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Sterling Buoyed by Labor Market Report Ahead of US CPI

Sterling Buoyed by Labor Market Report Ahead of US CPI

Overview: The US dollar is enjoying a mostly firmer bias ahead of today's CPI report. Sterling is the strongest among the G10 currencies after a more resilient than expected labor market report. The dollar extended its gains against the Japanese yen to a new high since last November, but the market seems cautious as it approaches JPY150, where large options expire today. On the other hand, emerging market currencies are mostly faring better. The Mexican peso and Polish zloty of notable exceptions and are nursing minor losses.

The Nikkei set new 30-year+ highs and at one point rose 3% today, the most since November 2022 before settling up nearly 2.9%. It is about 2.5% away from a record high. Most markets in the Asia Pacific region rose today, though Australia and New Zealand were exceptions. Europe's Stoxx 600 is giving back around half of yesterday's 0.55% gain. US equity index futures are trading lower after the S&P 500 and Nasdaq failed hold earlier gains yesterday. European benchmark yields are a little lower, but that better-than-expected UK jobs report is weighing on Gilts, where the 10-year yield is about two basis points higher. Gold is steadying after reaching a 12-day low yesterday near $2012. It is near $2026 European turnover. Lastly, April WTI is extending yesterday's recovery and has pushed above $77 a barrel for the first time this month. The year's high was set in late January slightly above $79.0. 

Asia Pacific

Japanese markets re-opened from the long weekend holiday. It reported that producer prices did not decline on year-over-year basis for the first time since the end of 2022. Japanese producer price inflation peak in December 2022 at 10.6%, and after slowing every month last year stood at a revised 0.2% in December 2023 and was steady at 0.2% in January. Separately, Japan reported January tool orders were off 14.1% in January year-over-year after falling 9.7% in January 2023. It looks like a poor start of the year for capex. The highlight of the week is the Q4 23 GDP due early Thursday. The world's third-largest economy is expected to have grown by about 0.2% after contracting by 0.7% in Q3.

Australia's January employment report is due early Thursday. After losing 65k jobs in December, economy expect Australia to have grown 25k jobs in January. Watch full-tine jobs, which collapsed by more than 106k in December. The participation rate may have ticked up to 66.9% after falling from a record high of 67.3% last November to 66.8% in December. The unemployment rate may have risen to 4%, which would match the highest since January 2022.

Even without the help of rising US interest rates, the dollar rose to almost JPY149.50 in the overlap between Europe and North American session. It edged up to almost JPY149.70 today, a new three-month high. It has not traded above JPY150 since November 17. There are options for $1.4 bln struck at JPY150 that expire 90 minutes after the market-sensitive US CPI today. The dollar's six-week rally against the yen matches the longest streak since Aug-Oct 2022. Until Japanese officials protest, the market pushes onward. The market has been fairly orderly, though it is knocking on the upper Bollinger Band (~JPY149.75). The Australian dollar made a new marginal high yesterday, a few hundredths of a cent above last week's high. It traded briefly trade above the (50%) retracement of the losses from the high seen before the US jobs report on February 2. There has been no follow-through buying today, and the Aussie has mostly traded between $0.6510 and $0.6530 today, showing little inclination to break out of the week-and-a-half long congestion. While the mainland markets are closed, we expect the dollar to trade inside the onshore band, which keeps it roughly between CNH6.9615 and CNH7.2455. Unlike its performance against the yen, the dollar did briefly trade above last week's high, reaching nearly CNH7.2255 yesterday. The high for the year was set on January 17 slightly above CNH7.2320. Today's range has been roughly CNH7.2140-CNH7.2230. 


The eurozone has a light economic calendar this week. The German ZEW survey was reported today. The expectations component continues to improve. February was the seventh consecutive monthly improvement. It stands at 19.9, up from 15.2 in January and 12.8 at the end of last year. However, remember the ZEW expectations rose for five months through last February before falling again. Perhaps, what has weighed on expectations is the continued poor current assessment. It fell to -81.7 from -77.3. It took out last October' at -79.9. It had firmed slightly in November and December before falling in January.

The UK's labor market is slowing gradually, but today's report was stronger than expected. The loss of payrolled employees in January was revised to a gain of 31k (from-24k) and the January gain of 48k was well above the -18k median forecast in Bloomberg's survey. Those claiming unemployment benefits in January rose to 14.1k, but the 11.7k increase in December was halved to 5.5k. More importantly from a policy point of view, wage growth did not moderate as much as expected. Average weekly earnings three-months year over-year through December slowed to 5.8% (not 5.6%, as expected) from a revised 6.7% pace (initially 6.5%). In response, the market has downgraded the chances of a May cut to less than 60%, the least since late November and taken sterling to a new seven-day high near $1.2670.

The euro traded on both sides of last Friday's range (~$1.0760-$1.0795) yesterday. In fact, the euro traded above $1.08 for the first time since the US jobs report on February 2. To boost the near-term outlook, the euro needs to push above the $1.0830 area, which houses the 20- and 200-day moving average and the (61.8%) retracement of the losses since February 2. Instead, the single currency is mired in a narrow range in the lower end of yesterday's range. It looks to be going nowhere fast. With the help of the resilience of the UK's labor market, sterling recorded a higher high for the third day running. Unlike the euro, it is above its 200-day moving average (~$1.2565). It overcame the (50%) retracement of the losses since February 2 to reach the 20-day moving average (~$1.2670) and approach the next retracement (61.8%) near $1.2675. Nearby resistance is seen around $1.2700.


US headline January CPI is expected to rise by 0.2% for the third consecutive month. Given that last January's 0.5% increase drops out of the 12-month measure, it should be around 3.0%-3.1%. The year-over-year rate bottomed at 3% last June and was at 3.4% in December. Recall that in Q1 23, US CPI rose at an annualized rate of 4% and in Q4 23 rose at a 2% annualized rate. Similarly, the core rate is expected to have risen by 0.3% for the third consecutive month. It rose by 0.4% in January 2023, so the year-over-year rate may have ticked down to 3.7%-3.8%.

Fed Chair Powell said two things that seem particularly relevant the post-FOMC press conference in this context. First, he said that the Fed was not necessarily looking for better data but simply good data, continuing the recent trend. A 0.2%/0.3% headline/core CPI meets that bar. Second, Powell, opined that officials would unlikely be sufficiently confident that inflation is on course to reach the 2% inflation target on a sustained basis by the March FOMC meeting (March 19-20). Before that meeting, there is another jobs report and CPI.

The US dollar traded inside last Friday's range against the Canadian dollar in quiet dealings. The five-and 20-day and 200-day moving averages converge in the CAD1.3465-CAD1.3475 area. Initial support near CAD1.3400 held before the weekend and in the second half January and then again last week. The greenback was capped around CAD1.3540. The greenback is trading quietly in a narrow 20-tick range above CAD1.3445 today. The US dollar peaked last Monday a little above MXN17.28. Support was found in mid-week near MXN17.00. The dollar has drifted lower seven of out the past nine weeks. However, that said, the dollar has been confined to the range set on January 16-17: ~MXN16.88-MXN17.38. It is trading between roughly MXN17.0640 and MXN17.0955 so far today. Trendline resistance is seen near the 200-day moving average MXN17.30. The dollar has frayed BRL5.0 resistance but has not closed to the end of October. Yesterday, the greenback found support near BRL4.95, the midpoint of the month-long range.

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Marc Chandler
He has been covering the global capital markets in one fashion or another for more than 30 years, working at economic consulting firms and global investment banks. After 14 years as the global head of currency strategy for Brown Brothers Harriman, Chandler joined Bannockburn Global Forex, as a managing partner and chief markets strategist as of October 1, 2018.
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