CHF and JPY remain on top

It’s been a tumultuous few week for global markets. First a debt deal in Europe and then a debt ceiling agreement in the US. In both cases any boost to sentiment has and will be limited. Europe’s debt deal, while comprehensive, left quite a few questions in terms of implementation, scope and mutual country agreements.

In the US the deal to raise the US debt ceiling by $1.2 trillion hammered out between Republican and Democrat party leaders helps to stave off a debt default but is far smaller and less comprehensive in terms of deficit reduction measures than had been hoped for and may still be insufficient to prevent a credit ratings downgrade by S&P and/or more ratings agencies. The deal will prove a disappointment to USD bulls.

Markets in the US have failed to find much to rally them despite the debt deal. Indeed, all that has happened is that attention has shifted back towards economic growth worries in the wake of a disappointing ISM manufacturing index in the US (50.9 in July, a reading which is just about in expansion territory) which follows on from a run of soft data in the US including the Q2 GDP report. Unfortunately data elsewhere is no better as a series of weak manufacturing surveys have highlighted this week.

Weak data and the US debt deal have pushed Treasury yields lower but despite this the USD has rallied, especially against the EUR, which is not only suffering from renewed peripheral debt concerns and weaker growth, but also from a run of disappointing earnings releases in contrast to the US where earnings have on the whole beaten forecasts. The USD may have benefited from a renewed increase in risk aversion and in this respect further US equity weakness may provide the USD with further support.

Whether EUR/USD will extend its recent losses is doubtful, however. Much will depend on Friday’s US July jobs report and if there is another weak outcome as looks likely, speculation of another round of Fed asset purchases could dent USD sentiment. The currencies that remain on top in this environment are the CHF and to a lesser extent the JPY much to the chagrin of the Swiss and Japanese authorities

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US Dollar Under Broad Based Pressure

ThE USD has registered broad based losses over recent days and the longer the stalemate with regard to extending the US debt ceiling the bigger the problem for the currency. Indeed, it appears that the USD is taking the brunt of the pressure compared to other assets. For example, although US treasury yields have edged higher there is still no sense of panic in US bond markets.

Failure to raise the debt ceiling does not automatically imply a debt default but it will raise the prospect should an agreement not be reached in the weeks after. However, the impact on US bonds maybe countered by the increased potential for QE3 or safe haven flows in the event that no agreement is reached.

The worst case scenario for the USD remains no agreement on the debt ceiling ahead of the August 2 deadline but a short term solution that appears to be favored by some in the US Congress may not be that much better as it would effectively be seen as ‘kicking the can down the road’.

The better than hoped for agreement to help resolve Greece’s debt problems at the end of last week came as a blow to the USD given the almost perfect negative correlation between the USD and EUR over recent months. Moreover, the debt ceiling stalemeate is pouring salt into the wound. However, the situation is highly fluid and should officials pull a rabbit out of the hat and find agreement the USD could rally sharply.

All is not rosy for the EUR either and its gains have largely come by courtesy of a weaker USD rather than positive EUR sentiment. Economic news hardly bodes well for the EUR, with data in the eurozone looking somewhat downbeat. For instance, the Belgian July business confidence indicator dropped to a 9-month low in line with the weaker than expected outcome of the July German IFO survey last week.

Moreover, there are still several questions about last week’s second Greek bailout agreement and contagion containment measures including parliamentary approvals and lack of enlargement of the EFSF which could keep markets nervous until there are clear signs that implementation is taking place successfully.

A clear sign that the EU agreement has failed to inspire as much confidence as officials had hoped for is the lack of traction in terms of narrowing peripheral bond spreads, with the exception of Greece. This partly reflects a renewed ‘risk off’ tone to markets but this is not the sole reason.

EUR/USD has extended gains benefiting from USD weakness rather than any positive sentiment towards EUR, breaking above 1.4446, the strong multi-month corrective channel resistance, signalling a bullish move. The next level of technical resistance is around 1.4568 but direction will continue to come from the debt ceiling talks.

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.

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.

Euro unimpressed by Greek confidence vote

News that the Greek government won a confidence vote has left the EUR unimpressed and gains will be limited ahead of the June 28 vote on the country’s 5-year austerity plan. The EUR was in any case rallying ahead of the vote, which the government won by 155-143 votes, and has actually lost a little ground following the vote.

EUR sentiment is likely to remain somewhat fragile given the ongoing uncertainties, but now that the first hurdle has been passed markets there is at least a better prospect of Greece receiving the next EUR 12 billion aid tranche before the July 15 “do or default” deadline. Over the near term EUR/USD upside is likely to remain capped around the 1.4451 resistance level (15 June high).

The next key event for markets is the Fed FOMC meeting outcome and press conference. This is unlikely to bode particularly well for the USD given that the Fed is set to downgrade its growth forecasts, with the comments on the economy likely to sound a little more downbeat given the loss of momentum recently as reflected in a string of disappointing data releases.

Nonetheless, monetary settings are unlikely to be changed, with the Fed committed to ending QE2 by the end of June. I remain positive on the USD’s prospects but its recovery is fragile due to the fact that US bond yields remain at ultra low levels.

Whilst only AUD/USD and USD/JPY have maintained significant correlations with bond yield differentials over the past three months, it will eventually require US bond yields to move higher in relative terms for the USD to find its legs again on a more sustainable basis.

In the meantime the approach of the end of QE2 by the end of June will on balance play positively for the USD as at least the Fed’s balance sheet will no longer be expanding even if the reinvestment of principle from its holdings of US Treasuries suggest that there will not be a quick or immediate reduction in the size of the balance sheet anytime soon.

There is little appetite to intervene to weaken the JPY at present, with the Japanese authorities blaming the strengthening in the JPY versus USD on the latter’s weakness rather than the former’s strength. Until yield differentials widen, USD/JPY will continue to languish at current levels or even lower.

GBP will garner direction from the release of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee meeting minutes. Whilst GBP has edged higher against the USD it has remained vulnerable against EUR. A likely dovish set of minutes reflecting some weak activity data, easing core inflation and soft wage growth, suggests little support for GBP over the short term.

US Dollar Finding Support

The US dollar is finding growing relief from the fact that the Fed is putting up a high hurdle before more quantitative easing (QE3) is even considered. As highlighted by Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke last week he is not considering QE3 despite a spate of weak US data. Of course until US bond yields move higher the USD will fail to make much of a recovery and in turn this will need some improvement in US economic data.


The May retail sales release is unlikely to provide this with headline sales likely to undergo an autos related drop while core CPI released on Wednesday is set to remain benign in May. There will be better news on the US manufacturing front, with surveys and hard data likely to bounce back.

There is still plenty of scope for USD short covering as reflected in the fact that IMM USD positions fell further as of the 7th June, with the market still heavily short USDs. The USD index has likely found a short term bottom, with a break above the 50-day moving average level around 74.6874 in focus.

EUR has lost momentum , with the European Central Bank’s (ECB) confirmation of a July policy rate hike prompting a major sell off in the currency, even with interest rate markets barely flinching. The EUR is susceptible to developments regarding Greece and the news on this front is not good. Divisions between policy makers including the ECB about the extent of private sector involvement in a second bailout package threaten to prolong the pain.

Similarly divisions within the Greek parliament about further austerity measures needed to secure a second bail could also derail the process. Further negotiations this week will be closely scrutinised, likely taking more importance than data releases, with only the final reading of May inflation and industrial production of note this week.

As revealed by the CFTC IMM data, EUR long positions jumped early last week leaving plenty of scope for unwinding, something that is likely to take place this week. Nonetheless, support around the 30 May low of EUR/USD 1.4256 is likely to prove difficult to break on the downside this week.

GBP took a hit in the wake of yet more weak activity data in the form of May industrial and manufacturing production data. The economic news will be no better this week, with retail sales set to drop in May and CPI inflation set to rise further in April. The data will only add further to the confusion about UK monetary policy as the dichotomy between weak data and persistently high inflation continues.

Admittedly the weak data releases can at least partially be explained away by the Royal wedding and Easter holidays but this will provide little solace to GBP bulls. GBP will likely struggle against a firmer USD this week although its worth noting that GBP speculative position has been negative for 3-straight weeks, suggesting that at least there is less room for GBP position unwinding. GBP/USD is likely to hold above support around 1.6055 this week.

Euro weaker despite hawkish ECB

The bounce in EUR/USD following the European Central Bank (ECB) press statement following its unchanged rate decision proved short-lived with the currency dropping sharply as longs were quickly unwound, with EUR/USD hitting a low around 1.4478. The sell off occurred despite the fact that the ECB delivered on expectations that it would flag a July rate hike, with the insertion of “strong vigilance” in the press statement.

The reaction was a classic ‘buy on rumour, sell on fact’ outcome and highlights just how long EUR the market was ahead of the ECB meeting. Interestingly the interest rate differential (2nd futures contract) has not widened versus the USD despite the hawkish ECB message and in any case interest rate differentials are not driving EUR/USD at present as reflected in low correlations.

This leaves the EUR susceptible to Greek developments and the news on this front is less positive. ECB President Trichet ruled out any direct participation (ie no rollover of ECB Greek debt holdings) in a second Greek bailout whilst potentially accepting a plan of voluntary private participation in any debt rollover. The ECB’s stance is at odds with that put forward by German Finance Minister Schaeuble pressuring investors to accept longer maturities on their Greek debt holdings.

In contrast the USD appears to be finding growing relief from the fact that the Federal Reserve is putting up a high hurdle before QE3 is considered. As highlighted by Fed Chairman Bernanke earlier this week the Fed is not considering QE3 despite a spate of weak US data. This was echoed overnight by the Fed’s Lockhart and Plosser, with the former noting that there would need to be a substantially weaker economy and the latter noting that there would have to be a “pretty extraordinary” deterioration in the economy to support QE3.

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