- A Fed rate hike? Not so fast

- Short-term outlook for the USD

- Rate decisions due from RBA, RBNZ, BOE, ECB

- Key data and events to watch

- Commodity currency updates

A Fed rate hike? Not so fast

The greenback picked itself up off the mat, dusted itself off and rallied back from the brink, aided by a surge in US interest rates. Over the course of this past week, US 10 year yields rose 30 points at their highest, before finishing out up 20 bps just above the key 4.00% level. 2 year yields rose over 30 bps, but finished out similarly up about 20 bps and just above the 2.60% level. The proximate cause for the jump in rates was a widely expected upward revision to 1Q US GDP (from +0.6% to 0.9%) and a stronger than expected April durable goods report. The better data came on the heels of several weeks of heightened anti-inflation rhetoric from Fed officials, which was compounded with additional inflation warnings this week from the Fed’s Stern and Fisher, which coalesced into increased prospects for a Fed rate hike. A rate hike?

Seems to me we’ve been here before. Several weeks ago when speculation first swirled that the Fed would react to higher inflation by raising rates, I suggested that the market was pricing in a US recovery before we even went through the downturn. Let’s not forget that 1Q GDP is backward looking and that durable goods is a notoriously volatile data series. Instead, let’s remember that the US is in the midst of a serious downturn where the greatest pain, from the broad consumer-led sector, has yet to fully materialize. Let’s also remember that nearly every other US data report in recent weeks has pointed to further deterioration in the key weak spots of the consumer economy. House prices continue to fall (faster than expected); employment conditions continue to weaken (continuing claims rose to 3.1 mio); energy prices continue to rise (gasoline pump prices hit $4/gallon) and credit conditions remain tight (mortgage rates rose sharply). True, financial market and credit conditions have stabilized in recent weeks and the smell of fear has lifted somewhat. But a blanket of gloom still hangs over markets, and risk aversion seems to be waiting in the wings for an encore rather than exiting the stage completely. About the best that can be said about the US economic outlook is that the deterioration is not accelerating, yet.

The jump higher in US rates is also suspect due to its timing. The bond sell-off/yield surge came suspiciously close to month-end, when market liquidity tends to evaporate and bad things happen to otherwise good positions. I would note that the bond selling/yields rising came to a rather abrupt end on Thursday afternoon after comments from Nobel laureate and Harvard economist Martin Feldstein, who is also the head of the NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research, the designator of recessions, suggested that virtually all current data are pointing lower and that it would be a mistake for the Fed to hike rates now. Yields fell back down, but managed to hold on to the bulk of recent gains. Still, with the fundamental US outlook as precarious as it is, the risk is for further yield declines, especially at the start of a new month. Traders should be alert to Treasury yields dropping back below 2.60% (2 year) and 4.00% (10 year), as a sign that markets are yet again pricing out premature rate hike expectations.

Short-term outlook for the USD

The rise in US rates is the main story behind the recovery in the USD this past week. As FX traders, we have all been forced to become oil and stock traders in recent months, and now it looks like we need become interest rate traders. As I outlined above, the fundamental basis for US rates to rise is highly dubious and we may be witnessing only a short-term rebound in the USD. I remain of the view that we are operating in a broad range environment (EUR/USD 1.53-58, USD/JPY 100-106) as central banks have moved to the sidelines to monitor incoming economic developments. Within the confines of those ranges, though, EUR/USD has dropped out of the upper third and has the potential to see all the way back to the lower end. The drop through the 1.5620/50 support zone is the immediate resistance area that keeps the focus for the EUR lower. The trigger to a push to the lower end of the range is likely on a sustained break of key daily trendline support off the lows from early February, which is now at 1.5500. That trend line was briefly broken on Friday, but we look set to close comfortably above it, keeping it intact on a daily closing basis. Market flows saw real money types selling EUR and buying USD in earnest for the first time this year and the talk was that few were positioned long USD in any significant way. But I am also mindful that the same institutional types were in buying EUR/USD with abandon just two weeks ago above the 1.5750 level. Such is the nature of ranges. EUR/USD strength above 1.5650 is liable to leave few unscathed, but until then I have to favor selling EUR/USD on strength.

USD/JPY is even more highly linked to US rates and seems poised to go which ever direction Treasury yields move. The linkage to stocks seems in abeyance for the moment, but stocks have also been reasonably stable, so I can’t take stock market developments off the radar just yet. USD/JPY is finishing out the week near recent highs around 105.50/80 and I would tend to favor the range top holding. There is also prominent daily trendline resistance at 106.50/60, which is drawn off the highs dating back to July 2007, and that will be the test of whether the USD is truly breaking higher. Key Ichimoku supports are below at 104.20/30, and a drop below there would confirm that the move higher has ended and target weakness back to 102.30/50 initially.

Rate decisions due from RBA, RBNZ, BOE, and ECB

Next week sees rate announcements from multiple central banks. Expectations are for steady rate decisions across the board, but inflation concerns are keeping interest rate tensions high in play. And of course, economic outlook updates will be keenly parsed for signs of future interest rate moves. Below I outline market expectations for each decision and what markets are likely to focus on.

Australia: On Tuesday afternoon Sydney time (0030ET Tuesday/0430GMT) the RBA is expected to hold rates steady at 7.25%. We look for the RBA to maintain a bias towards higher rates, though we agree with the market view that a rate increase is unlikely to occur at next week’s confab. The potential for further rate increases is limited in our opinion given the slowdown in the consumer sector. However, the risk is that the RBA hammers away at inflation and threatens to raise rates in light of increases in consumer inflation expectations, which would tend to be AUD bullish.

New Zealand: The RBNZ announces on Thursday morning Wellington time/Wednesday 1700ET/2100GMT) and the market expects no change to the current 8.25% rate. The recent weakness in economic data – especially sharp declines in employment and retail sales numbers – if continued could convince the RBNZ to move as early as September, however. The recent tax package roll out has been seen by some market participants as too little too late and many believe it will fail to prevent a recession, leading the RBNZ to cut rates sharply in the second half of the year. RBNZ Gov. Bollard’s statement will be critical to the sense of timing of anticipated rate cuts and the risks are that he surprises by indicating cuts sooner than expected, which would likely be NZD bearish.

UK: The Bank of England will announce a likely steady 5.00% interest rate on Thursday morning at 0700ET/1100GMT. The recent BOE Quarterly Inflation Report forecast sharply higher inflation readings later in 2008 and 2009, effectively ending the BOE’s rate cuts. But the UK economy continues to soften and the outlook is arguably worse without additional interest rate relief, suggesting a potentially bearish GBP reaction whether they cut or not.

Europe: The ECB also announces on Thursday at 0745ET/1145GMT and expectations are for a steady 4.00% rate decision. The ECB has effectively been caught between two forces—slowing growth suggesting rate cuts and higher inflation demanding rate hikes. Financial market stability concerns have been another impediment to rate hikes, but with signs of stabilization in credit markets, the prospect of a 25 bp. rate hike are being put back on the table. ECB Pres. Trichet’s 0830ET/1230GMT press conference will closely watched to see if he alters his language suggesting current rates are sufficient to bring inflation down. Should he alter his language, it seems likely to go in only one direction, namely implying a rate hike in coming months, which would tend to be EUR bullish.

Key data and events to watch

US data begins on Monday with May ISM manufacturing, and April construction spending. Tuesday sees April Factory Orders and weekly ABC consumer confidence, which fell to a new cycle low this past week at -51. Wednesday sees ADP national employment for May, final 1Q non-farm productivity, and May ISM-services. Thursday sees weekly jobless/continuing claims and May chain store sale. Friday sees May US NFP employment data, with market expectations currently centering on -60K jobs change and an increase in the unemployment rate from 5.0% to 5.1%. Multiple Fed speakers are on tap, but the ones addressing the economic outlook are Atlanta’s Lockhart on Monday afternoon, Bernanke on Wednesday, Philadelphia’s Plosser on Thursday, and Chicago’s Evans on Friday.

Eurozone data starts on Monday morning with final May manufacturing PMI’s for France, Germany and the Eurozone. Tuesday sees April Eurozone PPI and preliminary 1Q Eurozone GDP. Wednesday sees final May service sector PMI’s for France, Germany and the E-zone, final May Eurozone composite PMI, and April Eurozone retail sales. Thursday sees 1Q French employment, April German factory orders, and the ECB rate announcement. Friday sees April French trade balance and April German industrial production.

UK data sees money supply and bank lending data on Monday, along with the manufacturing sector PMI. Tuesday morning sees May construction PMI. At midnight local UK time on Wednesday, Nationwide Building Society will announce its May consumer confidence survey, followed by the May BRC shop price index later in the morning proper. Thursday concludes the data event week with the BOE rate announcement.

Japanese data is very light next week and begins on Monday afternoon Tokyo-time with April labor cash earnings. Wednesday has the only other report of note for the week, with 1Q capital spending set for a morning release.

Commodity currency updates

USD/CAD moved higher towards 0.9940 after closing last week near the 0.9000 figure. The Canadian dollar looks poised to extend losses next week if employment and business activity data due out disappoint in a similar fashion to the recent GDP report. 1Q GDP registered a gloomy -0.3% while the market was looking for positive growth near 0.4% for the quarter. Canada’s Finance minister Flaherty attributed the decline in economic growth to an auto industry in dire straits, noting that overall economic fundamentals remain intact. We’ll get some evidence as to whether his assessment is correct in next week’s data. The market is looking for and increase to 58.0 from 57.6 in the May Ivey Purchasing Managers Index – a measures of economy-wide business activity – and for employment to increase by 8,500 in May after adding of 19,200 jobs the prior month, leaving the unemployment rate unchanged at 6.1%. Major downside surprises to these could convince economists currently on the fence to change their Bank of Canada rate forecasts aggressively lower. Some are already looking for the Bank of Canada (next meeting on June 10th) to slash rates by 50 basis points at the next confab. Further deterioration in economic data will suggest sharp rate cuts are firmly in play and if this comes to fruition we could easily see further selling of the Loonie – towards USD parity and beyond.

AUD/USD looked to be having a great week through Wednesday evening peaking near 0.9635, but eventually saw gains fizzle helped by plunging oil prices as the week came to a close. When all was said and done, AUD/USD was roughly 30 pips down from a week ago. Next week is action-packed in the land down under, as the RBA meets on interest rates and retail sales and 1Q GDP data are released. The consensus is for the RBA to leave rates unchanged at 7.25% while retail sales are forecast to increase by 0.2% in April (previous 0.5%) and 1Q GDP is expected to expand by 0.3% for the quarter.

Kiwi ended the week practically unchanged from last week’s close near 0.7850, as an uninspiring business confidence number for May at -49.7 was offset by a jump in inflation expectations in 2Q to 2.9% from a previous 2.7%. Commodity price data due out next week (no market forecast) will give a further indication as to what the inflation picture looks like. Next week is also key from a rates standpoint as the RBNZ meets. Given the recently weak economic prospects and the NZD/USD currently trading around 26-year highs it looks like now could be a good time to go short NZD.

Disclaimer: The information and opinions in this report are for general information use only and are not intended as an offer or solicitation with respect to the purchase or sale of any currency. All opinions and information contained in this report are subject to change without notice. This report has been prepared without regard to the specific investment objectives, financial situation and needs of any particular recipient. While the information contained herein was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, author does not guarantee its accuracy or completeness, nor does author assume any liability for any direct, indirect or consequential loss that may result from the reliance by any person upon any such information or opinions.