March Trade Ideas. “Fairly Soon” Means May or June


Author — Nick Korzhenevsky, senior analyst with AMarkets Company. The anchorman of a TV program “Economics. Day rates”.


  • The Fed continues with its hawkish rhetoric but cautious actions. Three rate hikes in 2017, however, are not off the table yet.
  • Europe is swamped by political risk. The upcoming French election is a growing factor for the euro.
  • The prolonged trends in USD crosses are dying down and we now have a classic “whipsaw” situation. USDJPY is an exception.

The impact of political landscape remained significant in February and is likely to continue to define the markets in March. That does make perfect sense: the economic background is fundamentally stable and even showing some positive trends, which is why one does not need to worry about general growth rates.

The main source of risk is the political challenges. The events of 2016 — from Brexit to Donald Trump’s victory — taught investors not to rule out any scenarios, let alone those backed up by polling data. We’re talking the French election, of course. The country’s presidential race is in full swing and will be critical for both the markets and the euro in the next two months.

Politically, the race is as dirty as it is typical, with accusations and insinuations being thrown against all three front-runners. Amidst all of the political dirt, the betting odds are quite interesting. As of February 24th, Emmanuel Macron, Marine Le Pen, and Emmanuel Macron are all placed at pretty equal chances to take the presidency. They would each receive about 30-35% of the votes if the election was held today. But, given how off the bookies have been in predicting last year’s events, we’d add an error margin of plus-or-minus 3-5 percentage points.

The market implications are clear: as Marie Le Pen’s chances of winning the election increase, investors pull their money from French assets. That’s how the market responds to her 144-point presidential plan, which includes a number of far-reaching reforms and even promises a “Frexit.” Big money doesn’t bear heightened uncertainty.

As a result, the money is fleeing France and is transferred into safer assets, primarily to German bonds. The yield spread between France and Germany is widening as Le Pen’s popularity grows. Some pull their money out of the Eurozone altogether and invest into other safe-haven assets, such as gold and U.S. treasuries. Consequently, the euro stumbles each time Le Pen’s Front National sees a popularity boost.

We’ll leave it to political analysts to predict the results of the French election. It should be noted, however, that unlike last June or November, the markets are pricing in every possible outcome this time. Which means that, should Le Penn win, the euro will fall but not collapse like the pound did after the Brexit. Moreover, if the new president is, say, Macron, the currency could actually strengthen as the main risk factor would be gone overnight.

Another major theme affecting the markets is the Fed’s next rate hike. Following a string of hawkish comments, the policymakers surprised investors with a statement that was very much on the dovish side. “Many participants expressed the view that it might be appropriate to raise the federal funds rate again fairly soon if incoming information on the labor market and inflation was in line with or stronger than their current expectations,” the minutes of Federal Open Market Committee’s latest meeting read. “Fairly soon” is quite a soft wording which we would interpret as “not in March.” Fed fund futures are pricing in a May or June hike, which is in line with our own forecast.

Yellen & Co. are well aware of the enormous uncertainty they have to operate in. In fact, the future of the fiscal policy hasn’t become any clearer over the past month. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says it’s too early to release details of the tax plan. Which, by the way, may not be just an excuse—Trump’s administration needs to start functioning properly first and February just wasn’t enough for that. Trump himself is only about to announce his vision of the budget.

And so the Fed continues its months of all talk and (little to) no action. Sure, considering the drop in inflation expectations, it’s not unreasonable to expect more than just one hike a year. Still, the Fed is yet to show that it’s ready to speed up policy tightening. Their current actions serve as a counterbalance to what’s happening in Europe and keeps the dollar surge contained, especially against the euro. The global trend, however, remains intact: after a break, U.S. rate hikes will eventually attract fresh capital into the country, which, in turn, will strengthen the USD.

EURUSD: an early consolidation

We’re closing our EURUSD positions and considering a long at 1.036.

As we mentioned earlier, the euro downtrend is slowly going into pause mode. While the negative news flow surrounding the currency does trigger occasional sell-offs, the price activity on a daily basis is finally starting to look like a consolidation (or a very late phase of a move down). The 1.036 target is still there, but there’s also a clear lack of momentum. Price activity is all noise and heavy betting against the euro is now way too risky. On top of that, the drop of 12 big figures from 1.15 in August to 1.036 in December has to be corrected appropriately.

Trading EURUSD is generally quite challenging. On the one hand, there’s the above-mentioned risk from the French election and the Federal Reserve (Ms. Yellen could still go for a rate hike in March). On the other hand, both these events could serve as a trigger for a higher euro. The task is complicated even from a technical viewpoint as price ranges are likely to overlap. And that’s where we recall that euro weakness was most pronounced on the crosses.

EURAUD, EURRUB: where we play the euro corrective move up

We buy EURRUB at 61.5 targeting 63.5/64.9 with a stop at 60.55, EURAUD at 1.376 targeting 1.4050/1.44 with a stop at 1.3715/1.3595.

The Australian dollar and the rouble, as well as pretty much every other high-yielding currency have been rapidly gaining on the euro. EURRUB dropped to below 60 from its August high of about 75. That’s a decrease of 20% compared to the 10% drop in EURUSD. EURAUD also lost 10%, but that’s due to the Australian dollar being relatively overpriced when the move began. Speculatively, though, it is an interesting cross as both euro’s temporary strength and China’s negative news flow meet.

When it comes to the rouble, it’s all about the technical picture. EURRUB certainly went down fast, reaching all of our targets. There’s still the “last support” of 58.6, but going approaching that level would require EURUSD to drop to its corresponding target of 1.036. And that is looking less and less likely. Fundamentally, though, the idea of a EURRUB rally is also well-supported. Russian officials have been vocal about the rouble getting too strong. The Ministry of Finance has even started a series of interventions to avoid further currency appreciation. We judge that the ministry’s actions are enough sufficient to reverse the trend. But once they coincide with negative seasonality, the negative impact is to be quite pronounced. The rouble is likely to lose 3-5% in that case.

As far as the Australian dollar is concerned, China is the real fundamental story here. Mainland’s real estate market has been rapidly losing momentum over the past two months. The country’s authorities are issuing statements saying that the property market growth needs to be “stable,” implying a need for slower price increases – and, possibly, hinting at some additional cooling measures. So far they strategy is working—China’s housing prices went down month-to-month in January. It’s now just a matter of time before this translates into demand for industrial metals. And the AUD is likely to suffer from this.

USDJPY: a temporary dollar index

We’re building a strategic short position in the yen, will add at 111.5/110.05/108.80, stop-loss for the entire position at 107.3.

The Japanese yen remains one of our main trading ideas for the year. Instead of trying to catch quick pullbacks, here we’re building a position for the medium term. As we have repeatedly mentioned, the USDJPY is looking to the North with targets placed around the 130 mark. We explained our thinking on this in great detail in the previous editions of this publication, and not going to repeat the full story here.

The fundamental factor that has to be mentioned is the end of Japan’s fiscal year. Just like over the past three years, we’re not expecting capital repatriation to be large enough to elevate the yen. That being said, we don’t see the Japanese currency falling too hard either with money flowing back into the country. If the general dollar correction continues, USDJPY is likely to make another (short) leg down. For the past few months, the pair has been serving as a sort of dollar index. After all, the greenback’s moves are primarily influenced by the U.S. yields, and the yen is very sensitive to rate differentials.

Nonetheless, we view any USDJPY pullback as an opportunity to buy. The pair has a few clear levels — 111.50, 110.02 and 108.79 — that could prove to be the medium-term low. Importantly, there is also a distinct major support at 107.40. From the technical viewpoint, a close lower would suggest that the trend up is over, and make the 100 mark the primary target again. However, we do not buy that scenario. The U.S. debt market is hardly able to produce a meaningful rally. In other words, we don’t believe that the yields will fall that much. Rather, they should climb again as the Fed continues hiking, and the dollar-yen cross should follow.

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Analytical materials and comments reflect only personal views of their authors and can’t be considered as trading advices. AMarkets is not responsible for losses as the result of analytical materials usage.