Cyprus deal reached but risk rally to fade

A deal between Cyprus and the Troika has been reached “in principle”, an outcome that will be met with relief across markets, with the EUR and risk assets rallying. Most details have yet to emerge but it appears that only depositors above EUR 100k will be hit by a levy while the country’s second largest bank will be closed. However, the levy is likely to be fairly hefty.

The bailout deal will mean that the risks of Cyprus defaulting and leaving the Eurozone will have significantly diminished. Nonetheless, the deal will still involve a huge amount of work on Cyprus’ part to find the USD 5.8 billion needed to supplement the EUR 10 billion bailout and subsequently a lot of economic pain involved. The current risk rally is likely to fade quickly as markets begin to focus on the task at hand.

Elsewhere Italy begins the formal process of forming a government this week but the prospects of a quick resolution to the political impasse in the country looks very limited, with fresh elections still a very possible outcome. Reflecting the uncertainty both around Cyprus and Italy, economic sentiment gauges in Europe will likely decline in March.

Meanwhile in the US data releases will look more impressive, with Durable goods orders set to record an impressive gain in February and Q4 GDP likely to be revised sharply higher. Although consumer confidence and new home sales will slip, this will take place from healthy levels.

EUR/USD broke through 1.3000 following the Cyprus deal but will run into resistance around 1.3135 and we expect gains to fade in the short term as markets look past the headlines. Downside risks to EUR will remain in place due to relatively unfavourable data releases and ongoing political uncertainty in Italy.

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Risk assets to slip ahead of ECB and US payrolls

Although Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke did not categorically state that a third round of quantitative easing or QE3 is on the cards his stoic defence of past QE while playing down of the risks emanating from such actions, highlight that the prospects are more likely than not for more Fed balance sheet expansion.

Markets clearly liked what they heard, with risk assets finishing off the week on a positive note. Notably commodities continue to outperform and the prospects of more currency debasing by the Fed and European Central Bank suggest that gold in particular, will continue to look attractive. However, the weaker than expected Chinese manufacturing purchasing managers index (PMI) in August, with the index dropping below the 50 boom/bust level, will put a dampener on markets.

The main impediment to QE3 would be a major improvement in job market conditions and in this respect markets will have the August jobs report to digest at the end of this week. Preliminary estimates of an 125k increase in payrolls and an unemployment rate stuck at 8.3% suggests that it should be no hindrance to more QE.

The other key event of the week is the European Central Bank meeting although markets will eye events in Greece ahead of this, with the Troika set to revisit the country mid week. The ECB continues to play its game of brinkmanship with governments, and while they Bank will likely commit to a bond buying programme it is unlikely to announce the onset of a new round of bond purchases until governments in particular Spain formally request aid from the EFSF / ESM bailout funds. Although there is some scope for disappointment expectations of major ECB action have already been pared back.

Other central banks in the frame include the Reserve Bank of Australia and Bank of Canada but unlike the ECB policy easing is unlikely from either of these central banks. Overall, risk assets to trade with a heavy tone and the USD will recoup some of its losses over coming days, especially against the EUR.

EUR/USD edging towards 1.20

There hasn’t been much of a respite before Eurozone concerns have resurfaced. Spain and Greece are once again in the spotlight, with the formal approval of a bank bailout for the former providing little solace as speculation of a full scale sovereign bailout grows. The fact that two Spanish regions have asked for government help, with more likely in the pipeline, has only acted to reinforce such concerns.

As for Greece, the halting of a bailout tranche due to failure to meet targets, the European Central Bank (ECB) decision not to accept Greek debt as collateral and the visit of the Troika (EC, ECB. IMF) will keep markets nervous as default fears intensify. Unsurprisingly Eurozone peripheral bond yield have come under renewed pressure while core Eurozone yields have turned negative in some cases.

Spanish yields have moved above the critical 7% threshold while the EUR has tanked versus USD and on the crosses as it increasingly takes on a funding currency role and makes its way towards the 1.20 level versus USD that I expect it to test soon.

Hopes of further monetary stimulus, especially in the US and China have provided some support to markets recently but the provision of drugs will not cure the patient this time around. Even relatively decent US corporate earnings, with around 2/3 of S&P earnings released beating admittedly lowered expectations so far, have failed to stop the rout.

Big cap defensive and high dividend companies have fared well, giving a degree of resilience to US equities which are up over 8% (S&P 500) this year, but with around 171 companies set to deliver results this week it is not clear that this will continue.

Weakening US data, with a deceleration in US Q2 GDP set to be revealed this week will provide more evidence that US economic momentum is slowing. Nonetheless, as long as US Fed quantitative easing is not an imminent prospect the USD will likely find plenty of support as risk aversion creeps back into the market psyche.

Why is the Swiss franc so strong?

All eyes remain focussed on Greek developments today as the country vacillates towards acceptance of further austerity measures in order to gain the Troika’s (EU, IMF, ECB) approval for a second bailout for the country. The stakes are high with a potential disorderly default and Eurozone exit on the cards should no agreement be reached.

Against this background market nervousness is intensifying as reflected in the slippage in global equity markets and drop in risk assets in general overnight. The data and events slate today includes an RBA policy meeting and German industrial production, but neither of these will be significant enough to deflect attention and calm fraying nerves as markets await further Greek developments.

Contrary to many commentaries, the fall in EUR/CHF cannot be attributed to higher risk aversion (it has had a low correlation with my Risk Aversion Barometer over recent weeks). Instead, EUR/CHF is another currency pair that is highly correlated with interest rate differentials. Indeed, its high sensitivity provides a strong explanation for the drop in EUR/CHF since mid December 2011. This move has occurred despite an improvement in risk appetite over this period, a factor that would normally be associated with CHF weakness.

The implied interest rate futures yield advantage of the Eurozone over Switzerland has narrowed by around 47 basis points since mid December 2011. This is a problem for the Swiss National Bank, who will increasingly be forced to defend its 1.20 line in the sand for EUR/CHF. However, given that the drop in EUR/CHF has closely tracked yield differentials, any intervention is likely to have a limited impact unless there is renewed widening in the yield gap.

Plenty of event risk

This week is heavy with event risk, with a lot expected from EU leaders. So far the risk on tone to markets has held up, with for example the VIX fear gauge resting below the key 30.0. The G20 meeting over the weekend set the deadline for action for concrete solutions to the eurozone debt crisis for the October 23 EU Summit.

However, there will be little detail on issues such as banking sector recapitalisation, private sector involvement in any debt restructuring or ‘leveraging’ the EFSF bailout fund until the report on Wednesday night by the Troika on Greece. The reward to EU leaders would be the potential for more aid from the IMF but even now it seems that a German government official has poured cold water of a plan being announced at the EU Summit which will disappoint markets.

There are also plenty of data releases for markets to digest over coming days including inflation releases, manufacturing surveys and industrial production data in the US while in Europe the German IFO and ZEW surveys are scheduled for release. The data will follow on from the better than expected September US retail sales releases at the end of last week continuing to dampen expectations that the global economy is falling in recession though there will be a marked deceleration in European data.

Meanwhile the US Q3 earnings season rolls. The risk on tone will likely continue to weigh on the USD and weigh on bonds but unlike a few weeks ago when a lot of bad news was priced in, the scope for disappointment is becoming increasingly high.

Many currencies remain highly correlated with gyrations in risk and in this respect the improvement in risk appetite is good news for high beta / commodity. AUD, NZD, CAD and JPY are amongst the most sensitive currencies and therefore prone to a bigger reaction as risk improves, with the former three strengthening and the JPY weakening. Asian currencies poised to benefit from firmer risk appetite include INR and KRW, both with relatively high correlations with risk.

EUR/USD has made a solid recovery over recent days from its lows around 1.3146 spurred by hopes of action by European officials. Such hopes may yet be dashed but the EUR looks supported over coming days ahead of the EU summit Speculative positioning also reflects a slight improvement in EUR sentiment as IMM short positions have declined in the last week but its worth noting that this week’s European data are unlikely to be supportive for the EUR.

High Hopes

EUR/USD has rallied over recent days from a low around 1.3146 last week. Market hopes of a eurozone solution may fall flat but the pressure on officials has ratcheted higher, and the risks of failure are now too significant to jeopardize with half measures. Weekend promises of banking sector recapitalisation by Germany and France have helped but will not be enough should such promises prove empty. Markets will likely give the benefit of the doubt to eurozone officials ahead of the delayed October 23 EU Summit and the November 3 G20 meeting.

Consequently EUR will find some support over coming days and could extend gains as risk appetite improves; having broken above 1.3600 the next big resistance level for EUR/USD is 1.3800. The fact that EUR speculative positioning is very negative (biggest short position since June 2010 according to IMM data) highlights the potential for short covering.

Possible good news in Greece, with an announcement by the Troika (ECB, EU and IMF) on talks over the next tranche of the bailout will likely provide more EUR support. One stumbling block for the EUR could come from the Slovakian vote on EFSF bailout fund enhancement, which is by no means guaranteed to pass.

The JPY remains firm benefitting from higher risk aversion, registering one of the highest correlations with risk over recent months. However, the reason why the JPY is not even stronger is that bond yield differentials (especially 2-year) with the US have widened out in favour of the USD over recent days. If the recent improvement in risk appetite continues, combined with widening yield differentials it could push USD/JPY to finally move higher and sustain a break above 77.00.

GBP/USD has made an impressive bounce over recent days from a low around 1.5272 last week despite the Bank of England’s announcement of more quantitative easing last week and credit ratings downgrades of several UK banks. This resilience is impressive but it appears that GBP is caching onto the coat tails of a firmer EUR rather than benefitting from a domestically led improvement in sentiment. Nonetheless, there is scope for further gains in GBP given that speculative positioning in the currency moved close to its all time low early last week in anticipation of BoE QE.

In the eye of the storm

The rout in global markets continues as the bad news mounts up. Failure to achieve concrete results from the meeting of eurozone finance ministers yesterday together with intensifying banking sector concerns and weaker global manufacturing surveys left a sour taste for investors. Aside from the selloff in global stocks the EUR fell to an eight month low and looks on track to test psychological support around 1.30 versus USD.

Attention continues to be focussed on the Greece. Greece’s failure to meet its deficit targets did not appear to derail the prospects of the country receiving it’s next loan tranche but discussions between the Troika and Greek officials are ongoing and payment to Greece may not now be made until November. European officials have indicated that they will reassess Greece’s deficit targets combining 2011 and 2012 targets, suggesting some leeway for Greece to be able to qualify for the next loan tranche.

One reason that markets are reacting negatively is the hints from Eurozone officials that the agreement reached in July on a second bailout for Greece may need “technical” revisions which has been perceived to imply bigger write downs for Greek bond holders compared to the haircuts of 21 percent agreed back in July.

There seems to be no end to the problems for the EUR and markets are clearly running out of patience. Over the near tem there appears to be little to prevent sentiment from deteriorating further. What is needed is a clear plan and this is clearly not forthcoming. Greece remains in the eye of the storm but as yet there is no plan to ring fence the country and avoid a deeper fallout globally.

Elsewhere risk currencies in general continue to be hit, with the AUD in particular facing pressure as the RBA hinted at prospects of interest rate cuts in the weeks ahead. The outright winner is the USD and further gains are likely as risk aversion continues to intensify despite the fact that the US has it’s own problems to deal with. As we move further into October the potential for more volatility remains high.

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