The Week Ahead

Housing and durable goods orders data will form the highlights of the US calendar this week. Speeches from several Fed speakers will also give some further guidance to the appetite for completing the Fed’s $600 billion in asset purchases. Overall it will be a slow start for FX markets with liquidity thinned by the Presidents Day holiday and as a result currencies are likely to remain in relatively tight ranges. The heavy tone of the USD seen last week is likely to persist over coming days given the absence of driving factors. Even the unrest in the Middle East has been unable to derail the improving trend in risk appetite, another factor dampening USD sentiment.

The EUR held up well last week recouping its early week losses to end on a firm note. The ability of the EUR to shake off various bits of bad news was impressive but whether it can continue to do so is debatable. Data releases are unlikely to provide much of a boost. Whilst eurozone business surveys set to remain at high levels, consistent with a rebound in Q1 GDP growth, further improvements are unlikely. The week kicks off with the February German IFO business confidence survey but at best this will reveal stable reading. The EUR may find some support from signs of higher and in Germany and an above consensus reading for M3 money supply growth though this is not usually a market mover. The data will likely feed nervousness about European Central Bank (ECB) tightening. Ireland could rock the boat however, with general elections likely to keep markets nervous about potential renegotiations of Ireland’s bailout terms.

Although deflationary pressures are easing in Japan there is a long way before the spectre of inflation will emerge. Nonetheless, the Bank of Japan (BoJ) revised up its growth outlook last week, suggesting that the likelihood of more aggressive measures to combat deflation is narrowing. A reminder of ongoing deflation will come with the release of January CPI data this week whilst trade data will be watched to determine what impact the strength of the JPY is having on exports. Both EUR/JPY and USD/JPY are close to the top of their recent ranges and the data are unlikely to provoke a break higher. USD/JPY will likely remain capped around 84.51 whilst EUR/JPY will find tough resistance around 114.02.

GBP performed even better than the EUR last week helped by an even more hawkish sounding than usual BoE Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) member Sentance and a letter from the BoE governor hinting at rate hikes. Even a relatively more slightly dovish Quarterly Inflation Report failed to halt GBP’s ascent. Further direction will come from the February MPC minutes in which we expect to see two dissenters, namely Sentence and Weale who likely voted for a rate hike. However, there is a risk that they may have been joined by at least one other, with speculation that MPC member Bean may have joined the dissenters. Such speculation alongside the jump in January UK retail sales at the end of last week will likely add to more upside potential for GBP, setting it up for another gain this week. Its upward momentum may however, be hampered by the large net long GBP positioning overhang.

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USD Pressured As Yields Dip

The USD came under pressure despite a higher than forecast reading for January US CPI and a strong jump in the February Philly Fed manufacturing survey. On the flip side, an increase in weekly jobless claims dented sentiment. The overnight rally in US Treasury yields was a factor likely weighing on the USD. The US calendar is light today leaving markets to focus on the G20 meeting and to ponder next week’s releases including durable goods orders, existing and new home sales.

The jump in the European Central Bank (ECB) marginal facility borrowing to EUR 15 billion, its highest since June 2009, provoked some jitters about potential problems in one or more eurozone banks. At a time when there are already plenty of nerves surrounding the fate of WestLB and news that Moody’s is reviewing another German bank for possible downgrade, this adds to an already nervous environment for the EUR.

Nonetheless, EUR/USD appears to be fighting off such concerns, with strong buying interest on dips around 1.3550. The G20 meeting under France’s presidency is unlikely to have any direct impact on the EUR or other currencies for that matter, with a G20 source stating that the usual statement about “excess volatility and disorderly movements in FX” will be omitted.

Although USD/JPY has been a highly sensitive currency pair to differentials between 2-year US and Japanese bonds (JGBs), this sensitivity has all but collapsed over recent weeks. USD/JPY failed to break the 84.00 level, coming close this week. There appears to be little scope to break the current range ahead of next week’s trade data and CPI.

Given the recent loss in momentum of Japan’s exports the data will be instructive on how damaging the strength of the JPY on the economy. In the near term, escalating tensions in the Middle East will likely keep the JPY supported, with support around USD/JPY 83.09 on the cards.

It seems that the jump in UK CPI this week (to 4.0%) provoked even more hawkish comments than usual from the Bank of England BoE’s Sentance, with the MPC member stating that the Quarterly Inflation Report understates the upside risks to inflation indicating that interest rates need to rise more quickly and by more than expected. Specifically on GBP he warned that the Bank should not be relaxed about its value.

Although these comments should not be particularly surprising from a known hawk, they may just help to underpin GBP ahead of the January retail sales report. Expectations for a rebound in sales following a weather related drop in the previous month will likely help prop up GBP, with GBP/USD resistance seen around 1.6279.

Speculators bail out of USDs

Risk appetite held up reasonably well last week, with markets failing to be derailed by concerns over Ireland’s banking sector and growing opposition to austerity measures across Europe. The main loser remained the USD, with the USD index hitting a low marginally above 78.00 and speculative positioning as reflected in the CFTC IMM data revealing a further sharp drop in sentiment to its lowest since Dec 2007.

This week is an important one for central bank meetings, with four major central banks deliberating on monetary policy including Bank of Japan (BoJ), Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), European Central Bank (ECB) and Bank of England (BoE). The major event of the week however, is Friday’s release of the September US employment report. The RBA is set to hike its cash rate by 25bps, the BoJ may announced more easing measures whilst in contrast both the ECB and BoE are unlikely to alter their policy settings.

Whilst the BoJ is widely expected to leave its policy rate unchanged at 0.1%, it may announce further measures against the background of persistent JPY strength, a worsening economic outlook as reflected in last week’s Tankan survey and decline in exports. Japanese press indicate that the BoJ may increase lending of fixed rate 3 to 6 month loans to financial institutions as well as buy more short-term government debt.

The measures alongside risks of further JPY intervention may prevent USD/JPY slipping further but as reflected in the increase in speculative net long JPY positions last week, the market is increasingly testing the resolve of the Japanese authorities. Strong support is seen around USD/JPY 82.80, with the authorities unlikely to allow a break below this technical level in the short-term.

Although we will only see details of the voting in two weeks in the release of the UK BoE Monetary Policy Commitee (MPC) minutes it is likely that there was a three-way split within the MPC as reflected in recent comments, with MPC member Posen appearing to favour more quantitative easing whilst the MPC’s Sentance is set to retain his preference for higher rates. As has been the case over recent months the majority of the MPC are likely to have opted for the status quo.

GBP was a laggard over September as markets continued to fret over potential QE from the BoE. This uncertainty is unlikely to fade quickly suggesting limited gains against the USD and potentially more downside against the EUR. GBP speculative sentiment has improved but notably positioning remains short. EUR/GBP will likely target resistance around 0.8810.

In contrast to GBP the EUR has taken full advantage of USD weakness and looks set to extend its gains. Although there is a risk that speculative positioning will soon become overly stretched it is worth noting that positioning is well below its past highs according to the IMM data. EUR may have received some support from Chinese Premier Wen’s pledge to support Greece, and a stable EUR. Whilst there continues to be risks to the EUR from ongoing peripheral debt concerns such comments likely to be repeated at the EU-Asia summit today and tomorrow, will keep the EUR underpinned for a test of 1.3840.

USD pressure, EUR resilience, GBP whipsawed

Speculation the Fed will begin a new program of asset purchases or QE2 as soon as November is intensifying. The weaker than expected reading for US consumer confidence in September released on Tuesday has only added to this expectation as sentiment continues to be hit by job market concerns. Against this background the USD remains under strong downward pressure, with little sign of any turnaround.

The prospects of further USD debasing as well as intervention in many countries to prevent their currencies from strengthening against the USD continues to power gold prices which hit a new record high having breezed through the $1300 per troy ounce mark. In the current environment it is hard to see gold prices turning much lower although there may be some risk of profit taking in the weeks ahead.

The EUR remains a key beneficiary of USD weakness but this currency has problems of its own to contend with. Indeed, peripheral debt concerns, especially with regard to Ireland and to a lesser extent Portugal have increased, with borrowing costs rising as the yield on their debt widens against core eurozone debt. The stronger EUR will only make it harder for these countries to achieve any sort of recovery and could also damage the stronger exporting countries of Northern Europe led by Germany.

So far however, the EUR has managed to show some impressive resilience to renewed peripheral country sovereign debt concerns including comments by S&P about the high costs of rescuing an Irish Bank. Perhaps the knowledge that there is a still a huge bailout fund from the EU and IMF available if needed and also the prospect that the ECB will increase its buying of eurozone debt, has provided a buffer for the EUR.

At some point the ECB may be forced to join the battle in at least attempting to talk its currency lower but at this stage the central bank is showing no inclination to either talk down the currency or physically intervene to weaken the EUR. In the meantime, EUR/USD is likely to strengthen further despite the likely negative impact on European growth, with the currency likely to set its sights on an eventual break above 1.40.

One currency that may struggle in the wake of expectations of Fed QE2 is GBP. Uncertainty over whether the Bank of England will follow the Fed in implementing further quantitative easing could see GBP lag the gains in other currencies against the USD. Conflicting comments from MPC members Posen who noted that there may be a need for further QE in the UK to support the faltering economy were countered by Sentance who noted that there was no need for more QE. GBP/USD is likely be whipsawed as the debate continues and is set to lose further ground against the EUR.

ECB, BoE and RBA in the spotlight

Double-dip fears are the pervading influence on market psychology at present even as European sovereign concerns appear to be easing. Friday’s release of the June US jobs report did little to alleviate such concerns but the headline payrolls number was less negative than the indications provided by other jobs data.

Growth fears have in particular been centred on the US in the wake of a run of disappointing data, These new found concerns have somewhat tarnished the USD’s ability to benefit from safe haven buying as risk aversion increases, as reflected in the 4.5% drop in the USD index since its high on 7th June. The prospects for the USD do not look too much better this week, but the drop is more likely a correction rather than a renewed weakening trend.

Having navigated its way through the European Central Bank’s (ECB) 12-month liquidity payback, various debt auctions, and Germany’s presidential election last week the EUR may find itself with less obstruction in its path but will nonetheless, likely struggle to make much headway this week. EUR speculative positioning, as indicated by the CFTC IMM data, reveals that there has been little short covering over the last couple of weeks, suggesting speculative sentiment remains negative.

Nonetheless, the rebound in EUR/USD has been impressive since its low around 1.1876 about a month ago and not just against the USD, with EUR making up ground on various crosses too including CHF and GBP. Easing sovereign concerns will have helped but there are plenty of downside risks ahead as austerity measures begin to bite and growth divergence becomes more apparent.

The ECB council meeting on Thursday is unlikely to give much direction for the EUR, with the meeting likely to pass with an unchanged rate decision and no change in economic assessment. There will be more attention on whether EUR/USD can maintain a toe hold above the psychologically important 1.2500 level, which I suspect may prove tough to hold this week.

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) also announces its rate decision (Tuesday) and will likely pause in tightening cycle. Recent data have remained positive, especially with regard to the labour market. The RBA will wait for the Q2 CPI data on July 28th before deciding on the next policy move, with jobs data on Thursday also likely to provide further clues. AUD/USD may struggle in the current environment where growth worries are prevalent, and the currency is likely to find it tough going over the coming weeks.

Finally, the Bank of England (BoE) meets this week too but like the ECB and RBA no change is likely. Although we will have to wait a couple of weeks for the minutes of the meeting it seems highly unlikely that MPC members will vote for a hike aside from Sentance who has espoused a more hawkish stance. Notably GBP speculative short positions have been scaled back over recent weeks as sentiment for the currency turns less negative but GBP gains against the USD will be more limited this week, with renewed GBP upside against the EUR more likely.

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