FX Update: Position squaring in FX as new covid strain roils markets

FX Update: Position squaring in FX as new covid strain roils markets

Forex  5 minutes to read

Summary:  The contagion across asset markets triggered by new covid strain concerns has hit FX in the form of classic deleveraging, as euro and yen shorts are squeezed on a reversal of recent US yield rises and safe haven seeking, while the US dollar gets a pass elsewhere because it is still safer than smaller, less liquid currencies, particularly in EM. The timing is terrible for this wave of risk aversion as we have thin trading conditions over the US Thanksgiving holiday.


FX Trading focus: Position squaring hits heavy euro- and yen shorts

Risk contagion across the board overnight on the news of a new covid strain in South Africa with significant mutations and signs of overtaking as a percentage of cases in regional outbreaks. There may a sudden “straw that broke the camel’s back” angle to this, given the covid concerns elsewhere, particularly in Europe. The timing is worse than unfortunate, as the liquidity backdrop of particular concern as the news has hit with the US out on holiday yesterday and only open for half a session today, with few likely anticipating until last night or this morning that they would even need to bother showing up for work today.

The sense of whiplash has been particularly acute as we have just had a look at US President Biden nominating Powell for a second term and many highlighting the focus on inflation in his acceptance speech for the nomination, with Brainard’s acceptance speech also highlighting inflation as a major concern. This had jolted Fed expectations for next year to new highs for the cycle at the outset of this week, and now just a few days later we get covid mutation concerns that have sent a deleveraging wave across markets.

In US treasuries, this has mean a sharp drop along the entire US yield curve, giving the euro and the yen a strong boost, as the euro in particular was headed south and fast on the policy divergence theme of the ECB seen likely to maintain zero rates and even some level of QE out over the horizon while the market had priced in three full Fed rate hikes by the end of next year before this sudden reversal. On the weak side, while the US dollar has fallen within the G3 and is approximately flat against sterling, the smaller currencies are sharply lower against all of the above, and EM generally doubly so. Meanwhile, a chunky new drop in oil prices on the anticipation of widening international travel restrictions and even domestic lockdowns in places is adding to the NOK woes just after that currency was trying to recover versus the single currency last week, sending EURNOK up through its 200-day moving average and above 10.20 at one point today after trading below 9.70 barely over a month ago.

AUDJPY is doing its usual job of capturing a wave of risk aversion as the lurch lower in risk sentiment was reflected here, and the clearly important 200-day moving average gave way with a bang. This is beginning to demolish the longer-term bullish hopes as it is a hold below the 200-day moving average here is a kind of confirmation of the rejection of the next cycle highs above 85.00 that were attempted last month. Theoretically, if the last gasp support of the 61.8% retracement of the local rally wave can avoid falling, there is shred of hope, but that would likely depend on a full reversal of everything we have just seen overnight.

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As we emphasized in this morning’s Saxo Market Call podcast, it is impossible to know how the virus situation shapes up here until further details emerge, but the market appears poorly positioned here for a more difficult global growth outlook at a time was just on how much the Fed is going to have to course correct and end QE and hike rates because US Q4 GDP is running incredibly hot. And that was in turn driving the predominant focus on relative policy divergences, with especially Europe being singled out for its particularly weak outlook, given the energy crunch and it being at the epicenter of the latest covid wave.

If I am to poke around at places where moves are getting a bit overdone here in the short term, the EURSEK squeeze move looks a bit excessive, but that isn’t to say that poor liquidity and the usual market correlations can’t send it squeezing higher still. Yesterday, the Riksbank brought a rate hike into its forward guidance (late 2024) for the first time for the cycle at a time as the market is front running that and even pricing the ECB to achieve lift-off next year. Trading a market move like the one has developed overnight is tricky business as anything can happen and either direction. Concern may deepen and dramatically so that nations will scramble to limit the spread of this new variant until more is known, and we still know little about its virulence. And in the very short-term, a self-propelling position squaring can extend aggressively ahead of the weekend as risk managers force adjustments linked to the blow-up in volatility. Then the gap risk can move in the other direction over the weekend. Impossible to know, only to limit risk and exercise patience and a couple of weeks or more of headline risks before we know the lay of the land better.

Table: FX Board of G10 and CNH trend evolution and strength
As noted above, the big direction change here is in the euro and the JPY, which have pulled sharply higher in most crosses, with the Swiss franc happy to continue higher as well (suggesting that the USDCHF pair was increasingly important positioning-wise recently?). Elsewhere, SEK downside is beginning to look extreme, and CNH upside likewise if commodity prices continue to crater.

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Table: FX Board Trend Scoreboard for individual pairs.
Far too early to talk trends when what we have here is a sudden positioning wipeout – but we will have to see how the next few days develop. Most “flips” as of this update are linked to the oil move (NOKSEK, CAD crosses etc.) although note the euro ripping higher against AUD and NZD.

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John Hardy

John Hardy

Hardy has won several accolades for his work and was named the most successful 12-month forecaster for 2015 among over 30 of FX Week’s regular contributors. His forex market column is often quoted and he is a regular guest and commentator on television, including CNBC and Bloomberg.