Thursday, July 31, 2008

Bob's Currency Focus

After a waft of weak data the euro eventually succumbed to selling pressure this week, although it staged an impressive recovery from late Wednesday, coming off a low of 1.5522, to trade at a full cent above this level on Thursday morning. The single currency was buoyed to some degree by today’s inflation print for July, which at 4.1% is the highest rate on record, since the ECB came into existence. With the ECB’s target inflation rate at 2%, some market analysts still believe there is scope for further rate hikes from Trichet & co. There is greater evidence however that the euro economy is decelerating at an alarming pace and divergence issues between the euro’s major economic blocks is likely to become an increasing concern over the coming months. US data has mostly surprised to the upside over the course of the past week but the real test will come with Friday’s non-farm payroll number. Thursday’s GDP figure is unlikely to have any sustained impact, given its historical context and the fact the number will be distorted by the Government’s stimulus package which helped prop up consumer spending in May and June. The Initial claims number for last week will be monitored closely as an indicator of what Friday’s payroll number might look like. Oil prices rocketed by almost 5 dollars on Wednesday and if this triggers a new bout of oil buying, the dollar is going to struggle. There are so many factors at play in the market at present and plenty of uncertainty about the direction of the major economies and interest rates, while a worsening credit crisis still looms large in the background. In this environment it will be difficult for either the dollar or the euro to make huge progress without facing some headwinds. Upside surprises in GDP and the non-farm payrolls, together with falling oil prices, is what the dollar needs if it is going to end the week on a high. The biggest risk to the euro in a broader sense could come from any negative comments from ECB council members (admission that the growth slowdown is worse than ECB had anticipated) or destabilising comments from French or Italian government officials about the ECB or euro. The range should remain 1.55 to 1.5660 for now, with Friday’s non-farm number being the key scheduled event which could push the pair beyond the boundaries. There is definite value in selling down on any rallies close to 1.57.

Sterling has shown remarkable resilience against the adversity of shocking economic data over the past month, data soft enough to have pared several percentage points off any other currency. GBP/USD is still trading at the higher end of its trading range over the past few months and the pound has essentially grown immune to weak domestic data. However, it is primarily negatives which are keeping the currency afloat, primarily a market belief the Bank of England will not step in to save the economy and it is believed if the Bank were to do anything it will raise interest rates rather than cut them, adding to the attraction of sterling’s high yield. Nationwide reported house prices fell 1.7% in July, for an 8.1% annual decline, the steepest drop ever in the series. The UK economy looks destined for a certain recession, if it is not in one already, and with the Bank of England uttering hawkish rhetoric, they are clearly signalling they have a very different view to the US Federal Reserve on inflation prospects, so things are going to get a hell of a lot worse in the UK economy over the coming months. Friday’s Manufacturing PMI will be important to gauge if last month’s appalling run of PMIs in the manufacturing, services and construction sectors was an unlucky once-off or the start of an accelerating deterioration in the wider economy. It is highly dangerous to buy sterling against the dollar with the economic predicament facing the UK, even if sterling does even manage to make some short-term gains. In the medium to longer term sterling looks destined for a return to at least the mid 1.80s and a sudden spike downwards in the currency cannot be ruled out, given the downside risks and the pound’s elevated value at present. The downside against the euro should be more limited in the short run as the euro area economy also slows quite sharply. The pound’s direction through to the end of the week will be determined by US economic data, but we should be looking at a return to 1.9650 over the next week. It could happen this week if US data prints stronger than expected and oil prices are subdued.

The yen has come under modest selling pressure Thursday as risk tolerance levels rise thanks to two very positive days for global stocks. The Japanese currency has been protected to some degree thanks to sell-off in commodity currencies in recent days, which has seen a paring of carry trade positions, especially against the Australian and New Zealand dollars. There is still sizeable complacency in the market though and both the US dollar and the euro look to be overvalued against the yen, when taking into consideration the deterioration in economic conditions, particularly in the euro area. Friday’s non-farm payroll data out of the US will be a major test of risk tolerance and if the number prints much worse than expectations, the yen should be the biggest gainer on currency markets. There is significant selling of the US dollar above Y108.30, but if the US currency does manage to reach 109 by the end of the week it will mark a further step up in the pair’s trading range and we should see Y110 next week. However it is dangerous to sell the yen at current prices, given all the underlying risks, and there is definite medium term value in selling down the euro on any advances by the single currency towards Y170.

The loonie has failed to penetrate 1.02 against the greenback since the pair sailed over this important price level several days ago. The US currency though has not managed to capitalise on its momentum and has failed miserably to reach 103. The key economic releases out of the US over the next few days will be critical and could be decisive for the future direction of the pair. The only release out of Canada is today’s monthly GDP number for May, but its significance is likely to be dwarfed by the quarterly GDP figure out of the US. Stronger than expected numbers out of the US today and tomorrow (non-farm payrolls) coupled with a further slide in commodity prices could potentially see the greenback rise to 103.77 (the year’s high) and place the pair firmly in a longer run uptrend, which could see the loonie cede 1.05 very quickly. There is some value in buying at present, with a stop tightly below 1.02. If data prints badly for the greenback, then expect 1.02 to give way very easily and the pair should quickly return to 1.0130.

Bob B - Jul 31