Risk gyrations and FX positioning

I must admit it has been quite tough to get a handle on the sharp moves in markets over recent days. Market sentiment shifted from positive to negative and back again in a matter of hours, meaning that anyone wanting to put on a long term trading position has had to have had a significant risk tolerance to hold onto their positions.

Attention was focused squarely on Chinese stocks last week but market fears over tighter regulation eased as the week progressed. Market sentiment was helped by strong existing home sales data in the US, continuing the run of better than forecast US economic data releases. Globally data releases mirrored this tone.

A cautiously upbeat tone from central bankers at the Jackson Hole symposium sets up a positive backdrop for markets. Although Fed Chairman Bernanke noted that the rebound in growth was likely to be slow and ECB President Trichet talked about a “bumpy road ahead” the overall tone was positive.

Importantly there was no indication that a reversal in monetary policy was in sight, with the Fed’s Kohn even indicating that there was no inconsistency between the Fed maintaining low rates for an “extended period” and keeping inflation low. The comments should help to ensure that markets do not misinterpret the signs of recovery as a cue to begin hiking interest rates.

This week’s data slate will maintain the run of good news. However, there are a few risks. Consensus forecasts look for US consumer confidence to improve in August but the weak labour market situation may hold some downside risks for the Conference Board measure of confidence just as it did for the Michigan reading.

US durable goods orders are set to bounce back and new home sales are likely to echo at least some of the gains in existing home sales last week. In the eurozone, attention will focus on the August German IFO survey and this release is likely to mirror the gains in the PMI, with a healthy gain in the headline reading expected.

Risk trades continue will be favoured after overcoming last week’s setbacks keeping the USD under downward pressure but within ranges and risk currencies including AUD, NZD, CAD and NOK under upward pressure. The USD index is verging on testing its 5th August low of 77.428, whist the JPY is also weaker though its moves may be more limited ahead of upcoming elections.

The IMM report shows that speculative investors have cut pared back USD short positions further, but the shift in positioning was relatively small from the previous week, with net aggregate USD short positions at -94.8k contracts compared to -96.1 in the previous week. Notable shifts in positioning over the week include a cut back in net EUR long positions to their lowest level since the week of 5th May 2009.

Commodity currencies suffered some pullback in net long positioning too with speculative AUD and NZD contracts being cut although net CAD long positions did increase slightly. Given the resumption in risk appetite into this week it seems highly likely that positioning will reverse and net USD short positions will increase.

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