USD bulls restrained

Two events over recent days have managed to inflict a degree of pain to USD bulls over recent days. Firstly the report in the press this week that the Fed is actively considering further policy stimulus steps, which taken together with softer economic data such as the 8.4% drop in new home sales registered in June but more specifically declines in the June ISM manufacturing survey and weaker jobs data, have sharply increased the speculation that the Fed will deliver new policy steps at its FOMC meeting next week.

Secondly the comments overnight from ECB board member Nowotny putting the prospects of giving the ESM bailout fund a banking licence firmly back on the table, has given a lift to the EUR. A banking licence would allow the ESM to leverage the ECB’s balance sheet, massively increasing its firepower. No wonder the markets reacted positively! The only catch is that there is significant opposition from both within the ECB council and from outside especially from Germany, suggesting that it would not be an easy step to take.

However, in a market that is extremely short EUR any slight positive news will act as a balm on the Eurozone’s wounds. Nowotny’s comments managed to overpower the impact of further drop in the German IFO survey in July which in fairness still remains at a relatively high level. The positive impact on the EUR is set to be short lived especially as a license for the ESM is a long way off while the ESM itself has yet to formally take over from the temporary bailout fund (EFSF).

Nonetheless, downside risks to the EUR will be limited ahead of the FOMC meeting next week and risks that a fresh round of Fed quantitative easing could weigh on the USD. Another complication is that there is also an ECB Council meeting next week, another factor that will play into a tone of consolidation for markets over coming days. EUR/USD is likely to face firm resistance around the 1.2181 level while downside is likely to be capped around 1.2040 in the near term. Assuming no major Fed action next week, EUR/USD remained destined for a drop below 1.2000.

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Dollar firm, but beware of a short covering euro bounce

The USD has risen sharply since the end of April, benefiting from the ongoing turmoil in the Eurozone and rise in US Treasury yields (2-year). Markets have managed to brush US fiscal and political concerns under the carpet as focus centres on Europe. The USD also managed to shrug off a soft April retail sales report and a slightly more cautious set of FOMC minutes.

A recovery in April durable goods orders, new homes sales and a relatively stable reading for Michigan confidence should ensure that the USD’s upward trajectory remains unimpeded this week. Given the potential for continued uncertainty ahead of Greek elections in mid June, risk aversion and the USD are set to remain elevated.

In Europe, it’s all about Greece and the machinations ahead of fresh elections in mid June. The EUR shows little sign of stabilising ahead of these elections. Data releases will take a back seat although the calendar will be heavy. FX markets will have one eye on the May German IFO survey and the flash readings in purchasing managers indices. The PMI data will give no relief to the EUR, with the data consistent with growth contraction for the most part while the IFO is set to register a decline too.

Meanwhile, pressure on German Chancellor Merkel to accept measures that were previously vetoed at an informal EU summit on Wednesday has also heightened. Such measures include direct recapitalisation of banks and/or unlimited purchases of peripheral country debt by the ECB and through the Eurozone rescue fund.

Admittedly the large extent of short market positioning (the latest CFTC IMM report revealed an all time low for EUR positioning) means that the risk of a bounce is high in the event of any good news or perhaps in the wake of any renewed securities markets purchases by the ECB or fresh hints of a third LTRO. Whether there will actually be any good news is another question entirely.

USD/JPY has been relatively stable despite a rise in US bond yields compared to Japanese JGB yields, with rising risk aversion helping to keep the JPY firm. The Bank of Japan meeting this week has the potential to change the currency pair’s trajectory but is unlikely to do so. No action is expected at the policy meeting on Wednesday, leaving the JPY with a firm bias.

Trade data will provide some justification for a more bearish stance on the JPY, with another deficit set to be registered in April as export conditions remain weak. However, as usual the JPY will continue to ignore domestic economic data and focus more on relative yields and risk.

USD, EUR and JPY Outlook This Week

The USD lost more ground last week extending its drop from the early October. Interestingly its latest drop has occurred despite an uptick in risk aversion suggesting other factors are at work. Mixed US data and earnings have not given the USD much direction with a downbeat Beige Book counterbalanced by a firmer Philly Fed manufacturing survey and housing starts.

The data have not been sufficiently weak to fuel expectations of more Fed quantitative easing but some Fed officials including Yellen, Tarullo, Evans and Rosengren in indicating that further QE could be considered. The USD has therefore been somewhat undermined but will take its cue from data releases and events in Europe this week.

This data slate will be mixed but on balance will not support more Fed QE. In particular, Q3 Real GDP is expected to come in sharply higher than in Q2, with a 2.5% annual rate expected to be revealed. Other indicators will be less positive, with October consumer confidence set to slip further and remain at a recessionary level, while September durable goods orders will decline by around 1%.

Despite an expected increase in new home sales in September the overall picture of the US housing market will remain very weak. Overall, the USD may find some respite from the GDP report but the data will be seen as backward looking, with the jury still out on the issue of more quantitative easing.

The EUR struggled to make any headway last week amid a barrage of rumors about the outcome of Sunday’s EU Summit. In the event the summit failed to deliver concrete details although there appeared to be some progress in key areas. Attention will now turn to Wednesday’s summit but once again the risk of disappointment is high. EUR/USD will only extend gains if markets are satisfied at the result but this is by no means guaranteed.

Data releases will not be supportive for the EUR this week, with a further deterioration in ‘flash’ eurozone purchasing managers indices (PMIs) and European Commission confidence surveys expected in October but hopes of a concrete resolution at Wednesday’s EU Summit will keep the EUR/USD supported early in the week although it will find strong resistance around 1.3915.

The sensitivity of the JPY to risk aversion has actually fallen over the last three months while the influence of bond yield differentials also appears to have slipped. The fact that USD/JPY continues to remain in a very tight range with little inclination to break in either direction despite gyrations in risk and yield differentials almost appears if the currency pair has been pegged.
Obviously this is not the case but a break out of the current range does not look imminent.

Speculative JPY positioning has dropped over recent weeks while equity and bond flows have overall been negative but this has not been reflected in JPY weakness resulting in increased frustration by Japanese officials. We continue to look for the JPY to weaken over coming months but much will depend on a widening in US / Japan yield differentials and easing risk appetite as both will regain their hold on the currency. In the meantime, the currency will continue to offer little to get excited about.

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.

Euro Sentiment Jumps, USD Sentiment Dives

The bounce in the EUR against a broad range of currencies as well as a shift in speculative positioning highlights a sharp improvement in eurozone sentiment. Indeed, the CFTC IMM data reveals that net speculative positioning has turned positive for the first time since mid-November. A rise in the German IFO business confidence survey last week, reasonable success in peripheral bond auctions (albeit at unsustainable yields), hawkish ECB comments and talk of more German support for eurozone peripheral countries, have helped.

A big driver for EUR at present appears to be interest rate differentials. In the wake of recent commentary from Eurozone Central Bank (ECB) President Trichet following the last ECB meeting there has been a sharp move in interest rate differentials between the US and eurozone. This week’s European data releases are unlikely to reverse this move, with firm readings from the flash eurozone country purchasing managers indices (PMI) today and January eurozone economic sentiment gauges expected.

Two big events will dictate US market activity alongside more Q4 earnings reports. President Obama’s State of The Union address is likely to pay particular attention on the US budget outlook. Although the recent fiscal agreement to extend the Bush era tax cuts is positive for the path of the economy this year the lack of a medium to long term solution to an expanding budget deficit could come back to haunt the USD and US bonds.

The Fed FOMC meeting on Wednesday will likely keep markets treading water over the early part of the week. The Fed will maintain its commitment to its $600 billion asset purchase program. Although there is plenty of debate about the effectiveness of QE2 the program is set to be fully implemented by the end of Q2 2011. The FOMC statement will likely note some improvement in the economy whilst retaining a cautious tone. Markets will also be able to gauge the effects of the rotation of FOMC members, with new member Plosser possibly another dissenter.

These events will likely overshadow US data releases including Q4 real GDP, Jan consumer confidence, new home sales, and durable goods orders. GDP is likely to have accelerated in Q4, confidence is set to have improved, but at a low level, housing market activity will remain burdened by high inventories and durable goods orders will be boosted by transport orders. Overall, the encouraging tone of US data will likely continue but markets will also keep one eye on earnings. Unfortunately for the USD, firm US data are being overshadowed by rising inflation concerns elsewhere.

Against the background of intensifying inflation tensions several rate decisions this week will be of interest including the RBNZ in New Zealand, Norges Bank in Norway and the Bank of Japan. All three are likely to keep policy rates on hold. There will also be plenty of attention on the Bank of England (BoE) MPC minutes to determine their reaction to rising inflation pressures, with a slightly more hawkish voting pattern likely as MPC member Posen could have dropped his call for more quantitative easing (QE). There will also be more clues to RBA policy, with the release of Q4 inflation data tomorrow.

Both the EUR and GBP have benefitted from a widening in interest rate futures differentials. In contrast USD sentiment has clearly deteriorated over recent weeks as highlighted in the shift in IMM positioning, with net short positions increasing sharply. It is difficult to see this trend reversing over the short-term, especially as the Fed will likely maintain its dovish stance at its FOMC meeting this week. This suggests that the USD will remain on the back foot.

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