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AUD / USD
With very real concerns that Tuesday might develop into another bloodbath for US equity markets, the US Dollar index against a basket of major currencies rose as high as 89.70 in the New York morning. This took it right back to the level at which it stood before US Treasury Secretary Mnuchin’s comments in Davos which so enraged ECB President Mario Draghi. As stocks regained early losses, so the USD was sold and the index gave back around half a point to 89.25 even as bond yields began to climb once more.
St. Louis Fed President James Bullard is not an FOMC voting member this year but markets are hanging on every clue they can. In a speech at the University of Kentucky’s College of Business and Economics, Bullard said higher wages was not a key driver of inflation. “I caution against interpreting good news from labor markets as translating directly into higher inflation… The empirical relationship between these variables [wages and inflation] has broken down in recent years and may be close to zero… Continued strong labor market performance is unlikely to translate into meaningfully higher inflation,” he concluded. We said here yesterday that, “It will be interesting to see if the speakers have soothing words for stock market investors or focus, instead, on the continued normalization of US monetary policy.” There are four more still scheduled this week but the first out of the traps was definitely in market-calming mode.
Messrs, Evans, Dudley and Kaplan are all due to give speeches Wednesday, though there are no top-tier US economic data releases scheduled. The USD index opens in Asia around 89.20.
As the trading ranges in equity markets progressively narrowed through the Northern Hemisphere day, so too the non-USD currencies then stabilised and even found a bit of support. The low for AUD/USD in Sydney yesterday was around 0.7837 but the European low was just above 0.7840 and during the New York session the AUD managed to rally around half a cent. This brought to an end a run of six consecutive declines for the AUD/USD pair which had dropped almost 3 cents from its high back on January 26th.
The Statement released after first RBA Board meeting of the year seemed pretty upbeat overall. “The Bank's central forecast for the Australian economy is for GDP growth to pick up, to average a bit above 3 per cent over the next couple of years. The data over the summer have been consistent with this outlook. Business conditions are positive and the outlook for non-mining business investment has improved… Employment grew strongly over 2017 and the unemployment rate declined. Employment has been rising in all states and has been accompanied by a significant rise in labour force participation. The various forward-looking indicators continue to point to solid growth in employment over the period ahead, with a further gradual reduction in the unemployment rate expected.” The currency comment was reframed to mention the trade-weighted value of the AUD, which “remains within the range that it has been in over the past two years.”
Although the RBA made its usual reference that, “An appreciating exchange rate would be expected to result in a slower pick-up in economic activity and inflation than currently forecast”, there was no sense at all in which this was a deliberate attempt to talk down the AUD. We’ll now have to wait for any further clues until Friday when it releases its latest Quarterly Statement of Monetary Policy. The Australian Dollar opens in Asia at USD0.7890, with AUD/NZD at 1.0785 and GBP/AUD1.7695.
AUD / EUR
As with most of the non-US dollar currencies, the low point for the EUR came early in the European afternoon as nervousness mounted around what lay in store for US equity markets. As a much feared 3rd day of extreme downside pressure failed to materialise, EUR/USD rallied from a low just above 1.2320 to just about regain a 1.24 handle late in the New York day.
When ECB chief Mario Draghi addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg earlier in the week he said, “Our confidence that inflation will converge towards our aim of below, but close to, 2 per cent has strengthened, but… we cannot yet declare victory”. Monetary policy has been famously described as like pulling on a brick with a piece of elastic. You pull and pull and nothing happens, then suddenly it hits you in the face. It seems a particularly good time to recall this analogy after Tuesday’s German Construction PMI which rose sharply from 53.7 in December to 59.8, its highest reading since March 2011 (and the joint-fourth best seen since the survey began in late-1999). A warmer than usual January resulted in a sharp and accelerated increase in total industry activity across Germany’s constructor sector and housing and commercial activity rose at some of the fastest rates seen in the survey’s 18 ½ year history, while growth in new orders was at a record-high.
In other news, Reuters reported that, “Industrial workers and employers in southwestern Germany struck a hard-fought deal on pay and working hours on Monday night, setting a benchmark for millions of workers across Europe’s largest economy”. The agreement between labor union IG Metall and the Suedwestmetall employers’ federation foresees a 4.3% pay increase from April and other payments spread over 27 months. Analysts calculate it is equivalent to a 3.5% annual raise The EUR opens in Asia at USD1.2400, AUD/EUR0.6360 and NZD/EUR0.5895.
AUD / CAD
The Canadian Dollar gave up its hold on US 81 cents on Friday immediately upon publication of the US employment report and on Monday, it lost its hold on 80 cents too. With the US Dollar generally well-bid, and as WTI crude oil extended its decline to almost $3 per barrel down over the last three days, so the CAD has struggled. From its low point on Friday in Asia of 1.2260, USD/CAD rose exactly 3 cents to a 3-week high of 1.2560.
In economic news, Statistics Canada reported the country's merchandise trade deficit increased to $3.2 billion in December as rising imports outpaced export growth. This was at odds with consensus forecasts that the deficit would be smaller than November’s $2.7bn. Total imports increased 1.5 per cent to a record $49.7 billion in December, boosted by higher imports of energy products and industrial machinery, equipment and parts. Meanwhile, total exports rose 0.6 per cent to $46.5 billion driven by higher exports of energy products and metal and non-metallic mineral products. The bilateral trade surplus with the United States rose slightly to $3.42bn with exports and imports both falling a little during the month. Overall, there was nothing to ring any immediate alarm bells over NAFTA.
After the trade numbers, the next big event in domestic economic news this week will be the employment report on Friday. Two consecutive blockbuster jobs numbers prompted the Bank of Canada rate hike in January, though a third strong print would be a mighty surprise. Consensus is looking for only a 10k rise after a 78k gain in December. The Canadian Dollar opens in Asia today at USD/CAD1.2530, AUD/CAD0.9875 and NZD/CAD0.9150.
GBP / AUD
Having broken down through USD1.40 on Friday evening, the Pound’s fall accelerated in Europe on Tuesday, reaching a low of 1.3855 during the London afternoon immediately prior to the opening of the US stock market. After a very sharp initial decline, equities were soon trading in the green and the strong bid to buy USD quickly disappeared. Though the pound ended the day down against the AUD, NZD, CAD and EUR, the so-called ‘cable rate’ was marginally up around 1.3970 even though it couldn’t get back on to a 1.40 big figure.
As political tempers run very high amongst members of the UK Government as well as its backbench MP’s, the Guardian newspaper carries this evening what it splashes as an exclusive report that, “Brussels will have the power to punish the UK at will during the Brexit transition period by closing off parts of the single market to British companies, according to a leaked legal document drawn up by the EU.” The leaked position paper, entitled Transitional Arrangements in the Withdrawal Agreement, lays out in legal language the EU’s terms for the transition period and says use of focused sanctions to “suspend certain benefits ... of the internal market”, would give the EU the freedom to punish the UK without prematurely terminating the transition period and risking damage to its economic interests. That is the type of threat which is hardly going to soothe nerves in the UK…
There are no major economic releases in the UK today but with growing tensions on all sides of the ruling Conservative Party, it would be no great surprise to see international investors hedging some of their GBP exposures after January’s sharp and generally unexpected rally. For today, the GBP opens in Asia at USD1.3970, GBP/AUD1.7715 and GBP/NZD1.9110.
AUD / NZD
If you want to get ahead take a holiday! The NZD jumped to the top of the one-day performance table even as markets locally were closed for the Waitangi Day holiday. The outperformance was driven by a sharp drop in the AUD/NZD cross rate which fell a full cent to a 6-month low of 1.0760 on talk of stop-loss orders being triggered on the break down from technical support around 1.0850.
Traders get back to work this morning to focus on the Q4 employment report. The published consensus is for the unemployment rate to be steady at 4.6% though analysts at both Westpac and BNZ forecast a small decline to 4.5%, which would be a new nine-year low. Westpac note that, “Job advertisements, benefit numbers and business opinion surveys all point to steady rather than rapid improvement in the jobs market over the quarter… The employment figures will undoubtedly come under more scrutiny this year, with diminishing slack in the labour market and a new Government focused on tipping the balance of power more towards workers.”
Once the employment report is out of the way, it will be time to look forward to the first RBNZ policy meeting of the year on Thursday. Analysts are unanimous that there will be no change in interest rates. Nor are they generally expecting much change to the Central Bank’s forecast track for interest rates, though the markets’ view on the timing of the first hike in early 2019 is a bit later than the RBNZ has so far penciled-in. Furthermore, ANZ note, “the spread between the New Zealand and US 10-year bond yield, at just 12bps, is the narrowest it has been since 1994. The 2-year swap differential has actually turned negative, with US 2-year bonds yielding 22bp more than their NZ equivalent.” The New Zealand Dollar opens in Asia today at USD0.7310 and AUD/NZD1.0785.
After the dramas of the last couple of weeks, the Kiwi Dollar had a relatively quiet Monday, with the entire range against the US Dollar from the low (0.7275) to high (0.7327) only slightly more than half a cent. Measured against its Australian cousin, AUD/NZD rose around 20 pips from Friday’s closing level whilst GBP/NZD was down a full cent to 1.9230.
In economic data, the ANZ Commodity Price Index – when measured in global terms – rose 0.7% m/m in January, after a 3-month slide. The lift was broad-based with meat, dairy, forestry and aluminium prices all rising; the only fall was seen in milkfat products. Because the NZD continued to squeeze higher against major trading partners in January (NZD TWI up 1.8% m/m), this pushed the NZD commodity price index down 2.9% m/m. Only aluminium prices managed to increase in local currency terms. Whether measured globally or locally, the annual rates of price growth were 4.1% and 4.8% respectively.
Today in New Zealand is the Waitangi Day national holiday which marks the signing on February 6th 1840 of a treaty whose effect was to secure British sovereignty over the islands of New Zealand, which was proclaimed on May 21st that year. Markets are closed locally, though the NZD will continue to be traded elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region. The first RBNZ policy meeting of the year is on Thursday this week. Analysts are unanimous that there will be no change in interest rates. Nor are they generally expecting much change to the Central Bank’s forecast track for interest rates, though the markets’ view on the timing of the first hike in early 2019 is a bit later than the RBNZ has so far penciled-in. The New Zealand Dollar opens in Asia today at USD0.7275 and AUD/NZD1.0860.
The euro began the week quite well, rising from an opening level around 1.4245 to a best level just below 1.2475 during the European morning but then turned lower throughout the rest of the Northern Hemisphere day to a low point of just 1.2395. ECB chief Mario Draghi addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg saying, “Our confidence that inflation will converge towards our aim of below, but close to, 2 per cent has strengthened, but… we cannot yet declare victory despite little indication that generalised imbalances are emerging”. Of more interest to FX markets were his remarks that recent volatility in the single currency was also a potential cause for concern, requiring “close monitoring” of the implications for price stability. In truth, there was nothing new whatsoever in these comments but on a day when the USD was finding some support, they were an excuse to knock EUR/USD a few pips lower.
The final Markit Composite PMI Index posted 58.8 in January, its highest level since June 2006 and above the earlier flash estimate of 58.6. The headline index has signalled expansion for 55 successive months. There was a better than expected services PMI in Germany (57.3) which offset a marginal French services PMI of 59.2 which was a touch lower than the initial estimate. Growth of manufacturing production continued to outpace that of service sector activity in January. Although easing over the month, the rate of expansion in manufacturing output stayed close to December’s near-record high. The performance of the service sector continued to strengthen, with business activity growth accelerating to its best since August 2007. Whilst German services activity is at an impressive 81-month high, Italy is the highest for 139 months.
As well as his remarks on the European economy, Mr Draghi also contributed to the Brexit debate, saying that without clarity regarding the shape of the UK’s future relationship with the EU, “well-managed preparations are… essential for dealing with frictions in the transition from the current situation to the eventual new equilibrium especially in the event that no transitional agreement is reached between the EU and the UK”. There would have been uproar in the UK if BoE Governor had said something similar! On the economic slate today, we have just German factory orders whilst ECB Board member and Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann is speaking at an event in Frankfurt. The EUR opens in Asia at USD1.2400, AUD/EUR0.6375 and NZD/EUR0.5870.
The Canadian Dollar gave up its hold on US 81 cents on Friday afternoon as USD/CAD punched up through 1.2345 immediately upon publication of the US employment report. By early afternoon in North America yesterday, the CAD lost its hold on 80 cents too. With the US Dollar generally well-bid, USD/CAD reached a high of 1.2515; its highest level in 3 ½ weeks as WTI crude slid almost a dollar per barrel from Thursday to Monday.
There were no Canadian economic statistics on Monday and very little in the way of political news either. Trade data for December is due on Tuesday and might be a reminder for some that Canada runs a trade surplus with the United States between €3-4bn per month, exporting roughly $35bn and importing around $31bn of goods. The former US ambassador to Ottowa made a very good point on Sunday that, “The term NAFTA is a toxic term, and I would leave that term and put it aside and not talk about it. I think that unfortunately it’s become a political punching bag of sorts and if we can replace that name with something else that we wouldn’t get stuck on it”. Now we just need to find a friendly new acronym that won’t upset President Trump…
Away from trade, the biggest event in domestic economic news this week will be Canada’s employment report on Friday. Two consecutive blockbuster jobs numbers prompted the Bank of Canada rate hike in January, though a third strong print would be a genuine surprise. The Canadian Dollar opens in Asia today at USD/CAD1.2515, AUD/CAD0.9890 and NZD/CAD0.9105.
Having hit 88.27 on Thursday evening – just a tiny fraction above its Davos low – the USD index rallied to 88.85 by Friday’s close. Yesterday it extended this rally to a best level of 89.27; the highest for almost two weeks. The move came amidst continued volatility in US stock markets. The DJIA index recovered from an initial 350-point drop to be down just 30 points before lunchtime then plunged over 1000 points in the afternoon. Amidst the big swings in equities, bond yields moved lower with 10-year Treasuries between 2.83-2.85% throughout much the day before the late sell-off in stocks sent the yield down to 2.80%.
In economic news, the ISM non-manufacturing index jumped 3.9% in January from an already-high 56.6 in December. This was the 96th consecutive month of expansion in activity and if the headlines were good – the index was at its highest level since August 2005 – the details were even better. New orders jumped over 8 points to 62.7; the highest since January 2011 whilst employment surged to 61.6; the highest since records began in 1997. Overall, the majority of respondents’ comments were positive about business conditions and the economy. They also indicated that recent tax changes have had a positive impact on their respective businesses.
New Federal Reserve Bank Governor Jerome Powell was sworn in yesterday and there was no shortage of analysts pointing out comparisons between the situation today and when new Chairman Alan Greenspan took office on August 11th 1987; barely two months from the stock market crash of Black Monday, October 19th, that year. There are plenty of Mr Powell’s colleagues set to give speeches this week; Messrs, Bullard, Evans, Dudley, Kaplan and Harker will all be offering their views on the economy. It will be interesting to see if the speakers have soothing words for stock market investors or focus, instead, on the continued normalisation of US monetary policy. The USD index opens in Asia around 89.25.
The Aussie Dollar had a much better day than many people had feared on Monday, rising against all the major currencies we track closely here apart from the resurgent US Dollar. AUD/USD hit a best level of 0.7950 before then losing half a cent to 0.7900 as an extremely volatile session in the US equity market saw the DJIA follow Friday’s 666-point drop with a 1,000+ point loss to erase all the gains for 2018. AUD/USD has now fallen for 6 days in a row, dropping a total of 2.2%. Context Analysis point out that in the 737 trading days since 2 April 2015, the sequence of falls has extended to 7 days only once; on 23 December 2016.
There was certainly nothing in the Australian services PMI report to offer much comfort to the AUD. The PMI registered 53.8 in January, down from 55.1 in December, to signal the slowest pace of expansion in Australian service sector output since last October. Both incoming new orders and employment increased to the weakest extents since data collection began 21 months ago. On the price front, output charges rose at the slowest rate since July 2017 amid a softer upturn in input costs. Despite the general weakness in the survey, confidence strengthened in January to a four-month high. Around two-thirds of monitored companies forecast output to rise over the next year, with positive sentiment attributed to planned expansion into foreign markets, organic business growth and new marketing initiatives.
We’ll see what the RBA has to say – if anything – about the value of the currency when it sits down to its first Board meeting of the new year next today and on Friday when it releases its latest Quarterly Statement of Monetary Policy. The Australian Dollar opens in Asia at USD0.7900, with AUD/NZD at 1.0860 and GBP/AUD1.7705.
The pound had a poor day on Monday as the combination of domestic political uncertainty, the resumption of formal negotiations and poor incoming economic data finally took its toll. The Asian session has been pretty quiet and in early trading in London, GBP/USD actually managed to rally to a high of 1.4145. By mid-afternoon it was down below 1.4000 and though it managed to find some support around last week’s 1.3995 low, the subsequent bounce was far from impressive. The GBP finished firmly at the bottom of our one-day performance table.
The UK service sector PMI fell from 54.2 in December to just 53.0 in January; the slowest upturn in services output for 16 months. Growth was reportedly curtailed by the loss of existing clients and lingering concerns surrounding the UK’s exit from the EU. January data pointed to a slowdown in growth of services activity across the UK, which stemmed from relatively weak gains in new work. Job creation nonetheless picked up as companies retained positive expectations surrounding the outlook. Although the latest results revealed an easing of inflationary pressures, rates of increase in both input costs and output charges remained above their long-run trends.
In a meeting at Downing Street between UK Brexit Minister David Davis and Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier, Mr Davis claimed with a completely straight face that, “the UK government has published a great deal about what it wants. It wants a comprehensive free trade agreement, and a customs agreement, allowing trade to be as frictionless as possible. It is perfectly clear what the UK wants”. For his part, Mr Barnier said, “Without the customs union, outside the single market, barriers to trade and goods and services are unavoidable… the time has come for the UK to make a choice”. This, of course, is the very opposite of what the Prime Minister wants. Any clear choice or hard decision will immediately inflame half her Cabinet and will heighten pressure for her to quit as Prime Minister. There is no ‘unity candidate’ waiting in the wings because there is no unity on the Government side in the House of Commons. At some point, if the UK political situation continues to deteriorate, a ‘Corbyn discount’ may even have to be priced into the pound. For today, the GBP opens in Asia at USD1.3995, GBP/AUD1.7715 and GBP/NZD1.9230.
The New Zealand Dollar began last week very much on the back foot after the disappointments of the December quarter CPI report. NZD/USD opened around 0.7350 and as a sell-off gathered pace - eventually taking it down to 0.7283 - so the AUD/NZD cross hit 110.70; its highest level since December 5th. From that point on, though, it was good news all the way for the NZD, kicking off with the monthly trade numbers, then a Standard and Poor’s ratings affirmation and finally a very positive opinion poll for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, which helped push NZD/USD to its best level of the week at 0.7415.
Friday was a dramatic day for the US Dollar, as well as for stock and bond markets around the world.
Immediately prior to the US labour market report, NZD/USD stood at 0.7360; pretty much in the
middle of the week’s trading range. Just a few hours later it was testing 0.7300 as the USD rebounded
sharply. It would be wrong to conclude that this was a poor performance by the Kiwi Dollar; if we look
at the very important AUD/NZD cross, it moved down from a 7-week high last Monday of 1.1070 all
the way to 1.0850; its lowest since the September Election.
The first RBNZ policy meeting of the year is on Thursday this week. Analysts are confident and
unanimous that there will be no change in interest rates. Nor are they generally expecting much
change to the Central Bank’s forecast track for interest rates, though the markets’ view on the timing
of the first hike in early 2019 is a bit later than the RBNZ has so far penciled-in. The quarterly
employment report is on Wednesday after the Waitangi Day national holiday on February 6th. The
New Zealand Dollar opens in Asia today having closed in New York on Friday at USD0.7305 and
What a week for the US Dollar! On Thursday evening, you’d have been offered very long odds against the USD ending up on the week yet that’s exactly what happened. Neither President Trump’s State of the Union Address nor a somewhat more hawkish FOMC Statement could offer any support to the currency. It opened on Monday with its index against a basket of major currencies at 88.75, hit a best level of 89.25, but by Thursday evening was down at just 88.27; just a tiny fraction above its Davos low.
On Thursday, the incoming data – manufacturing PMI, construction spending and jobless claims -
were very strong indeed and 10-year US bond yields were by then decisively up through 2.70%. But,
having spent all week completely ignoring very strong incoming economic data and being totally
unmoved by higher US bond yields, it was not until Friday that the USD finally snapped higher on after
the employment report showed that average earnings growth had risen to 2.9%; the highest since
2009. Non-farm payrolls were only around the average of the previous 12 months at 200,000 and the
average workweek actually fell. But, with the bond market acutely sensitive to signs of inflationary
pressure, the earnings number sent 10-year Treasuries up to 2.84%; a huge rise in yields of 38bp since
the beginning of the month.
With bond yields surging, stocks tumbling and the Atlanta Fed publishing updated estimates of its Q1
GDP forecast to show 5.4% - the highest since Q1 2012 – the US Dollar finally caught a bid on Friday.
Its’ index against a basket of major currencies was already a couple of tenths higher during the
European morning, but after the employment report was published it jumped to a high of 89.00
before settling into the New York close around 88.90. As well as a new Governor of the Federal
Reserve Bank, there are plenty of his colleagues scheduled to speak later this week. Even arch-dove
Kashkari on Friday noted that he saw inflationary signs in the labour data and it will be interesting to
see if the speakers have soothing words for stock market investors or focus, instead, on the continued
normalization of US monetary policy.
The euro had a week full of very positive economic news and, crucially, no attempt from anyone on the ECB Council to try to talk it lower – other than the usual boilerplate language about excessive volatility which traders have learned to take in their stride. EUR/USD began the week around 1.2425 and having been as low as 1.2345 and as high as 1.2515, it finished on Friday at 1.2455 as it withstood the USD surge better than most of the other major global currencies we follow closely here.
Economic news in Continental Europe continues to be extremely positive. Real GDP in the Eurozone
rose 0.6% q/q in Q4, slowing slightly from an upwardly-revised 0.7% in Q3, in line with the consensus.
It was the 19th consecutive quarter of growth in GDP and put the euro region’s 2017 expansion at
2.5%. That’s better than had been anticipated by the European Central Bank, and it’s a pace the
region hasn’t seen since before the financial crisis in 2008. Inflation continues to lag well below the
ECB’s target of “close to, but just below 2%” but there was a big rise in France last month which offset
some of the softness in Germany. Oil prices and a rapid pass-through into CPI through petrol prices
are now perhaps key to near-term progress towards the inflation target.
This Monday morning in Europe brings the service sector purchasing manager surveys and traders will
be looking to see if the strength in manufacturing has been replicated elsewhere in the economy. The
EUR opens in Asia having closed in New York on Friday evening at USD1.2455, AUD/EUR0.6360 and
The Canadian Dollar began last week around USD/CAD1.2325 and the pair initially moved higher to 1.2375 on Tuesday on concerns about NAFTA and what might be said in the State of the Union speech. President Trump’s speech didn’t once mention Canada directly, however, and there were plenty of sighs of relief north of the border that NAFTA talks didn’t completely collapse. Trade ministers from Canada, Mexico and the United States ended the sixth round of NAFTA negotiations in Montreal, agreeing some progress was made but acknowledging that tough challenges still lie ahead to strike a new deal.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned the United States on Friday that Canada "will not be pushed
around" on trade negotiations and Reuters reports that Trudeau again warned US negotiators that
Canada could walk away from the agreement if its terms are not met. “We will not be pushed around.
At the same time, we can remain confident about NAFTA…“The negotiations are complex and
challenging ... I’ve said many times, we are not going to take any old deal. Canada is willing to walk
away from NAFTA if the United States proposes a bad deal.”
On Thursday evening, after a good set of monthly GDP numbers and a particularly strong
manufacturing PMI report, USD/CAD was down at 1.2260; its lowest level since September 19th.
Immediately prior to the US employment report on Friday, the pair was at 1.2310. Yet, by the end of a
pretty wild week across asset classes around the globe, USD/CAD was at its highest level in ten days.
The final readings for the Canadian Dollar on Friday evening in North America were USD/CAD1.2425,
AUD/CAD0.9840 and NZD/CAD0.9075.
The remarkable weeks just keep coming for the British Pound, though this time it was remarkable because GBP/USD actually finished pretty much unchanged having traded in a high-low range of 2¾ cents. After opening around 1.4135 in Asia last Monday morning, the GBP then broke its 11-day streak of never testing the previous day’s low; a sequence which had seen it rally from USD1.3450 all the way up to 1.4330. With that record gone, GBP/USD broke below 1.40 on Tuesday morning but just as it looked set for a big fall, it rallied sharply in line with all the non-US currencies and by Thursday it was back up at 1.4275.
There was little or nothing in terms of incoming economic data last week which would justify a higher
GBP. If anything, the news was very much on the negative side of the ledger. But, immediately prior
to Friday’s US labour market report, GBP/USD stood at 1.4220. By close of business it had fallen
almost exactly a cent to 1.4125. We said on Friday that, “the weekend Press is unlikely to be kind to
the government, and Prime Minister May returns from her China trip with even more uncertainty
about her own future and her ability to successfully negotiate a post-Brexit deal.” This is exactly how
it has turned out, with rumours of a leadership challenge and pressure on the PM to clarify her own
For the week ahead, there’s a Bank of England MPC meeting on Thursday. In his appearance before a
House of Lords Select Committee last Thursday, BoE Governor Carney hinted that the Bank is
preparing to upgrade the forecasts in its Inflation Report. “I would expect that in 2019 we will see a
pick-up in this economy all things being equal – strong global growth, greater certainty... A disorderly
Brexit, not a likely scenario at all, is less likely than at the time we did the assessment in the fall.”
Whether the Bank’s relative optimism will outweigh the political negatives, however, remains to be
seen. The Pound opens in Asia this morning having closed in New York on Friday at USD1.4125,
GBP/AUD1.7825 and GBP/NZD1.9335.
The Aussie Dollar was the worst performer amongst the major currencies in what turned out to be a very volatile week across asset classes. After a soft set of CPI data and a manufacturing PMI report which was nothing like as strong as the accompanying text would have suggested, AUD/USD was briefly back below 80 cents on Friday morning and immediately before the latest US employment report was trading around 0.7990. The US Dollar had not gained any support from rising US bond yields all week, but news of a 2.9% y/y increase in US average earnings (the highest since 2009) pushed 10-year Treasuries to 2.84% and the USD surged as analysts began to pencil in a 4th rate hike in the US for 2018.
Rising bond yields and a higher USD had a dramatic effect on the equity market with the Dow Jones
Industrial Average spookily down 666 points by the close; a 2.5% daily drop and the worst day of the
Trump Presidency. The weekend has seen a lot of commentary about how this is a ‘normal
correction’. What is absolutely not normal in recent experience, however, is that bond yields rose
even as stocks tanked. In every other correction of the post-GFC era, the assumption has always been
that falling stocks would be accompanied or immediately followed by lower bond yields. This hasn’t
happened this time around. Maybe it really is different?
We’ll see what the RBA has to say – if anything – about the value of the currency when it sits down to
its first Board meeting of the new year next tomorrow and on Friday when it releases its latest
Quarterly Statement of Monetary Policy. Before that, there are two service sector PMI reports this
morning and the Melbourne Institute monthly inflation gauge. The Australian Dollar begins this first
full week of the month having closed in New York on Friday at USD0.7920, with AUD/NZD at 1.0850
The New Zealand Dollar has done pretty well after its mauling a week ago. For a few hours around lunchtime in Europe on Wednesday, NZD/USD was back on a 74 cents ‘big figure’ though it couldn’t sustain this level post-Fed and has subsequently eased back in to the high 73’s having at one point in Europe been as low as USD0.7340. Against its Aussie cousin, however, the Kiwi has performed very impressively. The AUD/NZD cross on Monday hit a 7-week high of 110.70 but is now down at 1.0875; back exactly to where it was before the soft NZ CPI figures last Wednesday evening.
We wrote on Wednesday how the New Zealand Government had got a boost from credit ratings agency Standard and Poor’s, which reaffirmed its existing sovereign rating for New Zealand, saying, "The economy is wealthy and resilient, reflecting decades of structural reforms… Our ratings reflect solid fiscal performance and our expectation that higher government spending will not materially weaken the country's fiscal profile." Yesterday, investors seemed particularly impressed by an opinion poll showing support for the governing Labour Party surged to its highest level in more than a decade and approval ratings jumped for pregnant Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Support for Labour has surged 5.4 points since September’s fiercely contested election to 42.3 percent, its highest since it last held government in 2007. The number of respondents naming Ardern as their preferred Prime Minister also jumped 8.3 points to 38 percent since the last poll in September, overtaking National Party leader Bill English on 26 percent.
Today will be a day with plenty of economic numbers locally. We’ll have consumer confidence, building permits and the always-fascinating net migration statistics for December. Ahead of all this, the New Zealand Dollar opens in Asia at USD0.7390 and AUD/NZD1.0870.
Having spent fewer than 20 days in the past year above 80 US cents, AUD/USD was always going to require a much weaker US Dollar or stronger domestic economic data to sustain its recent climb higher. It hasn’t really had either of those and at one point on Thursday in the Northern Hemisphere, the AUD traded down on to a 79 cents handle for the first time in over a week. As has been the case with many currencies recently, though, just as they seem technically poised to break lower, there’s a sharp bounce higher. 40 pips isn’t a massive move, but it was enough to return the AUD on to 80 cents as investors nervously await Friday’s US employment report.
The first day of the month brings manufacturing PMI surveys around the world and Australia’s version – which is co-produced by Markit and CBA – was the first of 29 which were released on Thursday. The headline PMI fell from 57.1 in December to a four-month low of 55.4 in January. The Press Release seemed far more upbeat than the actual numbers and noted, “Growth of Australia’s manufacturing sector was sustained during January, underpinned by strong expansions in both output and new orders. In turn, greater inflows of new business encouraged firms to raise employment… In line with greater production requirements, firms hired additional staff. Although the rate of job creation eased slightly, it remained relatively marked. Payroll numbers have expanded in each month since September 2016”.
The RBA’s commodity price index increased by 7.1% in SDR terms in January, after increasing by 4.5% in December. Coking coal and iron ore prices led the increase, whilst the rural and base metals sub-indices also increased in the month. In Australian dollar terms, the index increased by 4.6% in January. Commodity prices were certainly one of the factors which helped the AUD rise last month, along with lower volatility across asset classes. We’ve already seen a big jump in volatility over the past few days and if commodities don’t sustain recent rises, then the outlook for the AUD will look much less positive. The Australian Dollar opens in Asia today at USD0.8035, with AUD/NZD at 1.0870 and GBP/AUD1.7750.
The British Pound continues to experience relatively wide daily trading ranges. As recently as Tuesday morning, GBP/USD was below 1.4000 before then jumping almost 2 cents. After a half cent drop post-Fed, in early European trading on Thursday it added nearly another cent to a high of 1.4265; its best level since the day of the ECB meeting last week.
There has been little or nothing on the UK data calendar which is obviously GBP-positive. The manufacturing PMI survey saw a further easing in the rate of expansion of the sector. At 55.3 in January, the index was down further from November’s 51-month high and at its lowest level since June last year. The Press Release noted, “The UK manufacturing sector reported an unwelcome combination of slower growth and rising prices at the start of 2018. Encouragingly, despite the slowdown, the latest survey is consistent with production rising at a solid quarterly rate of around 0.6% in January, with jobs also being added at a faster pace. However, output growth has slowed sharply since last November’s high, and the more forward-looking new orders index has slipped to a seven-month low. The trend in demand will need to strengthen in the near-term to prevent further growth momentum being lost in the coming months”.
As for politics, the Prime Minister spoke with UK journalists on her trip to China and said that EU citizens who arrive during the post-Brexit transition period must not have the same rights as those who came before. We wrote in our North American commentary on Thursday that, “It sounds like another row with the EU is brewing…” Sure enough, within a few hours, the European Parliament’s Brexit negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, replied that, “The maintenance of EU citizens’ rights during the transition is not negotiable… We will not accept that there are two sets of rights for EU citizens. For the transition to work, it must mean a continuation of the existing acquis [EU law] with no exceptions.” The row looks more likely to escalate than to go away though for the moment hasn’t noticeably dampened enthusiasm for the GBP. The Pound opens in Asia this morning at USD1.4260, GBP/AUD1.7745 and GBP/NZD1.9290.
The Canadian Dollar has held firmly on to a US 81 cents big figure since early Tuesday morning. In USD/CAD terms, this equates to 1.2345. On Wednesday, this pair extended the move down to 1.2263; a level not seen since late-September last year and Thursday it nearly matched this with a low print of 1.2270. It would have to fall all the way to 1.2195 for the CAD to hit 82 cents and during the whole of the last year, USD/CAD spent only a couple of weeks in September below that level.
The Canadian Manufacturing PMI picked up to 55.9 in January from 54.7 in December, to remain well above the 50.0 no-change threshold. Manufacturers reported a strong start to 2018, underpinned by faster rises in output volumes, new business intakes and staff recruitment. There were also signs that the resurgence in production schedules would continue in the months ahead, with incomplete workloads accumulating at the fastest pace since the survey began in October 2010. Improved demand conditions and sharp input cost inflation meanwhile led to the largest increase in factory gate prices for almost seven years. An incredibly upbeat Press Release noted, “The manufacturing sector is beginning to show signs of firing on all cylinders, as shown by the broad-based improvement in operating conditions during January… Canada’s manufacturing sector has now seen resurgent new business flows for three months running, underpinned by greater sales at home and abroad. Well balanced demand growth and an ongoing improvement in global economic conditions should help manufacturers sustain a strong rate of expansion in the coming months”.
There are no more Canadian numbers to come this week, which is probably a good thing as there don’t seem to be any superlatives left after the PMI report! The Canadian Dollar opens in Asia this morning at USD/CAD1.2275, AUD/CAD0.9860 and NZD/CAD0.9070.
The EUR dipped once more below USD1.24 at the end of yesterday’s Asian session but since then it’s been on an upward tear; rising a full cent off the low to be within touching distance of the 3-year high of 1.2530 reached during the ECB Press Conference last week. Indeed, the EUR finished at the top of our one-day performance table, rising against all the major currencies we track closely here.
In economic news, final Eurozone Manufacturing PMI printed at 59.6 in January, down from December’s record high of 60.6 and identical to the earlier flash estimate. The PMI has signaled expansion in each of the past 55 months. Markit’s Press Release noted, “The eurozone manufacturing sector made a strong start to 2018. Although January saw rates of growth in output and new orders ease from near-record highs at the end of last year, they remained among the best seen since the survey began in 1997.” Companies indicated that they were experiencing solid inflows of new business from both the domestic and export markets during January whilst manufacturing employment rose for the 41st successive month in January. The rate of jobs growth remained substantial and close to the survey record highs achieved in November and December of last year.
Given the first working day of the new month fell on a Thursday, we won’t get to see the service sector PMI numbers until Monday next week. For today, the EUR opens in Asia this morning at USD1.2495, AUD/EUR0.6430 and NZD/EUR0.5915.
Like a prize fighter on the ropes, the US Dollar keeps getting knocked down each time it staggers to its feet. On Wednesday, its index against a basket of major currencies opened at 88.90 but was then pushed steadily down to a low point in the European afternoon of 88.52. After the latest FOMC Statement – which reads very slightly more hawkish than the December version – it climbed back Thursday morning to 88.98 before once again being punched lower to 88.40.
Whatever the many reasons analysts advance for the US Dollar’s decline – and many of them would sound more convincing if they had been made before it happened rather than an ex-post rationalisation – the performance of the US economy certainly isn’t one of them. The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, pointing to a tightening labor market and strengthening economy at the start of the year. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 230,000 for the week ended January 27th. This was the 152nd straight week that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold; the longest such stretch since 1970. Separate numbers showed construction output rose almost twice as fast as expected with a +0.7% m/m gain whilst the January ISM manufacturing index dipped very slightly to a higher than expected 59.1 from a revised 59.3. This marked the 105th straight month of growth for the overall economy.
After this latest batch of economic data, the Atlanta Fed published updated estimates of its Q1 GDP forecast. Its first estimate was an already-punchy 4.2% but this has now been pushed up to 5.4%; the highest since Q1 2012. Of course, the model is not infallible and there is a well-established pattern of high numbers at the beginning of a quarter which then get revised progressively lower. As a starting point, though, it’s a pretty strong place to be. US 10-year bond yields are another 2bp to a recent high of 2.77% but’s of little help to the USD, whose index opens in Asia today at 88.40; just two-tenths above the Davos low last week.
Monday saw the first ‘down day’ for GBP/USD for the first time in 11 trading days, and at one stage early in the European morning on Tuesday, the pair dipped below 1.40 for the first time in a week. On a day which saw some large intra-day swings in both directions for all the major currencies, the GBP was the most volatile of all. GBP/USD fell 85 pips then rose 175 to be back where it opened on Monday morning in Asia around 1.4150.
Bank of England Governor Mark Carney appeared Tuesday afternoon before the House of Lords Select Committee on the economy. He refused to comment on the confidential government analysis of the economic impact of Brexit which was reported to have been shown to Cabinet Ministers over the weekend. These had suggested growth would be between 2-8 percent lower over the next 15 years. Instead, he repeated his view that the 2016 Brexit vote had, so far, effectively knocked 1 per cent of GDP off the UK, relative to where it would otherwise have been, through weaker corporate investment and damage to household consumption due to higher inflation. He also hinted that the Bank is actually preparing to upgrade its forecasts at its Inflation Report next month. “I would expect that in 2019 we will see a pick-up in this economy all things being equal – strong global growth, greater certainty... A disorderly Brexit, not a likely scenario at all, is less likely than at the time we did the assessment in the fall.”
After Mr Carney’s remarks, a strong rebound in the GBP took it to the top of our one-day performance table; up against all the major currencies we follow closely here, not just the US Dollar.
With no top-tier UK economic statistics on Wednesday, the Pound opens in Asia this morning at USD1.4150, GBP/AUD1.7505 and GBP/NZD1.9290.
For global foreign exchange markets, there didn’t seem anything too troubling in either the tone or content of President Trump’s State of the Union address but such is the prevailing negative sentiment amongst analysts that the US Dollar went down anyway. The USD index stood at 88.90 when the President began but it was then downhill all the way until late afternoon in Europe where it finished at 88.52.
Putting two FOMC Statements side by side always feels a bit like the job the Kremlinologists had back in the Soviet-era when they’d look at a photograph of the Politburo and see who had moved a pace or two to the left or right, who was missing and who were the fresh new faces. The Fed said that, “the labor market has continued to strengthen and economic activity has been rising at a solid rate. Gains in employment, household spending, and business fixed investment have been solid, and the unemployment rate has stayed low. On a 12-month basis, both overall inflation and inflation for items other than food and energy have continued to run below 2 percent”. So far, pretty much exactly what was said in December. But, whereas last month inflation was expected to, "remain somewhat below 2 percent in the near term", this line has been dropped and instead, "Inflation on a 12 month basis is expected to move up this year”. For choice, your author interprets this is a slightly more hawkish stance.
The US Dollar had begun to rally in the two hours before the Fed Statement and, as it’s examined in excruciating detail, there might even be enough to sustain the move higher. US 10-year bond yields are up at a fresh cycle high of 2.75% and the USD index opens in Asia today at 88.85.
Having been in a 1.2280-1.2390 range for almost a week, USD/CAD dipped yesterday back on to a 1.22 ‘big figure’ and in the North American morning extended the move down to 1.2263; a level not seen since late-September last year. After watching President Trump’s State of The Union address, the absence of anything inflammatory on trade in general or NAFTA in particular helped improve sentiment towards the CAD earlier in the European day and there was a decent rebound in monthly GDP at 08.30am local time.
Stats Canada reported that real gross domestic product increased 0.4% in November, with widespread growth across industries as 17 of 20 industrial sectors increased. Goods-producing industries rose 0.8% after declining 0.5% in October. November's gain was mainly due to increases in the manufacturing and mining, quarrying and oil and gas extraction sectors, partly as a result of restoration in production capacity. Indeed, the manufacturing sector was up 1.8% in November, the largest monthly increase since February 2014 as the majority of subsectors grew. Separate figures showed prices for products sold by Canadian manufacturers, as measured by the Industrial Product Price Index (IPPI), edged down 0.1% in December, mainly due to lower prices for energy and petroleum products and primary non-ferrous metal products.
There are more Canadian numbers to come Thursday when we get the leading indicator and the manufacturing PMI report. The Canadian Dollar opens in Asia this morning at USD/CAD1.2300, AUD/CAD0.9905 and NZD/CAD0.9050.
The EUR managed to extend Tuesday’s gains and reached a best level of USD1.2470 by mid-afternoon Wednesday. It then abruptly turned around to lose a quick 60 pips as traders awaited the Statement from Janet Yellen’s last FOMC meeting and reflected on comments from ECB executive board member Benoit Coeure, in Dublin for the European Financial Forum. In a TV interview he said, “We have agreements that we should not target our exchange rates… we want to see exchange rates that reflect economic conditions in different places. We are not going to change it.”
Mr Coeuré said the ECB has been clear that it expects interest rates to remain at the current level, very low, for an extended period of time, and well past the horizon for asset purchasers. "Well past means well past. So that is not a discussion we are having, and we really expect interest rates to remain very low for an extended period of time." After Germany’s softer than expected CPI on Tuesday, France came to the rescue yesterday with an above-consensus 1.5% y/y increase in inflation, largely driven by an increase in service sector prices. This meant that the Eurozone aggregate numbers showed a very small drop to 1.3% which was higher than the median estimate of 1.2%. The core rate of inflation excluding food and energy rose from 0.9% to 1.0% and though it’s still some way below where the ECB would like, it is at least now moving in the right direction.
With the inflation numbers now behind us, attention at the start of this new month today will be on the manufacturing PMI’s across the Eurozone. The ‘surprise factor’ is limited by the pre-release of flash estimates in France and Germany but we’ll get fresh information on how other Eurozone countries are faring at the start of 2018. The EUR opens in Asia this morning at USD1.2415, AUD/EUR0.6485 and NZD/EUR0.5925.
Having fallen after last week’s very soft CPI figures, the New Zealand Dollar has staged quite an impressive comeback; not just against a generally weak US Dollar but also against its Aussie cousin too. For a few hours around lunchtime in Europe on Wednesday, NZD/USD was back on a 74 cents ‘big figure’ whilst the AUDNZD cross (which on Monday hit a 7-week high of 110.70) is down at 1.0935.
After a boost from overseas trade figures on Tuesday, the latest news to help the NZD is an update from credit ratings agency Standard and Poor’s, which reaffirmed its existing high-level sovereign rating for New Zealand, which is AA when borrowing in foreign currency, and AA+ in local currency. S&P said, "The economy is wealthy and resilient, reflecting decades of structural reforms” and that it had incorporated the new Government's ‘more expansionary’ plans into its forecasts, which now have New Zealand growing at an average rate of 2.8 per cent each year over the next three years. "Our ratings reflect solid fiscal performance and our expectation that higher government spending will not materially weaken the country's fiscal profile," S&P said. "New spending measures, including more generous welfare, education, and housing policies, are partly funded through the cancellation of the previous Government's proposed personal income tax cuts… As such, we do not expect the measures to materially affect the Government's fiscal position”
Unsurprisingly, NZ Finance Minister Grant Robertson welcomed the S&P statement. "This decision effectively gives a tick to the policy agenda outlined in the Government's Budget policy statement in December, which confirmed our commitment to the budget responsibility rules, together with the fiscal forecasts presented in the half year economic and fiscal update." Today we have the ANZ job advertising figures, ahead of which the New Zealand Dollar opens in Asia at USD0.7365 and AUD/NZD1.0935.
Over the past 48 hours, the AUD/USD exchange rate has had five moves in excess of half a cent without any obvious correlation to incoming news or economic data. After a decent NAB survey on Tuesday, the Aussie Dollar fell half a cent then recovered. After a softer than expected set of CPI numbers on Wednesday, it managed to fall nearly 50 pips, rally nearly 60 then fall 60. Foreign exchange is always characterized as a ‘zero sum game’; for every winner there is an equal and opposite loser. That still holds true, but for AUD/USD it just felt like one of those days where everyone lost!
The big news in Australia was of course the quarterly inflation numbers. To an outsider it always seems a very strange use of professional resources to not produce monthly data but then to produce three different quarterly measures all calculated to three decimal places: headline CPI, the core trimmed mean and the core weighted mean. Without getting too bogged down in the detail, all three measures were a bit softer than consensus expectations; albeit not as big a ‘miss’ as we saw in New Zealand last week.
In terms of what the CPI data mean for RBA monetary policy, there’s still a split of views amongst the Australian banks. CBA say, “We expect the RBA will be comfortable with today's outcome as it broadly lines up with their projections for both headline and underlying inflation. All in all, there is nothing in today's outcome or the recent economic data to change our view that the cash rate is on hold until late this year”. ANZ are a bit more hawkish, saying “We continue to look for the first of two rate hikes in May, although this is based on our forecast that the wage price index prints a 0.5% quarterly rise for Q4 [when released in late February].” Writing in the Herald Sun newspaper, veteran RBA-watcher Terry McCrann says, “the RBA will leave its official interest rate unchanged at 1.5% and, more importantly, indicate it has absolutely no intention of changing the rate anytime soon; or indeed even beginning to think about changing it”. The Australian Dollar opens in Asia today at USD0.8055, with AUD/NZD at 1.0935 and GBP/AUD1.7615.
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