US dollar weakness providing relief

The US dollar index has weakened since mid-August 2018 although weakness in the broad trade weighted USD has become more apparent since the beginning of this month.  Despite a further increase in US yields, 10 year treasury yields have risen in recent weeks to close to 3.1%, the USD has surprisingly not benefited.  It is not clear what is driving USD weakness but improving risk appetite is likely to be a factor. Markets have been increasingly long USDs and this positioning overhang has also acted as a restraint on the USD.

Most G10 currencies have benefitted in September, with The Swedish krona (SEK), Norwegian Krone (NOK) and British pound (GBP) gaining most.  The Japanese yen (JPY) on the other hand has been the only G10 currency to weaken this month as an improvement in risk appetite has led to reduced safe haven demand for the currency.

In Asia most currencies are still weaker versus the dollar over September, with the Indian rupee leading the declines.  Once again Asia’s current account deficit countries (India, Indonesia, and Philippines) have underperformed most others though the authorities in all three countries have become more aggressive in terms of trying to defend their currencies.  Indeed, The Philippines and Indonesia are likely to raise policy interest rates tomorrow while the chance of a rate hike from India’s central bank next week has risen.

As the USD weakens it will increasingly help many emerging market currencies.   The likes of the Argentinian peso, Turkish lira and Brazilian real have been particularly badly beaten up, dropping 51.3%, 38.5% and 18.8%, respectively this year.  Although much of the reason for their declines have been idiosyncratic in nature, USD weakness would provide a major source of relief.  It’s too early to suggest that this drop in the USD is anything more than a correction especially given the proximity to the Fed FOMC decision later, but early signs are positive.

 

Fed leaves the dollar in positive mood, euro at risk ahead of ECB

The Fed FOMC unsurprisingly left policy settings unchanged but the statement was perceived as less dovish, leaving a sour taste for risk assets. Crucially the statement did not validate market expectations that the Fed would hold off from tapering (reduction of Treasury and MBS purchases) until March next year, leaving the option of an earlier tapering on the table.

The bottom line is that the decision to taper will be highly data dependent, but the impact on markets was to leave the USD firmer and equity markets lower. The reaction is consistent with our view that a lot of dovishness was already priced into the market and that the risk / reward is for a more constructive USD environment.

Improvements in economic data, albeit from a weak level and a contracting balance sheet, have provided the EUR with support over past months. However, gains will not last and we suspect the EUR will be a casualty of relatively better US growth, Fed tapering and higher US yields over coming months. EUR has lost momentum this week and looks vulnerable to further slippage ahead of next week’s ECB meeting.

Soft inflation data out of Spain and German states yesterday highlights the room for the ECB to sound more dovish next week. Although firmer than expected October Eurozone confidence surveys limited some of the downdraft on the EUR overnight and highlighted further evidence of recovery, it is likely to do little to prevent further pressure on the EUR.

A couple of stronger than expected data releases helped the NOK to strengthen both against the USD and EUR. The August unemployment rate came in lower than expected (at 3.5%) while retail sales beat expectations in September (+0.7%). The NOK has been the only G10 currency to strengthen against the USD during October and after previous underperformance against the EUR, NOK looks set to make further gains against the latter.

One hurdle may be the announcement of Norway’s daily foreign exchange purchases for the coming month. Over September and October FX purchases were NOK 100 million per day and there is little reason to expect any change in November. Assuming that the October manufacturing PMI also registers some improvement tomorrow there is little to stand in the way of further NOK strength. We retain our long NOK/CHF trade idea.

GBP on a rollercoaster, NOK to bounce back

GBP has had a rollercoaster ride both against the USD and the EUR. On balance, it has fared better than the EUR vs. USD. News that Fitch ratings put the UK’s AAA ratings on negative watch had little impact although it may yet restrain GBP. If anything the news will likely help UK Chancellor Osborne formulate a relatively austere budget next Wednesday. Unlike the beleaguered JPY, GBP has not suffered from a widening in the yield differential with the US.

In fact 2-year UK Gilt yields have echoed the rise in US 2-year bond yields over recent days. This suggests that GBP ought to face less downward pressure compared to other currencies. Although I continue to see further GBP strength against the EUR over the medium term, the near prospects look volatile. Instead, I suggest playing a GBP positive view via the AUD.

It is worth commenting, albeit belatedly, on the outlook for the NOK following the surprise decision by Norway’s central bank, Norges Bank, which cut its policy rate by 25bps on Wednesday. Does it significantly change the outlook for the NOK? I believe it doesn’t and the recent drop in the NOK will provide a good opportunity to reinstate long positions.

Although the central bank may ease policy once again over coming months this will not undermine the NOK given that the influence of interest rate differentials on the currency is limited. Moreover, lower interest rates threaten to push already high property prices even higher suggesting that the Norges Bank may have limited room to cut rates further. Elevated oil prices continue to provide solid support for the currency and unless oil prices correct lower, the NOK will remain well supported versus EUR, with a drop to around 7.45 on the cards.

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SNB shakes up FX markets – Pressure now on Japan?

The action by the Swiss National Bank yesterday rippled through FX markets fuelling sharp moves across major currencies. In case you missed it the SNB introduced a currency floor in EUR/CHF at 1.20 and committed itself to buy FX in unlimited amounts. The last time the SNB did something similar was in 1978 when a ceiling was set against the Deutsche Mark. The sharp initial reaction to the news saw EUR/CHF jump by around 8.5% largely as a result of the shock from the announcement.

The SNB will not need to worry about the inflationary implications of pumping CHF into the market while it is clear that the currency is highly overvalued, supporting their cause. However, the real test will be evident over coming days and weeks in the commitment to hold the 1.20 level at a time when the situation in the eurozone periphery continues to deteriorate and demand for CHF remains strong. The risk is that the SNB may have simply set up a target for markets to attack. One other implication of the SNB’s move is that it could be a trigger for an intensification of ‘currency wars’.

The onus is now on the Japanese authorities to act more aggressively especially if safe haven flows focus increasingly on the JPY and less on the CHF given the new EUR/CHF floor. So far FX interventions have clearly not worked as was the case in Switzerland and Japan’s new Prime Minister is likely to want to prove his credentials. Japan has had a tendency to underwhelm with regard to JPY measures in the past and unless there is a major announcement today USD/JPY is likely to move lower again below 77.00.

Scandinavian currencies are also set to be beneficiaries of the SNB’s decision. EUR/SEK has come under increasing downside pressure over recent weeks even as risk aversion has intensified and it appears that safe haven flows out of Europe are now targeting Scandinavian currencies. As the CHF is now less attractive in this respect, the SEK as well as NOK will find themselves under further upside pressure over coming days and weeks. Both NOK and SEK versus EUR and USD have had insignificant correlations with risk over recent months, highlighting their appeal as anti-EUR currencies.

Another Day, Another Drop In The US Dollar.

The USD index is now close to breaching its November 2009 low around 74.17, with little sign of any turnaround in prospect. A surprise jump in weekly jobless claims to 412k (380k expected) did little to help the USD’s cause whilst higher commodity prices, and in particular energy prices played negatively.

Indeed, many USD crosses have experienced an increase in sensitivity to oil price movements over recent weeks, with the USD on the losing side when oil prices move higher. Commodity currencies including CAD and NOK are the key beneficiaries but EUR/USD is also highly correlated with the price of oil.

Various Fed comments overnight including supportive comments on the USD’s role as a reserve currency have done little to boost USD sentiment despite the generally hawkish slant to comments. A host of US data releases will keep markets busy.

The data are unlikely to deliver any strong surprises but given the growing FX attention on Fed policy, CPI data may take on more importance than usual. Our expectation of a trend like 0.2% increase in core CPI, which is unlikely to cause any consternation within the Fed, suggests that the USD will garner little support.

The ability of the EUR to withstand a torrent of bad news regarding the eurozone periphery is impressive. In particular, peripheral bond yields continue to rise especially Greek yields as expectations of debt restructuring grow. Comments from Germany’s finance minister have added to such expectations. News that the Bank of Spain approved the recapitalisation of 13 bank and that Spanish banks borrowed only EUR 44 billion last month, the lowest since Jan 2008, may have provided some relief.

However, given that markets are already relative hawkish about eurozone interest rates and given growing peripheral worries as well as overly long EUR market positioning, the upside for EUR/USD is looking increasingly restrained, with a break above technical support around 1.4580 likely to be difficult to achieve over the short-term.

AUD and NZD have registered stellar performances over recent weeks as yield attraction has come back to the fore and risk appetite has strengthened. The gains since their post Japan earthquake lows have been in the region of 7.3% and 10.5%, respectively for AUD and NZD.

The additional element of support, especially for AUD has come from central bank diversification, an increasingly important factor for both currencies. The gains in both currencies have been impressive and neither is showing signs of reversing but there are clear risks on the horizon.

One indication of such risks is the fact that market positioning is stretched especially in terms of AUD positioning, with CFTC IMM contracts registering an all time high. The move in AUD especially has been well in excess of what interest rate / yield differentials imply. Whilst I would not suggest entering into short AUD and NZD positions yet, the risks to the downside are clearly intensifying.

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