The Devil is in the details

The “partial solution” delivered by European Union (EU) leaders last week has failed to match the high hopes ahead of the EU Summit. Nonetheless, the deliverance of a “fiscal compact”, acceleration of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) to July 2012 , no forced private sector participation in debt restructuring (outside Greece), and possible boost to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) of up to EUR 200 billion, are steps in the right direction. The fact that UK Prime Minister Cameron threw a spanner in the works to veto a joint proposal to revise the EU Treaty should not detract from the progress made.

Nonetheless, the measures may not be sufficient to allay market concerns, with disappointment at the lack of European Central Bank (ECB) action in terms of stepping up to the plate as lender of the last resort still weighing on sentiment. Data will add to the disappointment this week as “flash” Eurozone purchasing managers indices (PMI) drop further in December.

This week events in the US will garner more attention, including the Federal Reserve FOMC meeting, November inflation and retail sales data plus manufacturing confidence gauges as well as November industrial production on tap. The Fed will not shift its policy stance at this meeting but may sound a little more upbeat on the economy following recent firmer data. Inflation will likely remain subdued while the other data will continue to show gradual recovery.

Overall, the market is likely to thin further as the week progresses and holidays approach, with ranges likely to dominate against the background of little directional impetus. Our call to sell risk assets on rallies remains in place, however. The EUR will likely struggle to make much headway in the current environment, especially given that many details of the EU agreement still need to be ironed out and once again the risk to market confidence lies in implementation or lack of it. A range of EUR/USD 1.3260-1.3550 is likely to hold over the short term.

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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.

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.

US Economic Data Disappointments

Risk gyrations continue, with a sharp shift back into risk off mood for markets driven in large part by yet more disappointing US economic data as the May ADP jobs report came in far weaker than expected at 38k whilst the ISM manufacturing index dropped to 53.5 in May, its lowest reading since September 2009. This was echoed globally as manufacturing purchasing managers indices (PMI) softened, raising concerns that the global ‘soft patch’ will extend deeper and longer than predicted.

The market mood was further darkened by news that Moodys downgraded Greece’s sovereign credit ratings to Caa1 from B1, putting the country on par with Cuba and effectively predicting a 50% probability of default.

The resultant jump in risk aversion was pretty extensive, with US Treasury yields dipping further, commodity prices dropping led by soft commodities, and equity volatility spiking although notably implied currency volatility has remained relatively well behaved.

Global growth worries led by the US have now surpassed Greek and eurozone peripheral country concerns as the main driver of risk aversion, especially as it increasingly looks as though agreement on a further bailout package for Greece is moving closer to being achieved. Moreover, it seems as though a ‘Vienna initiative’ type of plan is moving towards fruition involving a voluntary rollover of debt.

The lack of first tier economic data releases today suggests that it will be a case of further digestion or perhaps indigestion of the weak run of US data releases over recent weeks and the implications for policy. For instance, it is no coincidence that QE3 is now being talked about again following the end of QE2 although it still seems very unlikely.

Bonds may see some respite from the recent rally given the lack of data today although this may prove short-lived as expectations for the May US jobs report tomorrow are likely to have been revised sharply lower in the wake of the weak ADP jobs data and ISM survey yesterday, with an outcome sub 100k now likely for May US non-farm payrolls.

Meanwhile, FX markets are caught between the conflicting forces of higher risk aversion and weaker US data, leaving ranges to dominate. On balance, risk currencies will likely remain under pressure today and the USD may get a semblance of support in the current environment.

This may be sufficient to prevent EUR/USD from retesting its 1 June high around 1.4459 as markets wait for further developments on the Greek front. Once again the likes of the CHF and to a lesser extent JPY will do well in a risk off environment whilst the likes of the AUD and NZD will suffer.

US Dollar Ugly But Not Hideous

The USD has strengthened by around 5% since the beginning of the month. The move has been particularly sharp this week as higher risk aversion and intensifying fears about the eurozone periphery have given the currency a boost, albeit with the USD remaining one of the least ugly currencies amongst a fairly hideous bunch.

Eurozone country and overall ‘flash’ May purchasing managers indices (PMI) managed to further sour an already fragile mood yesterday, with the data revealing bigger than expected declines, albeit still at levels that are high in absolute terms. Data today is unlikely to result in any improvement in sentiment for eurozone assets, with the Germany IFO Business Climate index likely to slip, albeit from a relatively high level.

The EUR doesn’t need much of an excuse to sell off at present, with a softer IFO likely to provide further reason for investors to offload long positions in the currency. Against this background EUR/USD is likely to sustain a drop below the 1.4000 level, with the 100 day moving average level of 1.3972 likely to be breached shortly.

More importantly in terms of sentiment drivers the malaise in the eurozone periphery especially Greece remains the biggest risk for the EUR. As much as officials in Europe and Greece deny speculation of debt restructuring the market is far from convinced as reflected in the widening in peripheral debt spreads.

Greece’s Prime Minister Papandreou’s attempt to push through austerity measures in the Greek parliament yesterday by announcing accelerated asset sale plan and EUR 6 billion in budget cuts have done little to turn market sentiment despite the fact that at the least it shows a willingness to stick to the plan in the face of growing domestic resistance.

The USD has also edged higher against the JPY over recent days despite a rise in risk aversion. As revealed in the latest IMM data markets have been net long JPY over the past couple of weeks, with positioning well above the 3-month average, suggesting some scope for a liquidation of long positions. Nonetheless, the rise in USD/JPY has occurred despite 2-year US / Japan yield differentials remaining at a relatively low level suggesting that the USD may lose momentum, with USD/JPY resistance around 82.74 likely to cap gains.

GBP has also slid suffering in the wake of a resurgent USD and unconfirmed reports that Moody’s ratings agency is expected to announce that is placing 14 out of 18 UK banks on review for a downgrade. GBP is likely to trade nervously ahead of UK data releases today including public finances and CBI data, with further downside risks opening up. A drop below GBP/USD 1.6000 could see the currency pair test support around 1.5972.

Risk off mood

A ‘risk off’ tone is quickly permeating its way through the market psyche as tensions surrounding the eurozone periphery reach fever pitch. This is reflected in the sharp jump in equity volatility as indicated by the VIX ‘fear’ gauge. Equity markets and risk trades in general look set to remain under pressure in the current climate.

Moreover, the EUR which is finally succumbing to bad news about the periphery will continue to face pressure over the short-term. Against this background economic data will likely be relegated to the background this week but it worth noting that what data there is on tap, is likely to send a weaker message, with data such as durable goods orders in the US as well as various purchasing managers indices (PMI) data in the eurozone today likely to show some slippage.

The Greek saga remains at the forefront of market attention, with restructuring speculation remaining high despite various denials over the weekend by Greek and European Central Bank (ECB) officials. News that Norway has frozen payments to Greece, whilst Fitch ratings agency’s downgrades of Greece’s ratings by 3 notches and S&P’s downgrade of Italy’s ratings outlook to negative, have all contributed to the malaise afflicting the periphery.

This weekend’s local election in Spain in which Prime Minister Zapatero and his Socialist Party suffered its worst defeat in more than 30 years leading to a transfer of power in the Spanish regions, will lead to concerns about the ability of the government to carry out much needed legislative changes.

It is difficult to see any improvement in sentiment towards the peripheral Europe and consequently the EUR over the short-term. In Greece, Prime Minister Papandreou will attempt to push through further unpopular austerity measures through parliament this week in advance of a 5th bailout tranche of EUR 12 billion scheduled for next month. This comes at a time when opinion polls show the government losing more support and 80% of those surveyed saying they would not accept more austerity measures.

The deterioration in sentiment for the EUR has been rapid as reflected in the CFTC IMM data, with net long speculative positions now at their lowest since 15 February and heading further downhill. Conversely, USD short covering has been significant though there is still a hefty USD short overhang, which points to more USD short covering as EUR sentiment sours.

Nonetheless, the USD still has plenty of risks hanging over it including the fact that it still suffers from an adverse yield differential (note that 2-year Treasury yields have fallen to the lowest since 6 December 2010). Safe haven currencies in particular CHF are the key beneficiaries and notably EUR/CHF touched a record low around 1.2354 and is showing little sign of any rebound.

Euro resilient but for how long?

The resilience of the EUR to bad news has been impressive but is unlikely to persist. The recent negatives include 1) the rejection of the Portuguese government’s austerity plan and the increased likelihood of a bailout, 2) a likely delay in the decision on increasing the size and scope of the EFSF EU bailout fund, 3) a drop in Eurozone purchasing managers indices in March, 4) downgrades to Portugal’ sovereign credit ratings by Fitch last night and S&P and 5) Moodys downgrades of 30 Spanish banks. Despite all of this, and after hitting a low of around EUR/USD 1.4054, EUR has bounced back close to the 1.4200 level.

Further direction will come from the outcome of the EU leaders’ summit today and the March German IFO business confidence survey. For the former there is unlikely to be a decisive result, with the optimism following the informal March 11 leaders’ summit likely to give way to delay due to wrangling over details. For the latter, a slight moderation in the IFO is expected following February’s upside surprise. However, there is a bigger risk of a downside surprise following the softer than forecast March German manufacturing PMI released. Against this background, EUR/USD is likely to struggle to break resistance around 1.249.

In general FX markets look somewhat more stable and even the pressure on the USD appears to have abated slightly despite a much weaker than expected outcome for US February durable goods orders yesterday, which revealed a drop in both headline and ex-transportation orders. My composite FX volatility measure has dropped sharply over recent days, led by short term implied JPY volatility which has dropped close to pre-crisis levels. Lower volatility has also likely reduced the prospects of further FX intervention although USD/JPY 80 will continue to be well defended.

Lower volatility as also reflected in the sharp drop in the VIX index has corresponded with a general easing in risk aversion as both Middle East and Japan tensions have eased slightly. US data today are unlikely to offer much direction, with a slight upward revision to US Q4 GDP and an unchanged outcome for the final reading of Michigan consumer confidence expected.

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