Thursday, July 24, 2008

Bob's Currency Focus

Euro zone data keeps disappointing and this morning’s German Ifo business survey reported the sharpest fall in business sentiment since 2001. Also, preliminary readings for the manufacturing and services sectors of the euro area see another month of contraction in July, with the slowdown accelerating. The Ifo business climate reading fell to 97.5 in July, down from 101.3 in June. The composite PMI for the euro area (measuring both manufacturing and services economic activity) is seen as falling to 47.8 in July, from 49.3 in June. French and Italian business sentiment also fell more than expected in July and all told, economic woes for the single currency zone are mounting. It is difficult to fathom that the ECB has just hiked rates against this background and only time will tell if that policy decision was a big mistake, especially if oil prices continue to ease. The dollar has made significant gains overt the past 2 days but it is essentially only back to the levels it was trading at prior to the breakout of the Fanny Mae/Freddy Mac crisis 2 weeks ago. The real test for the dollar will be if it can break below 1.5610 against the euro and hold below this level. If we can achieve that, it may be time to look for a possible retreat all the way back to 1.5283. The euro picked itself up impressively from a low of 1.5637 to reach 1.5697 in the hour following the Ifo Business survey release and after a brief stint above 1.57 after US existing home sales numbers disappointed the pair is back around 1.5670. Oil prices will continue to play an important role in the greenback’s fortunes. There is a sense that sentiment is beginning to shift against the euro and although weak US economic data will curtail dollar gains, traders need to be on their guard for any comments from ECB and Fed officials. Any softening in tone from ECB Council members will hurt the euro. If the dollar holds below 1.5720, it is worth selling down from close to 1.57, as the pair may have another run at that key 1.5610 price level either today or tomorrow. Any break below that should see us return to 1.55, possibly by Monday. Today is a very important day for direction, because the dollar has not managed a 3 day rally against the euro for 2 months.

Sterling has had a weird couple of days. On Wednesday it rose sharply against every other major currency, although its gains against the dollar were more modest, while today it has plunged after European currencies came under pressure early this morning and after it was announced monthly UK retail sales plunged by their heaviest amount since the series began. The Bank of England minutes on Wednesday reveal Tim Besley voted for a rate hike at the MPC meeting earlier this month. It is the first time a member has voted for a rate increase since July of last year. The hawkish bias to the minutes sent sterling rising rapidly as investors began to price in the possibility of a future rate hike from the Bank of England. In fact the minutes even stated that August would be a more appropriate time to increase rates, if a rate hike was warranted. One has to wonder if the MPC is seeing the same data as the rest of us. The dollar has finally managed to break below the 1.99 support point that held firm for 10 days and if it can push sterling below 1.98, then we should have a trend reversal and the pair could go considerably lower over the next week. 1.99 is a key price barrier and if the dollar does not hold it, the pound could make another run towards the 2 dollar mark and 2.01. Tomorrow’s GDP release in the UK is crucial and if it shows a contraction, which is unlikely, then sterling will sell off very sharply. If selling down, traders should place a stop around 1.9910. The pair is still being bought on dips and remains dangerous for bears, until 1.98 is broken. Sterling could find itself pegged back towards 79.50 against the euro by early next week.

The yen has been hammered this week by the dollar, the euro and the pound. The euro registered a new lifetime high on Monday at 169.95, while the dollar hit a 7 week high against the yen yesterday just below 108. The Japanese currency has stabilised somewhat today as falling stocks and a rate cut in New Zealand has temporarily stalled the carry trade. If the current stock rally comes to an abrupt end, then the yen could gain significantly against the US dollar, given the pair currently trades 4% above the worst levels from last week. However any resumption of the stock rally will continue to see the yen out of favour and the dollar could potentially try to rally all the way to 110 over the next week. There is no value on selling the yen against any currency at current prices, given the risk, while any euro moves towards Y170 offer very good medium term value for a sell down on what is the most over-stretched of the yen crosses.

There was no economic data out of Canada on Thursday and the currency continues to trade within a tight range against the greenback, moving between 1.00 and 1.0115. While headline inflation rose to over 3% in June, the core rate was contained at 1.5% and this affirms the view the Bank of Canada will keep rates on hold for the foreseeable future. Commodity prices have come off considerable in the past week, with oil prices shedding $20, yet the loonie has managed to hold its own across the board, indeed making gains against the euro and the yen, while holding tight against the US dollar. A sustained slump in commodity prices will eventually hurt the loonie against the US currency and it is difficult to see the pair not returning to 1.02 over the next week, unless there is some renewed scare in financial markets. The loonie has also been helped by a rise in risk appetite, but that too is under threat with the recent stock rally looking shaky by Thursday. The euro has fallen to 1.58 this morning, as I projected a few days ago and there is the potential for a decline to 1.56 for EUR/CAD over the next week, if the euro continues its decline against the US dollar.

Bob B - July 24

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