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Archive for November, 2008

Indonesian Rupiah Faces Collapse

Nov. 30th 2008

The economic situation in Indonesia is similiar to that of several other emerging market economies, characterized by falling export revenue, shrinking government coffers, and capital flight. The consequent decline in the Indonesia Rupiah has almost become self-fulfilling. In other words, as skittish investors rush to move their capital out of Indonesia for fear of complete collapse, they are simultaneously making such a collapse more likely. Indonesian policy-makers are conscious of this tendency of nervousness to feed back into itself, and are delicately trying to avoid shocking the markets. On the one hand, they want to limit the decline of the Rupiah. On the other hand, they don’t want to take actions that will make investors nervous, even if it means making it more difficult for them to short the currency. The International Herald Tribune reports:

Last week, Indonesia changed its currency rules to make it more difficult to buy foreign exchange. The measures, mostly affecting Indonesians rather than foreigners, would make speculative bets against rupiah depreciation more difficult.

Read More: Indonesia undergoing currency crisis

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Emerging Currencies, Politics & Policy | No Comments »

EU Stimulus No Help to Euro

Nov. 27th 2008

The European Union has unveiled an economic stimulus package to match the US, as the two economies continue to mirror each other’s strategies for fighting the credit crisis. Given the evident lack of effectiveness of the US plan, it is no surprise that analysts reacted pessimistically to the policy proposal. At this point, investors and consumers alike appear resigned to the inevitability of economic recession in both economies. In other words, there isn’t much that government can achieve, as their respective efforts will certainly be undermined by increased saving. Besides, investors (including currency traders) remain focused on the financial aspects of the credit crisis, rather than the economic aspects. Accordingly, the theme of risk aversion continues to dominate, as part of a trend that favors the Dollar. Reuters reports:

Analysts said that the plan marked a step in the right direction, but uncertainty about its efficacy, and general concerns about a deep slowdown in the global economy were keeping investors in the mood to sell risky assets.

Read More: EU stimulus package raises concerns

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

US Bailout Highly Inflationary

Nov. 26th 2008

The Treasury Department’s most recent attempt to stabilize credit markets involves an injection of $800 Billion into the banking sector. According to one estimate, the total amount of Federal money committed so far (in the form of investments, guarantees, and loans) now exceeds $7 Trillion, and shows no signs of abating. In theory, the possibility exists that such investments could prove profitable, in which case the bailout wouldn’t end up costing taxpayers a cent. In all likelihood however, a significant portion of these investments will have to be written off, causing a net increase of trillions of dollars to the money supply. In the long-term, this is certain to be highly inflationary. It seems currency traders have finally begun to take note of this inevitability, and the Dollar rally has stalled accordingly. The New York Times reports:

The Federal Reserve and the Treasury… [are] sending a message that they would print as much money as needed to revive the nation’s crippled banking system.

Read More: U.S. Details $800 Billion Loan Plans

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

Currency Pegs back in Style

Nov. 25th 2008

Having endured years of abuse from free-market advocates and the International Monetary Fund, fixed exchange rate regimes are officially back in vogue. This is because the sole currencies not to have been affected by the recent surge in forex volatility are those that are pegged to the US Dollar, namely the Chinese Yuan and Hong Kong Dollar. Both countries have stood by calmly as other emerging market economies have witnessed speculators lay waste to their currencies, driving them down by 5% or more per day. Fortunately, both HK and China have significant stockpiles of foreign exchange reserves, which virtually eliminates any possibility of a speculative attack. Iceland, meanwhile, was forced to abandon a half-hearted attempt at a currency peg when it ran out of cash to defend it. Of course, a fixed currency can also be a disadvantage, as exports may become expensive relative to competitors that experience declines in their currencies. Given the current economic climate, however, it seems HK is happy to give up this potential upside in favor of stability. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Like Japan, Hong Kong was a source of funds for the carry-trade. Turbulent markets have taken that strategy apart, and investors who borrowed in Hong Kong are pulling money back into the territory at a rapid clip.

Read More: Hong Kong Loves Its Currency Peg

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Should G20 Crack Down on Forex Speculation?

Nov. 24th 2008

The last few months have born witness to an unprecedented level of volatility in forex markets, to say nothing of the fluctuations in other areas of securities markets. Emerging markets currencies in particular, as well as a handful of industrialized currencies, have crashed violently, as a process of de-leveraging continues to send capital back to the US and Japan. This instability has led some policy-makers to revive an erstwhile exhortation to limit the role of speculators in forex markets, who collectively may account for as much as 90% of daily forex turnover. Specifically, a 1% tax on all forex trades has been proposed, which would be deducted automatically and used to finance infrastructure projects around the world. It has also been suggested that forex markets follow the lead of equity markets by adopting a so-called "up-tick" rule, which would be used to counter sudden waves of predatory short-selling that can cripple a country’s currency in minutes. CSRwire reports:

Such bear raids are rarely to "discipline" a country’s policies, as traders claim, but rather to make quick profits. In the transparent FXTRS system, traders selling falling currencies begin to see that the rising tax is cascading into the country’s currency stabilization fund and cutting into their gains.

Read More: Why Obama Missed Bretton Woods II

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Fed to Lower Rates to 0%

Nov. 22nd 2008

The consensus among economists is now that the US Federal Reserve Bank will lower its benchmark interest rate all the way to 0%. The Fed Funds Rate currently stands at 1%, and two projected 50 basis point cuts within the next two months would bring the rate to its lowest level ever, where it could remain for as long as one year. Apparently, the concern among economic policymakers is that the sagging economy and falling asset prices will ignite a protracted period of deflation. Given the extent to which the Federal Reserve Bank as well as the Federal Government have already moved to stimulate the economy, it’s unclear whether any further loosening will have an effect. Currency investors remain unfazed about this prospect, perhaps because the rest of the world is in equally dire straits, and foreign central banks are mulling proportionately drastic measures. Marketwatch reports:

"This [interest rate cut] move confirms a highly pro-active and aggressive central banking community and there will be more to come" from the Bank of England and European Central Bank, said one currency strategist.

Read More: High-yielding currencies under pressure

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in US Dollar | No Comments »

US to Continue to Pressure China Over RMB

Nov. 21st 2008

After rising nearly 20% over the last three years, the RMB has virtually stopped appreciating against the US Dollar, perhaps as a result of the credit crisis. At the same time, the US exports sector- previously one of the few bright spots of the sagging economy- has begun to stall. US Politicians have taken note, and are now renewing their efforts to persuade China to allow its currency to rise further. They are also agitated about China’s perpetually growing forex reserves (currently estimated at $2 Trillion), which are increasingly being deployed in sensitive areas. Meanwhile, the Chinese economy is growing at the slowest pace in years, and the Chinese government is resorting to desperate measures to prop it up. In short, allowing the RMB to rise, while placating US policymakers, is tantamount to economic suicide, and hence unlikely.

While other sovereign wealth funds have existed for nearly 50 years without controversy, "China appears far less likely than other nations to manage its sovereign wealth funds without regard to political influence that it can gain by offering such sizable investments."

Read More: US panel urges action on China currency, investing

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FX Correlations Surge on Risk Aversion

Nov. 19th 2008

Since the credit crisis heated up several months ago, the theme of risk aversion has predominated in equity markets. This is also true in forex markets, where deleveraging and a shift to perceived investing "safe havens" has led to a collapse in the carry trade, leading to a sharp rally in both the Dollar and Yen. In fact, the recent rise of these two currencies has coincided remarkably with stiff declines in the prices of virtually every class of risky asset.

Read More: Currency Trading Markets Remain Highly Correlated to Dow Jones, Crude Oil Prices

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

Fed’s Hands Are Tied

Nov. 18th 2008

It’s a little-known fact that the US Federal Reserve Bank does not actually set interest rates. As a result, there is often a discrepancy between the "suggested" Fed rate and the actual rate. Since the onset of the credit crisis, this gap has widened considerably, such that the "effective" benchmark interest rate is nearing 0%. Some commentators are beginning to draw parallels with Japan, where interest rates have remained close to 0% for several years. If/when the global economy finds its footing, the Dollar could follow the lead of the Yen, and once again find itself a funding currency for the carry trade. The Economist reports:

If the effective rate remains near zero, the Fed will have to turn to more unconventional means of stimulating growth.

Read More: The Federal Reserve – Turning Japanese

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

British Pound Under Pressure

Nov. 17th 2008

The British Pound has already fallen 25% against the Dollar, since the credit crisis kicked off earlier this year. On a technical basis, therefore, it would seem that the Pound is due for a rally. From the standpoint of economic fundamentals however, the picture is quite bleak. While the Bank of England’s recent 150 basis point interest rate cut could help restore the UK economy to solid footing, it sent a massive shock to investors. UK interest rates now stand at a 50-year low, and futures prices suggest that the benchmark rate will fall another 1% in the next 12 months. In addition, the Bank of England has not ruled out ruling interest rates all the way to zero. As unlikely as this scenario may be, investors are now fully aware of the scope of Britain’s economic troubles. The next couple weeks could be make-or-break for the Pound, as a series of economic data releases, as well as the minutes from the latest BOE meeting, will help investors craft a more accurate forecast. Daily FX reports:

Housing, industrial trends, consumer spending and public borrowing readings…provide additional confirmation that this evolving recession will be far worse than the slump of 1992.

Read More: British Pound Could Forge New Lows As Rate And Growth Outlook Fail

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

Euro: To Praise or Condemn?

Nov. 14th 2008

In light of the credit crisis, commentators on the Euro have taken to one of two extremes; either they believe the Euro is doomed, or they argue that the Euro represents the key to EU economic salvation. The naysayers point to recent trends in financial markets such as the widening spread between German and Italian bond yields. They further argue that a common monetary policy exacerbated the credit crisis by fomenting real estate booms in overheated economies, namely Ireland and Spain. Supporters, on the other hand, need to look no further than the complete economic collapse in Iceland to understand the advantages of the Euro. Moreover, some of the more fragile EU members (Luxembourg, Belgium) would have witnessed runs on their currencies, if not for their participation in the common currency. In the end, the Euro probably represents a viable investment alternative to the Dollar and it brings the benefit of relative stability to its members. While its supporters are prone to overstating its benefits, it’s not likely at risk of crumbling in the next few years. The Economist reports:

The euro’s defenders are convinced that the currency will still be there at the end of the crisis. That is a reasonable bet. But public support for the euro may still be painfully tested as economies deteriorate.

Read More: No room in the ark

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

Russia to Devalue Ruble

Nov. 13th 2008

Russia is currently facing its worst currency crisis since 1998, when it defaulted on its debt and the Ruble plunged 71% against the Dollar. This time around, Russia is being attacked on two fronts: the sell-off in emerging markets and the collapse in the price of oil. Both trends occurred suddenly and with such force that the economy swung from current account surplus to deficit in a matter of months. Meanwhile, the Central Bank of Russia has spent nearly 1/5 of its $500 Billion in forex reserves to slow the proportional decline in its currency. If the price of oil and the stock market continue to decline in tandem, the Central Bank will no doubt find it increasingly difficult to defend the currency, and a massive devaluation would inevitably follow. The Central Bank has already hiked rates; it is running out of options. Bloomberg News reports:

Today’s central bank decision will prompt "further runs on deposits," wrote [one group of] analysts in a research note today. "Flight from rubles now is the key factor to watch."

Read More: Ruble Devaluation Concern Triggers Stock Plunge, Rate Increase

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

UK Rate Cut Backfires

Nov. 12th 2008

Last week, the Bank of England acquieced to the seriousness of the credit crisis by cutting its benchmark interest rate by 150 basis points- the largest margin in nearly two decades. While the move was intended to restore confidence in the UK economy and its financial markets, the opposite result obtained. In other words, investors interpreted the rate cut as an indication that the UK economic situation is even more precarious than was initially feared. In fact, this bearish sentiment is born out by economic data, which shows falling home prices and rising unemployment. Since peaking against the Dollar late last year, the British Pound has since declined 25%.

Read More: Sentiment still volatile despite rate cuts

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in British Pound | No Comments »

Will Obama Embrace Strong Dollar Policy?

Nov. 11th 2008

While the Bush Administration nominally embraced a strong Dollar policy, the currency’s 20% decline over the last eight years suggests it was actually a low priority. The Obama administration, in contrast, is much more likely to maintain such a policy, a circumstance which could help the Dollar to continue its year-long rally. Obama will assume the office of the presidency at a time when US finances are looking particularly tenuous, with a projected 2009 budget deficit of $1 Trillion. In order to finance the government bailout, as well as an additional economic stimulus plan and a host of other initiatives (let’s not forget the two ongoing wars), Obama will need to spearhead an effort to attract more foreign capital. For this to happen, the Dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency must be cemented and confidence in the Greenback must be restored. Ironically, Obama may receive a boost in this aspect from the credit crisis. The Guardian reports:

The dollar [rally] is likely to persist as market participants looked to snap up more U.S. assets after the decisive election of a candidate that promised to bring sweeping changes to a country mired in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Read More: Obama win cements need for strong dollar policy

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

How to Choose a Forex Broker

Nov. 10th 2008

Today, I’m going to take a break from covering the credit crisis in order to cover an important logistical topic: how should one go about choosing a forex broker? There are dozens (if not hundreds) of retail forex brokers, a fact which can be overwhelming to those considering dabbling in forex for the first time. The first step is to assess the quality of the broker, itself. Where is it registered? Those based in offshore tax havens should be treated with some degree of skepticism, as they are subject to lax, if any, regulation. It could be difficult to withdraw funds from an account held with such a broker. Along the same lines, what is the broker’s reputation? Typically, the most "visible" brokers will also offer the best customer service, as much of their business is generated through word-of-mouth. Next, you should examine the product(s)? What kind of trading platform will you have access to? Will you have access to research and advanced (technical) analysis tools? What is the average execution time? The final considerations are financial. In other words, what is the spread and what are the terms of financial leverage. At the same time, you should be careful not to allow this latest aspect to weigh too strongly on your selection, reports The American Chronicle:

It’s far too easy to be attracted to brokers that offer up to say 1:400 leverage, and therefore allow you to take out very large positions with a small margin, but this is a very dangerous game and it’s all too easy to over-leverage yourself and wipe out your account completely.

Read More: 5 Important Things To Consider When Choosing A Forex Broker

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Investing & Trading | 2 Comments »

All Signs Point to Down

Nov. 7th 2008

Regardless of your preference, all economic indicators seem to be heading in the same direction: down. Home sales and home starts, as well as home prices, are way down and projected to fall further. Consumer spending is declining by double-digits (in annualized percentage terms), which is no surprise considering consumer sentiment recently touched an all-time low. The national unemployment rate and unemployment insurance claims are rising nearly every month and week, respectively. Factory production is falling, and inventories are rising. Stock market capitalization is down across the world, especially in export-driven markets like Japan and Korea. The US economy as a whole contracted in the last quarter. The distinct lack of nuance in the economic picture has led most economists to project that the current recession (although not officially a recession) will be the worst in decades. The Wall Street Journal reports:

The current downturn is shaping up to be worse than the recessions of 1990-91 and 2001 and the prolonged downturn that ended in 1982. Banks are cutting back on lending, consumers are spending less, companies are shedding jobs amid sinking profits, and the housing bust that triggered the slide persists.

Read More: Economists Search for End of Woes

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

Forex Liquidity and the Credit Crisis

Nov. 6th 2008

Most of the commentary surrounding the dual Dollar-Yen rally that has unfolded over the last couple months has focused around monetary policy and risk aversion. Accordingly, the prevailing theory is that both currencies are being driven upwards because of narrowing interest rate differentials and a collapse in risk tolerance. However, it’s also important to consider the role of technical/financial factors. Specifically, liquidity in forex markets is dissipating rapidly as market participants have found it difficult to secure lines of credit to finance leveraged currency trades. In addition, those with leveraged short positions in the Dollar and Yen have been forced to partially unwind their positions for the same reason. In hindsight, the decline in both the Dollar and the Yen over the last few years now appears to have been driven primarily by the same expansion in credit that underlied the real estate bubble, which enabled traders to take advantage of interest rate differentials to earn relatively risk-free profits from a carry trade strategy. Regardless of the fact that these interest rate differentials persist and a carry trade strategy remains theoretically viable, it’s becoming impossible to undertake because of a shortage of credit and liquidity. FX Solutions reports:

The credit crash has affected participation rates in all markets. Many speculative players who depended on credit and leverage to fuel their trading have withdrawn. They will not return anytime soon. In the currency markets this permanent drop in liquidity may keep price movement volatile long after calm has returned to other markets. It has substantially diminished liquidity in the yen crosses which were, for so long, the speculative favorites of currency traders.

Read More: Volatility and the Carry Trade

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

Forex Intervention: Back on the Table?

Nov. 5th 2008

With the Dollar rallying to multi-year highs and the Yen surging to multi-decade highs, some analysts have begun to re-assess the possibility of Central Banks intervening in forex markets. As if on cue, leaders from the G8 countries also released a statement expressing their concern. It is not a stretch to say the last few weeks have been awash with stories about emerging market economies that have been destabilized as a result of the rapid depreciation of their currencies, as well as companies that were forced into bankruptcy as a result of currency speculation gone bad. Meanwhile, the US and Japan are certainly nervous about the impact of more expensive currencies on their respective export sectors. Ironically, it was only six months ago that some analysts were gaging the same probability of intervention; at that time, however, the purpose would have been to prop up the Dollar, whereas now it would be to bring it back down to earth. I suppose the moral of the story is that in forex terms, six months is practically an eternity. Besides, as we reported yesterday, both the Dollar and the Yen have already begun to fade. The Wall Street Journal reports:

"But, this is not a currency crisis" said a foreign exchange strategist. "This is a liquidity crisis, a growth crisis, a confidence crisis. As such, probably the first step should not be to intervene to save currencies."

Read More: Do Currencies Require an Intervention?

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

Forex Rally Comes to an End

Nov. 4th 2008

These days, the Dollar and the Yen are veritable proxies for investor confidence/risk tolerance. As a result, on days when US stocks rise, the Dollar (somewhat ironically) will typically experience a decline. Over the last couple weeks, it should therefore come as no surprise that the tremendous rise in US stock prices was matched by a proportional fall in both the Dollar and the Yen. If only for technical reasons (i.e. that the scale tipped too much in the other direction), it seems investors have regained some of their comfort with investing in emerging markets, leading some of the hardest-hit currencies (Korean Won, Brazilian Real, Mexican Peso) to recover some of their gains. Call it wishful thinking, but some investors now believe that the US recession will be milder than originally forecast, which would certainly exert a positive impact on such emerging market economies. In addition, there were monetary factors underlying the currency reversal, reports The Washington Post:

There were more specific reasons for some of the fluctuations. A news report that the Bank of Japan might cut rates in the near future was a factor in driving down the yen.

Read More: Currency Swings Reverse Course

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Japanese Yen, US Dollar | No Comments »

Hedge Funds Crush British Pound

Nov. 3rd 2008

The British Pound is perhaps one of the worst victims of the credit crunch, having fallen 25% against the USD in the year-to-date. According to analysts, hedge funds deserve much of the blame. Apparently, most hedge funds, including those that are based in the UK, denominate their portfolios in terms of Dollars. As a result of the exodus away from emerging markets, such funds have found themselves awash in cash, which they have promptly converted into Dollars. The reasoning behind this investment strategy is twofold: first, as the incredible strength of the Dollar has illustrated, the prevailing wisdom among investors is that the US is currently the least risky place to invest. Second, the interest rate gap between the US and the rest of the world looks set to narrow, which means the yields on US security will become relatively attractive. The Telegraph reports:

Worldwide interest rate forecasts are being revised downward, which has increased interest in the US where rates have already been slashed.

Read More: Sterling caught up in ‘currency market tsunami’

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

Forex Volatility Destabilizes Global Economy

Nov. 2nd 2008

Volatility in forex markets has surged to unprecedented levels. In the words of one analyst, "Moves in the currency markets witnessed during just a few hours of trading…’are typically what we see in a quarter.’ " The currencies of both emerging market countries and industrialized nations have been battered indiscriminately, as investors have fled to locations perceived as less risky, namely the US and Japan. On the one hand, a stronger Dollar has almost completely alleviated inflation in the US and will hence make it easier for the Fed to continue cutting interest rates. On the other hand, US exports, previously one of the few bright spots in the sagging economy, will become less competitive. Then there is deflation, long since relegated to history textbooks, but now once again considered a threat. Countries whose currencies have declined, meanwhile, are finding it difficult to convince investors to stay put, and have taken to deploying their forex reserves as a stopgap measure to stabilize their respective economies. The Wall Street Journal reports:

To combat these sharp moves, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, and India collectively have drawn down their reserves by more than $75 billion since the end of September, selling dollars to protect their currencies, according to Win Thin of Brown Brothers Harriman.

Read More: Currency-Price Swings Disrupt Global Markets

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