EUR slides as summit hopes fade

Any boost to confidence following the recent EU Summit is fading fast. Policy easing from the European Central Bank, Bank of England, and PBoC in China, have done little to turn things around. Moreover, the weaker than expected US June jobs report has added to the calls for the Federal Reserve to inject more monetary stimulus via another round of quantitative easing but this is unlikely anytime soon.

Admittedly the jobs data which reported an 80k increase in payrolls and unemployment rate remaining at 8.2%, was disappointing but it was not weak enough to trigger imminent Fed action. Congressional testimony by Fed Chairman Bernanke on July 17 and 18 will provide the next key clues to whether the Fed is moving closer to more QE.

This leaves markets in a miserable state of being. It was hoped that the recent EU Summit would provide much needed breathing space and relief to Eurozone peripheral bond markets. However, renewed policy implementation doubts, concerns that the Summit did not go far enough and opposition from Finland and the Netherlands who appear to have taken an even tougher stance than Germany, have resulted in Spanish and Italian bonds facing significant pressure once again with yields higher than pre summit levels.

A delay in the ESM permanent bailout fund, timing of the setting up of a banking supervisory authority and doubts about the size of the bailout fund given that the ECB appears to have ruled out a banking license as a means of leveraging up the ESM, are just a few of the concerns afflicting markets. Meanwhile, added to this list is the fact that Greece’s next bailout tranche has been delayed to mid September. Many of these issues as well as the bailout of Spanish banks will be discussed at today’s Ecofin meeting but the chances of much progress remain limited.

The EUR which is of course not uncrorrelated with peripheral bond yields has itself fallen sharply. Thin trading conditions have helped to exacerbate the drop in the EUR while the realisation that the EU summit has been no game changer is increasingly weighing on the currency. I had thought that the Summit may have helped to at least provide a floor under the EUR but this now looks like a case of misplaced optimism.

The only supportive factor for the currency is that it looks heavily oversold, with market positioning extremely short. However, if a break below the 2012 EUR/USD low around 1.2288 can be sustained markets will quickly latch onto 1.20 as the next target. Given the lack of major events or data releases over coming days there looks like little to offer the EUR any support.

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All Eyes On Europe

EUR looks range bound ahead of key events including the European Central Bank (ECB) meeting, European Union Summit and release of bank stress test results. A senior German official poured cold water over expectations of a concrete outcome from the EU Summit, dampening EUR sentiment as a result.

There will be plenty of attention on the ECB to determine whether they will give a little more ground and provide further assistance to the Eurozone periphery. While a refi policy rate cut is highly likely as well as additional liquidity measures I do not expect any move in the direction of more aggressive action to support peripheral bonds in terms of becoming “lender of the last resort’.

If however, the ECB hints at intensifying its securities market purchases of Eurozone bonds this will likely bode well for the EUR. Indeed, reports overnight suggest that the ECB will announce a set of measures to stimulate bank lending including easing collateral requirements for banks.

More weak UK data in the form a bigger than consensus drop in manufacturing and industrial production in October add to the soft BRC retail sales and house price data, in putting pressure on the Bank of England (BoE) to increase its quantitative easing at today’s policy meeting. While the BoE is set to keep policy unchanged it is only a matter of time before additional asset purchases are announced.

Despite the weaker IP data GBP has held up relatively well against the USD although downside risks appear to be intensifying. If I am correct in the view of no change by the BoE today we expect little change in GBP although there could be a risk of a push higher in EUR/GBP if the ECB delivers some positive news, with resistance seen around 0.8665.

The RBNZ unsurprisingly left policy rates unchanged at 2.5%, sounded less hawkish than the previous meeting and also lowered growth forecasts. The NZD was left unmoved by the rate decision and looks well supported at current levels perhaps due to relief that the statement was not more dovish. The kiwi has been an underperformer over the year but unlike the AUD it has not been particularly influenced by gyrations in risk aversion.

Interest rate futures differentials have seen a renewed widening versus the US over recent weeks. This is significant given that the NZ-US interest rate differentials have a very strong correlation with the performance of NZD/USD. If this widening is sustained it will point to upside potential for the Kiwi.

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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