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December 9th 2009

Playing Chicken with the BOC

The Canadian Dollar has been one of the world’s top performers this year, especially relative to the Dollar. The Bank of Canada is less than thrilled about this distinction, which is why it takes advantage of nearly every opportunity to remind the markets that it will do everything in its power to prevent the Loonie from rising further. The markets are beginning to wonder, however, whether the BOC is actually prepared to put its money where its mouth is, if push comes to shove.

It’s impossible to say definitively whether the Canadian Dollar’s rise is justified by fundamentals. On the one hand, the ongoing economic recovery and commodities boom will specifically benefit resource-rich economies, such as Canada. It’s no surprise that Canada has been one of the most popular destinations for so-called “risk-averse” investment. Summarized one analyst, “It all revolves around the risk-aversion trade. Last week with equity markets and commodities selling off, we also saw the Canadian dollar selling off in that environment. Today the market settled down a little bit, so we were able to see the Canadian dollar claw back some of its losses.” In addition, it’s not as if the Loonie’s appreciation has been universal. Its gains are primarily against the US Dollar; in this sense, it has merely been subsumed into a larger trend, rather than having been singled out by forex traders.

On the other hand, the economy is forecast to contract in 2010, before returning to full capacity at some point in 2011. The Bank of Canada has flooded the market with currency, via its own version of quantitative easing. Non-commodity exports are stalling, and the government is running record budget deficits. The benchmark interest rate is only .25%, and the BOC has committed to holding it there until June 2010, barring any unforeseen developments. Thus, there is no “positive carry” to be earned from parking money in Canada.

In the context of forex intervention, this analysis is almost beside the point, since the BOC is clearly impervious to logic. Its decision to intervene at this point will probably be based less on economics and more on politics. You see, the Bank has left itself with very little wiggle room, should the Canadian Dollar continue to rise towards, or even past parity with the US Dollar. Its rhetoric has been fairly consistent; whether or not it actually has the wherewithal to intervene successfully (it probably doesn’t) it has conveyed to the markets that has both the means and the determination.

As a result, the BOC has pushed itself into a no-win situation. If the Loonie appreciates further and it doesn’t intervene, then it will have very little credibility going forward. If the Loonie rises and it does intervene, it risks incurring the wrath of the international community and wasting money towards a futile cause. “It’s hard for a modest-sized central bank such as Canada’s to flood the market with so much currency that it alters the balance of the world’s huge and complex foreign-exchange markets,” explained one economist.

canadian dollar

The Bank’s best hope is that the markets continue to take its threats seriously and abstain from betting on the Loonie. For now, it looks like this is the case. “No one wants to go heavily long through the next few months in fear that the Bank of Canada does step in some way,” said one trader. In fact, the threat of intervention may have even brought speculators into the market to bet against the Loonie, having derived support from the last round of intervention (1998): “Traders took the bank’s willingness to intervene as an open invitation to bet heavily on the other side of the equation – knowing they had a big trading partner back-stopping their bet.”

It’s basically a giant game of chicken between the markets and the BOC. Who will blink first?

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Canadian Dollar, News | 1 Comment »

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One Review of “Playing Chicken with the BOC”

  1. Yohay Says:

    Very interesting article. The Russian central bank also sees the Loonie as a risk-aversive currency, with a declaration that it will do transactions in Canadian dollars.
    When commodity prices will make another surge, the BOC will have a problem…

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