Sterling and Aussie Weakness Featured in the Otherwise Becalmed FX Market

The US dollar is mostly little changed as the broad consolidation that has
emerged this week continues.
  The two powerful forces that have emerged–expectation
of a Fed hike at the end of the year and European political challenges–appear
to have reached a tentative equilibrium.  Meanwhile, US President Trump’s
comments about “wiping out” Puerto Rico’s $74 bln of debt remind
investors of the unorthodox and unpredictable impulses from the US. 
Two currencies, sterling, and the Australian dollar are exceptions to the general calm of
the foreign exchange market today.
  Sterling’s story is mostly about politics, it appears,
while the Aussie’s weakness is in response to unexpected weakness in retail
sales.  
UK Prime Minister May stole
some thunder from the opposition by proposing the cap household energy prices,
and boost social housing. 
  Utility share prices did what one would expect in the face
of a price cap and retreated.  It was
the hardest hit sector in the FTSE 250 on Wednesday, losing 0.7%, while the
index as a whole slipped 0.3%.   Her overall performance appeared to have
failed to reset her administration.  Sterling was slightly firmer before
the Prime Minister spoke, helped by the stronger than expected service
PMI. 
 However, sterling
trended lower and recorded the session lows late in North American turnover.
   The main factor that has
slowed sterling’s descent in the face of the weak political backdrop and the poor technical condition is the anticipation
that BOE will raise rates next month.
 While sterling has nearly returned to
levels against the dollar last seen at the last BOE meeting’s hawkish forward
guidance, the implied yield of short-sterling futures strip and the OIS remains
high (implying around an 80% chance of a hike), and, of note, higher than the
odds of Fed hike before the end of the year.  
Sterling traded sideways in
Asia today, but as soon as European traders entered the fray, perhaps seeing
how the British press reacted to May’s speech, sterling was sold.
  It
has been pushed below $1.32 for the first
time since the BOE meeting.  The low on that day was about $1.3155.
 Sterling has also met the 50% retracement objective of the rally since
late August.  The 61.8% retracement is
found near $1.3110.   
The euro has carved what
appears to be a rounded bottom against sterling over the past several weeks
.  The move above GBP0.8880 today
opens the door to GBP0.8960-GBP0.9025.  We note that sterling’s weakness
continues in the face of little change in expectations for a BOE hike.
 Some observers are suggesting that the rate hike that so many are convinced
will take place will be simply taking back the post-referendum rate cut and not
the start of even a mini-tightening cycle. 
The cross-demand for the
single currency is helping keep the euro firm against the dollar. 
 The euro is trading inside yesterday’s
range.  The $1.1800 area continues to provide the near-term ceiling.
 The Catalonia-Madrid standoff continues, but the lack of fresh escalation
has seen Spanish assets stabilize.  Its two-year yield is up less than a
basis point, and the Italian yield is up a little more than that.  The
10-year yield is also little changed. This
is more impressive than it may sound as the Spanish government went ahead with
its scheduled bond sales, where the new supply, including some inflation-linked bonds, were easily absorbed.
 
Spanish equities are up
about 0.75%. 
 The
gains are broad, with only two sectors real estate and materials, trading
lower.  Today’s gains pare the
week’s loss to about 3.3%, which would be the worst in about six weeks.  
It is best performing major bourse in Europe today as the Dow Jones Stoxx 600
is nursing a small loss for the second day.  
Economists had expected
Australian retail sales to have grown by around 0.3% after a flat report in
July.
  Instead,
retail sales fell by 0.6% in August, and, adding insult to injury, revised the
July report to show a 0.2% decline.    It is the first back-to-back
decline in five years.    News that the July trade surplus was near twice the initial estimate (now ~A$808
mln) and the August surplus was a bit larger than expected (~A$989 mln) was not
sufficient to offset, and indeed may have made possible by the compression of
domestic demand.  
The Australian dollar is
finding some support near $0.7820 after reached a one-week high yesterday near
$0.7875
.  The week’s
low, which a two and a half month low, was
recorded near $0.7785.  There do not appear to be large options
strike near the money expiring today, but there is an A$1.1 bln option that will be cut tomorrow struck at $0.7800.
 
The November light sweet
crude oil futures contract recorded a five-month
high in late September near $52.85
. It closed below $50 yesterday for the first time in 2 1/2 weeks.
 At $49.50 it would have retraced half the gains it has recorded since the
late August low around $46.15.  The next retracement objective is near
$48.70.  The five-day average is moving below the 20-day average for the
first time in a month.  Prices are steady today, but both Brent and WTI
are off 2.7% and 3.2% on the week, which would be the largest losses in two
months.  
US output is rising, and inventories are falling.  The missing piece is exports. They have surged over the past
couple of weeks, with last week’s exports reaching almost two mln barrels a day.  Last year crude exports averaged about 600k a
day. 
The combined exports of
crude and refined products have reduced the US net
imports to a record low. 
 The US still imports oil.  The latest data puts the important at around 7.2 mln barrels a day.
 The storms did skew the data, and
it may not have entirely worked its ways through, but the widest spread between
Brent and WTI in two-years ($6.0) is also encouraging US exports.   The
two-week surge in US exports is also made possible by the weaker demand from refineries as they continue to recover from
the storm.  
The recent rally which
carried Brent to almost $60 and WTI to almost has also spurred some hedge-related sales, according to reports.
  And this reveals a
contradiction in the OPEC strategy.  If they succeed in drive the price of
Brent higher, then this will see the US producers boost output and exports, and
increasingly competing in third markets in Asia and Europe with OPEC.  
The North American session
features speeches by four Fed officials, including Powell, who has emerged as a
candidate to replace Yellen as chair.
  The views of the regional
presidents that speak today (Harker, George, and Williams) are well known.
  In the US, there are several economic reports today,  including
August factory orders (and the final durable goods orders) and trade balance.
 Barring a significant surprise, investors have already largely taken
on-board that the US growth is acceptably near trend with some distortions to
high frequency data due to the impact of the powerful storms.  Weekly
initial jobless claims, like the ADP yesterday, and likely reflected in
tomorrow ‘s non-farm payroll report, have been adversely impacted, while the
surge in auto sales and some strength seen in the PMIs are also storm-related.  

Canada also reports August
(merchandise) trade today.
  Perhaps
the most important component will be non-oil exports, which have been soft.
   The implied yield on the December BA futures has eased to the
lowest level in a month as the market take the cues by BOC officials that
sought to ease rate hike speculation after two hikes at the last two meetings
as the 2015 cuts are unwound in the face
of strong growth.  The US dollar was
consolidating its recovery from about CAD1.2060  in early September to
almost CAD1.2540 two days ago.  

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