Forex Blog: Currency Trading News & Analysis.

Archive for June, 2011

Loonie and Aussie Share Downward Bond

Jun. 30th 2011

In yesterday’s post (Tide is Turning for the Aussie), I explained how a prevailing sense of uncertainty in the markets has manifested itself in the form of a declining Australian Dollar. With today’s post, I’d like to carry that argument forward to the Canadian Dollar.


As it turns out, the forex markets are currently treating the Loonie and the Aussie as inseparable. According to Mataf.net, the AUD/USD and CAD/USD are trading with a 92.5% correlation, the second highest in forex (behind only the CHFUSD and AUDUSD). The fact that the two have been numerically correlated (see chart below) for the better part of 2011 can also be discerned with a cursory glance at the charts above.


Why is this the case? As it turns out, there are a handful of reasons. First of all, both have earned the dubious characterization of “commodity currency,” which basically means that a rise in commodity prices is matched by a proportionate appreciation in the Aussie and Loonie, relative to the US dollar. You can see from the chart above that the year-long commodities boom and sudden drop corresponded with similar movement in commodity currencies. Likewise, yesterday’s rally coincided with the biggest one-day rise in the Canadian Dollar in the year-to-date.

Beyond this, both currencies are seen as attractive proxies for risk. Even though the chaos in the eurozone has very little actual connection to the Loonie and Aussie (which are fiscally sound, geographically distinct, and economically insulated from the crisis), the two currencies have recently taken their cues from political developments in Greece, of all things. Given the heightened sensitivity to risk that has arisen both from the sovereign debt crisis and global economic slowdown, it’s no surprise that investors have responded cautiously by unwinding bets on the Canadian dollar.


Finally, the Bank of Canada is in a very similar position to the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA). Both central banks embarked on a cycle of monetary tightening in 2010, only to suspend rate hikes in 2011, due to uncertainty over near-term growth prospects. While GDP growth has indeed moderated in both countries, price inflation has not. In fact, the most recent reading of Canadian CPI was 3.7%, which is well above the BOC’s comfort zone. Further complicating the picture is the fact that the Loonie is near a record high, and the BOC remains wary of further stoking the fires of appreciation by making it more attractive to carry traders.

In the near-term, then, the prospects for further appreciation are not good. The currency’s rise was so solid in 2009-2010 that it now seems the forex markets may have gotten ahead of themselves. A pullback towards parity – and beyond – seems like the only realistic possibility. If/when the global economy stabilizes, central banks resume heightening, and risk appetite increases, you can be sure that the Loonie (and the Aussie) will pick up where they left off.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Canadian Dollar | 21 Comments »

Tide is Turning for the Aussie

Jun. 29th 2011

“Australia is about to enter a boom that should last decades…The Australian dollar is unlikely to go back to where it was, and manufacturing will shrink in importance to the economy, perhaps even faster than it has been.” This, according to Martin Parkinson, Treasury Minister of Australia. While 30 years from now, Mr. Parkinson’s prognosis might probe to be accurate, I’m not so sure it applies to the period 3 months from now. Here’s why:

First of all, the putative economic boom that is taking place in Australia is being driven entirely by high commodity prices and surging production and exports. Since peaking at the end of April, commodity prices have fallen mightily. You can see from the chart above that there continues to exist a tight correlation between the AUD/USD and commodities prices. As commodities prices have fallen over the last two months, so has the Australian Dollar.


In addition, while demand will probably remain strong over the long-term, it may very well slacken over the short-term, due to declining economic growth across the industrialized world.  Consider also that Australia’s largest market for commodity exports – China – may have difficulty sustaining a GDP growth rate of 10%, and at the very least, new fixed-asset investment (which necessitates demand for raw materials) will temporarily peak in the immediate future.

Finally, the mining sector directly accounts for only 8% of Australia’s economy, which means that only to a limited extent to high commodities prices contribute to the bottom line of Australian GDP. This notion is reinforced by the 1.2% economic contraction in the second quarter – the biggest decline in 20 years – and the fact that GDP is basically flat over the last three quarters. Many non-mining economic indicators are sagging, and the number of corporate bankruptcies is 10% higher than in 2010. In the end, then, the ebb and flow of Australia’s fortune depends less on commodities, and more on other sectors.


Mr. Parkinson’s optimistic forecasts might also be undermined in the short-term by a looser-than-expected monetary policy. The Reserve Bank of Australia last hiked its benchmark interest rate in November 2010, and may not hike again for a few more months due to moderating economic growth and proportionally moderate inflation. Given that an attractive interest rate differential may be driving some of the speculative activity that has girded the Aussie’s rise, a decline in this differential could likewise propel it downward.

That’s because anecdotal reports suggest that the Australian Dollar remains a popular long currency for carry traders, funded by shorting the US Dollar, and to a lesser extent, Japanese Yen. Given that many of these carry trades are heavily leveraged, it wouldn’t take much to trigger a short squeeze and a rapid decline in the AUD/USD. For evidence of this phenomenon, one has to look no further back than May 2010, when the Aussie fell 10-15% in only three weeks.


Ultimately, as one commentator recently pointed out, the Aussie’s 70% rise since 2008 might better be seen as US Dollar weakness (which also catalyzed the rise in commodity prices). The apparent stabilizing of the dollar, then, might let some air out of the currency down under.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Australian Dollar | 10 Comments »

Emerging Market Currencies Brace for Correction

Jun. 28th 2011

“It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,” begins Charles Dickens’ The Tale of Two Cities. In 2011, the winter of despair was followed by the spring of uncertainty. Due to the earthquake/tsunami in Japan, the continued tribulations of Greece, rising commodity prices, and growing concern over the global economic recovery, volatility in the forex markets has risen, and investors are unclear as to how to proceed. For now at least, they are responding by dumping emerging market currencies.


As you can see from the chart above (which shows a cross-section of emerging market forex), most currencies peaked in the beginning of May and have since sold-off significantly. If not for the rally that started off the year, all emerging market currencies would probably be down for the year-to-date, and in fact many of them are anyway. Still, the returns for even the top performers are much less spectacular than in 2009 and 2010. Similarly, the MSCI Emerging Markets Stock Index is down 3.5% in the YTD, and the JP Morgan Emerging Market Bond Index (EMBI+) has risen 4.5% (which is reflects declining growth forecasts as much as perceptions of increasing creditworthiness).

There are a couple of factors that are driving this ebbing of sentiment. First of all, risk appetite is waning. Over the last couple months, every flareup in the eurozone debt crisis coincided with a sell-off in emerging markets. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Central and eastern European currencies that are seen as being most vulnerable to financial turmoil in the euro zone have underperformed.” Economies further afield, such as Turkey and Russia, have also experienced weakness in their respective currencies. Some analysts believe that because emerging economies are generally more fiscally sound than their fundamental counterparts, that they are inherently less risky. Unfortunately, while this proposition makes theoretical sense, you can be assured that a default by a member of the eurozone will trigger a mass exodus into safe havens – NOT into emerging markets.


While emerging market Asia and South America is somewhat insulated from eurozone fiscal problems. On the other hand, they remain vulnerable to an economic slowdown in China and to rising inflation. Emerging market central banks have avoided making significant interest rate hikes (hence, rising bond prices) – for fear of inviting further capital inflow and stoking currency appreciation – and the result has been rising price inflation. You can see from the chart above that the darkest areas (symbolizing higher inflation) are all located in emerging economic regions. While high inflation is not inherently problematic, it is not difficult to conceive of a downward spiral into hyperinflation. Again, a sudden bout of monetary instability would send investors rushing to the exits.


While most analysts (myself included) remain bullish on emerging markets over the long-term, many are laying off in the short-term. “RBC emerging market strategist Nick Chamie says his team has recommended ‘defensive posturing’ to clients since May 5 and isn’t recommending new bullish emerging currency bets right now….HSBC said Thursday that it isn’t recommending outright short positions on emerging market currencies to clients but suggested a more ‘cautious’ and selective approach in making currency bets.” This phenomenon will be exacerbated by the fact that market activity typically slows down in the summer chart above courtesy of Forex Magnates) as traders go on vacation. With less liquidity and an inability to constantly monitor one’s portfolio, traders will be loathe to take on risky positions.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Emerging Currencies | 9 Comments »

NO QE3: What are the Implications for the Dollar?

Jun. 25th 2011

The verdict is nearly in; there will be no QE3. The second round of quantitative easing (“QE2”) will expire at the end of this month, and while it will not be unwound for quite some time, the Fed has indicated that it will not be followed by yet another round. The question on the minds of forex traders, of course, is what does this mean for the Dollar?

In his most recent press conference, Ben Bernanke, himself, indicated that QE3 was unlikely. According to a survey conducted by Bloomberg News, the majority of FX analysts (65%) believe him. Simply, the circumstances don’t support further easing. To be sure, the unemployment rate remains high, and the economy is teetering on the verge of double-dip recession. However, the last two rounds did little to address either of these problems, and companies have hoarded cash rather than investing in new plant and workers.

Interest rates are still hovering around record lows, and there isn’t anything to be gained from trying to lower them further. Besides, given that inflation is now above 3% – due to an explosion in good and energy prices – QE3 would simply be too risky. Economist Ken Goldstein summarized the situation as follows: “We will come to the end of QE2 and largely we mark about how little happened when it ended and that’s also an argument about why there may not be persuasive argument to do a QE3.”

On the other hand, there are some analysts who think that QE3 is inevitable (29%). PIMCO’s Bill Gross, manager of the world’s biggest bond fund, recently indicated that, “Next Jackson Hole in August will likely hint at QE3/interest rate caps.” (Personally, I think that he’s probably just bitter that his forecast of a decline in Treasury Bond prices hasn’t materialized). One columnist wrote that the Fed’s arm will be twisted by the ongoing collapse of the housing market, while others have argued that the recent decline in the S&P 500 will spur the Fed into action. Most of us, however, believe that the Fed will adopt a wait-and-see approach before ultimately conceding that more easing is necessary.

For now at least, then, the prevailing assumption is that there will not be a QE3. As for how forex markets have digested this news, they have taken it in stride. The Dollar is now holding its value, and as I wrote in a previous post, it may even have bottomed out. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the Euro is being punished by another flare-up in the sovereign debt crisis and investors are getting nervous about bubbles in emerging market currencies, all of which provide support for the dollar.

The fact that QE2 will soon end without having triggered financial apocalypse or hyperinflation – as some cassandras initially predicted – is something that is worth nothing. Of course, the proceeds of QE1 and QE2 will be recycled indefinitely into the markets, and forex investors can’t completely put quantitative easing behind them. Still, that there won’t be any more additional cash injected into commodities markets and emerging economy asset markets means that one of the main sources of downward pressure on the dollar has been eliminated.

Ironically, it is possible that the unveiling of QE3 could actually cause the dollar to rally. The reason is that there is still a tremendous amount of uncertainty in the markets, which provides the dollar with some safe haven demand. If the Fed were to concede that all is not well on the economic front and respond by more money printing, it could drive some safe haven flows into the US, even to the extent that it would overwhelm outflows driven by concerns over inflation.

Personally, I think the dollar will continue to hold its value, and perhaps even appreciate slightly in the near-term, as forex markets dither over the way forward.

http://www.forexblog.org/2011/06/has-the-us-dollar-hit-bottom.html
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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Swiss Franc is the Only Safe Haven Currency

Jun. 23rd 2011

According to conventional market wisdom, there are three safe haven currencies: the Swiss Franc, Japanese Yen, and US Dollar. It is to these currencies that investors flock whenever there is a crisis, or merely an outbreak of uncertainty, and for much of the period following the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the three were closely correlated. As you can see from the chart below, however, one of these currencies has begun to distinguish itself from the other two, leading some to argue that there is now only one true safe haven currency: the Swiss Franc.


What’s not to like about the Franc? It boasts a strong economy, low inflation, and low unemployment. Unlike the US and Japan, Switzerland is not plagued by a high national debt and perennial budget deficits. Its monetary policy has been extremely conservative: no quantitative easing, asset-purchases, or any other money printing programs with euphemistic names.

Ironically, the only thing that makes investors nervous about the franc is that it has already risen so much. Remember when it reached the milestone of parity against the dollar in 2010? Since then, it has appreciated by an additional 20%, and seems to breach a new record on an almost weekly basis. The same goes for the CHF/EUR and CHF/JPY. The President of Switzerland’s export association is expecting further gains: “Parity is a realistic scenario. Given the indebtedness of the eurozone and the strong attraction of the franc, the euro is likely to continue to lose value.”


Given that Swiss exports have surged in spite of (or even because of) the rising Franc, however, he has very little to worry about at the moment. As you can see fromt he graphic below (courtesy of the Financial Times), the balance of trade continues to expand, and has exploded in a handful of key sectors. To be sure, economists expect that this situation will eventually correct itself and are already moving to revise downward 2011 and 2012 GDP growth estimates. Then again, they made the same erroneous predictions in 2010.

The main variable in the Swiss Franc is the Swiss National Bank (SNB). Having booked a loss of CHF 20 Billion from failed intervention in 2010, the SNB is not in a position to make the same mistake again. In fact, SNB President Philipp Hildebrand has not even stooped to verbal intervention this time around, undoubtedly cognizant of the fact that he has very little credibility in forex markets.

At the same time, the SNB is not in any hurry to raise interest rates, lest it stoke further speculative interest in the Franc. Its June meeting came and went without any indication of when it might tighten. Interest rate futures currently reflect an expectation that the first rate hike won’t come until March 2012. Thus, the downside of holding the Franc is that it will continue to pay a negative real interest rate. The only upside, then, is the possibility of further appreciation. Fortunately, the SNB is unlikely to stop the Franc from rising, since it serves the same monetary end as higher interest rates. In other words, a more valuable Franc serves as a direct check on inflation because it lowers the cost of commodity imports and should (eventually) soften demand for Swiss exports.

It is possible that the Swiss Franc will suffer a correction at some point, if only because it rose by such a large margin in such a short period of time. On the other hand, given that its economy has proved its ability to withstand the Franc’s appreciation, it’s no wonder that investors continue to bet on its rise.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Swiss Franc | 1 Comment »

Is it Possible to Trade Forex Part-time?

Jun. 22nd 2011

This week, I came across an article in the San Francisco Gate (which, incidentally, has really ramped up its forex coverage over the last year) that addressed this very topic. Given that part-time forex traders probably outnumber those that practice the craft full-time, such an article was long overdue.

In sum, the author advises part-time traders to concentrate their trading during the busiest times of the day, or failing that, to simply trade the most active currency pairs during the period of the day that one happens to have time to trade. For example, if you wish to trade the USD/EUR but only have a limited amount of time to do so, you are advised to trade the opening of the New York and/or London sessions, at 8AM EST and 3AM EST, respectively. Alternatively, if you only have time to trade from midnight to 2am, for example, you are advised to trade currency pairs in which the quote currency is the Yen, because during that time the Tokyo session is “in full swing.”


Alas, this kind of strategy is based on a very dubious assumption, which is that you should aim to trade the currency pairs which are both the most liquid and most volatile (ignore the contradiction here), because this will yield the most profits. In other words, it’s easy to capture profits when trading pairs that tend to bounce around a lot and which are cheap and easy to buy and sell. Right?

If you read the Forex Blog with any regularity and are ware that my bend is towards fundamental analysis, it’s probably already obvious to you that I don’t think this is necessarily the case. Consider that forex is a zero-sum game. In other words, on average, 50% of traders win and 50% lose. [When you account for trading costs (i.e. spreads), its probably closer to 30% win and 70% lose, but let’s ignore this for the sake of argument]. Thus, the way I see it, a trader that enters the market during the busiest times has the same chance of winning (~50%) as a different trader that enters the market during the least busy time of day. Either way you cut it, someone has to win and someone has to lose, and no amount of liquidity or volatility can rectify this situation.

Thus, my advice for part-time traders is to forget trading altogether. If you don’t have the time to constantly monitor the market, pore over charts, and develop technical strategy, the odds of winning are pretty low. On the other hand, why not shift your focus from trading to investing? Trading is difficult under the best of circumstances and even more difficult when you don’t have enough time to make a real commitment.


The only way around this is to shift your time horizon from minutes to days – or even weeks. This way, it won’t matter when you have time to trade. Spreads might be marginally higher (as evidenced in the spikes in he chart above, which shows how spreads fluctuate over time) for the USD/EUR at midnight than at 8am, but if you’re planning on holding the pair for more than 10 seconds (and your target profit is greater than 15 pips), this is basically irrelevant.

This way, you also don’t have to worry about carefully planning your entry and exit into positions. Entering a swing trade with a targeted profit of 500pips is probably just as good at 4am as it is at 7am, all else being equal. While this doesn’t necessarily increase the odds of success (above 50%), at least it gives you a great deal more flexibility in being a part-time trader.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Investing & Trading | 5 Comments »

Japanese Yen In “No Man’s Land”

Jun. 20th 2011

This, according to a hedge fund manager that has decided to cancel all of his fund’s bearish bets on the Japanese Yen. The reason: the yen is rising, and it’s unclear when – or even if – the government will intervene to push it back down. Even though the yen’s strength is fundamentally illogical, it seems that investors are growing increasingly wary of betting against it.


As I pointed out in my previous post on the Yen (“Japanese Yen Strength is Illogical, but Does it Matter?“), the yen has actually fallen over the last twelve months, on a correlation weighted basis (though to be fair, it has staged a pretty impressive comeback since the beginning of April). Unfortunately, investors mainly care about how it is performing against a handful of key currencies, namely the US Dollar. Simply, the yen continues to rise against the dollar, and it is unclear when it will stop.

Japanese government analysis has indeed confirmed that “speculators” are behind the strong yen, as the alleged wide-scale repatriation of yen by Japanese insurance companies has yet to materialize. Of course, there isn’t really much doubt: Japan’s economy is contracting, due to decrease in output spurred by the tsunami. In May, it recorded its second largest monthly trade deficit ever.

Meanwhile, interest rates and bond yields are pathetically low, and the Bank of Japan is being urged to expand its asset buying program, which would theoretically result in a devaluation of the yen. As  a result, retail Japanese forex traders (nicknamed “Mrs. Watanabes“) have resumed shorting the Yen as part of a carry trade strategy.

Alas, speculators either don’t share their pessimism or are running out of patience. While everyone continues to assume that the BOJ will intervene if the Yen rises to 80 against the dollar, no one can be sure whether the line in the sand might not be 78 or even 75. At this point, intervention seems to hinge more on politics than on economics, which means predicting it is beyond the scope of this post. In other words, “There is too much uncertainty and volatility in markets right now to make that yen trade appealing.” And sure enough, the most recent Commitments of Traders data shows that speculators have been re-building their yen long positions over the last month.


In the end, the speculators are probably right. The Bank of Japan has intervened twice over the last twelve months, and the impact has always been short-lived. Besides, given that many speculators still remain committed to shorting the yen, it remains extraordinarily vulnerable to the kind of short squeeze that sent it soaring 5% in a single session en route to the record high it touched in March.

I’m personally still bearish on the yen, but I also think it’s too risky to short it against the dollar, which seems to be declining for its own reasons. As you can see from the chart below, the yen has fallen against virtually every other major currency. Yen shorters, then, might be wise to avoid the dollar altogether and focus instead on any number of other currencies.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-06-17/japan-recovery-means-boj-can-avoid-adding-stimulus-muto-says.html
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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Japanese Yen | 3 Comments »

Forex Volatility Continues Rising

Jun. 17th 2011

This week witnessed another flareup in the eurozone sovereign debt crisis. As a result, volatility in the EUR/USD pair surged, by some measures to a record high. Even though the Euro rallied yesterday and today, this suggests that investors remain nervous, and that going forward, the euro could embark on a steep decline.


There are a couple of forex volatility indexes. The JP Morgan G7 Volatility Index is based on the implied volatility in 3-month currency options and is one of the broadest measures of forex volatility. As you can see from the chart above, the index is closing in on year-to-date high (excluding the spike in March caused by the Japanese tsunami), and is generally entrenched in an upward trend. Barring day-to-day spikes, however, it will take months to confirm the direction of this trend.

For specific volatility measurements, there is no better source of data than Mataf.net (whose founder, Arnaud Jeulin, I interviewed only last month). Here, you can find data on more than 30 currency pairs, charted across multiple time periods. You can see for the EUR/USD pair in particular that volatility is now at the highest point in 2011 and is closing in on a two-year high.


Meanwhile, the so-called risk-reversal rate for Euro currency options touched 3.1, which is greater than the peak of the credit crisis. This indicator represents a proxy for investor concerns that the Euro will collapse suddenly, and its high level suggests that this is indeed a growing concern. In addition, implied volatility in options contracts has jumped dramatically over the last week, which confirms that investors expect the euro to move dramatically over the next month.

What does all of this mean? In a nutshell, it shows that panic is rising in the forex markets. Last month, I used this notion as a basis for arguing that the dollar safe-haven trade will make a come-back. This would still seem to be the case, and should also benefit the Swiss Franc, which is nearing an all-time high against the euro. Naturally, it also implies that forex investors remain extremely concerned about a continued decline in the euro, and are rushing to hedge their exposure and/or close out long positions altogether.

Mataf.net suggests that this could make the EUR/USD an interesting pair to trade, since large swings in either direction will necessarily create opportunities for traders. While I have no opinion on such indiscriminate trading [I prefer to make directional bets based on fundamentals], I must nonetheless acknowledge the logic of such a strategy.

http://www.forexblog.org/2011/05/interview-with-arnaud-jeulin-of-mataf-net-try-a-lot-of-strategies.html
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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Euro, Investing & Trading | 2 Comments »

Euro Nears Breaking Point

Jun. 16th 2011

It’s deja vu all over again in the forex markets as another twist in the sovereign debt crisis has sent the euro tumbling by the greatest margin in nearly a year. It was only last month that I posted “The Euro (Still) has a Greek Problem,” and yet, forex markets are once again reacting to the possibility of a Greek default as thought it were a new development. At the very least, investors finally seem to be acknowledging the inevitable.

There have been several factors at work in this latest episode. On Monday, S&P downgraded its credit rating for Greece to CCC, following on a similar move by Moody’s. That means that Greece’s sovereign credit rating is now the lowest in the world, behind such eminent economies as Grenada and Ecuador. While the move was hardly noteworthy in itself, it represents one more straw on the camel’s back.

Greece’s government is increasingly unstable, and Prime Minister George Papandreou has become so desperate that he has suggested forming an alliance with Greece’s most powerful opposition party. Meanwhile, violent riots outside Greek Parliament have reportedly become a daily occurrence, as the Greek populace has proven unwilling to accept wage cuts and tax increases.

As if that weren’t enough, there is tremendous uncertainty surrounding the next stage of the Greek bailout. No one can agree on what amount to give and what should be stipulated in return. Some parties think that private investors should be involved in the bailout by taking a “haircut” on the bonds that they own. Some members of the eurozone are balking about contributing any funds at all, wary of justifying it to their own citizens and that it is merely forestalling the inevitable.

I think the NYTimes offered the best summary: “Funding fatigue is growing in the north European creditor countries, especially Germany, the Netherlands, Finland and Austria, just as austerity fatigue is mounting in Greece.” When you consider that Greek interest rates and credit default swap spreads have surged to record highs, it seems that default is really inevitable. If the IMF and European Union are so determined, they can push off default until 2013. Still, default now or default then is still default.

At this point, then, the only real question is what happens when Greece defaults. Will it be forced to leave the Eurozone? Will that push the rest of the Eurozone fringe closer towards default? Will the Euro collapse and cease to exist as a currency? What will happen then?

Unfortunately, I think the answer to all of these questions is yes. At the very least, Greece will be forced out of the eurozone. Bondholders will push interest rates in Ireland, Spain, and Portugal up to double-digit levels, trapping them in the same cycle in which Greece is currently ensnared. Given the exposure of French and German banks to the sovereign debt of financially troubled eurozone members, they will also require state bailouts, and so on.

In a recent op-ed published in The Financial Times, celebrity economies Nouriel Roubini argued that the only way to avoid a complete eurozone meltdown is if the euro depreciates rapidly “to restore competitiveness to the periphery” or if the European Union is able to rapidly achieve complete fiscal and economic union. Roubini argues that the former is difficult because of the ECB’s hawkishness, while the latter is precluded by political hurdles that remain too formidable to overcome.

As Greece inches ever closer to default, the markets will increasingly become gripped by utter uncertainty over the questions that I posed above. Central Banks will stop accumulating euro-denominated assets, and investment funds will similarly shun Europe. (In fact, there is already evidence that this is happening). While European interest rates are attractive relative to the rest of the G4, they are hardly enough to compensate investors for this uncertainty. And when the markets come to terms with this, the euro might finally reach its breaking point.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Euro | 3 Comments »

S&P 500 Decouples from Euro?

Jun. 14th 2011

While I have written quite about forex correlations in recent posts, the focus has primarily been on correlations that exist between currencies. In this post, I would like to address a correlation that exists between currencies and other forex markets- specifically the relationship between the Euro and US stocks.


If you look at the chart above, you can see that an unmistakable correlation exists between the S&P500 and the EUR/USD that stretches back at least six months. Generally speaking, when the EURUSD has risen, so has the S&P 500, and vice versa. In fact, this correlation is so airtight that one analyst recently discovered that the two financial vehicles often reach intra-day highs and lows within minutes of one another!

Why is this the case? In a nutshell, it is because the Euro – especially relative to the dollar – is a proxy for risk appetite. The same is necessarily true for US stocks. When investors are confident in the strength of the global economic recovery and the possibility of crisis is distant, the euro will rise. This has nothing to do with fundamentals in Europe, which are probably at least as bad as they are in the US. Of course, it may be connected with dollar weakness, since it is arguably the case that quantitative easing has both depressed the dollar and buoyed US stocks.

As I intimated in the title of this post, however, the S&P recently decoupled from the euro. Since the beginning of June, US equities have declined sharply, to the extent that they have given back most of their gains in the year-to-date. The EUR/USD, meanwhile, continued rising all the way until last week. While this has happened on a couple previous occasions, this was perhaps the sharpest break between the two.

I’m personally at a loss to explain why this happened. It has been conjectured that the driving force behind the correlation is algorithmic trading, and that hence, it must also represent the source of the break. In other words, high-frequency traders – which account for an ever-increasing proportion of forex volume – tweaked their trading algorithms so as not to buy the S&P 500 when the EURUSD rises, and vice versa.

It’s probably also the case that S&P 500 was falling for endogenous reasons- specifically a decline in GDP growth and earnings expectations which need not necessarily reflect itself in a stronger euro. In fact, in a normal functioning market, you would expect an inverse correlation; strong US economic fundamentals should translate into both a strong dollar and rising stocks. Could it be that worsening fundamentals are manifesting themselves in the form of a weak dollar and weak stocks?

Alas, the correlation has re-established itself over the last week, which means this is largely a moot issue. At the very least, it’s still worth being aware of, both insofar as it remains intact and in the event that it breaks down again.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Euro | 2 Comments »

Pound Stagnates, Lacking Direction

Jun. 13th 2011

The British Pound has struggled to find direction in 2011. After getting off to a solid start – rising 4% against the US dollar in less than a month –  the Pound has since stagnated. At 1.625 GBP/USD, it is now at the same level that it was at five months ago. Given the paltry state of UK fundamentals, the fact that it still has any gains to hold on to is itself something of a miracle.


The Pound’s failure to make any additional headway shouldn’t come as a surprise. First of all, the Pound is not a safe haven currency. That means that the only chance it has to rise is when risk is “on.” Unfortunately, the Pound also scores pretty low in this regard. Annual GDP growth is currently a pathetic .5%, and is projected at only 1.8% for the entire year. Inflation is high, and both the trade balance and the current account balance are in deficit. Deficit spending has caused a surge in government debt, and there is a possibility that the UK could lose its AAA credit rating.

Investors might be willing to overlook all of this if interest rates were at an attractive level. Alas, at .5%, the Bank of England’s (BOE) benchmark rate is among the lowest in the world. Moreover, it isn’t expected to begin hiking rates for many months, and even then, the pace will be slow. Simply, the economy is too fragile to support a serious tightening of monetary policy. Interest rate futures reflect a consensus expectation that rates will be only 75 basis points higher one year from now.

If that’s the case, why hasn’t the Pound crashed entirely? To be fair, the Pound is losing groroundround against both the euro and the franc, the former of which has it bested in economic grounds while the latter is cashing in on its status as a safe haven currency. On the other hand, the Pound is still up for the year against the US dollar and Japanese Yen, both of which are also safe haven currencies.

It could be the case that the Pound is simply not the ugliest currency, since all of the charges that can be leveled against it can similarly be leveled against the dollar. Head-to-head, it’s actually quite possible that the Pound still wins, if only because its interest rates are slightly higher than the US. Or, it could be the case that investors still believe the BOE will come around and begin hiking rates. After all, at the beginning of the year (when by no coincidence, the Pound was still rising), expectations were that the BOE would have already hiked twice by this time, bringing the benchmark to a level that would make the Pound attractive to carry traders. While the BOE hasn’t followed through, carry traders may be sticking around, since the opportunity cost of holding the Pound is basically nil.

As for whether the Pound correction (that I first observed last month) will continue, that depends entirely on the BOE. Unfortunately, there is very little reason to believe that the UK economy will suddenly pick up, and hence very little reason to expect the BOE to suddenly tighten. At some point, earning .5% interest on Pounds will become unattractive to investors. Until that day comes, that might stick with the Pound out of sheer inertia. While the Pound may hold its value for this reason, I don’t think it has any hope of appreciating further this year.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in British Pound | 2 Comments »

Has the US Dollar Hit Bottom?

Jun. 11th 2011

In April, I declared that the dollar would rally when QE2 ended. That date – June 30 – is now only a few weeks away, which means it won’t be long before we know whether I was right. Meanwhile, the dollar is close to pre-credit crisis levels on a composite basis, and has already fallen to record lows against a handful of specific currencies. In other words, it’s now do-or-die for the dollar.


Since my last update, a number of things have happened. Commodity prices have continued to rise, and inflation has ticked up slightly. Meanwhile, GDP growth has moderated, the unemployment rate has stagnated at 9%, and the S&P has fallen slightly as investors brace for the possibility of an economic downturn. Finally, long-term interest rates have fallen, despite concerns that the US will be forced to breach the debt ceiling imposed by Congress.

From the standpoint of fundamentals, there is very little to get excited about when it comes to the dollar. While the US is likely to avoid a double-dip recession (the case for this was most convincingly made by TIME Magazine, of all sources), GDP growth is unlikely to rebound strongly. Exports are growing, but slowly. Businesses are investing (in machines, not people), but they are still holding record amounts of cash. Consumption is strong, but unsustainable. The government will do what it can to keep spending, but given that the deficit is projected at 10% of GDP in 2011 and that Congress is playing hardball with the debt ceiling, it can’t be expected to provide the engine of growth.

Meanwhile, Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Fed, has implied that QE2 will not be followed by QE3. Still, he warned that “economic conditions are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels for the federal-funds rate for an extended period.” With low growth, high unemployment, and low inflation, there isn’t any impetus to even think about raising interest rates. In fact, Bernanke and his cohorts will continue to do everything in their power to hold down the dollar, if only to provide a boost to exports. Bill Dudley, head of the New York Fed, intimated in a recent speech that the Fed’s current monetary policy is basically a response to emerging market economies’ failure to allow their currencies to rise.

In short, if I was arguing that fundamentals would provide the basis for renewed dollar strength, I would have a pretty weak case. As I wrote a few weeks ago, however, there is a wrinkle to this story, in the form of risk. You see- the dollar continues to derive some significant support from risk-averse investors, as evidenced by the fact that Treasury yields have fallen to record lows.


Ironically, demand for the US dollar is inversely proportional to the strength of US fundamentals. As the US economy has rebounded, investors have become more comfortable about risk, and have responded by unloading safe haven positions in the dollar. With the US recovery faltering, investors are slowly moving back into the dollar, re-establishing safe haven positions. While the dollar faces some competition in this regard from the Franc and the Yen, it still compares favorably with the euro and pound.

In fact, some traders are betting that the dollar’s fortunes may be about to reverse. It has fallen 15% over the last year, en route to a 3-year low. With short positions so high, it would only take a minor crisis to trigger a short squeeze. Said the CEO of the world’s largest forex hedge fund (John Taylor of FX Concepts): “We see a big upside USD catalyst in the next ‘3 or 4 days’ on the grounds that…’Our analysis of the markets has shown that they are very, very dangerous.’ ”

For what it’s worth, I also think the dollar is oversold and expect a correction to take hold at some point over the next month.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in US Dollar | 5 Comments »

Emerging Market Currencies Still Look Good for the Long-Term

Jun. 10th 2011

In my previous update on emerging market currencies, I wrote that in the short-term, it’s important not to lump them all together; high-yielding currencies must be distinguished from low-yielding ones. In this post, I’m going to backpedal a bit and argue that over the medium-term and long-term, emerging market currencies as an asset class are still a good bet.


Most emerging market central banks have already begun to tighten monetary policy in order to mitigate against runaway inflation, overheating economies, and asset bubbles. You can see from the chart above (where a dark shade of green signifies a higher benchmark interest rate) that the overwhelming majority of high-yielding currencies belong to emerging market economies. (In fact, if not for Australia, it would be possible to say all high-yielding currencies).

While industrialized central banks are also expected to begin tightening, the timetable is much less certain, due to slowing growth, high unemployment, and low inflation. If current trends continue, then, interest rate differentials should only widen further between industrialized currencies and emerging currencies. Without taking risk into account, the most profitable carry trade will involve shorting the lowest-yielding currency against the highest-yielding currency(s). Alas, liquidity must also be taken in account, and the Angolan Kwanza – with an interest rate of 20% – is probably not a viable candidate. As one fund manager summarized, “[If] we feel like it’s a country where if we exit we are sort of going to shoot ourselves in the foot [due to lack of liquidity], then we won’t go in the first place.

Over the long-term, meanwhile, emerging market currencies will receive a boost from two related forces: strong fundamentals and capital inflows. With regard to the former, emerging market economies already account for the lion’s share of global GDP growth. The World Bank projects that over the next 15 years, emerging market economies will collectively expand by 4.7%, compared to 2.3% in the developed world. As a result of this strong growth, combined with fiscal prudence, debt levels across the developing world are generally falling. It marks a significant reversal that none of the current sovereign debt crises involves an emerging market country. What is more amazing is that some emerging market economies (Mexico, Russia, and Brazil) that struggled with bankruptcy less than a decade ago now have investment-grade credit ratings!


As a result, capital flows into emerging markets should continue to surge. Even though emerging market equity and bond funds have witnessed record inflows over the last few years, portfolio allocations still remain extremely low. For example, “U.S. defined-contribution pension plans only have 2.1% of their funds allocated to developing economies, which make up nearly 50% of global GDP.” Emerging market bonds, meanwhile, account for an estimated 1% of total assets under management. This trend will be further reinforced by domestic investors, which will probably opt to keep more capital in-country.

Of course, the risks are manifold. First of all, there is a risk that these capital inflows will provoke a backlash. “Emerging countries have adopted a broad range of measures to regulate inflows and stem currency rises, increasingly resorting to capital controls and so-called macro-prudential measures such as credit curbs.” Now that they have the blessing of the IMF, emerging market currencies might conceivably be more audacious in trying to limit currency appreciation. On a related note, there is also the possibility that emerging market central banks will fall behind the curve, perhaps deliberately. Lower-than-expected interest rates and hyperinflation would certainly dent the attractiveness of going long such currencies.

Finally, it is possible that in all of their excitement, investors are bidding up emerging market assets to bubble levels. The Wall Street Journal recently reported, for instance, that commodity prices and emerging market currency returns have become strongly correlated. Given that many of these countries are in fact net importers of energy and raw materials, this shows that emerging market currencies are rising more in proportion to risk appetite than to economic fundamentals. If when this risk appetite ebbs, then, this could send emerging market currencies crashing.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Emerging Currencies | 1 Comment »

Currency Correlations, Part II: Canadian Dollar Begins its Decline

Jun. 8th 2011

In April, I wrote a post entitled, “Economic Theory Implies Canadian Dollar will Fall,” in which I argued that the currency’s impressive rise was belied by fundamentals. It seems the gods of forex read that post; since then, the Loonie has fallen 3% against the US dollar alone. Based on my reading of the tea leaves, the loonie will fall further over the coming months, and finish the year below parity.


My contention is basically that investors are falsely treating the Loonie is a high-yield growth currency, and hence, bidding up its value. There are a few reasons why I believe this viewpoint is completely erroneous. First of all, Canada’s economy is both plain and mature. While it is indeed rich in natural resources would seem to make it stand-out, commodities exports account for only a small portion of GDP. Given that the US absorbs 75% of its exports, it’s no accident that Canada’s economic fortunes are tied closely to the US. Finally, Canadian interest rates are pretty mediocre, which means there is neither a strong monetary nor an economic impetus for buying the Loonie against the dollar.

While Canadian GDP and inflation have exceeded analysts’ predictions, the consensus expectation is still for the Bank of Canada to hold off on tightening until September or so. Even the most bullish forecasts show a benchmark interest rate of only 1.75% by the end of 2011 and perhaps 3% at the end of 2012. In other words, it will be a long time before the Loonie becomes a viable target currency for the carry trade.

According to OECD models, the Canadian dollar is overvalued by 17% against the Dollar on a purchasing power parity (ppp). While it is generally dubious to apply this concept to currency markets, I think it’s reasonable to invoke it when analyzing the USD/CAD. The two economies share more than just a border. As I said, their economies are closely intertwined, and goods, services (and people!) move freely between the two. Thus, you would expect that large discrepancies in prices should disappear over the medium-term. In fact, the Canadian trade balance recently slipped into deficit for the first time in 40 years (corresponding with the Loonie’s record high level), which shows just how quickly consumers can shift their attention south of the border. That means that either Canadian prices have to decline (something which retailers are always reluctant to effect) or the Loonie must drop further against the Dollar.

Of course, there is a mitigating factor: the US dollar may fall even faster than the loonie. While it would seem impossible to tease apart the loonie’s rise from the dollar’s fall (since a rise in CADUSD inherently reflects both), we can still make an educated guess. For example, consider that the Canadian dollar is strongly correlated (i.e. greater than 80 or less than -80 in the chart above) with almost every other major currency, relative to the US dollar. If the correlation was low, than it would imply that the Canadian dollar is fluctuating (in this case falling) for endemic reasons. In this case, however, the almost perfect correlation with the majors shows that it is almost definitely a US dollar spike rather than a Canadian dollar correction.

Whether this trend continues then, depends more on the health of the US dollar and less on what investors think about the loonie.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Canadian Dollar, Commentary | 5 Comments »

How to Trade the Franc-Yen-Dollar Correlation

Jun. 6th 2011

Last week, the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled, “Currency Correlations Lose Their Way for Now.” My response: It depends on which currencies you’re looking at. I, too, recently posted about the break-down of multi-year correlations, specifically involving the Australian Dollar and the New Zealand Dollar. However, one has to look no further than the Swiss Franc to see that in fact currency correlations are not only extant, but flourishing!

I stumbled upon this correlation inadvertently, with the intention (call it a twisted hobby…) of refuting the crux of the WSJ article, which is that “Standard relationships between risk appetite and safe havens, and yields and risky assets, are lost as investors appear to scramble in their efforts to adapt to a new direction.” Basically, the author asserted that forex traders are searching for guidance amidst conflicting signals, but this has caused the three traditional safe haven currencies to behave erratically: apparently, the Franc has soared, the Yen has crashed, and the US Dollar has stagnated.


I pulled up a one-year chart of the CHFUSD and the CHFJPY in order to confirm that this was indeed the case. As you can see from the chart above, it most certainly is not. With scant exception, the Swiss Franc’s rise against both the US Dollar and the Japanese Yen has been both consistent and dependable. The only reason that there is any gap between the two pairs is because the Yen has outperformed the dollar over the same time period. If you shorten the time frame to six months or less, the two pairs come very close to complete convergence.

In order to provide more support for this observation, I turned to the currency correlations page of Mataf.net (the founder of which I interviewed only last month). Sure enough, there is a current weekly correlation of 93% [it is displayed as negative below because of the way the currencies are ordered] between the CHFUSD and the CHFJPY, which is to say that the two are almost perfectly correlated. (Incidentally, the correlation coefficient between the USDCHF and the USDJPY is a solid 81%, which shows that relative to the Dollar, the Yen and Franc are highly correlated). Moreover, if Mataf.net offered correlation data based on monthly fluctuations, my guess it that the correlations would be even tighter. In any event, you can see from the chart that even the weekly correlation has been quite strong for most of the weeks over the last year.


The first question most traders will invariably ask is, “Why is this the case?” What is causing this correlation? In a nutshell, the answer is that the WSJ is wrong. As I wrote last month, the safe haven trade is alive and well. Otherwise, why would two currencies as disparate as the Franc and the Yen (whose economic, fiscal, and monetary situations couldn’t be more different) be moving in tandem? The fact that they are highly correlated shows that regardless of whether they are rising or falling is less noteworthy than the fact that they tend to rise and fall together. Generally speaking, when there is aversion to risk, both rise. When there is appetite for risk, they both fall.

The superseding question is, “What should I do with this information?” Here’s an idea: how about using this correlation for diversification purposes? In other words, if you were to make a bet on risk aversion, for example, why not sell both the USDJPY as well as the USDCHF? In this way, you can trade this idea without putting all of your eggs in one basket. If risk aversion picks up, but Japan defaults on its debt (an extreme possibility, but you see my point), you would certainly do better than if you had only sold the USDJPY. The same goes for making a bet on the Franc. Whether you believe it will continue rising or instead suffer a correction, you can limit your exposure to counter currency (i.e. the dollar and yen) risk by trading two (or more) correlated pairs simultaneously.

In the end, just knowing that the correlation exists is often enough because of what it tells you about the mindset of investors.  In this case, it is just more proof that they remain heavily fixated on the idea of risk.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Japanese Yen, Swiss Franc, US Dollar | 2 Comments »

Interview with FXStreet CEO Francesc Riverola: “I do not see a reason why spreads can not go down to zero.”

Jun. 3rd 2011

Today’s interview is with the esteemed Francesc Riverola, CEO of FXStreet. Below, Francesc shares his thoughts on the future of the retail forex industry, government regulation, declining spreads, and how he became CEO of one of the biggest online brands in forex without ever making a single forex trade.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Interviews | 2 Comments »

Is the Chinese Yuan the Most Reliable Forex Trade?

Jun. 2nd 2011

Over the last six years, the appreciation of the Chinese Yuan has been as reliable as a clock. Since 2005, when China tweaked the Yuan-Dollar peg, it has risen by 28%, which works out to 4.5% per year. If you subtract out the two year period from 2008-2010 during which the Yuan was frozen in place, the appreciation has been closer to 7% per year. There is no other currency that I know of whose performance has been so consistently solid, and best of all, risk-free!

As I wrote in an earlier post on the subject, the economic case for further appreciation is actually somewhat flimsy. When you factor in the 5-10% inflation that has eroded the value of the Yuan over the last few years, its appreciation in real terms has more than exceeded the 25-40% that economists and politicians asserted as the margin by which it was undervalued. While prices for many services remain well below western levels, prices for manufactured goods already equal or exceed those that Americans pay. (As a resident of China, I can assure you that this is the case!). Given that Chinese GDP per capita (a proxy for income) is 12 times less than in the US, that means that relative price levels in China are already significantly greater than the US. Thus, further appreciation would only cause further distortion.

Regardless, investors continue to brace for further appreciation, and expectations of 5-6% for the foreseeable future are the norm. Even futures contracts – which typically lag actual appreciation because of their non-deliverable nature – are pricing in higher expectations for appreciation. Perhaps the greatest indication is that 9% of all of the capital pouring into China is so-called “hot-money.” That means that despite the 27% appreciation to date, a substantial portion of investment in China is connected only to the expectation for further Yuan appreciation.

Even though the Yuan is not fully-tradeable, its continued rise has serious implications for forex markets. First of all, there will be follow-on effects for other currencies. Almost every emerging market economy competes directly with China, and all are thus keenly aware that China pegs its currency against the US dollar. By extension, many of these economies feel they have no choice but to intervene daily in forex markets to prevent their respective currencies from appreciating faster than the RMB.

At the very least, the appreciation in Asian and Latin American currencies will keep pace with the Yuan: “This is a long-term secular trend for emerging market currencies especially in Asia. Asian currencies have long been undervalued and they are on a convergence path with the United States and the G7 more broadly and that’s going to lead to an appreciation,” summarized one analyst.

All of this action will cause the dollar to depreciate. The Chinese Yuan alone accounts for 20% of the Federal Reserve Bank’s trade-weighted dollar index, and Asia ex-Japan accounts for another 20%. Regardless of the other G4 currencies perform, that means that a conservative 7% annual appreciation in Asia will drive a minimum 3% annual decline in the trade-weighted value of the dollar. Even worse is that this cause a broad loss of confidence in the dollar, driving the dollar lower across-the board. And this doesn’t even aaccount for the multiplier effect that net exporters will no longer need to indiscriminately accumulate dollar-denominated assets. China, itself, has unloaded part of its massive hoard of US Treasury securities for five consecutive months.

The implications for how long-term investors should position themselves are clear. Unfortunately, while further appreciation in the Chinese Yuan is all but guaranteed, achieving exposure to this appreciation is beyond difficult. Neither of the ETFs that claim to represent the Yuan (CNY, CYB) have budged over the last couple years, and they are a poor substitute for the actual thing. In other words, your only chance for exposure is indirectly via Chinese stocks and bonds, which are far from transparent and an extremely dubious investment. Or you could try opening a Chinese Yuan bank account with the Bank of China (which now has branches in the US), but it’s unclear whether you will be able to capture 100% of gains from the Yuan’s appreciation.

Otherwise, emerging market Asia seems like a pretty good proxy. Of course, you need to be aware that even though the Korean Won, Malaysian Ringgit, Thai Baht, New Taiwan Dollar, Indonesian Rupiah, Philippine Peso, etc. will probably at least match the rise in the Yuan, they are imperfect substitutes for the Yuan, since they are driven more by country-specific factors than by association to China.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Chinese Yuan (RMB) | 1 Comment »

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