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Archive for April, 2008

April Marks Dollar Turnaround

Apr. 30th 2008

Earlier this week, the Forex Blog speculated that the tide was turning on the Euro, which  had retreated from the $1.60 threshold. Sure enough, the month of April saw the best monthly performance by the Dollar in over two years. The sudden about-face by the Dollar stems from changes in interest rate expectations. Only a couple weeks ago, the consensus among investors was that the Fed would cut rates further at its next meeting; the only point of uncertainty was whether rates would be cut by 25 or 50 basis points.

As of today, however, there is only a 25% chance that the Fed will cut rates at all, if you go by futures prices. Regarding the Euro, investors are no longer so sure that the ECB will hike rates in response to surging inflation. In short, the new consensus is that the US/EU interest rate differential has stabilized. Then there is the economic picture; investors have "chosen" to be pleasantly surprised by the most recent economic data. While the economic downturn still seems inevitable, it may not be as severe as investors had previously feared. Reuters reports:

In contrast to slightly stronger U.S. data, the Ifo German business sentiment index this week showed the biggest monthly fall since September 2001.

Read More: Dollar heads for best month in 2-1/2 years

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Forwards Gain Retail Appeal

Apr. 29th 2008

The anecdotal evidence for surging retail interest in forex is cropping up everywhere. Moreover, investors are no longer even limiting themselves to the spot market, utilizing derivatives to speculate on future exchange rates. In the UK, for example, 10% of investors intending to purchase real estate in the EU are utilizing forward agreements to hedge their exposure to the Euro, which has risen 10% against the Pound since the beginning of 2008. Evidently, prospective home buyers are hoping that the Euro returns to 2007 levels, which would significantly lower the cost of buying property there. However, if the Euro continues to appreciate, such investors could end up losing more than they bargained for. Homes Worldwide reports:

Even the movement in the markets over a couple of days can make the difference between owning a property and no longer being able to afford it.

Read More: Brits Gambling On Volatile Currency Markets

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in British Pound, Euro, Investing & Trading | No Comments »

Chinks in the Euro’s Armor

Apr. 28th 2008

2008 has witnessed a rapid appreciation in the Euro, which recently breached the psychologically important $1.60 barrier. Last week, however, the Dollar dramatically reversed course, leading many traders to speculate that the Euro’s best days may be temporarily behind it. There are two ideas underlying this theory. First, the Federal Reserve Bank is probably near the end of its tightening cycle, while the ECB has yet to begin. In addition, recent economic data suggests that the Euro-zone economy, which has appeared recession-proof in spite of the credit crisis, may soon falter. The best-case scenario, according to Dollar bulls, would be a loosening of monetary policy in the EU simultaneous with tightening in the US. If such a scenario were to obtain, it would bridge the interest rate differential between the two economies, which many believe is behind the weakness in the Dollar. The Wall Street Journal reports:

If bad news out of Europe starts to accumulate and the Fed stands pat, the dollar’s slide could taper off.

Read More: An Endgame for the Euro?

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AUD Nears Parity

Apr. 25th 2008

The word "parity" is becoming a mainstay of traders in the forex markets.  In 2007, it applied to the Canadian Dollar, which had rallied 70% over the course of five years to reach the mythical 1:1 level against the USD.  This year, it is the Australian Dollar that is threatening to surpass the Dollar in value. The AUD has always benefited from general USD weakness, but now the focus is shifting to the AUD, itself. The most recent Australian price data suggests that inflation in Australia remains problematic, which could force its Central Bank to raise the benchmark lending rate to 7.5%.  In addition, high commodity prices and consequently strong exports should provide demand for the currency. As always, analysts are divided over the likelihood of parity, but that hasn’t stopped them from bandying the term about. The Australian Age reports:

Parity was never a "ridiculous suggestion." "But it’s probably a bit tougher going because the Australian economy is slowing," says one analyst. "Then again, if you saw a reacceleration in growth, that might be a different story."

Read More: Our dollar on a roll…

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BOC Cuts Rates

Apr. 24th 2008

The Bank of Canada has cut its benchmark lending rate by 50 basis points, to 3.0%.  The move was widely expected by analysts, although some of them had forecast only a .25% cut. Last week, economic data confirmed a mild rate of inflation in Canada, giving the BOC a green light to ease monetary policy without having to worry about the effect on prices.  Despite commodity prices that remain at stratospheric levels, Canada’s economy is sagging, due to the subprime crisis unfolding across the border. Some analysts have analogized Canada’s situation to the dilemma facing the European Central Bank, which is reluctant to cut interest rates for fear of stoking the fires of inflation. As a result, the Euro has surged 8.5% against the Dollar in the year-to-date, while the Canadian Dollar has fallen. If the BOC opts to cut rates further, the Dollar could retake some of the ground it lost last year. Marketwatch reports:

Against the Canadian dollar, the U.S. dollar is likely to hold support around par, gradually firming back toward C$1.03 ahead of the U.S. Federal Open Market Committee meeting on April 30.

Read More: Canada poised to cut after benign inflation data

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Vietnam Dong to Slide Further

Apr. 23rd 2008

In the year-to-date, the Vietnamese Dong has fallen by .7%.  That may not seem like much, but since the Dong/Dollar exchange rate is approximately 16,000 to 1, every .1% is meaningful. Unfortunately for Vietnam, analysts are predicting that the Dong will fall further, due to a confluence of factors. First, the Vietnamese stock market is tanking; the 42% decline recorded thus far in 2008 makes it Asia’s worst performer and unattractive for foreign investors. The second factor is inflation, which is nearing 20% and is directly eroding the value of the Dong. Finally, there are technical factors, such as rising imports and market sentiment that the Central Bank will hold down the Dong to support the export sector.  Bloomberg News reports:

"The key concerns are that inflation and excessive domestic growth have been allowed to persist. Those pressures have flipped from dong positive to dong negative.”

Read More: Dong to Drop as Inflation Deters Investors

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Central Banks, Emerging Currencies | No Comments »

The Strong Dollar Myth

Apr. 22nd 2008

When asked to discuss the official position of the USA with regard to its currency, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson typically invokes the "Strong Dollar Policy."  According to former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, however, this policy is a "vacuous notion."  Mr. O’Neill served as Secretary from 2001-2002, during which time he echoed the strong dollar sentiments of his forebears, without apparently ever believing that the US had any ability or intention to influence the value of the Dollar in forex markets.  The implications of Mr. O’Neill’s comments are such that the rhetoric of Secretary Paulson, as well as a recent warning by the G7 nations, are both wholly empty, and the Dollar’s value will continue to rise and fall as determined by the markets.  Bloomberg News reports:

O’Neill roiled currency markets when he was in office from 2001 to 2002, at one point with comments in an interview with a German newspaper that the U.S. pursued a policy of a strong economy, rather than currency.

Read More: O’Neill Says U.S. `Strong Dollar’ Policy Is `Vacuous Notion’

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

FXCM Introduces ETF Alternative

Apr. 21st 2008

Forex Capital Markets (FXCM) recently unveiled a product that represents a viable alternative to currency exchange trade funds. A currency ETF is "index-passive" because it is linked to an index and rises and falls in line with the value of the currency with which it is associated.  FXCM’s Enhanced Dollar Index programs, however, are "actively managed" and  aim to capture all of the upside of currency movements with only some of the downside. This is achieved through sophisticated trading algorithms that combine a leveraged index approach with market timing and directional investing. To explain in more concrete terms, a leveraged investment in a Dollar ETF would yield an above-market return if the ETF appreciates, but a proportionately below-market return if the ETF loses value.  The Enhanced Dollar Index Program, in contrast, would yield the same above-market return in the first scenario but a smaller loss in the second scenario.

Read More about FXCM Enhanced Index Programs

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Investing & Trading, US Dollar | No Comments »

G7 Warns of Volatility

Apr. 18th 2008

For the last few months, EU politicians have whined about the appreciating Euro.  Aside from some token comments by the European Central Bank, however, the world failed to pay heed.  That changed last week, when the G7 formally and harshly warned that volatility in forex markets risks harming the global economy. But talk is cheap, and the real question is whether it will be backed up by action. Most analysts reckon that it will be difficult and would take time for the governments of the EU, US, and Japan, at the very least, to put together a coordinated plan of intervention.  Besides, the window has probably closed on action by Central Banks, which have conducted monetary policy irrespective of currency valuations. Reuters reports:

The U.S. Federal Reserve Board [is] nearing the end of its interest rate-cutting cycle, the European Central Bank [is] likely to reduce rates before the end of the year, and things might not get much worse for the U.S. economy. That suggests the dollar may recover in the coming months, with or without official intervention.

Read More: G-7 leaders talk tough on currency markets

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

Yen Carry Trade Under Siege

Apr. 17th 2008

Volatility levels on JPY/AUD forward contracts recently jumped to 25%, the highest level since the Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998.  Combined with other factors, this suggests that the JPY/AUD carry trade, whereby investors borrow in low-yield Yen in order to invest in high-yield Australian Dollars, may be coming to an end.  Economic indicators show a faltering Australian economy, sagging confidence, and a record trade deficit.  Meanwhile, inflation has moderated, such that it is unlikely that the Royal Bank of Australia will hike rates any further and enhance the nation’s comparatively attractive yields.  Even though the interest rate differential between Australia and Japan remains a healthy 6.75%, investors may deem this inadequate compensation for the risk implied by weak economic fundamentals. Bloomberg News reports:

"For the next one or two quarters, the Aussie’s fundamentals will probably look very soggy. I would suggest the Aussie dollar is expensive. There has been a stunning shift back in favor of the yen," [said one analyst].

Read More: Australian Dollar May Fall 10%, Suncorp-Metway Says

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Japanese Yen | No Comments »

USD May be Nearing Bottom

Apr. 16th 2008

The USD continues to dominate conversation in forex circles, as investors ponder whether the currency will fall further or whether it has already sunk as low as it can go. One commentator recently encapsulated the debate into six factors, three bullish on the Dollar and three bearish.  Number one on the side of bearishness is the interest rate situation. Short term US rates are negative in real terms, and savvy investors are using the Dollar to fund carry trades in order to take advantage of higher yields outside the US. The second and third factors are technical: based on one measure, the Dollar is not nearly as "oversold" as it was in 1992, the last time the Dollar suddenly reversed a multi-year decline.  In addition, the "open interest" on the Euro is not as large as it should be if traders were preparing to dump it.

First on the list of factors supporting a bullish outlook is the US recession. This is somewhat counter-intuitive, but history shows that US economic weakness typically coincides with Dollar strength.  Perhaps this is because many countries depend on the US to drive the global economy.  In fact, the Dollar is already rising against certain emerging market currencies that rely on the US as an export market. In addition, overseas investors tend to park their capital in the US during periods of global economic instability because of its continued reputation as a safe haven.  Second, the economies of the UK and the EU are already weak and growing weaker every day.  The only reason their respective Central Banks have not eased monetary policy is because they are also focused on combating inflation. However, they may soon have to sacrifice price stability in favor of economic growth, at which point interest rate differentials will begin to reverse themselves in favor of the US.  The final reason for bullishness is technical; based on a series of indicators different from those listed above, the Dollar IS oversold  and the recent slip downward may presage an upward shift.

Read More: Has the U.S. Dollar Bottomed?

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Investing & Trading, US Dollar | No Comments »

Economists: Euro Correction Inevitable

Apr. 15th 2008

In a research note, two economists from Morgan Stanley predicted that the Euro will soon come crashing down, failing in its bid to rival the Dollar as a viable reserve currency. They observed that in the beginning of the decade, the Euro was viewed as joke from an economic standpoint. Since long-term economic fundamentals can’t reverse themselves in only a few years, they reasoned that the Euro’s rise must instead be a product of financial (capital flows) trends. Furthermore, as the EU becomes further integrated, a need will develop to diversify capital outside of the EU, thus reversing the trend of the last few years of diversification within the EU. The Globe and Mail reports:

The euro is overvalued because institutional investors…world have been diversifying out of their home markets at the same time as European investors have largely been diversifying within their home market.

Read More: The euro as reserve currency? Hah!

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Economic Indicators, Euro | No Comments »

The Future of FX

Apr. 14th 2008

For a recent article, EuroMoney Magazine pulled together some of the top currency analysts on Wall Street for a comprehensive discussion on the state of forex.  The conversation zigs and zags, covering such varied topics as volatility, interest rates, trading strategies, emerging markets, central banks and market infrastructure.  Among other things, it was noted that volatility has surged by 50% since the inception of the credit crunch, returning to levels last seen at the beginning of the decade.  One of the participants broached the possibility of deflation, but that was quickly dismissed by the others due to surging food and energy prices. It was also noted how Central Banks are caught between fighting inflation and facilitating growth, in deciding whether to raise or lower rates, respectively. The main theme in the markets is the sagging Dollar, which is being punished for both economic and strategic reasons as investors sell it in response to the economic downturn and to fund carry trades. Finally, one participant commented that despite growth in liquidity, forex strategy hasn’t evolved much, and the markets remain vulnerable to a huge sell-off due to the "mob mentality."

Read the Discussion in its Entirety

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Investing & Trading, US Dollar | No Comments »

RMB at Record Low

Apr. 11th 2008

The lack of fanfare not withstanding, the Chinese Yuan, or RMB, continues to appreciate against the USD. This week, it crossed the psychologically important barrier of 7 RMB/Dollar, a level last seen in the 1990’s. Since its revaluation nearly three years ago, the Yuan has risen 16% against the Dollar, a rate which appears to be growing exponentially given the 4.5% rise already notched in 2008. Due to the Dollar’s continued weakness against all of the major currencies, the RMB has actually fallen against the Euro over the same period. Most analysts reckon the Yuan will continue appreciating, perhaps to 6.5 by year-end. The New York Times reports:

"The appreciating renminbi is a signal the Chinese government is sending to the export companies to switch away from the U.S. and other overseas markets and turn toward the domestic market."

Read More: Yuan Hits Milestone Against Dollar

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Chinese Yuan (RMB), Politics & Policy | No Comments »

ECB Holds Rates

Apr. 10th 2008

The European Central Bank (ECB) has decided to hold its benchmark interest rate at 4%.  Despite signs that the EU economy is slowing, inflation is hovering around 3.5%, and the ECB has announced that its priority will be to maintain price stability. Jean Claude Trichet, President of the ECB, declared during the accompanying news conference that he "deplores" volatility in the forex markets, an indication that he is concerned that the Euro is appreciating too rapidly.  It doesn’t help the Euro’s cause that the Bank of England lowered its benchmark lending rate to 5% earlier in the week and that the Fed is also in the process of easing monetary policy. Both the US Dollar and British Pound recently touched record lows against the Euro.

Read More: Trichet says deplores excessive forex volatility

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

Retail Appeal of Forex Grows

Apr. 9th 2008

With average daily turnover of $3 Trillion, the foreign exchange markets are the largest financial markets in the world.  Despite boasting such impressive volume and liquidity characteristics, forex is nonetheless considered extremely risky, and thus viewed as the bastion of experienced traders.  This is slowly beginning to change, as investors have moved to diversify their portfolios away from the traditional allocation of stocks, bonds, and cash.  Investing directly in forex still not recommended by financial advisers.  However, there exist alternative strategies, such as buying CDs denominated in foreign currencies and/or securities that are issued by foreign companies and trade on domestic exchanges.  These kinds of "indirect" strategies typically take the form of either "single play" or "double play" strategies. With both strategies, investors attempt to profit through cross-border interest rate disparities, but with "double play" trades, investors seek to profit from currency appreciation as well. The New York Times reports:

Mr. Orr advised currency buyers to research foreign nations and their credit risks, determine at the start their own risk-reward ratio and tolerance to volatility, and have exit strategies, while watching their positions constantly.

Read More: While Alluring, Foreign Currencies Can Be Elusive

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Investing & Trading | No Comments »

Central Bank of Japan Appoints Leader

Apr. 8th 2008

For several months, the Central Bank of Japan had been leaderless, creating a situation that was politically and economically awkward.  Finally, after much debate, Masaaki Shirakawa, a former academic and veteran central banker, was appointed.  It is unclear what effect Mr. Shirakawa will have on Japan’s economy, which is foundering (for reasons unrelated to the global credit crunch).  He is considered highly competent, and analysts have suggested that he could help Japan develop a sensible and focused economic policy, which has been lacking for quite a while. With regard to monetary policy, he is unlikely to either raise or lower interest rates from the current level of .5%.  Thus, if he is to return Japan to economic credibility, he will have to use other methods. Nonetheless, analysts are optimistic. The New York Times reports:

Simply having a hand at the central bank’s tiller will do much to restore global confidence in Japan and its ability to manage its $5 trillion economy, economists and former bank officials said.

Read More: Japan Approves New Bank Chief

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

USD: Where is it Headed?

Apr. 7th 2008

The last week has seen a spate of positive developments in the financial markets, including reassurances by several bulge bracket investment banks that their respective capital positions are in strong and in no need of shoring up. As a result, some analysts are speculating that the worst of the credit crunch has already been priced into securities and the USD, and that actual write-downs on subprime mortgage obligations won’t match the "Himalaya-like guesstimates." At the same time, job losses are mounting and the unemployment rate recently crossed 5% for the first time in two years. Interest rate futures contracts suggest a 20% chance that the Fed will cut rates by 50 basis points at its meeting on April 30. Then, there is the ECB, which has been vocal about fighting inflation and European financial markets, which have benefited from "domestic" investors diversifying within the EU rather than to the US.  Thus, there is no definitive answer regarding where the Dollar is headed in the near-term: everyone seems to have their own opinion.  Bloomberg News reports:

The Dollar Index traded on ICE Futures in New York, which tracks the currency against those of six trading partners, dropped 0.2 percent to 72.049, its third straight decline. It was at a record low of 70.698 on March 17.

Read More: Dollar Falls Against Euro; Report May Show Payrolls Declined

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Investing & Trading, US Dollar | No Comments »

Forex Leads Equities

Apr. 4th 2008

In recent months, the credit crunch has ignited a global trend towards risk aversion.  As a result, a correlation has developed between equities, which serve as a proxy for risk, and certain currencies.  The Forex Blog previously covered the link between the S&P 500 and the Japanese Yen, whereby the Japanese Yen moved inversely with the S&P as a decline in  risk appetite led carry traders to unwind their positions. Perhaps, this connection can be seen in other currencies.  Since the forex markets are open 24 hours a day and are the most liquid financial markets in the world, macroeconomic events are often priced into currencies before they are priced into equities. In addition, carry trading strategies have expanded beyond the Japanese Yen.  In fact, the USD is now a decent candidate as interest rates are negative,when adjusted for inflation.  Thus, an increase in risk appetite could simultaneously boost the S&P and punish the Dollar!

Read More: Using Currencies to Time Equity Moves

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Investing & Trading | No Comments »

USD: Worst Quarter in 4 Years

Apr. 3rd 2008

In the first three months of 2008, the USD notched its worst quarterly performance since 2004, falling over 8%. During the same period, the Dollar lost 10% of its value against the Japanese Yen and 6.4% against a broad basket of currencies. Forex analysts reckon the slide was so steep because investors have taken stock of the US economic situation and have concluded that recession is inevitable. The story is also being driven by interest rates. The Fed has already cut rates by 300 bps in the current cycle of easing, making the benchmark federal funds rate the lowest in the industrialized world, in real terms. Meanwhile, the European Central Bank is giving every indication that it will maintain rates at current levels in order to keep a lid on inflation. As a result, the Dollar could fall further, especially if the Fed continues to hike rates and investors use the currency to fund carry trades. Reuters reports:

[According to one analyst], "And to call a bottom now is still a very risky call. It’s too early to say the worst is behind us and the dollar’s in for a sharp rebound."

Read More: Dollar logs weakest quarter vs euro since 2004

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Investing & Trading, US Dollar | No Comments »

Barclays Introduces Carry Trade ETN

Apr. 2nd 2008

Through its trademark iPATH line of funds, Barclays Bank recently introduced a new ETN designed to mimic the carry trade.  In accordance with this strategy, this note is linked to  the performance of the Barclays Intelligent Carry Index, which aims sell low-yielding currencies and use the proceeds to invest in those that offer higher yields.  This index holds varying combinations of the so-called G10 currencies, which includes all of the majors as well as the Norwegian Krona and Swedish Krona.  Traditionally, carry traders have sold one specific currency (i.e. Japanese Yen) in favor of another currency (i.e. the New Zealand Dollar).  By instead purchasing this note, which will trade under the ticker ICI, investors can buy a share of an entire portfolio, optimized expressly for this strategy. Comtex reports:

The index is composed of ten cash-settled currency forward agreements, one for each index constituent currency, as well as a "Hedged USD Overnight Index" which is intended to reflect the performance of a risk-free U.S. dollar-denominated asset.

Read More: Barclays Launches New iPATH ETN

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Investing & Trading | No Comments »

Fundamentals Harm Emerging Market Currencies

Apr. 1st 2008

Since the inception of the credit crunch, one of the themes in forex markets has been the surprising strength of the Dollar. Despite growing economic uncertainty, the US is still viewed as a relatively safe place to invest. On the other hand, emerging markets, especially those with current account deficits, have witnessed capital flight and subsequent currency depreciation.  The currencies of South Africa and Iceland, for example, have both experienced declines 20% since the start of this year.  Risk premiums had fallen to historic lows prior to the credit crunch, and neither country experienced great difficulty financing its respecive deficits.  However, investors are growing increasingly nervous and are shifting capital to countries with stable current account balances. The Financial Times reports:

Goldman Sachs says: "We have long argued that in times of global turmoil suppliers of capital are poised to outperform countries in need of capital.  However, it is only since January 2008 that we have seen the current account theme really gain momentum in the FX market."

Read More: Currencies at mercy of deficits

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