The Forex Trading Week Ahead

08/31/2009 10:29 am EST

Focus: FOREX

Brian Dolan

Chief Currency Strategist,

This week sees both month end and a likely end to summertime trading conditions, both of which have the potential to generate heightened volatility. On Monday, Japanese election results (see below) will start the ball rolling, but liquidity will be hampered midday by the UK summer bank holiday, which will see most of London absent. NY afternoons will likely remain thin as the US Labor Day holiday on Monday, September 7 leads to thinner interest than normal toward the end of the week. At the same time, summer will be ending for many asset managers and an increase in position adjustments may begin from September 1. Lastly, Friday will see the August US NFP report, always an important catalyst for volatility.

Is This as Good as it Gets?

As summer draws to a close, indications are increasing that the risk rebound has run its course and that markets are likely entering a more difficult phase of the global stabilization/recovery story. On the technical side, in stocks, bearish divergences between price and momentum abound in major indexes like the S&P 500, FTSE, and the MSCI World. In currencies, the "risk on" trade, long carry trades (e.g. long AUD/JPY, CAD/JPY, or EUR/JPY) and short USD, are also faltering and never corroborated the newest highs in stocks, which importantly came on weak volume.

On the fundamental side, upbeat economic data is increasingly being shrugged off, a la buy the rumor, sell the fact. August German IFO and euro zone PMIs just made new highs for the year, but there was a palpable lack of response from European investors. Similarly, US consumer confidence for August just surprised with a stronger-than-expected reading, but shares were unable to sustain gains on the day. The same goes for August US housing data, which arguably provided the best case yet that the US housing market has reached a bottom. It could be a simple case of summertime lethargy, but more likely, risk positioning has reached an apex and investors willing to pile in at current levels are increasingly scarce.

Perhaps nowhere is the divergence more apparent than in commodities, which might be seen as the closest barometer of growth expectations. If production is going to ramp up and personal consumption is expected to recover, commodities should be gaining ground. But the Reuters/Jeffries CRB index peaked on Aug. 6, posting another bearish divergence between price/momentum relative to its June 11 high, and has been declining since then. There's a built in circuit breaker of sorts between commodity prices and other risk assets on either of two counts: 1) Higher commodity prices lead to higher final product prices, sapping disposable income and damping a consumer-led recovery, thus undermining corporate profitability; or 2) If producers choose to eat higher input prices, corporate profits typically suffer and stock markets tend to underperform.

The greatest near-term risk emanates from China, which has recently announced efforts to rein in lending by state-owned banks to companies and to cut back on industrial production investment. Keep in mind that China and the rest of Asia were supposed to lead the rest of the world toward recovery. But with China's nearly $600 billion fiscal stimulus package exhausted earlier this summer, that source of further growth also looks to be fading. Interestingly, last week the July China leading index gained to 103.24, just shy of the 103.96 highs seen in mid-2007 when global growth was at its peak. Does anyone seriously think the global economy is anywhere near mid-2007 levels? In contrast, the Baltic Dry Index, a measure of commodity shipping demand, has been sliding lower since June and never recovered to anywhere near 2007 levels. The divergence between the two, which had been closely correlated until earlier this year, is striking and suggests potential for a significant cutback in Chinese production, which would undermine global asset markets overall. If so, buckle up for a bumpy autumn and a relapse in risky assets. In FX, we will look to sell commodity currencies (AUD, CAD, and NZD) near to highs for the year in anticipation of weaker commodity demand going forward and an expected fresh erosion in risk appetites generally.

Japanese Election This Weekend

Japan will hold elections to the lower house of parliament (the Diet) on Sunday, August 30. Results will likely be known around noon on Sunday EDT/late afternoon Sunday GMT, but perhaps sooner if a strong trend develops. The most recent polls suggest that the DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan) may succeed in ousting the dominant ruling LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) from power for the first time since 1955, with one brief exception in 1993. The DPJ has been leading all along as popular discontent with the LDP and PM Aso simmers amid rising unemployment and a stagnant economy. Japanese stocks have advanced on the prospect for a DPJ victory as its platform calls for enhanced consumer support and increased domestic spending. Japanese bonds have declined/yields have gained as increased DPJ fiscal spending is expected to lead to more borrowing and more JGB issuance, though the DPJ has indicated it would not necessarily borrow to fund its initiatives. The JPY has strengthened largely on the basis of higher yields, but is also likely supported by wavering risk sentiment.

We think a DPJ victory is largely priced into the markets, and if so, the impact has been pretty minimal indeed. This raises the prospect of a "Buy the rumor, sell the fact" reaction, potentially leading to lower stocks, higher bonds, and a marginally weaker JPY on a DPJ win. However, with 30% of respondents indicating "undecided" in some recent polls, a surprise LDP victory may yet emerge, which could hurt stocks even more, resulting in further JPY strength. Overall, we think USD/JPY is likely to stay within 92/95 in the immediate aftermath of the election. We prefer to be buyers of USD/JPY on weakness in the 92.00/93.50 area on the basis that any resulting government will maintain the policy of limiting JPY strength.

NEXT: ECB, RBA Rate Meetings; Key Data to Watch This Week |pagebreak|

Details Will Matter in ECB, RBA Rate Meetings

The Reserve Bank of Australia is due to meet on rates this upcoming Tuesday and the market is unanimous in looking for no change to the 3.0% target. Given that steady rates are pretty well baked in the cake, traders will be focused on the press statement. The bank is likely to note that economic conditions continue to improve, as evidenced by that much-better-than-expected employment number for July, which actually showed an addition of 32.2K while the market was forecasting another monthly decline. The key things to watch are whether the RBA discusses the Australian dollar strength and whether they hint that they will likely be one of the first central banks to raise rates. Rumors were a dime a dozen that the bank has been selling AUD in the past few months in an attempt to stem its gains, which hurt its export-oriented economy. Any hint that they are willing to intervene in the currency market further would be decidedly AUD negative. Should the committee focus instead on a timeline for rate hikes, AUD could see gains extend. Being one of the first to raise rates would give the market more confidence in the Australian economy and offer a nod to the bank's inflation fighting credentials-both positive for the currency.

The European Central Bank meeting is scheduled for Thursday and every strategist/economist surveyed is expecting no change to the current 1.0% rate. The focus will once again be on the press conference headed up by ECB President Trichet. He is likely to focus on the better economic outlook especially as indicated by major improvements in business and consumer confidence surveys of late. That jump to 95.0 in German IFO expectations in August from 90.4 the prior month did not go unnoticed. A rosier outlook for the euro zone is likely to get the EUR bulls revved up at least initially. The big question is whether Trichet will offer any details on potentially extending the ECB's covered bond purchase program. Comments coming out of the political arm of the euro zone have been focused on the lack of lending to businesses of late and we will see whether Trichet offers any insight on potentially increasing the current 60 billion euro bond purchase program to aid with this dilemma. Should the bank hint at expanding this program, EUR would undoubtedly take a spill. This would suggest that the euro zone credit space is perhaps in more trouble than most think and puts the economic recovery in peril.

Key Data and Events to Watch This Week

The US economic calendar is jam-packed with data. The Chicago PMI kicks off the action on Monday, while Tuesday has ISM manufacturing, construction spending, pending home sales, and motor vehicle sales on tap. Wednesday is also busy with the ADP employment report, factory orders, crude oil inventories, and the minutes of the August FOMC meeting. ISM services highlight Thursday, while Friday rounds out the week with the all-important August employment report.

It is also busy in the euro zone. Monday starts things off with the consumer price estimate. On Tuesday, we see euro zone PMI manufacturing, euro zone employment, German retail sales, and German employment. Wednesday brings euro zone GDP and euro zone producer prices, while Thursday has euro zone PMI services, euro zone retail sales, and the ECB rate meeting (more on this above). The European Commission releases its economic forecasts on Friday.

The UK sees a pretty typical week in terms of data. The Hometrack housing survey starts off the action on Sunday. Tuesday is the busiest day with net consumer credit, mortgage approvals, and PMI manufacturing. The PMI services index closes out the week on Thursday.

The week in Japan starts early as the election results are expected Sunday (more on this above) along with PMI manufacturing, industrial production, and retail sales. Housing starts are up on Monday, while Thursday sees capital expenditures.

Canada has a characteristically light but important week ahead. GDP data is scheduled for Monday, while Friday has the employment report and Ivey purchasing managers index on deck.

Most of the action down under is in Australia. New home sales are up on Monday, while Tuesday brings the current account, building approvals, and the RBA rate meeting (more above). Tuesday has GDP and the performance of services index lined up, while Thursday sees the trade balance. In New Zealand, only the business confidence indicator on Monday is noteworthy.

By Brian Dolan, chief currency strategist,

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