Positive tone to be sustained

A quiet start to the week following the President’s Day holiday in the US saw mixed performances among European equity markets overnight. There was however, a continued improvement in risk appetite as indicated by a further decline in the VIX “fear gauge”.

The impulse provided for today’s sessions is limited although markets are likely to get off to a positive start. The USD managed to show some stability following recent pressures, albeit at a low level, while gold prices remained supported above the key 200 day moving average level.

The main event today is the Bank of Japan policy decision which will be watched closely following yesterday’s release of disappointing Q4 GDP data.

The German February ZEW survey is also on tap, with a relatively stable reading likely to be registered although attention appears to be more on the new Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzie rather than on economic data.

Additionally UK inflation data for January is set to reveal that inflation has dropped below target highlighting that the BoE is going to be in no rush to hike policy rates over coming months

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USD undermined by data, Gold under pressure

Risk measures remain generally well supported, with markets remaining fairly resilient to Eurozone concerns as the European Central Bank (ECB) OMT threat continues to do its work to deflate tail risks. Even the EUR continues to sit stubbornly around 1.31 versus USD while Eurozone peripheral bonds remain supported.

The Eurogroup and Ecofin announcement of an extension of Irish and Portuguese loans and the revelation that Cyprus will need even more funds than previous estimates (EUR 23 billion compared to EUR 17.5 billion previously) has been taken in its stride by markets. Eurozone inflation and the April German ZEW investor confidence survey will be the highlights of the calendar in the region this week although neither should dent the generally supportive tone.

Firm risk appetite is contributing to some of the pressure on commodity prices, with the CRB commodities index losing further ground as precious metals slide. Gold prices have now entered a bear market given the more than 20% fall since September 2011 as ETF and speculative investors continue to exit. There is little sign that investors are about to let up the selling pressure, with the trend continuing to be lower.

Data releases this week in the US will be of particular focus to determine whether the economy is entering into renewed downward lurch or is facing a mere blip along the way to recovery. Indeed, the recent run of softer data including weaker than expected March retail sales and April consumer confidence data released at the end of last week have reinforced growth concerns while supporting US Treasuries and undermining the USD.

The Fed’s Beige Book will help give some indication of how growth is faring across the US while industrial production and housing starts ought to show some gains. Q1 13 earnings reports will also be in focus. The weakness in US data over recent weeks is likely to be merely a blip on the path to recovery but nonetheless the impact of the Sequester may be accentuating the softening in the growth indicators.

Elsewhere Japanese FX policy will come under scrutiny at the G20 meeting this week, with officials likely to press Japan to refrain from competitive currency devaluation echoing the message from the US Treasury’s semi-annual currency report to Congress at the end of last week. USD/JPY has lost some upside momentum as a result and is set to slip further, with support seen around 96.71.

Contagion spreading like wildfire

EUR continues to head lower and is is destined to test support around 1.3484 versus USD where it came close overnight. Contagion in eurozone debt markets is spreading quickly, with various countries’ sovereign spreads widening to record levels against German bunds including Italy, Spain, France, Belgium and Austria. Poor T-bill auctions in Spain and Belgium, speculation of downgrades to French, Italian and Austrian debt, and a weak reading for the November German ZEW investor confidence index added to the pressure.

A bill auction in Portugal today will provide further direction but the precedent so far this week is not good. The fact that markets have settled back into the now usual scepticism over the ability of authorities in Europe to get their act together highlights the continued downside risks to EUR/USD. Although there is likely to be significant buying around the 1.3500 level, one has to question how long the EUR will continue to skate on thin ice.

The Bank of Japan is widely expected to leave policy unchanged today but the bigger focus is on the Japanese authorities’ stance on the JPY. Finance Minister Azumi noted yesterday that there was no change in his stance on fighting JPY speculators. To some extent the fight against speculators is being won given that IMM speculative positions and TFX margin positioning in JPY has dropped back sharply since the last FX intervention to weaken the JPY.

However, this has done little to prevent further JPY appreciation, with USD/JPY continuing to drift lower over recent days having already covered around half the ground lost in the wake of the October 31 intervention. Markets are likely therefore to take Azumi’s threats with a pinch of salt and will only balk at driving the JPY higher if further intervention takes place. Meanwhile, USD/JPY looks set to grind lower.

GBP will take its direction from the Bank of England Quarterly Inflation Report and October jobs data today. There will be particular attention on the willingness of the BoE to implement further quantitative easing. A likely dovish report should by rights play negatively for GBP but the reaction is not so obvious. Since the announcement of GBP 75 billion in asset purchases a month ago GBP has fared well especially against the EUR, with the currency perhaps being rewarded for the proactive stance of the BoE.

Moreover, the simple fact that GBP is not the EUR has given it a quasi safe haven quality, which has helped it to remain relatively resilient. Nonetheless, GBP will find it difficult to avoid detaching from the coat tails of a weaker EUR and in this respect looks set to test strong support around GBP/USD 1.5630 over the short term.

Contrasting US and European data

While the week is likely to commence in a positive mood as political uncertainties in Greece and Italy ease somewhat, there are still plenty of uncertainties that could derail risk appetite. In particular, there has been little progress on agreeing on further details on leveraging the EFSF bailout fund. Moreover, many are looking to the European Central Bank (ECB) to take up the role as lender of the last resort. Indeed, the difficulty of the EFSF debt issue last week to garner demand puts the onus firmly on the ECB.

While it is likely that the ECB will have to step up its bond purchases especially given the heavy bond supply this week from Italy, France and Spain, the ECB is very reluctant to take up this mantle. As a result, peripheral and increasingly core bond market sentiment will remain fragile while the EUR will be vulnerable to a drop lower, especially given how rich it looks around current levels close to 1.38 versus USD. The week will likely be one of selling risk on rallies.

Data releases this week will show some contrasts between the US and Europe. US data will further dampen expectations of more Fed quantitative easing, with October retail sales and industrial production set to register gains and November manufacturing surveys likely to bounce. Several Federal Reserve speeches this week will shed more light on the FOMC’s stance and likely some support for purchases of mortgage backed securities will be reiterated.

In contrast eurozone data will show further deceleration. Industrial production in September is likely to have dropped sharply while the German ZEW investor confidence survey is set to have dropped further in November. Even an expected bounce in eurozone Q3 GDP will do little to stave off recession concerns given that growth in the final quarter of the year will have been much weaker. Banking sector develeraging will only add to growth concerns as credit expansion in curtailed.

In FX markets, the risk currencies will be vulnerable to selling pressure. EUR/USD has rebounded having tested highs around 1.3815 this morning but its gains look increasingly fragile. USD/JPY continues to grind lower, with no sign of further intervention from the Japanese authorities. Elevated risk aversion and the narrow US yield advantage continues to support the JPY making the job of weakening the currency harder. GBP has done well although it has lagged the EUR against the USD over recent days. A likely dovish stance in the Bank of England (BoE) quarterly inflation report will see GBP struggle to extend gains above 1.60 against the USD.

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.

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