Edging Towards A European Deal For Greece

The momentum towards some form of agreement at the Special EU Summit today is growing, with French and German leaders reaching a “joint position on Greece’s debt situation”. Details of this position are still unknown, however. EUR has found support as expectations of a positive outcome intensify.

However, given that positive news is increasingly being priced in, and the market is becoming increasingly long, upside EUR potential will be limited even in the wake of a comprehensive agreement. A break above EUR/USD resistance around 1.4282 would bring in sight the next key resistance level around 1.4375 but this where the rally in EUR/USD is set to be capped.

Prospects of a major US debt default or at the least a government shutdown appear to be receding as the US administration has indicated some willingness to opt for a short term increase in the US borrowing limit to give more time for a bigger deficit reduction deal to be passed by Congress. Meanwhile, there will be further news on the deficit reduction plans put forward by the “gang of six” US senators, with a press conference scheduled for later today.

Debt ceiling negotiations are likely to be the main focus of market attention, with the Philly Fed manufacturing survey and weekly jobless claims relegated to the background. A speech by Fed Chairman Bernanke is unlikely to deliver anything new today. The USD is likely to be on the back foot given expectations of a deal in Europe and improved risk appetite but we expect losses to be limited.

The JPY continues to defy my bearish expectations. Over recent days the US yield advantage over Japan in terms of 2Y bonds dropped to multi-year lows below 20bps. Given the high correlation between USD/JPY and yield differentials, this has corresponded with the fall below 80.00.

Expectations of JPY weakness versus USD is highly dependent on the US – Japan yield gap widening over coming months. For this to happen it will need concerns about the US economy and expectations of more Fed asset purchases to dissipate, something that may not happen quickly given the rash of disappointing US data releases lately.

GBP found itself on the front foot following the release of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee minutes, which were less dovish than anticipated. They also revealed that the BoE expects inflation to peak higher and sooner than previously expected. However, the fact that the overall tone was similar to the last set of minutes meant there was little follow through in terms of GBP.

Further direction will come from June retail sales data today and forecasts of a bounce in sales will likely help allay concerns about a downturn in consumer spending. Nonetheless, GBP is still likely to struggle to break through resistance around 1.6230 versus USD.

All Eyes On US Jobs Data

Happy New Year!

2010 ended on a sour note especially for eurozone equity markets (and the Australian cricket team) where there has yet to be a resolution to ongoing growth/fiscal/debt tensions.  The EUR strengthened into year end but this looked more like position adjustment than a shift in sentiment and EUR/USD is likely to face stiff resistance around the 1.3500 level this week, with a drop back towards 1.3000 more likely.  In the US there was some disappointment in the form of a surprise drop in December consumer confidence data but pending home sales and the Chicago PMI beat expectations, with the overall tone of US data remaining positive.

There will be plenty to chew on this week in terms of data and events which will provide some much needed direction at the beginning of the year.  The main event is the December US jobs report at the end of the week.   Ahead of this there will be clues from various other job market indicators including the Challenger jobs survey, ADP employment report, and the ISM manufacturing and non-manufacturing surveys.  The data will reflect a modest improvement in job market conditions and the preliminary forecast for December payrolls is for a 135k increase, with private payrolls set to rise by 145k and the unemployment rate likely to fall slightly to 9.7%.

The minutes of the 14 December Fed FOMC meeting (Tue) will also come under scrutiny against the background of rising US bond yields.  In addition, Fed Chairman Bernanke will speak on the monetary and fiscal outlook as well as the US economy to the Senate Budget Panel.   Bernanke will once again defend the use of quantitative easing whilst keeping his options open to extend it if needed.  However, the changing composition of the FOMC with four new members added in 2011 suggests a more hawkish tinge, which will likely make it more difficult to agree on further QE.   In any case, the tax/payroll holiday package agreed by the US administration means that more QE will not be necessary. 

It’s probably not the most auspicious time for new member Estonia to be joining the eurozone especially as much of the speculation last year focussed on a potential break up.  The beginning of the year will likely see ongoing attention on the tribulations of Ireland after its bailout, with looming elections in the country.  Portugal and Spain will also remain in focus as the “two-speed” recovery in 2011 takes shape.  Data releases this week include monetary data in the form of the eurozone December CPI estimate and M3 money supply.  Inflation will tick up to 2% but this ought to be of little concern for the ECB.  Final PMI data and confidence indices will likely paint a picture of slight moderation.   

The USD ended the year on a soft note, with year lows against the CHF and multi year lows vs. AUD registered, but its weakness is unlikely to extend much further.  The key driver will remain relative bond yields and on this front given the prospects for relative US yields to move higher, the USD will likely gain support.  There maybe a soft spot for the USD in Q1 2011 but for most of the rest of the year the USD is set to strengthen especially against the EUR which will increasingly comer under pressure as peripheral tensions and growth divergence weigh on the currency.

US Dollar Tensions

There was considerable relief, most acutely in the US administration, that the US August jobs report revealed a better than expected outcome. To recap, private sector payrolls increased by 67k vs. an upwardly revised 107k in July whilst total non farm payrolls dropped 54k. The data sets the market up for a positive start to the week in terms of risk appetite despite Friday’s drop in the August US non-manufacturing ISM index, deflating some of the market’s upbeat mood.

Once again I wonder how long positive sentiment can be sustained with so many doubts about recovery prospects and limited ammunition on the fiscal front as well as some reluctance on the monetary front, to provide further stimulus should a double dip become a reality.

Markets will be treated to several major central bank decisions including from the Bank of Japan, Bank of England, Bank of Canada and Reserve Bank of Australia this week. These meetings are set to prove uneventful, with unchanged decisions across the board expected although the Bank of Canada decision is a tough call.

The main US release this week is the Fed’s Beige Book on Wednesday, a report which will help the Fed to prepare for the FOMC meeting on September 21. The evidence contained within it is unlikely to be positive reading, with consumer spending set to be relatively soft and evidence of recovery likely to remain patchy.

On Thursday the US July trade deficit is set to reveal some narrowing and as usual the deficit with China will be of interest given the renewed tensions over FX policy. FX tension seems to be intensifying once again due to the relatively slow pace of CNY appreciation since the June de-pegging as well as political posturing ahead of November US mid-term elections. A deterioration in US trade data, a factor that largely contributed to the soft Q2 GDP outcome in contrast to a strengthening in China’s trade surplus will have added fuel to the fire.

The firmer risk backdrop has put the USD on the back foot, with the USD index dropping sharply overnight. Nonetheless, speculative USD positioning as reflected in the CFTC IMM data reveals further short covering up to the end of August, implying USD speculative sentiment is actually turning less negative.

Another country which has a different sort of tension regarding the USD is Japan. Improving risk appetite will likely prevent the JPY from visiting previous highs against the USD but will do little to reduce FX intervention speculation. Indeed, there was more jawboning over the weekend on the subject, with Japan’s finance minister Noda reiterating that Japan would take decisive action to stem the JPY’s appreciation but adding that coordinated FX intervention was a difficult option. Clearly Japan us unlikely to succeed with unilateral FX intervention.

Political events have added to the debate on FX policy as focus turns to the election for leader of the ruling DPJ party next week, with a battle looming between current Prime Minister Kan and challenger Ozawa. Although Ozawa is unpopular with the electorate he yields plenty of political power, and appea rs to be more inclined towards FX intervention. Having failed to sustain a move above 85.00 the pull back in USD/JPY suggests little appetite to extend gains, likely leaving USD/JPY in a relatively tight range, with strong support around 83.55 and resistance around 85.23.

Optimism dissipates

Markets have been highly fickle so far this year. Optimism about strong recovery led by China – recall the fact that disappointment from the surprisingly weak US non-farm payrolls report in December was outweighed by strong Chinese trade data – has dissipated. Instead of rejoicing at China’s robust GDP report last week, which revealed a 10.7% rise in the fourth quarter of 2009, investors began to fret about whether China would have to move more aggressively to tighten monetary policy. Fuelling these fears was the release of Consumer price data which showed inflation rising above expectations to 1.9% YoY in China.

If such fears were not sufficient to hit risk appetite, US President Obama’s plan to limit the size and trading activities of financial institutions dealt another blow to financial stocks. The plan followed quickly after the Democrats lost the state of Massachusetts to the Republicans and managed to shake confidence in bank stocks whilst fuelling increased risk aversion. Meanwhile, rumblings about Greece continue to weigh on markets and Greek debt spreads continued to widen even as global bond markets rallied.

Following the US administration’s plans to restrict banks’ activities the fact that the rise in risk aversion was US led rather than broad based led to an eventual pull back in the dollar which helped EUR/USD to avoid a break below 1.40. Risk trades including the AUD came under pressure as risk appetite pulled back. A drop in commodity prices did not help. The AUD was also hit by news that Australia’s Henry Tax Review would look to tax miners in the country. As a result AUD/USD dropped below 0.90 though this level is likely to provide good buying levels for those wanted to take medium term AUD long positions. The one currency that did benefit was the JPY which managed to drop below sub 90 levels.

The aftermath of the “Volker Plan” will reverberate around markets this week keeping a lid on equity sentiment. Meanwhile Greece will be in the spotlight especially its bond syndication. A bad outcome could be the trigger for EUR/USD to sustain a move below 1.40 though it looks as though it may find a bottom around current levels, with strong support seen around 1.4029. The German IFO business survey for January will be important to provide some direction for EUR and could be a factor that weighs on the currency if as expected it reveals some loss of momentum in the economy.

Aside from the Fed the other G3 central bank to meet this week is the Bank of Japan but unless the Bank is seen to be serious about fighting deflation, USD/JPY may remain under downward pressure against the background of elevated risk aversion. Below 90.0 there does appear to be plenty of USD/JPY buyers however, suggesting that further upside for the JPY will be limited. USD/JPY will find strong support around 88.84.

Much will depend on the key events in the US this week including the Fed FOMC meeting and the President’s State of the Union speech. USD bulls will look for some indication that the US government is serious about cutting the burgeoning budget deficit. Also watch out for the confirmation vote on the renomination of Bernanke as Fed Chairman which could end up being close. There is a heavy slate of data to contend with including new and existing home sales, consumer confidence, durable goods orders, the first glance at Q4 GDP and Chicago PMI.

Post US Jobs Data FX Outlook

The massive upside surprise to US payrolls could prove to be a significant indicator for the USDs fortunes in the months ahead.  To summarize, payrolls dropped by 11k, much less than expected. Net revisions totaled +148k, the workweek rose and the unemployment rate fell to 10%, also better than forecast and likely a surprise to the US administration who hinted at a rise in the unemployment rate.

Equity and bond market reaction was as would be expected; equities rallied and bonds sold off.  Gold prices dropped sharply too.  However, and this is what was most interesting, the dollar strengthened. Why is this odd? Well, over the past 9 months any news that would have been perceived as positive for risk appetite was associated with dollar weakness.  This reaction clearly did not take place following the jobs data. 

It’s worth noting that going into the payrolls data markets were very short USDs as reflected in the CFTC Commitment of Traders IMM data which revealed the biggest aggregate net short USD position since 25 March 2008. The bounce in the USD could have reflected a strong degree of short covering especially against the JPY where net long JPY positions had jumped to close to its all time high.  Going into year end expect to see more position adjustment, perhaps indicating a return of the JPY funded carry trade is back on the cards.

The dollar’s reaction to the payrolls data was reminiscent of its pre-crisis relationship of buying dollars in anticipation of a more aggressive path for US interest rates and indeed markets brought forward expectations of higher rates following the data.  It is probably too early to believe that the dollar’s movements are once again a function of interest rate differentials but it is a taste of things to come. In any case, markets will be able to garner further clues from a speech by Fed Chairman Bernanke today.

The post payrolls dollar reaction could have also reflected the fact that EUR/USD failed to break above the 1.5145 high over the week resulting in a capitulation of stale long positions, especially as the move towards reducing liquidity provision by the ECB also failed to push the EUR higher. If the S&P 500 stays above 1100 EUR/USD could retrace higher for the most part a broad 1.48-1.51 range is likely to dominate over the week.  Nonetheless, a break below 1.4820 could provoke an accelerated stop loss fuelled drop in EUR/USD.  ECB President Trichet speaks today and may reiterate that the ECB’s measures to begin scaling back its liquidity provision should not be taken as a step towards monetary tightening.

USD/JPY proved interesting last week pushing higher in the wake of strong rhetoric by the Japanese authorities threatening intervention to prevent JPY strength. The BoJ’s attempt to provide more liquidity to banks also helped on the margin to weaker the JPY but the impact of the move is likely to prove limited. Nonetheless, exporters and Japanese officials may be more relaxed this week, if USD/JPY can hold above 90.00.  However, a likely sharp revision lower to Japanese Q3 GDP tomorrow will help maintain calls for a weaker JPY.

%d bloggers like this: