Data, Earnings, Central Banks and Virus Cases In Focus

Risk appetite took a turn for the better at the end of last week despite an array of the usual suspect risk factors (accelerating Covid-19 cases, US-China tensions, rich valuations). This kept the US dollar under pressure given the inverse relationship between equities and the USD over recent weeks.  Market positioning continues to show sentiment for the USD remaining negative (CFTC IMM data revealed that aggregate USD speculative positions have been net short for 15 out of the last 17 weeks, including the last 5).  Increasingly risks of a US fiscal cliff as stimulus programs run out, with Republicans and Democrats wrangling over more stimulus and US Presidential elections will be added to the list of factors testing market resilience in the days and weeks ahead.

This week there are several key data and events including China June trade data (Tue), China Q2 GDP (Thu), US June  CPI (Tue), US June retail sales (Thu), Australia June employment data and several central bank decisions including Bank of Japan (Wed), European Central Bank (Thu), Bank of Canada (Wed), Bank Indonesia (Thu), Bank of Korea (Thu), and National Bank of Poland (Tue).  Aside from economic data and events the path of virus infections will be closely watched, especially in the US given risks of a reversal of opening up measures.  Last but not least the Q2 earnings season kicks off this week, with financials in particular in focus this week.  Low real yields continue to prove supportive for equities and gold, but very weak earnings could prove to be a major test for equity markets.

On the data front, Chinese exports and imports likely fell in June, but at a slower pace than in the previous month, China’s Q2 GDP is likely to bounce, while US CPI likely got a boost from gasoline prices, and US retail sales likely recorded a sharp jump in June. Almost all of the central bank decisions this week are likely to be dull affairs, with unchanged policy decisions amid subdued inflation, although there is a high risk that Bank Indonesia eases.  The EU Leaders Summit at the end of the week will garner attention too, with any progress on thrashing out agreement on the recovery package in focus.  Watch tech stocks this week too; FANGS look overbought on technical including Relative Strength Index (RSIs) and more significantly breaching 100% Fibonacci retracement levels as does the Nasdaq index, but arguably they have looked rich in absolute terms for a while.

There has been plenty of focus on the rally in Chinese equities over recent weeks and that will continue this week.  Last week Chinese stocks had their best week in 5 years and the CSI 300 is up close to 19% year to date.  Stocks have been helped by state media stories highlighting a “healthy” bull market, but the rally is being compared to the bubble in Chinese stocks in 2014/15, with turnover and margin debt rising.  At that time stock prices rallied sharply only to collapse.   However, Chinese equity valuations are cheaper this time and many analysts still look for equities to continue to rally in the weeks ahead.  China’s authorities are also likely to be more careful about any potential bubble developing.

Payrolls sour mood, Eurozone concerns intensify

The market mood has soured further and risk aversion has increased following disappointing August US jobs report in which the change in payrolls was zero and downward revisions to previous months has reinforced the negative mood on the US and global economy while raising expectations of more Federal Reserve action. Moreover, the report has put additional pressure on US President Obama to deliver fresh jobs measures in his speech on Thursday though Republican opposition may leave Obama with little actual leeway for further stimulus.

There is plenty of event risk over coming days, with a heavy slate central bank meetings including in Europe, UK, Japan, Australia, Canada and Sweden. The European Central Bank will offer no support to a EUR that is coming under growing pressure, with the Bank set to take a more neutral tone to policy compared its previously hawkish stance. In the UK, GBP could also trade cautiously given recent comments by Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee members about potential for more UK quantitative easing.

The EUR has been unable to capitalise on the bad economic news in the US as news there has been even worse. The negative news includes the weekend defeat of German Chancellor Merkel’s centre-right bloc in regional elections, which comes ahead of a vote in Germany’s constitutional court on changes to the EFSF bailout fund.

The withdrawal of the Troika (ECB, IMF and EU) from Greece has also put renewed emphasis on the country at a time when protests are escalating. If all of this is not enough there is growing concern about Italy’s apparent backtracking on austerity measures, with the Italian parliament set to discuss measures this week. Separately Germany, Holland and Finland will hold a meeting tomorrow on the Greek collateral issue. On top of all of this is the growing evidence of deteriorating growth in the euro area.

Data releases are unlikely to garner a great deal of attention amidst the events noted above, with mainly service sector purchasing managers indices on tap and at least threw will look somewhat better than their manufacturing counterparts. In the US the Beige Book and trade data will be in focus but all eyes will be on Obama’s speech later in the week. The USD has maintained a firm tone despite the jobs report but its resilience may be better explained by eurozone negativity rather than US positivity. Even so, the USD is looking less uglier than the EUR in the current environment.

Which is the ugliest currency?

The contest of the uglies has once again been set in motion in FX markets as last Friday’s weak US jobs report, which revealed a paltry 18k increase in June payrolls, downward revisions to past months and a rise in the unemployment rate, actually left the USD unperturbed. Europe’s problems outweighed the negative impact of more signs of a weak US economy, leaving the EUR as a bigger loser.

The USD’s resilience was even more impressive considering the drop in US bond yields in the wake of the data. However, news over the weekend that talks over the US budget deficit and debt ceiling broke down as Republicans pulled out of discussions, will leave USD bulls with a sour taste in their mouth.

Should weak jobs recovery dent enthusiasm for the USD? To the extent that it may raise expectations of the need for more Fed asset purchases, it may prove to be an obstacle for the USD. However, there is sufficient reason to look for a rebound in growth in H2 2011 while in any case the Fed has set the hurdle at a high level for more quantitative easing (QE).

Fed Chairman Bernanke’s reaction and outlook will be gleaned from his semi-annual testimony before the House (Wed) although he will likely stick to the script in terms of US recovery hopes for H2. This ought to leave the USD with little to worry about. There will be plenty of other data releases this week to chew on including trade data, retail sales, CPI and PPI inflation and consumer confidence as well as the kick off to the Q2 earnings season.

Fresh concerns in Europe, this time with contagion spreading to Italy left the EUR in bad shape and unable to capitalise on the soft US jobs report. In Italy high debt levels, weak growth, political friction and banking concerns are acting in unison. The fact that there is unlikely to be a final agreement on second Greek bailout package at today’s Eurogroup meeting will act as a further weight on the EUR.

Discussions over debt roll over plans, the role of the private sector and the stance of ratings agencies will likely drag on, suggesting that the EUR will not find any support over coming days and will more likely lose more ground as the week progresses. If these issues were not sufficiently worrisome, the release of EU wide bank stress tests on Friday will fuel more nervousness. Against this background EUR/USD looks vulnerable to a drop to technical support around 1.4102.

The Bank of Japan is the only major central bank to decide on interest rates this week but an expected unchanged policy decision tomorrow is unlikely to lead to any JPY reaction. In fact there appears to be little to move the JPY out of its current tight range at present. USD/JPY continues to be the most correlated currency pair with 2-year bond yield differentials and the fact that the US yield advantage has dropped relative to Japan has led to USD/JPY once again losing the 81.0 handle.

However, as reflected in the CFTC IMM data the speculative market is still holding a sizeable long position in JPY, which could result in a sharp drop in the currency should US yields shift relatively higher, as we expect over coming months. In the short-term USD/JPY is likely to be well supported around 80.01.

Position Unwinding Boosts USD

The USD’s multi-month fall has come to an abrupt halt, with the currency registering gains in reaction to what appears to be a major position unwinding across asset markets, led by a drop in commodity prices.

Will it continue? Whilst I am amongst the more bullish forecasters on the USD over the medium term, the current rally could prove to be short-lived in the absence of a shift in Federal Reserve rhetoric or end to quantitative easing (QE2). Nonetheless, the market had got itself very short USDs (as reflected in the CFTC IMM data as of early last week which showed an increase in net short positions) and the rally in the USD last week was likely spurred by major short-covering which could extend further into this week.

The move in the USD gained momentum as European Central Bank (ECB) President Trichet proved to be less hawkish than many expected in the press conference following last Thursday’s ECB meeting. Moreover, renewed worries about Greece at the end of last week, with a report in the German Der Spiegel, later denied by Greek officials, that the country was planning to leave the Eurozone dented the EUR,

Taken together with the improving trend in US April non-farm payrolls (April registered +244k increase, with private payrolls 268k), these factors colluded to provide further positive stimulus to the USD and negative fallout on the EUR. The room for EUR downside is evident in the net long EUR speculative position, which rose to its highest since December 2007 as of 3rd May.

This week’s batch of US releases including March trade data, April retail sales and CPI, are unlikely to result in a reversal in last week’s trend though a trend like reading for core CPI, with the annual rate below the Fed’s comfort zone will reinforce expectations of dovish Fed policy being maintained, which could inject a dose of caution into the USD’s rally.

Against the background of a likely widening in the US trade deficit in March there will plenty of attention on the annual strategic and economic dialogue beginning today, with markets interested in discussions on Chinese worries about the gaping US fiscal deficit and US concerns about China’s exchange rate policy.

Greece’s denial of plans to leave the eurozone and discussions over a further adjustment to Greece’s bail out package, may help limit any drop in the EUR this week though it will by no means mark the end of such speculation about the periphery especially with this weeks’ Q1 GDP data releases across the eurozone likely to further highlight the divergence between the core and the periphery even if the headline eurozone reading rebounds strongly as we expect.

In the UK the Bank of England Quarterly Inflation Report will be the main influence on GBP. Downward growth revisions will play into the view that inflation will eventually moderate, capping expectation of higher interest rates over the coming months. However, the likely upward revision to near term inflation forecasts will help limit any damage to GBP.

GBP has lost ground to the USD but it should be noted that it has outperformed the EUR over recent days, reversing some of the recent run up in EUR/GBP. Given that EUR sentiment is likely to remain fragile this week, GBP may continue to capitalise, with a test of EUR/GBP 0.8672 on the cards.

Risk Appetite Puts Dollar On The Back Foot

Markets look somewhat calmer going into this week helped by comments by Fed members who noted that the discount rate hike did not signal a shift in monetary policy, something which is likely to be repeated by Fed Chairman Bernanke in his testimony to Congress on Wednesday and Thursday.  A tame US January CPI report last Friday helped too, giving further support to the view that the Fed will not hike the Fed Funds rate for some time yet; a rate hike this year seems highly unlikely in my view.  

Data this week will be conducive to a further improvement in risk appetite and despite the lingering concerns about Greece the EUR may find itself in a position to extend gains.  In Europe all eyes will be on the February German IFO survey and eurozone sentiment indicators, which following the surprising strength in the manufacturing Purchasing Managers Indices (PMIs), are likely to reveal solid gains. 

The main highlights in Japan this week includes January trade data and industrial production. The trade numbers will be particularly important to determine whether the rebound in exports due in large part to robust Asian demand, has continued whilst the bounce back in exports will be a key factor in fuelling a further gain in industrial output. 

In the US aside from the testimonies by Fed Chairman Bernanke there are plenty of releases on tap including consumer confidence, new and existing home sales, durable goods orders and a likely upward revision to Q4 GDP.  For the most part the data will show improvement and play for a further improvement in risk appetite. 

FX direction will depend on whether markets focus on the potentially positive USD impact of a reduction in USD liquidity or on the likely firmer tone to risk appetite this week.  Given expectations of firmer data and the soothing tone of the Fed, risk currencies will likely perform better, with crosses such as AUD/JPY favoured.  The USD will likely be placed on the back foot, especially given the very long market positioning in the currency.

The EUR will be helped by the fact that speculative market, according to the CFTC IMM data, holds record short positions in the EUR (as of the week ended 16 February) giving plenty of potential for short-covering.   The more timely Tokyo Financial Exchange (TFX) data also reveals that positioning in EUR/JPY has continued to be scaled back.  

CFTC Commitment of Traders (IMM) data – Net EUR speculative positioning

EUR/USD bounced smartly from its lows around 1.3444 on Friday, partly reflecting some short covering and the drop in FX volatility suggests the market is more comfortable with EUR/USD around these levels.  A positive IFO survey and improved risk appetite could see EUR/USD test resistance around 1.3774, its 20 day moving average, over coming days.  Ongoing Greek concerns suggest that any EUR bounce will be limited, however. 

USD/JPY looks well supported and although data this week will suggest that exports are improving despite JPY strength, the relatively more aggressive stance of the Fed compared to the BoJ, long JPY positioning, and improved risk appetite, give plenty of scope for the JPY to extend losses, with technical USD/JPY support seen around 91.28.

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