Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Bob's Currency Focus

The dollar has pushed the euro to below the 1.55 price handle on Tuesday and a convincing break below here could trigger a steeper decline in the days ahead, possibly setting up a near-term test of 1.5283. Central Banks take centre stage this week, the Fed kicking off proceedings with a rate announcement later today, while the ECB issue their latest monetary policy statement on Thursday. There is certain to be no change from the Fed and with instability in the financial sector still a primary concern, it is most unlikely Bernanke & Co. will shift from their neutral policy stance, despite reservations from a number of the Fed’s hawks in recent weeks. It is possible that at least 2 members might decide to vote for a rate hike today, but they are likely to be outgunned by the majority, although the hawks’ inflation concerns may have to be accommodated by way of a stronger worded statement. There are only 10 voting members in today’s FOMC vote. Prior to the Fed’s statement release at 19:15 GMT, we had the ISM services index which came in at 49.5, ahead of a forecast for 48.6. The reading is still below 50.0, so it indicates contraction in the non-manufacturing sector, so it offers little in the way of positives for the dollar. The past week has seen a waft of softer economic data out of the euro area and with a significant contraction in the manufacturing and services sectors, declining exports and a further depressed consumer, the euro zone looks to be pushing towards a recession. Oil prices have fallen below $119 this morning and with commodity prices in general falling sharply over the past month against a slowing global economy, the ECB decision to hike rates in July is starting to look like a possible mistake. However don’t expect a climb-down from the ECB just yet and indeed if just to maintain the Governing Council’s credibility, ECB President Jean Claude Trichet is unlikely to turn dovish on inflation, although he is likely to back away from any suggestions of possible future rate hikes. The markets may place the ECB in a more neutral position this week, regardless of what Trichet says and this could see the euro retreat even further, particularly if oil prices continue to fall as this would ease inflationary pressures in the euro area and give the ECB room to ease rates later in the year. A break below 1.5460 should see us drift to 1.5350 and ultimately see the April low of 1.5283 taken out. It is conceivable it could happen this week.

Sterling has come under sustained selling pressure in the past week as wave after wave of soft economic data has finally weighed on a pound which had taken on a Teflon ‘nothing-sticks’ trait over the past 2 months. The break below 1.9650 on cable yesterday could be significant and we may now see the dollar push the pound back towards the year’s low at 1.9337. The pair dropped to 1.9528 this morning before recovering towards 1.9570 and the next important line of support on the downside is at 1.9460. June’s Industrial Production (-0.2%) and Manufacturing output data (-0.5%) for the UK was much lower than expected, while a July services PMI reading of 47.4 (slightly higher than the 47.1 print last month) is hardly a cause for celebration as it signals further contraction in the dominant services sector. With the Manufacturing and Construction PMIs deeper into contraction last month, the UK economy looks to be accelerating towards recession. The current slide in commodity prices, if it is sustained, could hurt the pound badly as it is commodity price inflation which is preventing the Bank of England from cutting interest rates. The Bank meet this Thursday and while the Committee should cut rates immediately to help stimulate the UK economy, the MPC is certain to stand pat, as the Committee is dominated by short-sighted Central Banks hawks, incapable of looking beyond a current month’s consumer price inflation report. There is absolutely no reason to buy sterling at present other than against the euro if one believes the euro economy is in as equally a bad predicament as that of the UK, but even that is a risk, because the UK’s over-dependency on the housing and financial sectors means the UK economy is likely to decelerate at a much faster pace than that of the euro area. The pound should be sold on any failed upside rallies against the dollar and there is every chance of a sub 1.90 price on cable by the end of September.

The yen has more held its own in recent days as a drop in commodity prices has led to a paring of carry trades. The US dollar has thus far failed to breach an important technical indicator at 108.50 and while this price level holds, the yen could potentially make more significant progress against the euro and the high yielding Australian and New Zealand dollars. While lower commodity prices can help raise risk tolerance levels and fuel a rally in stocks which is generally negative for the yen, a retreat in commodity prices brings closer the prospect of interest rate cuts, particularly in the euro area, UK and Australia and a narrowing of the rate differential outlook is a positive for the yen against most currencies, with the exception of the US dollar, where rates are likely to remain on hold. Tonight’s Fed rate announcement is a major risk event for the yen because if the Fed prove to be more hawkish and threaten a possible rate hike in the coming months, then this could be sufficient to see the dollar rise to 109. The reaction of stock markets will be important as an adverse reaction in equities would see risk aversion rise and this will offer some short-term protection to the Japanese currency. The value trade of all the yen crosses is on EUR/JPY, which still trades close to lifetime highs, despite a sharp deceleration in the performance of the euro area economy. This pair should be sold down on any advances to 169 and there is every chance the pair will slide back to Y165 in the very near term. If the Fed’s statement this evening is not dollar supportive, the greenback will find it difficult to break out to the upside of the recent trading range and USD/JPY could spend the next week trading largely within a narrow 106.80 to 108.50 price range.

The loonie’s resilience has finally been broken by the greenback and on Tuesday USD/CAD broke out above 103.70 for the first time this year. This signals the pair is now most definitely in an uptrend and we could witness a very quick move to 105, with 108 being possible by the end of the month. Today’s Fed rate announcement will be crucial however as the greenback needs a hawkish bias to gain greater momentum. If the Fed stands pat and keep a neutral policy stance, the fate of USD/CAD over the next month will most likely rest with commodity prices, primarily oil. This Friday’s employment report out of Canada will also be important for gauging possible direction of Canadian interest rates and another negative employment number would hurt the loonie. Look for consolidation in the 103.70 to 105 price region over the next 2 days and only a break below 103.70 would mean a possible trend reversal in favour of the loonie. A rebound in oil prices would offer the Canadian currency some much-needed protection. The loonie is oversold on many of the crosses, particularly against the euro and there is some scope here for a pullback to 1.60.

Bob B - Aug 5