USD pressured by drop in yield

Risk sentiment starts the week in positive mode. Weekend reports that Germany will not stand in the way of allowing the (European Financial Stability Facility) EFSF and its successor the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) bailout funds to be combined to boost the ‘firewall’ against contagion in the Eurozone has helped to boost sentiment.

Market direction may be obscured by month end and quarter end window dressing this week and despite the likely positive start to the week there are still plenty of factors to dent risk appetite over coming days, not least of which is the gyrations in oil prices.

The USD has slipped over recent days in line with a pull back in US Treasury bond yields. Notably there has also been a pull back in speculative USD sentiment as recorded in the CFTC IMM data. The ‘risk on’ tone to market that appears to be developing today will likely result in renewed downside risks to the currency.

US economic data continues to outshine economic releases elsewhere although US housing data last week was notably mixed. It will be the turn of March consumer confidence and February durable goods orders to capture the market’s attention over coming days.

A slight decline in the former and a healthy increase in the latter are expected. However, it seems unlikely that either release will be particularly supportive for yields and in turn the USD, so it will require a further increase in risk aversion to push the USD higher over coming days.

EUR/USD appears to be settling into the middle of a 1.30-1.35 range. Direction has increasingly been led by economic factors rather than debt issues recently but the news on the former has not been particularly good.

The March German IFO today and EU Finance Ministers meeting will be the key events of the week while there will also be interest on Spain’s budget as well as Spanish and Italian debt auctions. The IFO will likely prove to be more positive for the EUR than the manufacturing surveys last week, with an uptrend in the data continuing.

Moreover, hopes that Finance Ministers will bolster the ‘firewall’ to prevent other peripheral countries from repeating Greece’s debacle, will also likely keep the EUR supported. Overall, this implies EUR/USD will likely continue to creep higher over the week, with a test of technical resistance around 1.3356 eyed.

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Contest of the uglies

Although there is plenty of event risk in the form of the Greek confidence motion today market sentiment has taken a turn for the better as a ‘risk on’ mood has filtered through. There was little justification in the turn in sentiment aside from some reassuring comments from the EU’s Juncker but clearly markets are hoping for the best.

The contest of the ugly currencies continues and recently the EUR is running neck and neck with the USD. News that a final decision on a further tranche of aid for Greece and a second bailout package will not take place until early July was not digested well by European markets, although EUR/USD managed to show its resilience once again overnight.

EUR/USD looks like it will settle into a range over the short-term, with support around the 100 day moving average of 1.4170 and resistance around the 15 June high of 1.4451. A weak German June ZEW investor confidence survey may result in the EUR facing some resistance but the data is likely to be overshadowed by events in Greece.

Although Greece continues to dominate the headlines, the looming Fed FOMC meeting and press briefing tomorrow may just keep USD bulls in check especially given the likelihood of downward growth revisions by the Fed and no change in policy settings. Ahead of this news on the housing market is likely to remain bleak, with a likely drop in May existing home sales as indicated by pending home sales data.

USD/JPY continues to flirt with the 80 level but as yet it has failed to sustain a breach below this level. Contrary to speculation the JPY is not particularly reactive to risk aversion at present but instead continues to be driven higher by narrowing US – Japan bond yield differentials. This is pretty much all due to declining US Treasury yields rather than any increase in Japanese bond (JGB) yields.

However, while Japanese officials continue to back off the idea of FX intervention, even at current levels, data releases such as the May trade balance yesterday continue to build a strong case for weakening the JPY. Even economy minister Yosano sounded worried on the trade front in his comments yesterday. Despite such concerns, it will take a renewed widening in bond yield differentials to result in renewed JPY weakness which will need an improvement in US data to be forthcoming.

Risk on, risk off

The USD has lost some upward momentum as risk appetite improved but FX markets remain skittish as sentiment gyrates between ‘risk on’ and ‘risk off’. The fact that US Q1 GDP was left unrevised whilst jobless claims surprisingly increased together with ongoing Greece concerns suggests that a risk off mood may filter into markets despite positive US earnings. Although the USD has not particularly benefitted from any rise in risk aversion lately, worries about the next IMF tranche being withheld from Greece will likely play more positively for the USD.

Nonetheless, lurking in the background and helping to keep the USD restrained is the Fed’s ongoing asset purchases as QE2 remains in place until the end of June. Moreover US data disappointments points to risks that the Fed will only slowly embark on its exit strategy. Additionally any agreement towards extending the US debt ceiling appears to be far off, and threatens to go down to the wire all the way to August 2. US debt markets and the USD appear to be downplaying this issue at present but it remains a clear threat to US markets.

Continuing to limit any upside in the EUR is the fact that officials and markets continue to gyrate on whether Greece will or will not restructure its debt. Apparent divisions between the view of some officials and the ECB are adding to the confusion whilst fresh worries about the IMF withholding funding for Greece will likely keep EUR/USD capped.

Peripheral worries as well as growth concerns are clearly weighing on confidence and a broad based decline in economic and business confidence in various eurozone May measures is expected to be revealed in data today . Weaker data taken together with ongoing concerns about the eurozone periphery will likely see the EUR struggle, with the currency set to settle into a range versus USD over the short-term, with technical support around 1.3968 and resistance at 1.4210.

The loss of USD momentum has also been exhibited in USD/JPY which has turned lower following its recent upward move hitting a low around 81.09. The big news was the fact that April nationwide core CPI recorded its first YoY increase since December 2008. At the margin may reduce the pressure on the Bank of Japan (BoJ) to enact more aggressive policy measures, which in turn is positive for the JPY. A big factor contributing to keeping the JPY supported over recent weeks is the ongoing inflow of foreign capital into Japan’s bond and equity markets, with Japan recording six straight weeks of net inflows.

USD/JPY is one currency pair where the correlation with US – Japan 2-year bond yield differentials is holding up well over the past 3-months. The fact that the yield differential has dropped to its lowest level since November 2010 at around 30bps reveals the declining US yield advantage, and plays for a lower USD/JPY. Against this background the JPY is likely to remain supported in the short-term, but will find it tough to break through technical support around USD/JPY 80.15.

What goes down must go up

What goes down must go up! A day that began with a stronger than forecast increase in China’s purchasing managers index (PMI) and firm Australian Q2 GDP continued with a surprise jump in the August ISM manufacturing index. The ISM rose to 56.3 from 55.5 in July an outcome that contradicted most of the regional US manufacturing surveys. It was not all positive in terms of data, yesterday however, with a weaker UK manufacturing PMI and unexpected drop in the August US ADP employment report casting a shadow over markets.

Nonetheless, for a change the market decided to act on the good news, with risk assets surging. Despite the improvement in risk appetite it still feels as though the market is grasping for direction. The jump in equities is unlikely to prove durable in an environment characterized by various uncertainties about growth and policy, especially the US.

The next hurdle for markets is the US payrolls data tomorrow. Although the ADP jobs report revealed a surprise 10k decline the employment component of the ISM manufacturing survey strengthened to 60.4, suggesting an improvement in August manufacturing payrolls. Ahead of the payrolls release the US data slate today largely consists of second tier releases including July pending home sales, August chain store sales, weekly jobless claims, and factory orders. It is worth paying particular interest to jobless claims given that the four week moving average has been edging higher, suggesting renewed job market deterioration. The consensus is for a 475k increase in claims, which will still leave the 4-week average at an elevated level.

Given that one of the biggest debates raging through markets at present is whether the Fed will embark on further quantitative easing comments by Fed officials overnight were closely scrutinized for further clues. In the event, Fed Governor Kohn highlighted that the Fed’s reinvestment of the proceeds from mortgage-backed securities will not automatically lead to further QE, suggesting some hesitancy on his part. Meanwhile, Dallas Fed President Fisher noted his reluctance to expand the Fed’s balance sheet until fiscal and regulatory uncertainties are cleared up.

Both sets of comments highlight the difficulty in gaining a consensus within the FOMC for a further increase in QE, suggesting that the hurdle for further balance sheet expansion will be set quite high. Moreover, such comments put the onus on Congress to move quickly in clearing up fiscal policy uncertainties.

As markets flip from risk on to risk off almost on a daily basis the question for today is how sustainable the rally in risk trades will prove to be against the background of so much policy and growth uncertainty. Unfortunately today’s data will provide few clues and markets will turn their attention to tomorrow’s US non-farm payrolls report for further direction. To an extent this suggests that it may be a case of treading water until then. Nonetheless, I still maintain that risk trades remain a sell on rallies over coming weeks

What To Watch This Week

Well so much for a “risk on” week. Market sentiment soured at the end of last week following The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) civil action against Goldman Sachs, in which they accused the bank of fraud. The impact reverberated across markets and risk trades were pulled back as a consequence. Bulls shouldn’t be too downhearted though as the drop in risk trades followed several days of gains and part of the pullback could be attributed to profit taking.

Speculation of similar probes in Europe by financial regulators will cast a shadow over markets early this week. Nonetheless, direction will at least in part come from earnings. So far the run of earnings looks upbeat, with around 83% of the 48 S&P 500 companies reporting, beating analysts’ estimates. Overall profits are forecast to increase by around 30% from a year ago but are on track to easily beat this estimate. Bellwether names including IBM, Apple, Coca-Cola, Boeing, Microsoft, and AT&T report this week.

The meeting between Greek officials, ECB, IMF and EU has been delayed until Wednesday. There is little likelihood of Greece seeing any loan money soon as the need for parliamentary approval in some EU countries and upcoming regional elections in Germany on 9 May will put a spanner in the works. An issue of EUR 1.5bn of 3-month Greek debt tomorrow will act another test of market confidence but the recent widening in Greek debt spreads suggests a less positive reception than the previous sale.

There are also a few central bank meetings to contend with this week including Canada, Sweden, India, Philippines and Thailand. The only Bank likely to hike interest rates out of this bunch is the RBI in India with another hike expected, following closely on the heels of the March move. Canada and Sweden are unlikely to shift policy until at last after the end of Q2 whilst protests in Bangkok, Thailand, and the knock on impact on consumer confidence, have effectively sealed the case for no rate move there.

On the data front, attention will turn to US housing market activity. Markets will be able to gauge further clues to whether recovery in the housing market has stalled. An increase in both existing (Thu) and new home sales (Fri) in March is expected, which may allay some concerns although any improvement is likely to continue to fragile against the background of tight credit and high foreclosure levels.

In Europe, aside from the ongoing Greek sage, sentiment surveys will garner most attention, with the release of the German ZEW (Tue) and IFO (Fri) surveys as well as manufacturing and service sector purchasing managers indices (PMIs) across Europe. On the whole the surveys are likely to reveal some improvement as confidence.

Risk aversion will be slightly elevated at the beginning of this week but strong earnings and improving data will help to prevent too much damage. Consequently Risk currencies will start the week under pressure but any pullback will be limited. Given that speculative positioning in risk currencies such as the AUD, NZD and CAD is well above their three-month average according to the latest Commitment of Traders’ IMM data there will be some scope for profit taking. EUR speculative sentiment has seen some improvement but EUR/USD remains vulnerable to a further pull back to technical support around 1.3302 this week.

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