Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Bob's Currency Focus

EUR/USD
The dollar rallied to its biggest 2 day gain over the euro since 2005, thanks to dollar defensive comments on Monday from Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. Paulson stated the US Administration had not ruled out intervention in currency markets to help halt the dollar’s slide, while Fed Chairman Bernanke, speaking in Boston on Monday night, upped his hawkish tone on inflation, leading futures markets to price in higher US interest rates for later this year. US economic data has yet to point to any justification for a rise in interest rates and the timing of Bernanke’s comments may simply be an attempt to halt the surge in oil prices, by way of encouraging a stronger US dollar. Thus far markets have taken him at his word, but we saw a similar move on Tuesday of last week after Bernanke stated the Fed was ‘attentive’ to the dollar, only for the Chairman to be upstaged by ECB President Jean Claude Trichet on Thursday, who dropped a bombshell about an imminent rise in euro area interest rates. Markets will be looking ever closer at economic data for an indication of which way the market should lean and tomorrow’s retail sales out of the US will be an important barometer, but of more importance will be Friday’s consumer price inflation numbers. Oil prices too need to be watched closely and if commodity markets push the price of crude higher, it will undermine dollar confidence and potentially lead to another sudden sharp decline in the US currency, almost without warning. US crude inventory data released on Wednesday afternoon will have a significant impact for the direction of oil prices for the remainder of this week. Range trading between 1.54 and 1.5550 is likely in the lead up to Thursday’s US retail sales data and if economic data, particularly the CPI numbers on Friday, favours the US currency, we could witness a test of key support levels below 1.53 before the end of the week. If oil prices soar, traders need to be on guard for possible market intervention (vocal at first), if EUR/USD returns back above 1.58. Aggressive dollar selling is dangerous in this environment, particularly with a G8 summit this coming weekend.

GBP/USD
Cable took something of a battering on Tuesday, sterling losing a full 2 cents, as the UK currency retreated against a broadly stronger dollar. UK data has remained soft and the medium to longer term outlook for sterling is bleak, especially against the dollar. Sterling has held its own against the euro this week, but this is due to the fact the euro was sold off more aggressively against the US currency than sterling, rather than any shift in fundamentals. In fact the fundamental outlook for sterling against the euro has worsened for the UK currency, since last week’s ECB announcement of a pending rate hike in the euro area. Today’s labour data out of the UK revealed the claimant count rose for the 4th consecutive month in May and the unemployment rate ticked up 0.1% to 5.3%. Of more immediate significance is the GDP number for the 3 months to the end of May from the NIESR think tank group, which reveals a sharp slowdown in growth in the UK economy over the past month - GDP slowed to 0.2% from the 0.4% reported in the 3 months to the end of April. Sterling’s only real form of protection right now is high commodity costs, something which is keeping UK inflation rates elevated and preventing the Bank of England from cutting interest rates. But any sharp falloff in commodity prices will probably see sterling fall sharply against the dollar, as markets start to raise bets on pending rate cuts in the UK. Cable offers good sell down value on any prices over 1.9750 against the dollar, with the prospect of a challenge of the year’s lows around 1.9330 over the next week, while there is every likelihood the euro will return to over 80 pence sterling, although this is a more dangerous trade, given the potential for growing weakness in the euro economy.

USD/JPY
Complacency has returned in major fashion as witnessed by a virtual collapse of the Japanese yen in recent weeks, at a time when equity markets have been slumping. Although Japan’s economy grew faster than any of the other G7 economies in the first quarter, the low-yielding yen has found itself out of favour as Central Banks notch up their hawkish rhetoric and threaten higher interest rates. The yen has fallen to a year’s low against the euro and to a 14-week low against the dollar with traders anxious to place bets on a widening of interest rate differentials on USD/JPY and EUR/JPY. A weakening yen is unlikely to deter Japanese authorities and it is most unlikely the Bank of Japan will follow the Fed and the ECB and threaten higher rates in the world’s second largest economy. The Bank of Japan deliberate on monetary policy this Thursday and while rates are certain to remain on hold, if the Bank’s Governor delivers a passive statement on the rate outlook, the yen will likely come under further selling pressure. However traders need to be very attentive to what is happening on equity markets and given the extent to which the yen has been sold off recently, there is every chance of a sharp correction higher if credit woes intensify. The G8 meeting this coming weekend could also destabilise currency markets, but it is certain the yen will not come in for any direct comment. If anything is said at the G8, it will probably be a call for a stronger dollar and this should push USD/JPY even higher in the short term. The yen is out of favour right now, but because of the danger of a reversal, it may be wise to avoid trading it. Buying on sharp dips on USD/JPY probably offers the best value trade currently, given the calls for a stronger dollar.

USD/CAD
The decision to stand pat on rates surprised markets, although the switch to a more hawkish line by many of the world’s central banks over the past week meant holding rates steady was a safer play for Bank of Canada on Tuesday. The loonie got a timely boost and prevented the dollar from rallying towards the year’s highs at 103.70, while the Canadian dollar also gained a tidy 2 cents against the euro. It is difficult to see the loonie extending its gains much further, particularly against the greenback, because the rate outlook has shifted in the US currency’s favour following Bernanke’s comments earlier in the week. Commodity currencies have taken on a softer tone this week, with the Aussie and New Zealand dollars in retreat and falling below key support levels, so the loonie’s reprieve could be short-lived. Oil prices will remain a dominant factor in influencing direction and elevated prices will offer important protection, although any collapse in the price of crude will encourage a sell-off in the loonie, given the weak economic fundamentals emanating from Canada in recent weeks. We should range trade between 1.0120 and 1.0320 for now, but the risks are for a breakout to the upside, given the broader and firmer tone earned by the greenback in recent days. The loonie should be able to trade below 1.60 against the euro, with the possibility of a pullback to 1.56 before the end of the week. The value trade is to buy USD/CAD on dips towards 1.0130, with target prices of 1.0210, 1.0240 and 1.03.

Bob B - Jun 11

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