Euro enjoys some respite but looks poised for another decline
It's been a volatile few weeks with market sentiment chopping and changing, amid several important eurozone and US developments. Despite increasingly poor US growth data, the market was deprived the decision from the US Federal Reserve to introduce quantitative easing. Global economic growth in general is on a clear downtrend trend and investor confidence remains extremely fragile as a result.
From the eurozone though, we have at least seen some rare progress. The second attempt at the Greek general election produced the 'least worst' result and a coalition government has finally been formed. This development has eased short-term concerns of a messy default and a 'Grexit' but the real progress is yet to be made. Greece still needs to find a way of renegotiating the crippling terms of its bailout agreement, though Merkel's tough stance provides plenty of scope for deadlock.
Euphoria relating to the avoidance of a Greek disaster (for now) was short-lived, with concerns towards Spain quickly taking hold. Spain's bailout request for its troubled banks comes amid a host of downgrades to both the sovereign and its banks' credit ratings, while soaring government bond yields threaten to force Spain itself into a bailout request.
Crucially, the results of the recent EU Summit exceeded expectations by some distance. Commitments were made on a more flexible use of the EU's rescue funds in the sovereign bond markets (though details were conspicuous in their absence). Importantly, the EU rescue funds will be able to shore up Spain's banks directly rather than being channelled via the government's already debt -laden books. It was also confirmed that those loans would not have senior creditor status, easing concerns from private bondholders that they would be last in the queue for debt repayments.
June was an eventful month in terms of the UK economy as well, with speculation rife over Bank of England monetary policy. The Monetary Policy Committee made no changes in June, though the minutes from its meeting and subsequent comments were very revealing as to its next move. David Miles, the lone dove in favour of quantitative easing in May was joined by three other MPC members in June. We are expecting the pro-QE camp to secure a majority at its meeting this week, though the impact on sterling should be minimal.
GBP/EUR: Sterling poised for higher climbs against the euro
Sterling has edged higher against the single currency, which continues to suffer from the pressures of the debt crisis. Whilst EU leaders have made some steps in the right direction of late, we still see stalling eurozone progress pushing sterling higher against the single currency.
Sterling's gains may be a little surprising given that news from the UK economy has been consistently negative; the UK manufacturing and construction sectors remain in the doldrums, while UK services sector continues to grow but is unable to pick up the slack. Data out of the labour market has been typically poor and the Q1 GDP contraction has been confirmed as -0.3%. Disappointingly, the Q4 GDP figure for 2011 was revised down from -0.3% to -0.4%, though such backward-looking data was not damaging to sterling.
There have been some small pockets of optimism, with UK retail sales bouncing back impressively from April's collapse but as emphasised by Bank of England policymakers in recent weeks, the risks posed by the eurozone debt crisis are great and the UK's prospects are highly uncertain. Overall, UK growth data over past three months (Q2) points is indicative of another contraction in UK GDP, so the double-dip recession rolls on.
Accordingly, we now fully expect the MPC to introduce another round of quantitative easing at its next meeting on July 5th. The UK inflation rate dropped from 3.0% to 2.8% in May, which along with ever-increasing concerns over UK growth as expressed in last month's MPC minutes, seems almost certain to push the MPC into additional monetary stimulus this week. With regard to a cut to the BoE's record low interest rate of 0.50%, the issue has certainly been discussed by the MPC but QE is looking the preferred route to supporting the domestic economy at present.
EU leaders take some steps in the right direction
Unsurprisingly, conditions in the eurozone were extremely volatile in June and this will doubtless remain the case in July. While New Democracy may have secured a narrow victory in the re-run of the Greek general election and formed a coalition government, the renegotiation of Greece's bailout agreement is bound to place Greece uncomfortably under the spotlight once again in the coming weeks. Greece's negotiations with the Troika over its bailout terms are expected to take place on July 24th, so expect some major uncertainty around this date.
Importantly, the EU Summit has eased concerns surrounding Spain by producing an agreement to allow the EU's rescue fund to directly recapitalise its banks, rather than adding to the sovereign's debt to GDP ratio and driving up its borrowing costs. Market players were also extremely relieved to learn that bailout loans to Spanish banks will not be granted senior creditor status and that the eurozone rescue funds will be used more flexibly to allow peripheral bond-buying.
Nonetheless, the euro has been sold after its recent rally, which goes to show the scepticism and doubts that remain with regard to the future of the eurozone. Growth-wise in Q2, the euro-area could be looking at the worst quarterly growth figure in three years. There are also still huge implementation risks to the decisions that were made at the EU Summit, as shown by Finland and the Netherland's recent pledge to block any bond-buying by the eurozone's bailout funds.
The eurozone's €500bn bailout resources are still inadequate and Merkel continues to stand firm against the introduction of Eurobonds. Progress was certainly made at the EU Summit but they were crisis management decisions, rather than decisions which can fundamentally change the direction of the debt crisis. No long-term solution is in sight and in addition, the ECB is set to reduce the euro's yield differential this week by cutting its interest rate from 1.00% by at least 0.25%.
In short, we remain bearish on the euro and continue to favour the safety of sterling. There should be several opportunities to buy euros with the interbank above €1.25, while there is a significant chance of seeing this pair test its three-and-a-half year highs of €1.2575.
GBP /USD: Sterling looking vulnerable against greenback after strong run
The US dollar traded rather softly for much of June, which was not wholly surprising given the huge rally it enjoyed in May. The dollar has been held back by profit-taking in the wake of the USD's May rally. It has also been hemmed in by fears (or hopes, depending on your exposure) that the US Federal Reserve will decide to usher in further quantitative easing (QE3). QE3, if it comes, will boost risk appetite away from the US dollar as investors target higher-yielding assets.
In its June 20th meeting and subsequent announcement, the Fed decided not to pull the trigger on QE3 and the dollar responded positively as you would expect. US data has without doubt increased the chances of QE3; figures from the retail and manufacturing sectors have been particularly disappointing, while consumer sentiment has also taken a turn for the worse. Most importantly as far as the Fed is concerned, key growth data from the US labour market weakened for the fifth consecutive month in June. Nonetheless for now, the Fed is keeping its powder dry with regard to QE3, holding it back to deal with a potentially even greater deterioration in US growth.
US dollar to bounce back
As shown by the knee-jerk response to the recent EU Summit, progress on the eurozone debt crisis can always lift market confidence to weaken the dollar. However, as shown by the market's fading post-Summit enthusiasm, investors are proving increasingly hard to convince.
We think that the tough resistance that EUR/USD is meeting at levels above $1.27 will hold, which should usher in a move lower and possibly a retest of May's lows below $1.24. GBP/USD is meeting resistance at $1.57 and we also think this resistance level will hold, making a move lower for this pair equally likely. We consider current levels to be a strong level (in the current circumstances) at which to buy dollars, with the rate heading back down to $1.55 in July.