In the wake of jobs data, what to expect this week

What to look for in the week ahead

  • US jobs disappoint, but still in the right direction
  • Is Europe about to implode?
  • Queensland flooding slows down the Aussie
  • Encouraging jobs data and accelerating price gains supporting the Loonie
  • Key data and events to watch next week

US jobs disappoint, but still in the right direction

Dec. US job gains disappointed most observers, but that was mostly the result of heightened expectations following Wednesday's surge in the ADP report, a notoriously poor indicator of concurrent NFP changes. Still, that more jobs were created in Dec. represents another step forward for the US recovery, reinforcing the recent stream of better than expected US data. The decline in the US unemployment rate from 9.8% to 9.4% (exp. 9.7%) was also a step in right direction, but probably was overstated due to a 297K gain in the household survey coupled with a -260K decline in the labor force. Again, though, the trend is clearly pointing toward growing momentum for the US recovery, which we expect will continue for the next few months at least.

Following the labor report, the USD suffered set-backs against other major currencies, with the obvious exception being the Euro, which was the biggest loser for the week. Overall, though, the greenback managed to gain against 13 of the 16 major currencies to start the year (MXN, CAD, and KRW gained vs. USD), with the USD index finishing at its highest levels since late November. US Treasury yields fell somewhat following relatively somber and dovish testimony from Fed Chair Bernanke, with 10 year yields down about 7 bps to 3.32% late Friday, still above recent range lows at about 3.25%. While we expect the EUR to see lower against other currencies in the weeks ahead (see below), the USD may have more trouble extending gains against other major currencies, especially if bonds pop and yields drop below the recent lows cited above. We would also note that the US dollar index is facing stiff resistance at the 81.43/45 level, which is the Nov. high and the bottom of the weekly Ichimoku cloud. As such, we prefer to remain sellers of EUR on the crosses (e.g. EUR/CAD, EUR/GBP, or EUR/AUD), preferably on some kind of a bounce, rather than a buyer of USD, unless on a significant pullback toward recent lows. Consistent with broader USD strength, gold and silver prices look to have posted key reversal weeks, and we would now prefer to be sellers on remaining strength.

Is Europe about to implode?

After dodging a bullet before the holidays, Europe ’s peripheral nations are once again getting punished in the bond markets. The spreads between German government bonds and the peripheral nations are close to record highs. Portuguese 10-year government bond yields (up 70 basis points this week) are now at critical levels. The government in Lisbon has said that 7 per cent is the threshold at which it would need to consider taking a bailout. Currently yields are 7.11 per cent, so it seems only a matter of time before Portugal is negotiating with the ECB, EU and the IMF and receiving funds.

Another worrying development is Belgium . Although it isn’t a core economy, it wasn’t considered a basket case either. Back in August its 10-year bond yield fell to 2.8 per cent, yet it is now above 4 per cent and has risen in line with other peripheral nations. So will the home of the European Union be forced to negotiate a bailout for itself in the coming months?

There are three main reasons that investors have targeted the peripheral nations bonds with such gusto since the start of this year. The first is a wave of supply that is about to come onto the market. On 12 January Portugal will offer 2014 and 2020 bonds for auction, Italy and Spain are also holding auctions at the latter part of next week. Investors charged a hefty premium to hold short-term Portuguese bonds in an auction last week, which doesn’t bode well for the upcoming debt sales. The news that the world’s largest bond fund will not be participating in the upcoming bond auctions is another red flag in our opinion as it points towards a buyers strike. If Portugal and Europe ’s other weak nations have to pay a higher yield to attract investors to purchase their debt, soon people will worry about the impact higher debt payments will have on growth, causing more investors to ditch their debt and yields to rise and so on. This seems like the start of a debt spiral to us. Next week could see some real fireworks, and bond spreads are close to breaking fresh Euro-era highs.

Belgium’s problems are actually more political. It is currently without a full-time government and seven political parties are locked in discussions trying to form a government and overcome the political impasse. This is bad timing to have political meltdown as Belgium is finding out. Investors aren’t in the mood to suffer risks within the Eurozone easily and until a fulltime government is found it is unlikely there will be a let-up in the pressure on Belgium ’s bonds.

Another factor weighing on sentiment toward the periphery is the European Commission’s plans to overhaul the governance of Europe ’s banking sector. One of the proposals is to give regulators the power to write down senior bank debt by any amount necessary, or to convert bank debt into equity if a bank were to get into trouble. Until the risks to the investor are set in stone, European debt is an unattractive asset to hold.

The sovereign debt crisis in Europe appears to be spilling over to the euro. EURUSD is currently below 1.3000, and if the sovereign debt crisis is poised to get worse then it will be hard to muster up much enthusiasm for a stronger euro and we could see a continuing grind lower in the single currency. A convincing break below 1.2960/65 could herald losses toward 1.2900 then 1.2650 – the lows reached back in October. But the decline may not be in a straight line due to continuing demand for the single currency from Asian central banks that want to diversify away from the dollar.

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