Market tensions set to return

Having returned from my summer break it appears that markets are in reasonable shape. Volatility is low, while equities have registered solid gains over recent weeks and markets in general appear to be more settled. In part this is due to hopes and expectations of further stimulus measures in the US and Europe. The coming weeks may be much less calm than experienced over the summer.

Having lost steam over recent weeks the USD may benefit from renewed market nervousness over coming weeks. On the one hand there are hopes of more Fed stimulus in September following comments by Fed Chairman Bernanke that there is “scope for further action”. More information will likely come from the Jackson Hole Fed symposium on Friday and expectations of more quantitative easing could restrain the USD.

On the other hand, it increasingly appears that the summer rally in risk assets is beginning to fade, a factor that will help the USD. The latter effect is likely to be more dominant on the USD especially as it is far from clear that another round of Fed quantitative easing will be USD negative. My analysis suggests that the impact on the USD from QE is ambiguous.

There is plenty of event risk over coming weeks which could feed potential nervousness in the market and help the USD. Markets have to contend with the IMF / EU review of Portugal’s aid program tomorrow which takes place against the background of reports that deficit targets have slipped amid weakening growth. In addition, the 6 September European Central Bank (ECB) meeting will be a major focus given expectations of a further cut in policy rates and other policy steps to purchase Eurozone peripheral debt

Aside from these events, Dutch general elections on 12 September could provoke more uncertainty given that polls currently show a split outcome while the decision by the German constitutional court on the ESM permanent bailout fund on the same date will add to tensions especially as the outcome remains unclear.

Meanwhile, discussions and speculation on Greece’s future within the Eurozone or at least some easing in its bailout terms and a potential formal request for Spanish bailout from the EFSF temporary bailout fund will run alongside these other uncertainties.

To cap it all off, these events combined with the the Eurogroup / Ecofin meeting on 14-15 September will leave markets with plenty to fret about over coming weeks. EUR/USD will struggle to extend upon its gains against this background, with moves above 1.2600 likely to provide better levels to sell EUR.

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Caution ahead of EU Summit

Risk appetite has continued to firm over the last few weeks although notably risk is still elevated compared to the the levels seen in May, suggesting that there is some way to go before risk appetite normalises. Improving risk appetite perhaps reflects rising expectations of a credible set of solutions to the Eurozone crisis but various summits and official meetings including the G20 meeting have failed to deliver anything of this nature.

Attention will turn to the EU Summit on 28-29 June where various issues ranging from debt mutualisation to fiscal and banking union as well as a potential renegotiation of Greece’s bailout terms, will be discussed. Markets are likely to remain relatively range bound ahead of the Summit.

There are also plenty of data releases to contend with over coming days including new home sales, consumer confidence and durable goods orders in the US as well as flash CPI inflation estimates, economic confidence gauges and Italian debt auctions in the Eurozone. Japan will release inflation data too and industrial production data.

On balance US data will continue to outperform although consumer confidence is likely to slip in June. In Europe, confidence indices will reveal some further deterioration in June, while in Japan weak industrial production and a drop in monthly inflation will maintain the pressure on policymakers to act in the country.

The USD will continue to find support from the fact that the Fed did not implement more quantitative easing but firmer risk appetite will cap the ability of the USD to strengthen much from current levels. It is notable that the USD long positions dropped sharply according to IMM data ahead of the Fed meeting but it is likely that Fed QE inaction will result in some rebuilding of USD longs.

In any case, given the uncertainty ahead of the EU Summit it is unlikely that the EUR will break out of its current ranges. Notably there was a major bout of EUR short covering last week, with EUR/USD shorts dropping sharply according to the IMM data. Hopes ahead of the EU Summit may encourage more short covering but as usual scope for disagreement and disappointment on many fronts, suggests that investors should not become overly bullish. EUR/USD will find some initial resistance around 1.2583 to any upside.

Risk assets rally, AUD jumps on strong jobs data

Risk assets rallied hard overnight overcoming, albeit temporarily, fears of a Eurozone calamity. The boost to markets appeared to come from hopes of stimulus on many fronts. Although the European Central Bank (ECB) did not cut policy interest rates President Draghi did note that he ‘stands ready to act’ if needed. This implies that rates cuts are in the pipeline very soon but any more action will require European politicians to act first. Following the G7 conference call there is also speculation that EU officials are coordinating some form of support for Spain, especially for its banking sector but details of what this will entail is lacking.

Meanwhile, speculation that the Fed will at least extend ‘Operation Twist” if not opt for a further round of quantitative easing has helped to support the uplift to sentiment. Further clues will come from Fed Chairman Bernanke’s testimony to Congress today although we don’t expect him to signal a policy shift. Markets are clearly grasping for any potential positives in the form of potential policy support but the risk of disappointment remains high, especially in Europe where policy makers have yet to reveal any fresh plans.

The USD dropped further overnight as risk currencies rallied. Market positioning had become very long USDs and some correction of long positioning / profit taking is obviously taking place Data releases did not provide any support to the currency although the Beige Book did note that the economy was continuing to grow ‘moderately’ which was perhaps less negative than it could have been. The USD may find some support from the Bernanke’s testimony today. Although the Fed chief is set to be cautious in his outlook he is unlikely to point to further stimulus at this stage.

It’s worth highlighting the Australian data this morning. Employment rose by surprisingly strong 38.9k. The details of the jobs report are even better than the headline. Full time employment was up 46.1k, while part time jobs were down 7.2k. The only slight negative is the rise in the unemployment rate to 5.1% but this was largely due to a rise in the participation rate to 65.5% from 65.2%. This is the second solid Australian reading in a row following on from the Q1 GDP data yesterday. Given today’s jump in risk assets the data will help compound AUD gains in the short term. AUD/USD will face strong resistance around 1.0021.

Euro grinding lower as officials talk about Greek exit

The week begins in sour mood although notably Asian market pressure was limited even in the face of ongoing Eurozone tensions. China’s cut in its RRR over the weekend helped to limit the damage to markets but there are still plenty of negatives to chew on. Notably European officials are openly discussing and even preparing for the possibility of a Greek exit from the euro, an outcome that has grown in probability as fresh elections loom in Greece.

FX markets have finally awoken from their stupor, with a spike in volatility and moves out of long worn ranges registered. The USD has extended its upward trajectory that began in this cycle on 27th April. The rally looks strong and sustainable but is built largely on the fact that the USD looks less ugly than some other currencies rather than on positive US economic developments.

Admittedly US recovery is taking shape but the data is not sufficiently strong to erase expectations of further Fed quantitative easing, a factor that will limit the ability of the USD to capitalise on weakness elsewhere. Data over coming days will not help to provide much clarity on the issues, with April retail sales likely to be soft and the Fed FOMC minutes unlikely to deliver much new information. Even so, risk aversion is intensifying, providing the USD with firm support, suggesting that the USD will continue to edge higher over coming days.

The EUR in particular has sustained a drop below the psychologically important 1.30 level, spelling more downside risks. Greek politics and the potential for fresh elections remain at the forefront of attention. A small amount of relief on upcoming Greek bond redemptions following the EU’s deliverance of EUR 4.2 billion funds will not be sufficient to offset political worries.

EUR will also find direction from the Eurogroup meeting of finance ministers meeting today who aside from Greek issues will also discuss the Spanish banking sector. Meanwhile, a meeting between French President and Hollande and Germany’s Chancellor Merkel will have the potential to move markets but the chances of a breakthrough on any fresh deal is limited.

Data releases will confirm Eurozone recession while the May German ZEW investor confidence survey is set to record a decline. All of this will not bode well for the EUR, with the currency set to grind lower over coming sessions. EUR/USD 1.2852 will be a crucial support level, a break of which will see EUR slide much further.

Euro under growing pressure

A risk off tone has developed in the wake of disappointing economic data (Eurozone April purchasing managers indices, rise in March Eurozone and German unemployment, weaker US ADP jobs report). Additionally the second round of French Presidential elections is helping to keep Eurozone markets nervous. While hitting equities, the weaker market tone is likely to keep the USD buoyed.

The soft ADP report in particular highlights downside risks to the consensus for the April non-farm payrolls data, with analysts set to revise lower their forecasts fuelling concerns about a renewed weakening in the US jobs market. Ahead of this data, markets will contend with the outcome of the European Central Bank (ECB) policy meeting and bond auctions in France and Spain today. Several Fed speakers today will also be on tap.

The EUR will struggle to make any headway in the short term, having suffered in the wake of weak data. An unchanged policy decision from the ECB will give the EUR no assistance leaving EUR/USD vulnerable to a test of strong support around 1.3104. The ECB considers current policy settings as ‘appropriate’ but weaker growth data argue for lower rates.

The reality is that the ECB does not want to give Eurozone governments an excuse to renege on reforms. Should the ECB hint at lower rates in the near future it might actually play well for the EUR helping to alleviate growth concerns, but I suspect such a message is unlikely to emerge.

GBP has lost some ground after hitting a high just above 1.63 at the end of April but the currency looks reasonably well supported, especially against EUR. UK data remains relatively better looking as reflected in stronger readings for the PMI construction index, consumer credit and mortgage approvals.

EUR/GBP has broken its relationship with movements in EUR/USD for the time being, with independent GBP strength being seen. This is been reinforced by the shift in interest rate differentials between the UK and Eurozone, a move which has gone in favour of GBP strength. Indeed my quantitative model for EUR/GBP points to some further downside potential in this currency pair, with a test of technical support around 0.8067 on the cards.

US dollar tracking Treasury yields

Despite the firmer tone to risk appetite the USD index moved higher tracking the move in US Treasury yields. Indeed, the USD’s reaction was actually opposite to what would be expected given the rally in risk assets but its move clearly reflects the growing influence of yields.

The surprisingly robust April ISM manufacturing survey following the disappointing Chicago PMI for the same month highlights that recovery is not straightforward, suggesting that USD gains will also not be straightforward.

March factory orders are on tap today but the bigger focus will be on the April ADP jobs report, which will give important clues to Friday’s payrolls data. Expectations centre on a 170k outcome for the ADP report, a smaller increase than the 209k registered in March. In the meantime I expect the USD to hold its gains.

As noted at the start of the week EUR/USD was poised to edge higher despite the bad economic news emerging from the region. EUR/USD has continued to strengthen over recent weeks despite the release of data showing Eurozone economic underperformance relative to the US. A case in point is the April Eurozone purchasing manager’s data to be released today, which will reveal further weakness, especially in peripheral countries.

Some easing in peripheral bond yields has helped to support sentiment for the EUR leading to further short covering in the currency but further gains are expected to be limited. EUR/USD now sits around the middle of its 1.30-1.35 range but further upside will be restricted ahead of the key US jobs data on Friday. EUR/USD resistance is seen around the 1.3385 level.

GBP rebounds, RBNZ warns about NZD strength

The Fed unsurprisingly left policy on hold while lowering projections for unemployment and raising forecasts for higher near term inflation. The economy is still expected to grow at a ‘moderate’ pace in coming quarters, with the majority of FOMC members anticipating the first tightening in 2014 or beyond. The one sop to markets was the fact that the Fed is prepared to do more in terms of policy enhancement if needed. This helped to buoy risk assets overnight leaving the USD on the back foot. Data releases are thin on the ground today leaving markets to consolidate gains in a relatively ‘risk on’ environment.

GBP came tumbling down from its highs following news that the UK economy entered a technical recession after GDP surprisingly contracted by 0.2% in Q1. However, the drop was short lived, with GBP/USD recovering from its losses, helped by a stellar reading for UK Nationwide consumer confidence in March. Notably however, Nationwide cautioned that the bounce in confidence could be short lived and we would be cautious of reading too much into the data. GBP gains against the EUR look as though they have reached its limit, and our models suggest that EUR/GBP is trading close to short term ‘fair value’.

There was no change in policy from the RBNZ as expected, with policy rates on hold at 2.5%. However, governor Bollard did attempt to talk the NZD lower while highlighting concerns about the global outlook. Concerns about kiwi strength will raise the spectre of FX intervention although it may also mean a delay in rate hikes. The statement was relatively more positive on the domestic outlook. Although rates are ‘appropriate’ according to the RBNZ we still think there is a good chance of a rate hike in Q3. The NZD ignored Bollard’s comments, firming on the back of improved risk appetite. We still see downside risks to the currency, especially as the current risk environment remains fragile.

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