Global Concerns Plague Forex Markets

06/27/2011 10:05 am EST

Focus: FOREX

Brian Dolan

Chief Currency Strategist,

New commodity market developments and economic weakness in the US and major European nations have shaken the currency markets. Here are key events and price levels to watch this week.

Markets received fresh signals this past week that global growth is moderating further, suggesting potential for further declines in risk assets (stocks and commodities) in the weeks ahead. US stocks did not lose much ground, but attempts to rebound were rejected, highlighting our view that sellers remain dominant.

Commodities, using the CRB index as the proxy, posted much sharper declines and look to have broken down in many key respects (see below). Major currencies mostly consolidated in a choppy fashion, but US Treasury yields finished the week at new lows for the current decline, suggesting risk aversion remains high.

What was behind the slump in risk assets? Apart from the ongoing Greek drama, which we earlier cautioned has been dominating news headlines and obscuring the bigger picture of slowing global outlooks, incoming data and forecasts continue to point to a weaker second half of 2011.

Just this past week, sharper-than-expected declines in June Eurozone flash PMI’s and ZEW surveys point to a slowdown on the continent. In the US, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) lowered its 2011 GDP forecasts from 3.0%-3.3% to 2.7%-2.9%, while some market forecasters are penciling in an even weaker number around 2.0%-2.5%.

In the UK, June CBI reported sales plunged from +18 to -2, suggesting the bump from the royal wedding was short-lived indeed. And in China, the privately issued HSBC flash June China manufacturing PMI slipped from 51.6 to 50.1, while the MNI June business conditions survey (also privately issued) fell from 61.22 to 57.76.

While the debate continues over whether the current slowdown is temporary or something more daunting, we’re inclined to view it as a more substantial slowdown due to the inability of major economies’ governments and central banks to provide fresh stimulus.

The Fed continues to view the slowdown as temporary and indicated additional asset purchases (QE3) was not even discussed. The European Central Bank (ECB) continues to insist on austerity and is poised to hike rates again in July to fend off headline inflation above its target. The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) seems to have gotten the picture, as the most recent minutes indicated rates are to remain on hold due to global backsliding and risk from the Eurozone debt crisis. And the Bank of England (BOE) also appears to have seen a subtle shift, with some monetary policy committee (MPC) members discussing a return to asset purchases.

While the recent commodity price declines may potentially lead to a pickup in consumption and limit the extent of the downturn, we think deleveraging households and employment-challenged consumers in major economies are most likely to show continued spending restraint, preventing any rapid improvement. We think this will bias risk assets further to the downside, and below we highlight key breakdown levels we are monitoring.

NEXT: All Eyes on Greece…Again


All Eyes on Greece…Again

The Greek debt drama is nearing its next critical phase, with the Greek government needing to secure passage of its new deficit-reduction plan, where a vote is now scheduled for June 30. The EU/IMF has made it clear: no package, no more bailout funds. While the governing PASOK party has a five-vote majority in the Greek parliament, recent defections by several PASOK MP’s threaten to derail adoption of the new measures.

Should the measure fail to pass, we would expect a spike in risk aversion as markets quickly price in a likely Greek default within weeks. Assuming the measure does pass, the EUR may experience another relief rally, but we would expect it to be limited to the 1.4450/1.4500 area due to lingering concerns.

The so-called “voluntary” rollovers of maturing Greek debt, due in the week of July 17-23, may cause the leading credit rating agencies to cut Greek ratings to default levels. If so, that would make Greek government debt ineligible as ECB collateral, effectively cutting off the Greek banking system from further ECB funding, likely rendering it insolvent within days. There is no shortage of risk out there, and markets will likely continue to be headline driven.

Emergency Oil Reserve Release: Likely Impact on Oil Prices

On Thursday, the International Energy Agency (IEA) surprised markets by announcing a coordinated 60-million-barrel crude oil output release from emergency reserves to be implemented in increments of two million barrels per day over 30 days, commencing next Friday.

Both West Texas Intermediate (WTI) (US) and Brent (UK) crude oil experienced sharp declines to end the week near pre-Libya supply disruption levels around $91.00 per barrel and $105.00 per barrel, respectively. While Thursday’s plunge in crude clearly asserted immediate downside oil price implications, longer term, oil price downside is likely to be transitory.

While an additional two million barrels per day may very well offset lost Libyan production (estimated to be around 1.3 million barrels per day) for the duration of the program, it fails to confront existing total output imbalances that have accrued since the onset of Libyan unrest. (The IEA estimates total Libyan production losses to total about 132 million barrels.)

There is also the risk that the IEA’s proposed 60-million-barrel output injection may not be fully absorbed into the gross crude oil supply stream, especially when considering a global backdrop of moderating growth and its detrimental impact on global demand. Additionally, the IEA’s goal to buoy global growth prospects via supply induced oil price reductions may actually backfire—exaggerated downside crude oil fluctuations could boost emerging market demand, thus resulting in higher oil prices.

Ultimately, future chapters in the ongoing “growth” saga are likely to be the wild cards to longer-term oil price determination. Any abatement in growth risks would support both WTI and Brent, while amplification or compounding growth risks would weigh on crude oil prices.

Accordingly, we think in the near term, crude oil prices may see further downside corrections towards $101 in Brent (UK) and $85.00 in WTI (U.S.) on the back of the IEA's surprise output decision alongside oil demand risks stemming from the ongoing Greek debt debate and the recent stream of negative US data surprises. However, we think a still-firm underlying fundamental oil market structure may see both crude oil benchmarks resume their primary uptrends upon completion of the IEA’s release schedule.

NEXT: UK Data Shows Stagnant Economic Recovery


UK Data Shows Stagnant Economic Recovery

The sterling declined against the greenback for the fourth straight week as UK economic data releases continued the recent trend of softening. CBI reported sales sharply reversed to -2 in June from +18 in May, confirming negative implications from the -1.6% May retail sales reading, which evidenced weakening domestic consumption.

However, the catalyst of sterling underperformance this week stemmed from the more dovish tone in the June MPC minutes. To start, the newest BOE member, Ben Broadbent, sided with the majority to keep rates steady, leaving Weale and Dale on the short end of the 7-2 vote. Adding dovish color to the minutes was the admittance from minority voting members that growth outlooks were softening.

This doesn’t bode well for a sustained UK economic recovery, as even more hawkish members seem to be second guessing the current environment.

The stream of negative data seems to be spilling over. May jobless claims rose +19.6k, and April average weekly earnings evidenced stagnant income growth of 1.8%. With wage growth considered by many MPC members as being a key determinant in shifting policy direction, it seems accommodative BOE policy may be here to stay for a while longer.

Further denting prospects for a healthy recovery in the UK economy and its currency is its sensitivity to negative risk events. While risk sentiment has been supported in anticipation of Papandreou’s successful confidence vote, the Greek debt drama is likely to drag on a while longer.

Total UK bank exposure to Greek debt is approximated to be around $8 billion as of Q4 ’10 (according to BIS estimates), trailing just Germany and France and accounting for almost double the total US exposure. So while recent Greek developments are encouraging, any future hiccups in the EZ periphery are likely to have negative ripple effects on the UK economy, and subsequently GBP.

The technical outlook for GBP/USD is consistent with recent UK data deterioration and suggests medium-term sterling weakness may be in store. GBP/USD posted multiple daily closes below primary uptrend support (from the 2010 lows) as well as below the neckline of a head-and-shoulders (H&S) top formation, which projects a measured move objective towards the key 1.5350 horizontal pivot.

Important Technical Levels to Watch

Over the past week, the greenback has seen gains versus other G10 counterparties with the exception of the Swiss franc and Norwegian krone. The USD’s rise was sparked by risk aversion flows seen in equity, Treasury, and commodity markets.

This can be attributed to two primary factors that occurred last week: 1) Ben Bernanke’s FOMC testimony on Wednesday, in which he stated the US economy is recovering at a “moderate pace, though somewhat more slowly;” and 2) The Thursday announcement by the IEA that they would release two million barrels of oil from the strategic petroleum reserve a day for the next 30 days. Together, the slowdown in the economy and lower oil prices eased inflationary fears and was thus seen as boon for the buck.

USD Index: Technical developments last week suggest the greenback’s gains may continue. Currently, it is bumping up against long-term trend line resistance drawn from the June 2010 highs, as well as the 100-day simple moving average (SMA), both of which come in around 75.60/75.65.

Should that level be surpassed this week, the dollar may see further gains towards the 23.6% retracement near 76.45/76.50 ahead of the 200-day SMA around 77.20/77.25. However, if a setback occurs, look for the 55-day SMA by 74.65/74.70 and then trend line support drawn from the May 2011 lows near 74.00 to be supportive.

NEXT: Latest for USD Versus Key Currency Counterparts


EUR/USD: The technical outlook has decidedly shifted to the downside after failing up against the 55-day SMA earlier in the week around 1.4400. Even recent gains on the back of the much-better-than-expected German IFO numbers proved unsustainable. Now the euro looks poised to retest the 1.40 handle prior to the end of the month.

Fundamentally, the EU peripheral debt problem is likely to persist as long as Europe is unable to find a suitable funding source. Thus, technicals could take center stage this week. We are watching for a potential break of trend line support around 1.4110/1.4120 (drawn from May 2011 lows) to spark further declines. The next credible levels to watch are the psychologically significant 1.40 level and then the 200-day SMA around 1.3860/1.3865.

GBP/USD: Cable has posted multiple daily closes below primary uptrend support from the 2010 lows, and while doing so, it has formed a head-and-shoulders top. Earlier this week, it failed up against a multitude of key technical levels converging between 1.6245/1.6265. Those included a re-test of broken long-term trend line support, the 100-day SMA, the 200-hour SMA, and 38.2% retracement (1.6545/1.6550 to 1.6075/1.6080 decline), which ultimately proved to be the nail in the coffin.

The daily close below the H&S neckline support projects a measured move objective of about 750 pips towards the key 1.53-1.5400 horizontal pivot (Sept. and Dec. 2010 prior lows). Going forward, also look for the 200-day SMA to prove resistance around 1.6030/1.6035 in the near term.

XAU/USD: Gold broke below long-term trend line support around $1527 last week (connect January, March, May, and June 2011 lows) and then re-tested this level and failed. There were a few signs the impending selloff in gold was about to occur, as we spotted an evening doji star formation, which is one of the strongest bearish reversal signals in the market.

This formation is characterized by the continuation of a bullish trend, which is then followed by a doji (reflecting uncertainty in the market), and then the trend reversal is confirmed with a selloff. Typically, the larger a move down is on day three, the stronger the reversal signal.

Furthermore, coinciding with this bearish candlestick formation was a negative divergence between gold and the relative strength index (RSI) on the daily chart, whereby gold made a higher high and RSI made a lower high.

This latest decline decisively took out the 50-day SMA around $1521, a level we have not been below since mid-February, and the daily/weekly close below may lead others to take action this week.

Since reaffirming its trend higher at the beginning of 2009, gold’s 150-day SMA has limited the downside on multiple attempts and currently resides around $1438, which could be a reasonable longer-term objective should the psychologically significant $1500 level give way.

S&P 500: The S&P appears to be running out of upward momentum while the US economic recovery struggles in a “soft patch.” Last week, the S&P formed a bearish Harami followed by a hanging man candlestick pattern, both of which portray a rough road ahead.

Furthermore, the 200-day SMA has provided support on the last two attempts over the past week and a half, however, it may be vulnerable this week as it rises to 1264 on Monday. Should this level give way, the 2011 lows near 1250 could come under pressure.

Typically, the minimum correction technicians target is the 38.2% retracement. This is currently located at 1233 (drawn from July 2010 low to May 2011 high), which ultimately seems reasonable should risk-aversion flows continue to pick up over the coming weeks (keep your eye on $90 in WTI oil next week as a potential trigger).

By Brian Dolan, chief currency strategist,

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