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Friday December 18, 2009 - 18:59:53 GMT
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Volatility is high in Equity Markets

The U.S. equity markets are experiencing high levels of volatility at the mid-session.  Oversold conditions and increased appetite for risk helped boost equity prices overnight, but U.S. investors failed to chase this market higher, leading to an early morning sell-off.  

The inability to take the NASDAQ lower helped to trigger a turnaround in the S&P and Dow shortly before the mid-session.  As long as the Dollar remains strong, however, look for gains to be limited.

The primary driver for this week’s weak trade in the equity markets has been aversion to risky assets due to credit concerns in the Euro Zone.  The downgrade of Greece’s credit rating fueled yesterday’s sell-off, but the lack of new bearish developments overnight has triggered renewed demand for higher risk assets.

Treasury futures are taking a hit today as traders unwind some of their “flight-to-safety” positions.  The inability to break the equity markets hard today is leading to a slight increase in demand for higher risk; this is triggering the pressure on the T-Bonds and Notes today.

Overbought market conditions and reduced demand for safe-haven assets helped to weaken the U.S. Dollar overnight.  Technically, both the Relative Strength Index and the Stochastic Oscillator have placed the Dollar into overbought territory. Reduced concerns about sovereign debt issues in Greece, Spain and Portugal have helped increase demand for higher risk assets. The combination of these two factors could pressure the Dollar today.

The inability of the U.S. stock market to hold on to overnight gains fueled a turnaround in the Dollar which erased gains in the Euro and British Pound.  Early session gains were also pared in the Swiss Franc and Canadian Dollars but these currencies managed to remain positive at the mid-session.

Overbought market conditions and reduced demand for safe-haven assets helped to weaken the U.S. Dollar overnight but this scenario was unable to trigger fresh buying in equities and gold once the U.S. markets opened.

A new geopolitical event is developing in Iraq which may push aside concerns about European debt issues for the time being.  News that a faction of the Iranian army visited an Iraqi oilfield could be the catalyst behind this morning’s risk aversion trade.  Investors may be flocking to the Dollar ahead of this week-end in anticipation of an escalation of events between Iraq and Iran.

The March Euro erased all of its earlier gains and made a fresh low for the week.  Traders became more risk averse after U.S. equity markets failed to add on to earlier gains.  This renewed interest in lower yielding assets helped weaken the Euro. Earlier in the morning, oversold conditions and the news that German business confidence rose to a 17-month high in December helped pare some of yesterday’s losses.
Increased risk appetite contributed to the early strength in the March British Pound, but these early gains were erased when demand for higher yielding assets declined.  The British Pound made a new low for the week, but appears to be trying to mount a small comeback at the mid-session. 

Overnight, the Bank of England Financial Stability Report said the U.K. financial system is “significantly more stable”.  It did add, however, that the “probability of default by U.K. real estate companies has increased significantly”.  The British Pound could see volatile trading over the next couple of months as the Bank of England begins to phase out of its quantitative easing program. The possibility that U.K. households will continue to face weakening labor conditions as well as tightening credit conditions could fuel further weakness.  Finally, the threat of a cut in the U.K. debt rating from AAA remains a concern among long-term investors.

The weakness in the equity markets is triggering another round of carry trade reversals which is helping to pressure the March Japanese Yen. Last night the Bank of Japan left its benchmark interest rate at 0.10%.  In addition, it hinted that its biggest concern remains deflation.  Overall there were no surprises in the policy statement. 

March Canadian Dollar traders are watching the situation in Iraq this morning for the possibility of a spike in oil prices.  Look for the Canadian Dollar to strengthen if crude oil finishes the day strong.  Most of yesterday’s gains have been erased this morning, and the Canadian Dollar is once again trading inside of its 60 day range.

Overbought conditions are underpinning the March Swiss Franc.  Yesterday’s spike to the downside may have been too much to handle.  Higher gold prices because of the geopolitical event between Iraq and Iran, has helped contribute to today’s strength. Traders sold the Swiss Franc yesterday on concerns the sovereign debt issues in Europe would adversely affect the Swiss Banking system.  Now that debt concerns have eased, traders are using this lull in the market to take profits after yesterday’s surge.

February Gold traders seem to be ignoring the stronger Dollar and may be shifting their focus to the developing situation in the Middle East.  Gold traders appear to be hedging the possibility that the situation between Iran and Iraq will develop into something major over the week-end. After holding yesterday’s low and regaining a key 50% price at $1107.40, gold was able to mount a small rally to $1118.00. The chart indicates that there is room to the upside with $1139.50 a possible target.

A geopolitical event is helping to give March Crude Oil a boost overnight.  It’s been reported that Iranian troops entered an Iraqi oilfield.  This news triggered a short-covering rally overnight while sending this market back above a key resistance price at 75.53.  The first upside objective of this current rally is 77.85, followed by 78.09. 


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