Euro slides as Greek worries intensify

The USD ended last week on high a note having overcome speeches by Fed Chairman Bernanke and President Obama. Bernanke’s lack of detail on potential further Fed stimulus offered the USD a lifeline as there was no mention of QE3 but nervousness may mount ahead of the September 21 FOMC meeting.

This week’s data releases (including retail sales, inflation, industrial production and regional manufacturing surveys may offer some direction to the USD and it is likely that the data over coming days will look less negative than in past weeks, giving the USD some support. Having broken above its 200 day moving average around 76.1986 for the first time in a year the USD index is set to begin the week in positive mode and will likely extend its gains over coming days.

In sharp contrast, EUR/USD crumbled at the end of last week dropping through its 200 day moving average despite positive news from Germany (rejection of bills in the constitutional court) and Italy (passage of austerity measures). The European Central Bank (ECB) did not help the EUR’s cause however, with the change in its stance to a more balanced assessment of risks from its more hawkish stance previously.

However, the real damage occurred as speculation of a Greek default intensified and ECB hawk Stark resigned from the ECB council, highlighting the divisions within the governing board. This week attention will remain on Greece as negotiations between the Troika (ECB, EU and IMF) and Greek officials resume.

Ahead of the talks Greece approved a further EUR 2 billion in austerity measures over the weekend but nonetheless, despite denials by Greek officials speculation of a debt default will continue to hammer the EUR lower. Near term technical support is seen around 1.3525 for EUR/USD.

GBP found some relief last week following the decision by the Bank of England to leave policy unchanged though it is unlikely to be able to make much if any headway against the USD over coming sessions as expectations of further UK quantitative easing may simply have been pushed back to the November meeting.

Inflation data this week will give further clues to policy but once again there is likely to be no sign of any easing in inflation pressure, limiting the room for maneuver for the BoE. Moreover, a weak outcome for UK retail sales in August will maintain the trend of soft UK data keeping up the pressure for more BoE action. As a result GBP will struggle against the USD but given that problems in Europe look even worse, GBP will likely extend gains against the EUR this week.

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Payrolls sour mood, Eurozone concerns intensify

The market mood has soured further and risk aversion has increased following disappointing August US jobs report in which the change in payrolls was zero and downward revisions to previous months has reinforced the negative mood on the US and global economy while raising expectations of more Federal Reserve action. Moreover, the report has put additional pressure on US President Obama to deliver fresh jobs measures in his speech on Thursday though Republican opposition may leave Obama with little actual leeway for further stimulus.

There is plenty of event risk over coming days, with a heavy slate central bank meetings including in Europe, UK, Japan, Australia, Canada and Sweden. The European Central Bank will offer no support to a EUR that is coming under growing pressure, with the Bank set to take a more neutral tone to policy compared its previously hawkish stance. In the UK, GBP could also trade cautiously given recent comments by Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee members about potential for more UK quantitative easing.

The EUR has been unable to capitalise on the bad economic news in the US as news there has been even worse. The negative news includes the weekend defeat of German Chancellor Merkel’s centre-right bloc in regional elections, which comes ahead of a vote in Germany’s constitutional court on changes to the EFSF bailout fund.

The withdrawal of the Troika (ECB, IMF and EU) from Greece has also put renewed emphasis on the country at a time when protests are escalating. If all of this is not enough there is growing concern about Italy’s apparent backtracking on austerity measures, with the Italian parliament set to discuss measures this week. Separately Germany, Holland and Finland will hold a meeting tomorrow on the Greek collateral issue. On top of all of this is the growing evidence of deteriorating growth in the euro area.

Data releases are unlikely to garner a great deal of attention amidst the events noted above, with mainly service sector purchasing managers indices on tap and at least threw will look somewhat better than their manufacturing counterparts. In the US the Beige Book and trade data will be in focus but all eyes will be on Obama’s speech later in the week. The USD has maintained a firm tone despite the jobs report but its resilience may be better explained by eurozone negativity rather than US positivity. Even so, the USD is looking less uglier than the EUR in the current environment.

No QE3 but Bernanke gives some hope

Not only did Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke not discuss the potential for more quantitatiive easing QE3 but he also did not discuss many other options for Fed policy at Jackson Hole last Friday. The onus has now shifted to the 2-day Fed FOMC meeting on September 21 where markets are looking (hoping) for fresh policy measures. Such hopes helped US equity markets bounce back after initially reacting negatively to Bernanke’s speech.

Bernanke provided some hope to markets that the US economy wasn’t sliding into the abyss while offering the potential for further Fed stimulus even if QE3 wasn’t quite on the cards. This hope was sufficient to spur markets higher. However, importantly Bernanke noted the limitations of monetary policy in stimulating growth over the medium term.

In this respect there will be plenty of attention on President Obama’s speech on September 5 in which markets will be looking for a response from the administration at a time when the economy is becoming an increasingly important issue for the electorate.

In the meantime there are plenty of data releases to contend with this week including the August US jobs report, ISM manufacturing survey, US consumer confidence and various confidence surveys in Europe. Unfortunately the news will not be positive as the data releases are set to reinforce concerns of economic slowdown. The US jobs report is likely to reveal a limited, around 75k increase in non-farm payrolls according to consensus while the ISM manufacturing survey is set to drop into contraction territory.

Consequently markets may start the week in risk on mood but this is unlikely to last given renewed economic worries. Moreover, Eurozone peripheral country travails continue to exasperate markets, with concerns that some members of German Chancellor Merkel’s coalition plan to vote against the revamped EFSF bailout fund and news that two German banks have yet to commit on Greece’s bailout plan. Against this background the EUR continues to defy gravity around the 1.45 level versus USD but may yet come down to earth with a bang.

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.

Ratings rampage hits Euro

Both the data flow and market liquidity will be thin over the last couple of weeks of the year. After a bashing over much of H2 2010 it looks as though the USD will end the year in strong form having risen by over 6% since its early November low. In contrast the EUR is struggling having found no support from the meeting of European Union officials at the end of last week in which they agreed to a permanent sovereign debt resolution after 2013 but failed to agree on expanding the size of the bailout fund (EFSF). Similarly there was no traction towards a common euro bond. EUR/USD is now verging on its 200-day moving average around 1.3102, a break of which could see a drop to around 1.2960.

The failure to enlarge the size of the EFSF was disappointing given worries that it is perceived to be insufficient to cope with the bailout of larger eurozone countries if needed. It also highlight that the burden on the European Central Bank (ECB) to prop up eurozone bond markets until confidence improves. The increase in the size of ECB capital from EUR 5.8 billion to EUR 10.8 billion will help in this respect. Such support was clearly needed last week following the rampage across Europe by ratings agencies culminating in Moody’s five notch downgrade of Ireland’s credit ratings, surprising because of its severity rather than the downgrade itself. Ireland’s ratings are now just two notches above junk status and the negative outlook could mean more to come.

It was not just Ireland’s ratings that came under scrutiny. Ireland’s multi notch downgrade followed Moody’s decision to place Greece and Spain on review for a possible downgrade whilst S&P revised Belgium’s outlook to negative. Unsurprisingly peripheral debt markets came under renewed pressure as a result outweighing positive news in the form of strong flash eurozone PMI readings and firm German IFO business confidence survey. EUR did not escape and sentiment for the currency remains weak, with CFTC IMM speculative positioning data revealing a fourth straight week of net EUR short positioning in the week to 14th December.

In contrast, sentiment for the US economy continues to improve. Congress’ swift passage of President Obama’s fiscal plan will help to shore up confidence in US recovery. Data this week will be broadly positive too. On Wednesday, US Q3 GDP data is likely to be upwardly revised to a 2.8% QoQ annualized rate. Durable goods orders excluding transportation are set to increase by a healthy 2.0% (Thu) whilst both existing (Wed) and new (Thu) home sales will reveal rebounds in November following a drop in the previous month.

In the UK the main highlight is the Bank of England (BoE) MPC minutes. Another three way split is expected but this should not cause more than a ripple in FX markets. GBP/USD has slipped over recent days but there appears to be little other than general USD strength responsible for this. The currency pair looks vulnerable to a drop below 1.5500, with 1.5405 seen as the next support level. On balance, the USD will be in good form this week although the drop in US bond yields at the end of last week may take some of the wind out of its sails.

FX sensitivity to yield

It’s all about yield. The back up in US bond yields in reaction to the US tax compromise from the Obama administration has been particularly sharp. US 10 year bond yields jumped around 35bps this week prior to a small correction in yields overnight whilst 2s were up 21bps. US bond yields are now back where they were in June, a fact that makes a mockery out of the Fed’s attempts to drive bond yields lower via quantitative easing (QE). Yields elsewhere increased too but by a smaller degree whilst equity market sentiment has been dampened by the rise in global yields although US stocks still ended higher overnight.

There is plenty of commentary discussing the impact on currencies of the move in bond yields so it’s worth looking in more detail how sensitive FX markets have been to yield. The most sensitive currencies i.e. those with the highest 3-month correlations with relative bond yield differentials (2 year) are the AUD/USD, EUR/USD, and of course USD/JPY. However, there is less sensitivity to gyrations in 10 year yields with no currency pair registering a statistically significant correlation with 10-year bond yield differentials over the past 3-months.

Assuming that US bond yields continue to push higher into 2011, with much lager increases in both nominal and yields expected, this means that AUD, EUR and JPY will face the most pressure relative to the USD. Moreover, the stimulus measures agreed by the US administration will likely lead to many analysts penciling in higher growth forecasts over 2011 whilst reducing the prospects of QE3 from taking place, all of which is USD positive. I still retain a degree of caution in Q1 2011, especially with regard to a potential bounce in EUR, especially if the ECB becomes more aggressive in its bond buying, but even so, any EUR rally is likely to prove termporary.

The impact of higher US yields on the AUD may be more limited however, despite the high correlation with relative bond yields, as Australian bond yields are also likely to rise somewhat given the resilience of its economy. This was clearly demonstrated by Australian November employment data released overnight revealing yet another consensus beating outcome of +54.6k, with all the gains coming from full time employment. Against the background of a generally firm USD, the best way to play AUD resilience is via the NZD, with the currency pair likely break through resistance around 1.3220 (21 October high).

Unloved US Dollar

The USD index is now at its lowest level since May 3 and is showing little sign of turning around. The bulk of USD index weakness overnight came via the EUR and GBP, both of which rose sharply against the USD, with EUR/USD breaching its 90 day moving, hitting a high of 1.2955 and GBP/USD on its way to testing its 200 day moving average, reaching a high of 1.5472. Commodity currencies fared far less positively, perhaps feeling the after effects of the weaker Chinese data this week, with the NZD also dented by weaker than expected inflation data in Q2.

The USD was once again hit by US growth worries. To recap, the US data slate revealed a soft reading for PPI, whilst the July Empire manufacturing index dropped 14.5 points, a far bigger drop than forecast. The Philly Fed index also dropped further in July despite expectations of a small gain. In contrast, June industrial production edged higher, but manufacturing output actually fell. There was a bit of good news in the fact that weekly jobless claims fell more than forecast.

The releases extended the run of weak US data, keeping double-dip fears very much alive. The data have acted to validate the Fed’s cautious growth outlook expressed in the latest FOMC minutes but a double-dip is unlikely. Today’s releases include June CPI, May TIC securities flows, and July Michigan confidence. Another benign inflation report is expected. Consumer confidence is set to slip further against the background of soft data and volatility in equity markets whilst TICS data is forecast to reveal that long term securities flows declined in May compared to the $83 billion inflows registered in April.

The move in the EUR is a making a mockery out of forecasts including my own that had expected renewed downside. The relatively successful Spanish bond auction yesterday helped to ease eurozone sovereign debt concerns further, with a likely strong element of Asian participation. I have still not given up on my EUR negative view given the likelihood of a deteriorating economic outlook in the eurozone and outperfomance of the US economy, but over the short-term the EUR short squeeze may have further to go, with EUR/USD resistance seen at 1.3077.

Equity markets were saved from too much of a beating following the release of better than expected earnings from JP Morgan, a $550mn agreement between Goldman Sachs and the SEC to settle a regulatory case, and news from BP that it has temporarily stemmed the flow of oil from the leak from its Gulf well. Agreement on the US financial reform bill, passed by the Senate yesterday and likely to be signed into law by US President Obama next week, likely helped too.

The tone of the market is likely to be mixed today, with US growth concerns casting a shadow on risk trades. Earnings remain in focus and the big name releases today include BoA, GE and Citigroup but early direction could be negative following news after the US close that Google Inc. profits came in below analysts’ expectations. Data in the US today is unlikely to help sentiment given expectations of more weak outcomes, leaving the USD vulnerable to further selling pressure.

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