Growth fears intensify

A bad day for risk assets yesterday threatens to extend further. Weaker than forecast data releases in China and the US weighed heavily on market sentiment supporting the theory that the global economy is repeating the pattern of Q1 strength followed by weakness over the remainder of the year. Growth worries helped to exacerbate the fall in gold prices with the precious metal dropping by 15.5% this month alone while dragging down other commodity prices.

There are plenty of data releases today including CPI inflation in the US, Eurozone and UK as well as the German ZEW investor confidence survey, US industrial production and housing starts. Given market sensitivity to weak data any disappointment will reinforce the risk off tone but this seems unlikely as the data in general is likely to be somewhat better.

AUD was thumped by weaker Chinese data releases and a deterioration in risk appetite. Although the drop has been steep over recent days AUD is unlikely to fall much further, with plenty of appetite for the currency around 1.0300. Nonetheless, AUD/USD has dropped below its 100 day moving average level 1.0414 a breach of which threatens to mark a stronger down move.

For those investors wanting to re-enter long AUD positions I prefer to play the currency on the crosses, especially versus NZD which has also suffered recently. My quantitative model of AUD/NZD suggests some upside scope in the currency pair, with short term fair value seen around 1.24.

USD/JPY’s pull back has extended further as Bank of Japan governor Kuroda’s policy announcement effect has faded and risk aversion has picked up. I look for any slippage in USD/JPY to be limited however, with my quantitative model suggesting that short term fair value for USD/JPY is around 95.68. The currency pair has been undermined by the drop in US Treasury yields over recent weeks resulting in a reduced US yield advantage over Japan.

Moreover, the upcoming G20 meeting this week has also provoked some hesitancy among JPY bears given expected comments aimed at Japan not to engineer a competitive devaluation of its currency. Technical indicators suggest that the primary trend remains higher for USD/JPY, with a break below 96.07 required to signal a change in short term trend.

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Cyprus hits EUR, GBP retracing lower, USD firm ahead of FOMC

There are plenty of events and data to digest on both sides of the pond this week. In Europe, Cyprus’ bailout will be a key focus. The decision to ‘bail in’ in bank depositors aimed at raising EUR 5.8 billion by imposing a levy on deposits will be voted on today in Cyprus. While the EUR 10 billion bailout is small change compared to other Eurozone bailouts the deposit levy could have wide ranging repercussions on Eurozone bank deposits in other peripheral countries despite Cyprus’ case being labelled as “unique”.

Meanwhile, politics in Italy remains unpredictable, with discussions tomorrow between the President and political parties to try and form a government. There is little to suggest a deal is in the offing with the risk skewed towards protracted negotiations and fresh elections.

Data in the Eurozone is expected to a little more encouraging, with gains in Eurozone manufacturing confidence (albeit still in contraction territory), German ZEW investor confidence and IFO business confidence surveys likely. Also of note this week is the Bank of England MPC minutes and UK 2013 Budget and in particularly any change to the BoE’s mandate contained within the budget.

Markets likely to tread water ahead of Fed FOMC outcome. While no change to the USD 85 billion asset purchase program is likely the Fed may actually revise slightly lower their near term growth forecasts due mainly to fiscal policy developments despite recent encouraging data. It seems unlikely that the Fed will hint at any tapering off of QE but nonetheless, it will be difficult for the Fed to ignore recent positive data. On the data front, housing data in the form of housing starts and existing home sales will reinforce evidence of recovery in the housing market.

The EUR has already come under pressure as a result of Cyprus concerns and will struggle to reverse its losses. EUR/USD 1.2876 will offer some support in the near term and the fact that the speculative market has been short EUR over recent weeks may also limit some of the downside pressure. Nonetheless, any gains are likely to be sold into.

GBP/USD is also set to retrace lower, especially if the MPC minutes reveal a more dovish bias and/or any new mandate for the BoE is perceived to enable more policy easing. All of this leaves the USD in good form, with the USD index setting its sights on the psychologically important 83.00 level.

Risk appetite firms

More encouraging news in the US in the form of a bigger than forecast increase in September retail sales and stronger than expected earnings from Citigroup Inc. helped to boost equity markets and risk assets in general. The US data follows on from recent positive consumer confidence and housing data.

Meanwhile, the VIX ‘fear gauge’ dropped while the Baltic Dry Index continued its ascent. The latter is particularly encouraging in terms of its positive implications for global growth. This is corroborated by my own risk barometer which continues to move lower. In contrast, commodity prices dropped, with gold prices losing more ground as better US data acts to dampen expectations of the magnitude of Fed QE that will need to be carried out.

I expect the constructive risk tone to be maintained with data releases both in the US (industrial production) and Europe (German ZEW investor confidence) to be supportive of risk assets. A reports in the FT today that Spain is verging on requesting a bailout will also come as welcome news for markets although there has yet to be confirmation of such a request.

Despite the better market tone I do not see major breaks out of recent ranges, with attention on the 84 S&P 500 companies set to release earnings this week and developments at the upcoming EU Council meeting. Hesitation ahead of a slate of Chinese data tomorrow will also cap market movements today.

Firmer risk appetite is usually negative for the USD but it is notable that my risk barometer has had a positive and significant correlation with the USD over recent months. In other words, lower risk aversion has actually been associated with a firmer USD. I see the USD remaining supported especially if expectations of the magnitude of Fed QE are pared back although the USD will likely lose some momentum given growing hopes of an imminent Spanish bailout request.

Asian currencies look relatively firm against the backdrop noted above. The most sensitive Asian currency to risk is the KRW and notably USD/KRW has finally broken below 1110, which opens the door for a test of 1100. TWD, THB, MYR and INR are also major Asian FX beneficiaries in an environment of better risk appetite. I expect Asian currencies to continue to trade with a firmer tone in the short term helped by strengthening capital inflows. Firmer Chinese CNY fixings are also aiding Asian currencies.

US dollar Fed debasement begins

Unsurprisingly risk appetite improved sharply in the wake of European Central Bank (ECB) and Federal Reserve actions as well as the many other events that have passed without incident. Indeed, the long list of events including German constitutional court decision on the ESM bailout fund, and Dutch elections, did not result in any obstruction to sentiment. Instead markets have been left to digest the impact of monetary policy actions.

The Fed did not disappoint in this respect and the $40 billion per month of Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS) purchases will and already has gone a long way to spurring risk assets, combined with the impact of the ECB bond buying programme. Although there are still plenty of doubts, especially as both Spain and Italy have yet to request a formal bailout, which would enable the ECB’s bond purchases to actually begin, the market tone will be ‘risk on’ over the short term. Indeed, our risk aversion barometer has shifted decisively into risk loving territory.

Data and events this week are unlikely to change this perspective although the risk of profit taking has grown given the pace and magnitude of recent moves. Although Eurozone flash purchasing managers indices (PMI) are likely to remain in contraction territory, the German ZEW investor confidence survey is set to bounce as it reacts to recent events. US housing market data will also look encouraging revealing further signs of recovery, although US manufacturing surveys in the form of the Philly Fed and Empire surveys for September will remain weak.

There will be plenty of scrutiny on the Bank of Japan which will be under a lot pressure for more aggressive policy action to reach the 1% inflation goal, especially following the steps taken by the Fed and ECB. Nonetheless, further easing by the BoJ looks unlikely this week. Meanwhile, in the UK softer inflation data and weaker retail sales will keep the door open to further Bank of England quantitative easing.

The USD will remain on the back foot in the wake of more Fed QE, but the USD index will find some support around the beginning of May low around 78.603. Notably USD short positioning has already increased sharply over recent weeks, suggesting that at least some of the Fed’s QE is in the price. Conversely EUR short positions have been cut sharply and while the momentum in EUR/USD is still to the upside, it will face resistance around the 1.3180. As long as there is not a sharp correction higher in peripheral bond yields, the EUR should remain supported.

US dollar on a firm footing

The stronger than expected US February jobs report (227k versus 210k consensus) and the Greek debt swap should by rights have set a positive tone to markets this week. Unfortunately this is not the case and cautious is set to prevail, with sentiment dampened in part by China’s wider than expected $31.5 billion trade deficit posted in February.

Officials in Europe are set to finalise Greece’s second bailout today but sentiment is unlikely to be boosted as various concerns creep into the market. Growing scepticism about the fact that the Greek bailout fails to correct the country’s underlying problems, worries about whether Portugal will follow in Greece’s wake, fiscal slippage in Spain and the Irish referendum, all point to ongoing tensions in the weeks ahead.

The Federal Reserve FOMC meeting takes centre stage over coming days while data releases including retail sales, industrial production and manufacturing surveys will also prove important for USD direction. The USD reacted positively to the lack of quantitative easing (QE) hints by Fed Chairman Bernanke recently and the stronger than expected February jobs report has reinforced this view.

The USD starts the week on a firm footing but could face renewed pressure if the FOMC statement proves to be more ambiguous on the issue of QE. US data releases will reinforce signs of economic recovery and if they play into a ‘risk on’ tone the USD could suffer. We believe this is unlikely however, with risk assets set to correct lower over coming weeks, playing positively for the USD.

Having rallied following the growing optimism over the Greek PSI debt swap the EUR will find limited support in the days ahead. News of 85.8% participation will have come as relief but the use of collection action clauses (CAC) is not so positive. At least finalisation of the second Greek bailout will now move ahead, with officials set to rubber stamp the deal today.

Data releases such as the March German ZEW survey tomorrow will highlight the sharp turnaround in investor confidence following the ECB’s LTRO and progress on Greece. This would usually bode well for the EUR. However, it is already proving to be a case of buy on rumour, sell on fact outcome for the currency. Potential for a drop below support around EUR/USD 1.3055 is growing as the USD builds momentum.

Following February’s surprise decision by the Bank of Japan to expand its asset purchases and set an inflation goal, the outcome of the policy meeting on Tuesday will deliver few punches. Having weakened in the wake of the last BoJ meeting, partly as a result of higher US bond yields relative to Japan, the JPY threatens to pull back against the USD to support around 80.50.

Improved risk appetite has helped to maintain some pressure on the JPY but this impact ought to prove limited unless yield differentials continue to widen. While the BoJ’s actions will likely keep Japanese government yields supressed, JPY direction will continue to be dictated by the gyrations in US bond yields.

Dollar, euro and yen view

Pressure on the US dollar was maintained last week but there were definite signs that selling momentum is slowing. The lack of major US data releases meant that the key focus for the USD was events in Europe. This week there will be some return of attention back to the domestic front, with heavyweight releases such January retail sales, manufacturing surveys, industrial production and inflation data.

On balance the data will provide more evidence of US recovery but as we have noted previously this is not necessarily positive for the USD. Firmer US data helps to boost risk appetite, which in turn plays negatively for the USD. This could be counterbalanced if US interest rate expectations turn more hawkish but the Fed has effectively ruled out such a prospect, with its commitment to maintain easy policy.

Europe has some important data releases over coming days including the German February ZEW survey and GDP data across the Eurozone. The data will be less encouraging, especially the Eurozone GDP data, compared to the US and is unlikely to give any support to the EUR. Instead events surrounding Greece will be crucial for EUR sentiment. EUR/USD appeared to lose some traction at the end of the week but the EUR remained firm against other currencies.

Greece’s approval of austerity measures overnight will bode well for markets but the tough stance of EU officials towards Greek austerity implementation means that focus will turn to yet another extraordinary meeting of European officials on Wednesday. Even assuming that some form debt deal and second bailout package is ironed out it is questionable how much the EUR will rally as so much good news is already in the price.

The JPY for a change managed to register relatively big moves, with USD/JPY pushing higher over the past week. The revelation that ‘stealth’ FX intervention was carried out by the authorities in Japan taken together with verbal warnings threatening more intervention helped to exacerbate JPY moves.

Speculation that the Bank of Japan is pondering further easing steps at its policy meeting on Tuesday may also be contributing to the softer tone in the JPY. Such hopes may be disappointed however, as we expect the BoJ to retain its current policy settings. The biggest factor explaining the move in USD/JPY is the fact that US bond yields moved higher relative to Japan, with the yield differential ending the week at its highest so far this year.

Data releases in focus

For a change the markets may actually concentrate on data releases today rather than political events in the eurozone. The October US retail sales report and November Empire manufacturing survey are likely to paint a less negative economic picture of the US. The data will help to dampen expectations of more quantitative easing in the US but we will be able to hear more on the subject from the Fed’s Bullard and Williams in speeches today.

Overnight the Fed’s Fisher poured more cold water on the prospects of further QE by highlighting that the economy is “poised for growth”. While speculative data in the form of the CTFC IMM data shows a drop in USD sentiment to its lowest in several weeks we do not expect this to persist. The USD will likely benefit from the data today and we see the currency retaining a firmer tone over the short term especially as eurozone concerns creep back in.

The vote by German Chancellor Merkel’s party to approve a measure for a troubled country to leave the EUR opens up a can of worms and will hit EUR sentiment. But rather than politics there are several data releases on tap today that will provide some short term influence on the EUR, including Q3 GDP and the November German ZEW survey. FX markets will likely ignore a positive reading for GDP given that the outlook for Q4 is going to be much worse. The forward looking ZEW survey will record a further drop highlighting the risks to Europe’s biggest economy.

T-bill auctions in Spain and Greece may garner even more attention. Following on from yesterday’s Italian debt sale in which the yield on 5-year bond came in higher than the previous auction but with a stronger bid/cover ratio, markets will look for some encouragement from today’s auctions. Even if the auctions go well, on balance, relatively downbeat data releases will play negatively for the EUR.

When viewing the EUR against what is implied by interest rate differentials it is very evident that the currency is much stronger than it should be at least on this measure. Both short term (interest rate futures) and long term (2 year bond) yield differentials between the eurozone and the US reveal that EUR/USD is destined for a fall.

Europe’s yield advantage has narrowed sharply over recent months yet the EUR has not weakened. Some of this has been due to underlying demand for European portfolio assets and official buying of EUR from central banks but the reality is that the EUR is looking increasingly susceptible to a fall. EUR/USD is poised for a drop below the psychologically important level of 1.35, with support seen around 1.3484 (10 November low).

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