond spreads and the EUR can continue.

The Tankan survey in Japan released today unsurprisingly revealed a deterioration in sentiment. The survey will provide important clues for the Bank of Japan (BoJ) at its meeting on April 6 & 7th. Although a shift in Japan’s ultra easy monetary policy is unlikely whilst strong liquidity provision is set to continue, pressure to do more will likely grow. This will be accentuated by a likely downward revision in the economic outlook by the BoJ.

The JPY will not take much direction from this meeting. Nonetheless, its soft tone may continue helped by foreign securities outflows (particularly out of bonds), with USD/JPY eyeing the 16 December high around 84.51. Speculative positioning as reflected in the CFTC IMM data reveals a sharp deterioration in JPY sentiment as the currency evidence that finally the currency maybe regaining its mantle of funding currency.

It is still too early for the Bank of England to hike rates despite elevated inflation readings and MPC members are likely to wait for the May Quarterly Inflation Report before there is decisive shift in favour of raising policy rates. Even then, members will have to grapple with the fact that economic data remains relatively downbeat as reflected in the weaker than expected March manufacturing purchasing managers index (PMI) data.

Today’s PMI construction data will likely paint a similar picture. The fact that a rate hike is not expected by the market will mean GBP should not suffer in the event of a no change decision by the BoE this week but instead will find more direction from a host of data releases including industrial production. GBP has come under growing pressure against the EUR since mid February and a test of the 25 October high of 0.89415 is on the cards this week.

Finally, congratulations to the Indian cricket team who won a well deserved victory in the Cricket World Cup final over the weekend. The celebrations by Indians around the world will go on for a long while yet.

Risk on, US dollar pressure

FX markets have plenty of different factors to digest these days and after a harrowing couple of weeks markets began this week on a firmer footing. The overall tone into this week is to load up on risk assets. News that the nuclear situation in Japan may closer to stabilising has helped, whilst markets easily shook off another hike in China’s reserve ratio and ongoing conflict in Libya as Allied forces step up their campaign in the face of continuing resistance from Gaddafi’s forces.

Improved risk appetite has helped to keep the JPY on the defensive along with the continued threat of FX intervention, with further official JPY selling likely in the days ahead. Interestingly the intervention last Friday was estimated at only JPY 530 billion ($6.2 billion), much lower than previously thought. USD/JPY 80 remains a major line in the sand and any sign of another breach of this level will likely be met with official JPY selling. I suspect that the Japanese authorities will not be content until USD/JPY is far higher. In this respect its worth noting an official report released earlier in March highlighting that Japanese companies are not profitable at a USD/JPY rate below 86.

The EUR looks overbought around the 1.42 level but seems to be a beneficiary of Japanese FX intervention (perhaps a recycling of USDs into EUR) as well as comments by European Central Bank (ECB) Council members reiterating their intention to hike the refi policy rate, likely at the April ECB meeting. In a similar vein to the recycling of intervention USDs into EUR, Middle East entities may also be recycling petrodollars into EUR whilst news that Russia has permitted one of its oil related funds to buy Spanish debt has given a lift to sentiment for the EUR. Over the near term EUR/USD may struggle to make much headway above 1.42, with further direction coming from the EU leaders meeting on 24/25 March.

GBP is also doing well, having jumped close to the 1.6400 level versus USD, with UK February CPI giving the currency a further lift. The outcome at 4.4% YoY, which was not as bad as rumoured but in any case worse than consensus will give the hawks in the Bank of England MPC further ammunition to push for a policy rate hike. The fact that core inflation also increased suggests that the jump in headline inflation cannot merely be brushed under the table. A BoE rate hike is increasingly looking like a done deal. Renewed inflation worries in the UK and the hawkish rhetoric from ECB officials is sufficient to keep the USD under pressure.

US Dollar On A Slippery Path

The USD has been a on a slippery path over recent weeks, weighed down by adverse interest rate differentials despite improving US economic data. Adding to the run of encouraging US data releases the February jobs report revealed a 192k increase in jobs and a drop in the unemployment rate to 8.9%.

In particular the Fed’s dovish tone highlights that whilst asset purchases under QE2 will stop at the end of June, the failure to hit the Fed’s dual mandate of maximum employment and stable prices, implies that the Fed Funds rate will not be hiked for a long while yet. This dovish slant has undermined the USD to the extent that USD speculative positioning as reflected in the CFTC IMM data dropped to all time low in the week to 1 March. There is certainly plenty of scope for short-covering but the market is no mood to buy the USD yet.

This week’s releases will provide less direction, with a slight widening in the trade deficit likely in January, a healthy gain in February retail sales and a small drop in the preliminary reading of March Michigan sentiment.

In contrast, even the generally hawkish market expectations for the European Central Bank (ECB) proved too timid at last week’s Council meeting as Trichet & Co. strongly implied via “strong vigilance” that the refi rate would be hiked by 25bps in April. EUR/USD lurched higher after the ECB bombshell breaking the psychologically important 1.4000 barrier but appeared to lose some momentum at this level. Should EUR/USD sustain a break of 1.4000, the next level of resistance is at 1.4281 (November high), with support seen around 1.3747.

The lack of major eurozone data releases this week, with only industrial production data in Germany and France of interest, suggests that EUR may consolidate over the short-term with the main interest on the informal Heads of State meeting at the end of the week to determine whether credible plans can be drawn up to restore confidence in the periphery.

This week it is the turn of the Bank of England (BoE) to decide on monetary policy but unlike the ECB we do not expect any surprises with an unchanged decision likely. Further clues will only be available in the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) minutes on 23 March. However, markets may be nervous given that it could feasibly only take another two voters aside from the three hawkish dissenters last month, to result in a policy rate hike. Notably one possible hawkish dissenter, Charles Bean did not sound overly keen on higher rates in a speech last week, a factor that weighed on GBP alongside some weaker service sector Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) data.

UK manufacturing data will be the main data highlight of the calendar but this will be overshadowed by the BoE meeting. GBP/USD could continue to lag the EUR and given a generally bullish EUR backdrop, our preferred method of playing GBP downside remains via a long EUR/GBP position.

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.

Interest rate and FX gyrations

Following a brief rally at the start of the year the USD has found itself under growing pressure in the wake of widening interest rate differentials versus many other currencies. In particular, the contrasting stance between the hawkish rhetoric (bias for tighter monetary conditions) from European Central Bank (ECB) President Trichet and the relatively dovish US Federal Reserve stance as highlighted in the 26th January FOMC statement has provided more fuel to the widening in interest rate expectations between the US and eurozone. Since the end of last year interest rate differentials have widened by around 31 basis points in favour of the EUR (second general interest rate futures contract).

The Fed remains committed to carrying out its full $600 billion of asset purchases by end Q2 2011 whilst the ECB appears to be priming the market for a scaling back of its liquidity operations. Whilst there may be more juice in EUR over the short term based on the move in interest rate differentials as well as improved sentiment towards the eurozone periphery the upside potential for EUR/USD is looking increasingly limited. Even European officials are beginning to inject a dose of caution, with the ECB’s Nowotny stating that markets are too euphoric over a potential enlargement of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) bailout fund. Indeed, it is highly likely that the euphoria fades quickly once it becomes apparent that enlarging the bailout fund is by no means a panacea to the region’s ailments.

GBP is another currency that has undergone sharp gyrations over recent days in the wake of a shift in interest rate expectations. A surprise 0.5% quarterly drop in UK Q4 GDP (which could not all be blamed on poor weather) set the cat amongst the pigeons and gave a GBP a thrashing but much of this was reversed following the release of Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) minutes which revealed a hawkish shift within the MPC, with two dissenters voting for a rate hike and most members agreeing that the risks to inflation has probably shifted higher.

Does this imply an imminent rate hike? No, a policy rate hike closer to the end of the year appears more likely. BoE Governor King provided support to this view, in a speech that was interpreted as dovish, with the governor once again highlighting the temporary nature of the current rise in inflation pressure. Consequently UK interest rate expectations have shifted back and forth over recent days, but still remain wider relative to the US since the start of the year. GBP/USD has of course benefitted, but given worries about growth and the dovish message from King, it is unlikely that rate differentials will widen much further. Consequently GBP/USD is unlikely to make much if any headway above 1.6000.

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