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Archive for October, 2007

Australia to Hike Rates

Oct. 30th 2007

Australia’s benchmark interest rate, at 6.50%, is already the highest in the industrialized world, after New Zealand. Ignoring the pleas of the Treasurer, the Central Bank of has all but decided to hike rates even further into the stratosphere at its next meeting.  The country is in a bit of a pickle, since a booming economy and the consequent inflation seems to demand a rate hike.  At the same time, this rate hike will ensure that Australia continues to be on the receiving end of Japanese carry trades, and this is precisely what irks Peter Costello, Australia’s Treasurer. In other words, the world’s massive economic imbalances will only be exacerbated by an Australian rate hike, but this may be a moot point as far as the Central Bank is concerned.  The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

Instability on global financial markets between now and the next Reserve Bank board meeting on Melbourne Cup day is seen by economists as the only force that could stay the bank’s hand from raising rates to the highest level in a decade.

Read More: Look out for the tsunami, says Costello

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Chinese Yuan Reaches Milestone

Oct. 29th 2007

The Chinese Yuan has crossed the psychological barrier of 7.5 RMB/USD, a level last seen nearly a decade ago.  The currency’s appreciation has been gradual but visible, not withstanding the cries of western bureaucrats.  By all accounts, the Yuan will continue rising, though not at the same pace as its trade surplus, which is projected to jump from $177 Billion in 2006 to $300 Billion in 2007.  Predictions regarding the extent of the appreciation range from 20% to 400%, the implication being that it depends who you ask. But the general consensus is clear: the Yuan is pointing upwards.  Bloomberg News reports:

Non-deliverable forward contracts show traders are betting the yuan will reach 7.0070 in 12 months, a gain of 6.9 percent from the spot rate, and 6.95 by the end of 2008.

Read More: Yuan Gains Past 7.5 for First Time in Decade as Surplus Widens

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Fed may Cut Rates Again

Oct. 27th 2007

The Dollar is still reeling from the 50 basis point rate cut imposed by the Fed last month. Nonetheless, some analysts are predicting that the Fed will cut rates again on October 31, this time by a quarter of a percentage point, to 4.5%. The looming fall in real estate prices (termed the sub-prime crisis) has officially spread to the rest of the economy, and the Fed is trying to preempt a complete collapse in investor and consumer confidence.  Experts remain divided as to whether the Fed will cut rates now or next month. Either way, you can expect the Dollar to drop to fresh lows against the Euro.  Thomson Financial reports:

“The combination of weak US data, rising expectations of aggressive Fed easing and a stable, albeit fragile, Wall Street is a perfect recipe for euro-US dollar and Australian dollar-US dollar strength,” said one analyst.

Read More: US dollar hovers near all-time low vs euro on chances of Fed rate cut

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Asian Central Banks Plot Intervention

Oct. 25th 2007

Asian currencies, with the exception of the Chinese Yuan and Japanese Yen, have notched stellar performances this year.  The currencies of Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, to name but a few, have experienced double-digit increases (in percentage terms) against the Dollar. Worried about the impact of a rising currency on export growth, Asian central banks are in the process of intervening in forex markets.  Singapore, which uses currency manipulation as a form of monetary policy, believed to have already made purchases of US government bonds in order to depress the Singapore Dollar. South Korea, as well, has a history of forex intervention, albeit unsuccessful intervention, and may issue currency stabilization bonds before year-end.  The Gulf Daily News reports:

The Bank of Korea has repeatedly stated that it would closely monitor currency markets, expressing concern about the level of the won and money supply growth.

Read More: Asian banks calm currency surge

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US Presses China to Revalue

Oct. 24th 2007

You have to admire the US for its persistence in pressuring China to appreciate the Yuan, though it’s not as if anyone seriously expected it to back off. Fresh from the recent G8 conference and enjoying the spotlight of the media, US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson called in China to put its money where its mouth is, and relax its hold on the Yuan. Paulson expressed dissatisfaction with the pace at which the Chinese currency has appreciated – approximately 10% since 2005.  He even insinuated that there would be repercussions for the US-China trade relationship if this demand was not at least partially fulfilled.  To add insult to injury, he warned that US public opinion of China is already at a low point, in the wake of the quality control issues with Chinese exports and the subsequent recalls.  Reuters reports:

“While we are trying to lower barriers to trade, there is a risk that some in China are stepping away from long-standing policies of closer global economic integration — policies which have been a source of China’s incredible growth.”

Read More: Paulson wants faster China yuan rise

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G7 Comments on USD Dismissed by Markets

Oct. 23rd 2007

In an official G7 press release, US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson proclaimed that the US would continue to pursue a “Strong Dollar” policy. While this remark was certainly anticipated and probably even appreciated, by representatives from the EU, analysts have been quick to mock. Their point, which is well-taken, is that it seems ridiculous for the US to insist that it supports a strong Dollar when economic fundamentals support a continued decline. The current account deficit is not retreating, interest rates are being lowered, and the credit crunch threatens to collapse the US housing and stock markets. Meanwhile, the USD has declined in five of the last six years, and the Bush administration has not made any serious efforts (beyond rhetoric) to intervene on its behalf, leaving market participants chuckling and scratching their heads when they hear “Strong Dollar.” Reuters reports:

Paulson even before he became Treasury secretary said publicly that the dollar would have to weaken to ameliorate the U.S. trade shortfall. So his maintaining a strong-dollar policy may reflect a more global perspective..

Read More: Markets see U.S. policy of "ignore the dollar"

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Commentary: Will the US Intervene on Behalf of the Dollar?

Oct. 22nd 2007

At last week’s G8 meeting in Washington, it was expected that currencies would be a hot topic of discussion.  With the Dollar retreating to record lows on a daily basis, the failure of China to allow the Yuan to appreciate, the Japanese Yen’s continued weakness despite its strong economy, and the recent parity of the Canadian Dollar and USD, there are certainly plenty of forex phenomena that deserve attention.  However, it is the Euro/USD relationship that probably received the most scrutiny, as the biggest contingent of the G8 uses the Euro.

European politicians and bureaucrats have spent the last few months arguing with America-as well as amongst themselves-over the declining Dollar.  The consensus is certainly that the Dollar is harming the European economies; as one German Minister phrased it, the “pain threshold” has been crossed.  At the same time, it is clear that a relatively weak Dollar is probably in the best interest of global economic stability, since the US current account and financial account imbalances can only be solved by changes in exchange rates.  Thus, there is a growing divide between European politicians, who tend to think in provincial terms, and the European Central Bank, which is more focused on the Big Picture.  The new President of France, for example, has been quite vocal in lamenting the appreciation of the Euro, even going so far as to demand the ECB step in.  Jean Claude Trichet, president of the ECB, responded by calling on European politicians to be circumspect in their comments on the Euro.

However, since Central Banks do not participate in G8 conferences, you can bet that politicians hounded Hank Paulson, US Secretary of the Treasury, on the declining Dollar.  Some analysts have even speculated that ‘intervention’ would enter into the discussions. In fact, the US has not intervened in forex markets since 1994, when Europe and American worked in tandem to prop up a then-ailing Dollar.  After a couple months, however, the plan was abandoned due to mixed results.  Is it possible that the US, confronted with the same situation, will once again attempt intervention?

The answer is “not likely.”  First, the Europeans are not even united in their position on the USD/Euro exchange rate.  Secretly, they would probably all prefer a stronger Dollar, but in public, only a handful have called for intervention.  Second, short of fixing the exchange rate (which would require the US to borrow money), it is very difficult for a government/central bank to control its currency.  Recent intervention by South Korea and Japan, as well as America’s efforts in 1994, ended in failure. Finally, there is the issue of China, which does control its currency.  The US would surely appear hypocritical if it intervened on behalf of the Dollar while simultaneously encouraging China to float the Yuan.  Thus, while certain US economic concessions may result of the G8 conference, a controlled appreciation of the Dollar will not likely be one of them.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Commentary, Politics & Policy, US Dollar | No Comments »

Australian Dollar Approaches Parity

Oct. 18th 2007

Over the last few months, the Australian Dollar has risen over 15% against the USD, bringing the currency to a 23-year high. With parity (1:1 exchange rate) in sight, some analysts are beginning to draw parallels between the Australian Dollar and the Canadian Dollar, which skyrocketed to parity against the USD just last month.  Both economies are rich in natural resources, relying heavily on them to drive exports.  In fact, more than half of Australia’s exports are comprised of natural resources.  It is no surprise that as oil, gold, and a host of other raw materials have surged to record highs, the Australian economy has outperformed even the rosiest of expectations.  With China’s economic boom promising to keep raw material prices high for the near future, the prospects for Australia’s economy, and hence its currency, are brighter than ever.

What’s more, the basic divergence in growth is clearly tipping towards the momentum underlying the Aussie economy with consumer spending, business investment and export income promising strength for the economy and currency in the months to come.

DailyFX reports: Australian Dollar: The Next to Reach Parity?

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Emerging Currencies at Risk

Oct. 17th 2007

Most of the world’s emerging economies link their currencies to either the Dollar, the Euro or a basket of currencies, through an outright peg or a so-called "dirty float."  These countries have attracted waves of foreign money, with the intent of buying cheap exports, foreign direct investment, and capital/forex market speculation.  As a result, while the upside of these pegs has been seemingly boundless economic growth, the downside has been inflation, since many of these countries have been forced to print money in exchange for foreign currency.  Countries in the Middle East, Asia, and Eastern Europe, especially, have effected tremendous increases in their respective money supplies with double-digit inflation rates to match.  Many savvy investors, namely hedge funds, have begun to target countries with fixed exchange rates that are suffering high rates of inflation, with the reasoning that it is inevitable such currencies will soon be forced into appreciation. The Telegraph reports:

Further east, Vietnam is throwing in the towel as inflation hits 9pc. It said it will no longer hold down the dong by massive purchases of US bonds. Singapore, Taiwan, and Korea have begun to change tack, slowing dollar accumulation before inflation gets out of control.

Read More: Hedge funds target currency pegs

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Brazil Intervenes on Behalf of Real

Oct. 16th 2007

Continuing our coverage of BRIC countries (see previous post), the Brazilian Real has climbed 20% in value this year alone, on top of gains recorded in previous years. Fearing that an expensive currency will adversely affect its economy, Brazil’s Central Bank announced its plans to intervene in forex markets on behalf of the Real. The Central Bank will buy Dollars at the spot rate, which should bring down the Real slightly.  However, the Central Bank also intervened about two months ago, with limited effect on the Real.  And it doesn’t hold that this time around will be any different.  Ultimately, there are economic forces beyond the control of the Central Bank which are propelling the Real upward.  Reuters reports:

"But I don’t think the bank is going to be able to prevent the real from strengthening further," said one analyst. "The dollar inflows into the country are too strong."

Read More: Brazil stocks, currency slip as c.bank intervenes

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India’s Forex Reserves Top $250 Billion

Oct. 15th 2007

Among the so-called BRIC developing countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China), India is probably the second hottest economy at the moment, after China of course. And following in the footsteps of other developing countries, it is quickly building a massive stock of foreign exchange reserves in order to hold down inflation. Previously, I resisted covering India, because its reserves were small compared to those of China and Japan and hence its potential impact on the Dollar was limited. However, having set another record, India’s forex reserves now top $250 Billion, which rank the country among the highest in the world in this regard. In fact, India is accumulating reserves at the blistering rate of $3 Billion/week!  The breakdown of the reserves (in terms of foreign currency) is unclear, but it seems reasonable to believe that it is dominated by Dollar assets.

Read More: India’s forex reserves rise to record $251 billion

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UK Pound Nears Plateau

Oct. 12th 2007

The UK Pound has been on a tear recently, both against the USD and more surprisingly, against the Euro.  The currency has been given a boost by the
Bank of England’s reluctance to cut its benchmark interest rate, which at 5.75%, remains the highest among the world’s major currencies.  However, many economists feel the case for a rate cut is growing stronger every month, whether or not the Bank of England is willing to acknowledge it.  Inflation is only moderately high, while the fall in housing prices-exacerbated by a prolonged period of tight money-threatens to drag down the entire economy.  The markets are still pricing in a rate cut by year-end, which would surely drag down the Pound should it obtain.  Dow Jones Newswires reports:

“We strongly suspect that market pessimism in this respect will continue to grow, in reverse proportions to its expectations of a further hike in U.K. interest rates,” said…a senior currency strategist.

Read More: Sterling’s Strength Can’t Last Much Longer

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Bank of Japan Leaves Rates Alone

Oct. 11th 2007

As expected, the Bank of Japan left its benchmark interest rate unchanged at its latest meeting.  The current rate of .5% remains the lowest in the industrialized world and thus will continue to fuel the Japanese carry trade.  The Bank fended off the criticism of several European Ministers, wary of the Yen’s continued appreciation against the Euro, including a 5% increase in the last month alone. The EU has insisted that Japan should hike rates immediately both to avoid global economic imbalances and to prevent its own economy from overheating.  Japan defended its decision by pointing to certain small business indicators, which suggest the sector is still underperforming.  Carry traders, rest easy. Bloomberg News reports:

“The Bank of Japan will probably need to put off a hike at least until December to nail down its assessment of global growth as well as the performance of small companies,” said Masaaki Kanno, a former central bank official

Read More: Bank of Japan Votes 8-1 to Keep Key Rate at 0.5%

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Central Banks, Japanese Yen | No Comments »

Europe Asks China to Revalue Yuan

Oct. 10th 2007

Evidently frustrated by the Euro’s appreciation against the USD, a group of EU ministers has turned its attention to China, calling on it to allow the Yuan to appreciate against the Euro.  While the Yuan has appreciated nearly 10% against the USD over the last two years, it has actually decreased in value against the Euro.  As a result, the EU trade deficit has set a fresh record nearly every month. Unfortunately, the Yuan basically remains pegged to the USD, and since the USD is depreciating faster against the Euro than against the Chinese Yuan, the law of triangular arbitrage dictates the Euro must be appreciating against the Yuan.  It appears China’s hands are tied.  Bloomberg News reports:

“I can assure you China will continue to adopt a reform oriented policy on its exchange-rate mechanism,” said a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman. “But these
adjustments have to be done gradually and in line with the market.”

Read More: EU Calls on China to Let Yuan Appreciate Against Euro

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Chinese Yuan (RMB), Euro | No Comments »

How to Profit from a Falling Dollar

Oct. 9th 2007

The Dollar has been sliding steadily for close to a year, and Wall Street has been rushing to introduce a spate of new investment products to help investors profit accordingly.  For those who do not want to trade currencies directly, Exchange Traded Funds (ETF’s), probably represent the best alternative. The typical currency ETF tracks a basket of currencies and most ETFs are characterized by low fees.  In fact, over $2.7 Billion is currently invested in such ETF’s, which have risen from virtually nothing over the last 7 years. Another option is to buy CDs or other money market instruments denominated in other currencies. Online banks such as Everbank offer such products. Yet another option is to buy shares in mutual funds that aim to mimic the returns offered by investing directly in foreign money market instruments.  Finally, one can simply buy shares in foreign companies or in American multinational companies that do significant business abroad.

Read More: Opinion divided on currency trading

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IMF Comments on Currencies

Oct. 8th 2007

Rodrigo Rato, outgoing president of the International Monetary Fund ("IMF") recently offered his two cents on developments in the forex markets.  He began by cautioning against "excessive volatility," or the rapid fluctuations which have recently afflicted many of the world’s major currencies.  Next, he suggested that the Dollar has moved from being massively overvalued to being massively undervalued. In other words, it is his assessment that the Dollar has depreciated far too rapidly over the last few years.  Finally, he suggested that a tightening of Japanese monetary policy would be in the best interest of global economic stability.  As Rato is no doubt aware, higher Japanese interest rates would put an end to the carry trade, and drive the Yen upwards in value.  The Financial Times reports:

The outgoing IMF chief also hints at unease about Japan’s yen, which remains weak in part because of ultra-low interest rates. “Normalisation of monetary policy in Japan is an important medium-term objective.”

Read More: Rato speaks his mind on dollar

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Japanese Forex Reserves Near $1 Trillion

Oct. 5th 2007

Japan’s Central Bank now controls over $950 Billion in foreign exchange reserves, second only to those of China.  While Japan is not accumulating significant new reserves, its existing reserves have appreciated in value due to the Euro’s recent ascent.  Analysts are keeping a close eye on the reserves of both countries, which represent close to 50% of the world’s foreign exchange reserves.  In addition, analysts will be watching China, which may take a cue from Japan and diversify some of its reserves into Euro-denominated assets in order to offset the effect of the declining Dollar.  AFX News Limited reports:

Japan’s reserves are closely watched for evidence of how the country is managing its foreign currency holdings. Its actions are seen as having a significant impact on exchange rates and bond markets around the world, particularly the US government bond market.

Read More: Japan’s forex reserves rise to record

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Central Banks, Japanese Yen | No Comments »

Korean Won Benefits from Falling Dollar

Oct. 4th 2007

It seems the collapse of the USD is quickly spreading; the Korean Won has become the latest currency to cash in on the sagging Dollar.  As with regard to other currencies that have risen against the Dollar, forex analysts are not attributing the Won’s rise to strength in the Korean economy, but rather weakness in the US economy.  It is also worth noting that previously, when the Won rose sharply against the Dollar, the Korean government moved quickly to intervene in forex markets in a vane attempt to protect the export-dependent Korean economy. However, as the Won inevitably continued to rise, the government incurred massive losses, essentially for naught.  As a result, analysts expect the Korean government to remain on the sidelines this time around.  The Korea Times reports: 

"Other than verbal intervention, it will be difficult for the government to actually meddle in the market to help stop the won’s appreciation."

Read More: Dollar’s Demise Means Mightier Won

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China Launches Forex Investment Arm

Oct. 3rd 2007

After much delay, China finally launched the bureau charged with diversifying its $1.4 trillion foreign exchange reserves. The agency will be capitalized with $200 billion and will invest in assets slightly more risky than US treasury securities. Most currency analysts view diversification as tantamount to the sale of dollar-denominated assets, but in practice, this may entail only the movement of funds into riskier dollar-denominated assets. In fact, the investment arm’s opening move was a $3 billion investment in The Blackstone Group, an American financial conglomerate. Dollar bulls can hold off on worrying just yet.

Read More: China‘s trillion-dollar kitty is ready

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Australian Dollar Reaches Record High

Oct. 2nd 2007

The Australian Dollar recently touched a 20-year high against the USD, having risen 15% in the last month alone.  In fact, the currency has proved to be one of the top performers against the USD in 2007, having benefited from continued weakness in the US economy.  It has also been one of the chief beneficiaries of the Yen carry trade, in which investors have sold Yen in favor of higher-yielding currencies, which also include the Swiss Franc and New Zealand Dollar.  Meanwhile, Australia’s economy is surging, as Chinese demand for raw materials is unabated.  Many analysts are asserting that the Australian Dollar can go no higher, citing technical factors.  However, there seems to be just as many analysts who expect the AUD to test the outer limits of parity with the USD.  The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

The chief equities economist at CommSec, Craig James, said the dollar was now likely to enter the “nervous nineties.”

Read More: Australian dollar the strongest in 20 years

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