Euro fails too hold on to gains

Any improvement in sentiment following the USD liquidity support announcement by various central banks last week is already filtering away against the background of European Union (EU) officials’ failure to make any headway at the Ecofin meeting over the weekend, a delay in the approval of the next bailout tranche for Greece and ongoing collateral dispute between Greece and Finland. On top of all of this German Chancellor Merkel suffered a further setback in regional elections over the weekend.

Greece will remain in focus this week and markets will look for signs that the country is back on track on its austerity plans and its next loan tranche. Prime Minister Papandreou cancelled a trip to the US while the Greek cabinet are apparently deciding on new fiscal measures. Attention will turn to a teleconference today from the Greek Finance Minister with EU and IMF officials.

Speculative sentiment for the EUR has already soured further and according to the latest CFTC IMM report, positioning in EUR is at its lowest since the end of June 2010. EUR/USD will continue to look very vulnerable having already dropped sharply from a high of around 1.3899 in Asian morning trading as the bad weekend news hit the currency. EUR/USD will find some technical support just below 1.3500 this week but any upside is set to prove limited unless some concrete announcements are delivered relating to Greece over coming days.

In contrast to the EUR, USD speculative appetite has turned net long for the first time since July 2010. The extended Fed FOMC meeting will help to dictate USD sentiment as markets wait for further measures to stimulate the economy. The Federal Reserve has already committed to hold rates steady until at least mid 2013 and the extended two day meeting this week will likely discuss further options. However, more quantitative easing (QE3) appears unlikely at this stage while an ‘Operation Twist’ type approach is more probable. The USD will benefit from a lack of further quantitative easing but this is largely already priced in.

FX / Economic Preview

The European Union (EU) aid package for Greece and extension of collateral requirements by the European Central Bank (ECB) helped return a semblance of confidence to markets. Although the probability of a Greek default now looks extremely small, further austerity measures, fiscal issues in other EU countries and the negative impact on growth that all of this implies, suggest that Europe will be plagued by various problems for some time yet.

As a result of more favourable market conditions Greece is set to launch a syndicated bond issues today or tomorrow of up EUR 5 billion according to press reports. Attention will also turn to Greek debt rollovers, beginning with EUR 8.2 billion on April 20.

Improving sentiment following the Greece deal has extended to the EUR, with the currency bouncing off its lows around 1.3267. EUR/USD will now look to break through resistance around 1.3446, which would set up a test of 1.3516. There is plenty of scope for short-covering to help the EUR as reflected in the latest IMM Commitment of Traders’ report (a gauge of speculative market positioning) which revealed net EUR positions reaching yet another record low in the week to 23rd March. Whilst sovereign/official buying interest may keep EUR/USD supported this week the currency pair is best played as a sell on rallies.

A similar assessment applies for GBP. Speculative sentiment for the currency also hit a record low in the latest week but unlike the Greek deal helping the EUR, last week’s UK budget has done little to boost GBP’s prospects. Moreover, a report in the Financial Times highlighting hedge funds bets against GBP, suggests that there are still plenty of headwinds against the currency.

Volumes are set to thin out this week ahead of upcoming holidays, whilst the US March jobs report at the end of the week will likely prevent moves out of current ranges ahead of its release. The consensus forecast is for a 190k increase in non-farm payrolls though much of this is likely to reflect hiring for the 2010 US consensus and a rebound from adverse weather effects in February.

In Europe March economic confidence surveys will be watched closely to determine how much damage Greece and general fiscal woes are having on sentiment. Some improvement, in line with the Eurozone Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) and the German IFO business confidence survey, is expected, which will help to give further, albeit limited relief to the EUR.

The Japanese data slate kicked off the week in good form, with the release of February retail sales data, revealing its biggest annual increase in 12-years. It is difficult to see the recovery in sales taking much greater hold given persistent deflation pressures however, and part of the gain probably reflects the government’s shopping incentive program.

Aside from industrial production and jobs data in Japan the key release will be the results of the Q1 Tankan survey on Wednesday. The survey of manufacturers’ confidence is set to show further improvement. USD/JPY is likely to remain supported around 91.67 but will need a further widening in US/Japan 10-year bond yield spreads to push higher.

Talking about currencies

It’s always the same story.  Ahead of the G7 (or G8 and now more important G20) meetings speculation of decisive action on currencies intensifies.  Traders and investors become cautious on the off chance that something significant will happen but the majority of times nothing of note emerges.

There was no difference this time around.  The G7 Finance Ministers meeting in Istanbul failed to deliver anything substantive on currencies, repeating the usual mantra about the adverse impact of “excess volatility and disorderly movements”.  Although the group pledged to monitor FX markets there was no indication of imminent action. 

The lack of action is perhaps surprising in one respect as there were plenty of central bankers and finance officials talking about currencies in the run up to the G7 meeting, most of which were attempting to talk the dollar higher against their respective currencies.  Given the increase in rhetoric ahead of the meeting, the relatively weak statement now leaves the door open to further dollar weakness.

The strongest indication of any FX action or intervention came from the country that was supposedly the least concerned about currency strength; Japanese Finance Minister Fujii warned that Japan “will take action” if “currencies show some excessive moves”.  The shift in stance from Japan since the new government took power has been stark (considering that the new government was supposedly in favour of a stronger yen).  Markets will likely continue to test the resolve of the Japanese authorities and buy yen anyway.

Although the G7 statement said little to support the dollar and the overall tone to the dollar likely remains negative over coming months, the softer tone to equity markets and run of weaker economic data in the US – the latest data to disappoint was the September US jobs report – may give some risk aversion related relief to the dollar this week. 

Weaker data and equities alongside the impact of official rhetoric is being reflected in CFTC Commitment of Traders’ data (a good gauge of speculative market positioning) which revealed a sharp drop in short dollar positions, by around a quarter, highlighting for a change, an improvement in dollar sentiment over the last week. 

The biggest losers in terms of speculative positioning were the British pound, where the net short position reached its most extreme since mid September 2008, and Canadian dollar where the net long position was cut by almost half.  Again this may reflect official views on currencies, with Canadian officials expressing concern about the strength of the Canadian dollar in contrast to the perception that UK officials favour a weaker pound.
Central bank meetings (BoE, ECB, RBA) will dominate the calendar this week and more comments on currencies are likely even if interest rates are left unchanged.  Meanwhile FX markets will continue to watch equities, and the start of the US Q3 earnings season will give important signals to determine the sustainability of the recent equity market rally.  Recent weak economic data has already cast doubt about a speedy recovery and if earnings disappoint risk aversion could once again be back on the table.

%d bloggers like this: