Swiss Franc in Focus as SNB Announces Rates, Currency Policy (Euro Open)

The Swiss Franc may see volatility ahead as the Swiss National Bank gets set to make their quarterly monetary policy announcement, including an update on their policy of intervention into the currency market to prevent the appreciation of the currency. UK Retail Sales and the Euro Zone Trade Balance are also on tap.

Key Overnight Developments

• Japanese Service Demand Rises to Highest Since February
• NZ Manufacturing Shrinks at Faster Pace as Orders Plummet
• Bank of Japan Holds Rates at 0.10%, Raises Economic Forecast

Critical Levels

The Euro advanced in the overnight session, testing as high as 1.4734 to the US Dollar. The British Pound initially moved downward, touching as low as 1.6468, but recovered late into the session to trade little changed ahead of the opening bell in Europe.

Asia Session Highlights

Japan’s Tertiary Industry Index grew slightly more than economists expected, adding 0.6% in July to show that demand for services has rebounded to the highest level since February. The result likely owes to continued support from the government’s record-setting 25 trillion yen stimulus package. Indeed, government spending accounted for the bulk of economic growth in the second quarter. The question now facing Japan as well as most other developed countries is what happens when the flow of public funds invariably dries up. On balance, unemployment continues to push higher, trimming incomes and hinting at turn lower in spending (including that on services) in the months ahead.

New Zealand’s Business NZ Performance of Manufacturing Index fell to 48.7 in August from 49.6 in the previous month, showing the pace of contraction in the industrial sector quickened for the first time since May. The sub-index measuring New Orders led the metric lower, dropping by -5.1 points to register the largest decline in 9 months, while output shrank the most since February. The report follows news that manufacturing sales dropped the most on record in the second quarter, adding yet more weight to last week’s comments from Reserve Bank of New Zealand Governor Alan Bollard, who said the stronger New Zealand Dollar puts business profits “under pressure” and warned that “If the exchange rate were to continue its recent appreciation…the sustainability of the present recovery will be brought into question.”

The Bank of Japan unanimously agreed to keep interest rates unchanged at 0.10%, as expected, but policymakers raised their forecasts for economic growth as economic conditions begin to “show signs of recovery”, calling for growth to begin to rebound in the second half of the 2009 fiscal year (the 12 months ending April 2010). The bank still sees downside risks to the economy, however, saying fiancial conditions continue to be “severe” while consumption remains weak and capital spending is still falling. Policymakers made no changes to their asset-buying and lending programs. On balance, BOJ Governor Maasaki Shirakawa concluded that “risks to the economy are still on the downside [with the outlook] attended by a significant level of uncertainty.”

Euro Session: What to Expect

The Swiss Franc may see volatility late into the European session as the Swiss National Bank makes their quarterly monetary policy announcement, including an update on their policy of intervention into the currency market to prevent the appreciation of the currency. As with most major central banks, there is little doubt that the SNB will leave benchmark interest rates unchanged. Rather, traders will focus on any updates to policymakers’ commitment to keep a lid on the value of the Swiss Franc with direct intervention into the currency markets. Consumer prices printed a bit better in August, rebounding from the low set in July, and a similar moderation in Producer Prices earlier this week foreshadows slightly better results for the headline inflation gauge in the months ahead. Still, it is surely much too early to say that the specter of deflation has dissipated, so the SNB is unlikely to do a complete about-face on exchange rate policy. To that effect, the markets will look for a more nuanced hint at the bank’s bias going forward, such as an upward revision of inflation expectations. The 1.50 level in EURCHF seems to have been the threshold of the SNB’s comfort zone, and traders would be wise to watch the behavior of the cross vis-à-vis this juncture ahead of the policy announcement.

UK Retail Sales are expected to rise 2.7% in the year to August, snapping two months of consecutive gains in the annual growth rate. The metric has seen atypical volatility over recent months as rising unemployment grappled with rebounding asset prices and government stimulus for dominance over consumer sentiment. Looking ahead, we see the downside scenario as more plausible. Fiscal support is inherently limited with the UK budget deficit already set to average close to 13% of GDP though 2010, threatening the country’s sovereign credit rating. Meanwhile, global equities are looking increasingly overdone having finished August at the highest level relative to earnings since May 2003. The upward trend in unemployment looks far more permanent, however, with a survey of economists polled by Bloomberg expecting the jobless rate to top 9% by the end of next year. This will trim incomes and discourage spending, weighing on retail activity in the months ahead.

The Euro Zone Trade Balance surplus is set to expand to 6.4 billion euro in July, the most in over two years. Exports figures may prove disappointing, however: industrial production fell more than economists expected in the same period while the currency has been pushing higher in trade-weighted terms since late April, now up over 5.6%, making European-made goods comparatively more expensive and thereby less attractive to foreign buyers. A drop in imports seems like a much more plausible driver for an improvement in the headline figure, especially considering the sharp decline in Swiss industrial output reported earlier this week. As we have previously noted, manufactured goods top the list of Swiss export commodities, so the drop in production is indicative of lackluster demand in key overseas markets, where the top three Euro Zone economies alone account for close to 50% of demand.

Written by Ilya Spivak, Currency Analyst
Swiss Franc in Focus as SNB Announces Rates, Currency Policy (Euro Open)