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Chinese Yuan: Appreciation or Inflation?

Dec. 19th 2010

Based on nominal exchange rates, the Chinese Yuan has appreciated by a modest 2% against the US Dollar since the month of September (when the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) adjusted the currency peg for the first time in nearly two years). If you take inflation into account, however, the Chinese Yuan has risen by much more. In fact, if current trends persist, the Chinese Yuan exchange rate controversy might resolve itself.

CNY USD 1 year chart
Demands from the international community for China to appreciate its currency hinge on two related arguments. The first is that at its current level, the artificially low exchange has allowed China to build up a massive trade surplus. The second is that Chinese prices seem to be lower than they should be (when quoted in other currencies), and the economic principle of Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) suggests that for this discrepancy to be eliminated, the Chinese Yuan must rise.

As it turns out, both of these claims are more problematic than they would appear. For example, China’s official trade surplus is already massive, and is steadily increasing. For 2010, it will probably near $200 Billion. However, it turns out that majority of that surplus is being captured by foreign-funded companies: “Their 112.5-billion U.S.-dollar surplus accounts for 66 percent of China’s total surplus over the past 11 months.”

In addition, trade statistics are calculated in such a way that the country that assembles the finished product gets credit for the full export value of that product. By looking specifically at Apple’s popular iPhone, researchers calculated that the product officially contributed $2 Billion to the US trade deficit with China. When the nuances of the iPhone’s supply chain are taken into account, that figure swings to a surplus of $48 million. In both of these cases, the fact that these products are manufactured in China doesn’t detract from US GDP (though it probably does cost the US jobs). Hence, the US probably isn’t hurting as much from the weak RMB to the extent that some lobbyists insist.

iPhone US China trade deficit
As for inflation, the official rate is now 5.1% on an annualized basis. Even if we accept this (and living in China, I can tell you that the actual rate is much, much higher), that means that the value of other currencies is eroding at a much faster rate than is implied by official exchange rates. That’s because a currency is only worth its purchasing power; as prices and wages in China rise, the purchasing power of the US Dollar (and other currencies) falls.

The Chinese government is trying to address the problem in the form of price controls and mandated increases in supply, but it is still reluctant to rein in inflation using conventional monetary policy measures. M2 money supply in China is increasing at a rate of 20% a year, the majority of which is being spent on another boom in fixed asset investment. While the PBOC has responded by increasing the required reserve ratio of Chinese banks, it remains reluctant to raise interest rates lest it contribute to further inflows of “hot money” on more upward pressure on the Yuan. As a result, the consensus among economists is that inflation will continue rising unabated: “We see a strong chance of underlying price pressures continuing to build over the medium-term.”

China inflation rate 2004-2010
Unless circumstances change, then, the argument for further RMB appreciation is somewhat weak. Nonetheless, analysts remain optimistic: “A Bloomberg survey based on the median estimates of 20 analysts predicts the yuan to increase 6.1 percent to 6.28 percent by the end of 2011.” Given that Hu Jintao is schedule to visit the US in January – and China’s fondness for symbolic policy gestures – a token move of 1% or so before then wouldn’t be surprising. As for the predicted 6% rise next year, well, that depends on inflation.

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Currency Wars: Will Everyone Please Stop Whining!

Nov. 2nd 2010

I read a provocative piece the other day by Michael Hudson (“Why the U.S. Has Launched a New Financial World War — and How the Rest of the World Will Fight Back“), in which he argued that the ongoing currency wars are the fault of the US. Below, I’ll explain why he’s both right and wrong, and why he (and everyone else) should shut up and stop complaining.

It has become almost cliche to argue that the US, as the world’s lone hegemonic power, is also the world’s military bully. Hudson takes this argument one step further by accusing the US of using the Dollar as a basis for conducting “financial warfare.” Basically, the US Federal Reserve Bank’s Quantitative Easing and related monetary expansion programs create massive amounts of currency, the majority of which are exported to emerging market countries in the form of loans and investments. This puts upward pressure on their currencies, and rewards foreign speculators at the expense of domestic exporters.

Hudson is right that the majority of newly printed money has indeed been shifted to emerging markets, where the best returns and greatest potential for appreciation lies. Simply, the current economic and investing climate in the US is not as strong as in emerging markets. Indeed, this is why the (first) Quantitative Easing (QE) program was not very successful, and why the Fed has proposed a second round. While there is a bit of a chicken-and-egg conundrum (does economic growth drive investing, or do investors drive economic growth?) here, current capital flow trends suggest that any additional quantitative easing will also be felt primarily in emerging markets, rather than in the US. Not to mention that the US money supply has expanded at the same pace (or even slower) as the US economy over the long-term.

M3 Money Supply 2010

While the point about QE being ineffective is well-taken, Hudson completely ignores the strong case to be made for investing in emerging markets. He dismissively refers to all such investing as “extractive, not productive,” without bothering to contemplate why investors have instinctively started to prefer emerging markets to industrialized markets. As I said, emerging market economies are individually and collectively more robust, with faster growth and lower-debt than their industrialized counterparts. Calling such investing predatory represents a lack of understanding of the forces behind it.

Hudson also overlooks the role that emerging markets play in this system. The fact that speculative capital continues to pour into emerging markets despite the 30% currency appreciation that has already taken place and the asset bubbles that may be forming in their financial markets suggests that their assets and currencies are still undervalued. That’s not to say that the markets are perfect (the financial crisis proved the contrary), but rather that speculators believe that there is still money to be made. On the other side of the table, those that exchange emerging market currency for Dollars (and Euros and Pounds and Yen) must necessarily accept the exchange rate they are offered. In other words, the exchange rate is reasonable because it is palatable to all parties.

You can argue that this system unfairly penalizes emerging market countries, whose economies are dependent on the export sector to drive growth. What this really proves, however, is that these economies actually have no comparative advantage in the production and export of whatever goods they happen to be producing and exporting. If they can offer more than low costs and loose laws, then their export sectors will thrive in spite of currency appreciation. Look at Germany and Japan: both economies have recorded near-continuous trade surpluses for many decades in spite of the rising Euro and Yen.

The problem is that everyone benefits (in the short term) from the fundamental misalignments in currency markets. Traders like to mock purchasing power parity, but over the long-term, this is what drives exchange rates. Adjusting for taxes, laws, and other peculiarities which distinguish one economy from another, prices in countries at comparable stages of development should converge over the long-term. You can see from The Economist’s Big Mac Index that this is largely the case. As emerging market economies develop, their prices will gradually rise both absolutely (due to inflation) and relatively (when measured against other currencies).

Ultimately, the global economy (of which currency markets and exchange rates represent only one part) always operates in equilibrium. The US imports goods from China, which sterilizes the inflows in order to avoid RMB appreciation by building up a stash of US Dollars, and holding them in US Treasury Bonds. Of course, everything would be easier if China allowed the RMB to appreciate AND the US government stopped running budget deficits, but neither side is willing to make such a change. In reality, the two will probably happen simultaneously: China will gradually let the RMB rise, which will cause US interest rates  to rise, which will make it more expensive and less palatable to add $1 Trillion to the National Debt every year, and will simultaneously make it more attractive to produce in the US.

Until then, politicians from every country and hack economists with their napkin drawings will continue to whine about injustice and impending economic doom.

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Much Ado About Debt

Oct. 28th 2010

In addressing the financial/credit/economic crisis, governments around the world have lowered interest rates, bailed-out bankrupt financial insititutions, engaged in wholesale money printing, guaranteed debt, and pumped cash into their economies. However, while such programs may have had some mitigating impact on the crisis, they did little to address the underlying cause. Specifically, debt was merely moved from one institution – one balance sheet – to another. Most of the bad debt that was at the heart of the credit crisis is still outstanding; the only thing that has changed is who is responsible for repaying it.

In many cases, it is governments which have assumed ownership of this debt. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac remain in a US government conservatorship. The Federal Reserve Bank owns more than $2 Trillion in US Treasuries and Mortgage Backed Securities. The European Union has agreed to collectively back more than $500 Billion in debt belonging to Greece and other unspecified “troubled” member states. The Japanese government has managed to pass off 90% of its sovereign debt onto its own citizens. The UK Treasury has printed money and lent it to the government of the UK. [The graphic below is actually interactive, and is worth a few minutes of perusing].

Global Debt by Country 2010

So what are the possibilities for dealing with this debt? In terms of government debt, the first is to hope that economies can grow faster than the debt, so that it becomes more manageable in relative terms and that one day it can be repaid. Another option is to raise taxes and/or cut spending, and use the extra funds to retire the debt. Given the current economic environment, the former possibility is unlikely. Industrialized economies continue to stall, and much of this growth is being funded with new debt. The latter option would amount to political suicide; any government that is politically naive enough to approve any austerity measures will be voted out of office at the next election. (With the election season about to begin, we won’t have to wait long for confirmation!)

The only alternative then is to reduce the real amount of debt through monetary inflation or currency depreciation. In the US, inflation is at a 50-year low. In Japan, it is non-existent. In the UK and the EU, prices are hardly growing. Monetary policymakers around the world are now actively trying to spur inflation (for reasons unrelated to the reduction of debt), but to no avail. Interest rates are already at rock bottom, and Central Banks have injected Billions of newly minted money into circulation without any impact on prices.

Currency devaluation is already taking place, but the main participants are emerging market economies (which are incidentally more concerned about export competitiveness than reducing the size of the debts). The Japanese Yen is nearing an all-time high, while the Euro has recovered from its spring lows. The British Pound is near its long-term average, while the US Dollar has declined only slightly on a trade-weighted average. In the end, since all of these countries are characterized by high levels of debt, it would be impossible for all of them to devalue their currencies. In addition, the nature of the Euro currency union precludes Eurozone countries from being able to lower their debts through currency devaluation.

The story is the same for private debt. For example, most of the real estate (commercial and residential) debt associated with the collapse of the housing market has yet to be written off. Financial institutions and investors continue to hold onto it with the hope that the real estate market will soon recover, such that the losses will never need to be recognized. While this strategy could vindicate lenders/investors over the long-term, it continues to have a devastating effect in the short-term since it forces the holders of debt to keep more cash on their balance sheets, where it won’t find its way into the global economy.

Euro Franc Dollar Yen 1990-2010 Real Exchange Rates

What are the implications for forex markets? Namely, it would seem to support the notion that emerging market currencies will continue to outperform the G4 currencies over the long-term. Over the near-term, it’s possible that G4 currencies will experience some appreciation, due both to the ebb and flow of risk appetite and the interventions of emerging market Central Banks on behalf of their currencies. Over the long-term, however, the only realistic alternative to default is currency devaluation, and at some point, the forex markets will have to come to terms with the fact that the G4 currencies need to decline. [Chart above courtesy of The Economist].

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Australia Dollar Ebbs and Flows with Risk

Sep. 5th 2010

If you chart the course of the Australian Dollar over the last twelve months alongside the S&P 500, the overlap is jarring. You can see from the chart below that the two lines zig and zag in almost perfect unison. It would seem that there was a slight break in the second quarter of 2010, but even this is an illusion, since the Aussie and the S&P continued to rise and fall in the same patterns over that time period, differing only in degree of fluctuation.

Australian Dollar Versus S&P 500: 2009-2010
Since the S&P 500 is a pretty good proxy for risk it can be said that the Australian Dollar is a manifestation of investor risk appetite. When risk aversion was high, the S&P and the Aussie were low. When risk tolerance picked up, they rose. It’s funny how this came to be. It is probably best seen as a vestige from the credit crisis, whereby investors evenly divided assets into two classes: risky and safe. When you look at the performance of the Australian Dollar, it is pretty clear as to which side of the dividing line it was placed.

This is probably fair, since the Australian Dollar is a growth currency. According to the just-released Bank of International Settlements (BIS) Triennial Central Bank Survey of Foreign Exchange and Derivatives Market Activity, the Australian Dollar is now the world’s fifth most traded currency (behind only the G4: Dollar, Euro, Yen, & Pound), having usurped that position from the Swiss Franc. In 2010, it accounted for 7.6% (out of a total of 200%) of all trading volume, primarily as a result of trading in the USD/AUD currency pair, which was the fourth most popular in forex.

Investors have come to see the Australian Dollar in somewhat contradictory terms. It is both stable and liquid, but its economy is unpredictable and inflation is usually above average. The current economic situation was strong, with GDP growth projected to exceed 3% in 2010. Its benchmark interest rate (4.5%) is the highest in the industrialized world, and may touch 5% before the year is over. On the other hand, its political situation is currently uncertain, thanks to an election that produced a hung Parliament and the recent resignation of its Prime Minster. In addition, while its trade balance is currently in surplus, it fell in July thanks to decreased demand from China. Analysts wonder whether it isn’t entirely dependent on China (directly via exports and indirectly via high commodity prices) to generate positive GDP growth.

Australia Balance of Trade - 2009- July 2010
Ultimately, investors don’t care about any of this. They care only whether the global economy is stable and whether another financial/credit/economic crisis is likely to occur. Even though any such crisis will probably spare Australia, the Aussie is punished by even the whiff of crisis because Australia is perceived as being riskier to invest than the US, for example. “The Australian dollar is going to stay heavy. Markets don’t like uncertainty,” summarized JP Morgan.

Sadly, it’s currently not worth parsing the nuances of trade statistics and monetary policy, because it has no bearing on the Aussie, though at least this makes my job easier. For the time being, the Australian Dollar will tick up if it looks like the global economy (principally the US) will avoid a double-dip recession. Otherwise, it is in for the same rough stretch as the S&P.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Australian Dollar, Economic Indicators, News | 1 Comment »

Safe Haven Trade Returns

Aug. 13th 2010

I shouldn’t have been so complacent in declaring the paradigm shift in forex markets, whereby risk aversion had given way to comparative growth and interest rate differentials. While such a shift might have been present – or even dominant – in forex markets over the last couple months, it appears to have once again been superseded by the so-called safe haven trade.

In hindsight, it wasn’t that the interplay between risk appetite and risk aversion had ceased to guide the forex markets, but rather that they had been deliberately been put on the backburner. In other words, it’s now obvious that investors have remained vigilant towards the possibility of another crisis and/or an increase in risk/volatility.

How do I know this is the case? This week, there was a major correction in the markets, as diminished growth prospects for the global economy led stocks down, and bonds and the Dollar up. If investors were truly focused on growth differentials, the Dollar would have declined, due to a poor prognosis for the US economy. Instead, investors bought the Dollar and the Yen because of their safe-haven appeal.

EUR-USD Versus S&P 500

What exactly was it that produced such a backlash in the markets, sending both the DJIA and the Euro down by 2% apiece in less than one trading session? First, the most recent jobs report confirmed that unemployment is not falling. Then, the Commerce Department released trade data which showed that the recovery in US exports has already leveled off. This sent economists scrambling to adjust their forecasts for 2010 GDP growth: “After downward revisions to other economic data like inventories and the export figures, even that 2.4 percent annual rate is now looking too rosy — and may even be as low as 1 percent.”

To top it all off, the meeting of the Fed Reserve Bank confirmed investors’ worst fears as the Fed warned of continued economic weakness and voted to further entrench its quantitative easing program. According to the official FOMC statement: “The pace of recovery in output and employment has slowed in recent months. Household spending is increasing gradually, but remains constrained by high unemployment, modest income growth, lower housing wealth, and tight credit…Bank lending has continued to contract….the pace of economic recovery is likely to be more modest in the near term than had been anticipated.”

The Fed also indicated slowing inflation, which set off a debate among economists about the once-unthinkable prospect of defaltion. While the consensus is that deflation remains unlikely, investors are no longer automatically inclined to give the Fed the benefit of the doubt: “The Fed’s determined effort to build up its inflation-fighting credibility over the past few decades may be working against it here.”

It was no wonder that the markets reacted the way they did! Cautious optimism has now given way to unbridled pessimism: “Given the uneven rebound in the United States, and now signs that the world’s other economic engines are slowing, economists say Americans may confront high unemployment and lackluster growth for some time to come.” Ironically, if such an outcome were to obtain, it could provide a boost for the Dollar, and even for the Yen.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Economic Indicators, News, US Dollar | 1 Comment »

Greek Debt Crisis Widens

May. 6th 2010

I must confess: I never expected the Greek debt crisis to reach such a dire threshold in such a short time period. Over a matter of mere months, the Euro has fallen 15% against the Dollar. That’s the kind of drop that you would have expected from the Greek Drachma, not from the Euro!

5y Euro

Moreover, it’s not as if this slide is anywhere close to abating. “I don’t think you’d want to bet on a bottom, at this stage, in euro. We’re headed closer to $1.2000 at some point in the game. It’s just a question of when,” said one prominent analyst. Meanwhile, net shorts against the Euro have reached a record 89,000 contracts, according to the weekly Commitments of Traders report. What is producing this swell of bearish sentiment, which is causing the markets to trade in a manner best described as “panic mode?”

The answer, it seems, is a self-fulfilling belief not only that Greece will default on its debt, but also that the credit crisis will spread to the rest of Europe. Greek interest rates recently topped 8%, and the spread with comparable German bonds (this spread has become a crude way of gauging the seriousness of the crisis) is close to an all-time record. Credit default swaps, which insure against the risk of default, surged to 674 bas points, reflecting a 15% probability of default. Meanwhile, credit default swap spreads on Spanish and Portuguese debt is also creeping up.

At this point, there seems to be very little that Greece can do to mitigate the crisis. It has already announced a series of austerity measures, including wage cuts and tax hikes, designed to narrow its budget deficit. In addition, it has successfully obtained an aid package from the EU and IMF, valued at $160 Billion. In April, it successfully refinanced $12 Billion in debt, even though experts insisted that such would be very difficult, given current investor sentiment.

On the other hand, the austerity measures were met with riots, which left 3 people dead, and signaled that the Greek citizenry would sooner vote out the incumbent government than accept their proposals to reduce the budget deficit. Speaking of which, under the best case scenario, the deficit will decline to a still-whopping 8% of GDP in 2010 (from a revised 13% in 2009), and Greece’s budget will remain in the red until at least 2014, by which point its gross national debt is projected to have reached 140% of GDP. Of course, this assumes that GDP growth will turn positive in 2012, and this is no guarantee. Meanwhile, the aid package will probably be enough to tide Greece over for only about 18 months, after which point it will have to return to the capital markets. Even before it can tap the bailout, it must first refinance another $10 Billion in debt in May.

Europe's Web of Debt

In other words, even if Greece can forestall default for 2010 and 2011, who’s to say that it won’t default in 2012? With this possibility in mind, it makes it very unlikely that investors will continue to buy Greek bonds at all, let alone at affordable interest rates. “People are becoming well aware of the fact that the solvency issue for Greece hasn’t been resolved with the aid package. They still have to repay the money. They still have to repay the interest.”

Finally, there is the risk that the crisis will spread to the rest of Europe. Both the IMF and the Spanish government have been busy refuting rumors that Spain is seeking a similar bailout. Regardless of its veracity, the fact that such a rumor even exists will be enough to make investors sweat. When investors get nervous, they stop buying government bonds and/or demanding higher interest rates, which ironically only makes it more likely that the government in question will default. Fortunately, it seems that Spain (and its neighbor, Portugal) are in strong enough shape that they could survive a sudden speculative attack from investors.

Greece, however, is basically a lost cause. “Greece is functionally bankrupt,” and the only solution is for it to leave the Euro and/or default. Until that day comes, uncertainty will persist, and investors will continue to doubt the Euro.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Economic Indicators, Euro, News | 3 Comments »

Inflation: Much Ado about Nothing?

Apr. 16th 2010

One of the cornerstones of exchange rate theory is that currencies rise and fall in accordance with inflation differentials. All else being equal, if US inflation averages 5% per annum and EU inflation averages 0% per annum, then we would expect the Euro to appreciate (or the Dollar to depreciate, depending on how you look at it) by 5% against the Dollar on an annualized basis. If only it were that simple…

You can see from the chart below that since the introduction of the Euro, inflation in the US has slightly outpaced Eurozone inflation (by about 5% on a cumulative basis). Over that same time period, the Euro first appreciated from slightly below parity with the US Dollar to $1.60, and then fell back to the current level of around $1.35. It’s clear (from the current sovereign debt crisis if nothing else) that the EUR/USD exchange rate, then, cannot be explained entirely by the theory of purchasing power parity.

Cumulative Inflation- US versus EU 1999-2009
Still, insofar as inflation bears on interest rates and can be a consequence of economic overheating or excessive government spending, it is something that must be heeded. On that note, after a dis-inflationary 2009, prices in the US are once again rising in 2010, and inflation is projected to finish the year around 2%.

Over the longer term, there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty regarding US inflation, for a couple reasons. The first is related to the Fed’s quantitative easing program, which pumped more than $1 Trillion into credit markets. While the Fed has basically stopped its asset purchases, all of this printed money is still technically in circulation, and some inflation hawks think it represents a ticking inflation time bomb. Doves respond that the Fed will withdraw these funds before they become inflationary, and that besides, most of the funds are actually being held by commercial banks in the form of excess reserves. (This notion is in fact born out by the chart below).

Excess Reserves versus Monetary Base
The second potential driver of inflation is the skyrocketing national debt. While US budget deficits have long been the norm, they have grown alarmingly high in the past few years and are projected to remain high for at least the next decade. Beyond that, the US faces up to $70 Trillion in unfunded entitlement liabilities, which means that net debt will probably grow before it can fall. Hopefully, the US economy will outpace the national debt and/or foreign Central Banks continue to buy Treasury securities in bulk. The alternative would be wholesale money printing (to deflate the debt) and hyperinflation.

Yields on both 10-year and 30-year Treasury securities remain enviably low, which means that buyers aren’t bracing for hyperinflation just yet. In addition, while gold continues to attract buyers despite record high prices, its rise has been closely tied to the performance of the stock market, which means that investors are currently using it to bet on economic recovery, rather than as a hedge against inflation.

gold vs S&P

In short, inflation in the US certainly remains a real possibility. At this point, however, it remains too hazy to be actionable, and the forex markets will probably wait for more information before pricing it into the Dollar.

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

Brazilian Real Recovers on Rate Hike Hopes

Apr. 6th 2010

One of the main themes (even if not always overt) of my posts recently has been the revival of the carry trade, if not the already extant revival than at least the imminent one. In this context, there is no better candidate than the Brazilian Real.

After a stellar 2009, the Brazilian Real opened 2010 in much the same way that most emerging market currencies did: down. In the month of January, alone, it fell almost 10% against the Dollar, as fears of a widespread sovereign debt crisis took hold in currency markets. Its modest recovery since then, is not so much due to a decreased likelihood of such a debt crisis, but rather to a shift in the markets’ perspective away from long-term fiscal problems and back towards short-term economic and monetary conditions.

real dollar
It is here where Brazil (and the Real) shines. As one analyst summarized, “The Brazilian economy has been transformed over the past few years. The boom-and-bust and hyperinflation of previous decades has been replaced by steady growth. The country was one of the last major economies into recession, but one of the first out.” 2009 Q4 GDP came in at 4.3% on a year-over-year basis, and is projected at 6% for 2010. Moreover, its economy is very well-balanced, and consumer debt levels are relatively low. Unlike in China, for example, infrastructure investment in Brazil still has plenty of room to grow, without crowding out private investment. This is important, given that the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics are right around the corner.

After rebounding from the lows of the 1999 currency crisis, meanwhile, the Brazilian stock market has had an incredible decade, returning an average of 20% annually. For the sake of comparison, consider that emerging markets have averaged 10%, and all stock markets have averaged only .2%. It doesn’t hurt that Brazil just discovered a huge (the fifth largest in the world) coastal oil reserve.

In fact, it might just be the latter that currency traders are most excited about: “Thus far this year, BRL is 68% correlated with crude oil prices…Last year the correlation was 53% and in 2008 the correlation was just shy of 32%.” This is the highest among any currency, even those that derive a much larger portion of GDP from oil exports, such as Canada and Norway. While there are almost certainly lurking variables in this correlation, a continued rise in the price of oil can’t hurt the Real.

Where does the carry trade fit into this? Look no further then Brazil’s benchmark interest rate of 8.5%. Impossibly, this represents a record low, despite the fact that this is nearly 8.5% higher than the current Federal Funds Rate. And the Brazilian rate is only set to rise. At the last meeting of the Bank of Brazil, 3 out of 8 Board members voted to hike the Selic rate by 50 basis points. The main opposition came from the Bank’s President, Henrique Meirelles, who steered a dovish course for political reasons.

Since then, inflation has continued to creep up and Mr. Meirelles has firmly renounced his political ambitions, and the stage is now set for a 75 basis point hike at the next meeting, to be held on April 28. Most analysts are projecting an “increase of between 200 and 300 basis points through mid-2011, [and] some investors are pricing about 450 basis points of hikes in the same period.”

It’s hard to predict if/when the Fed will follow suit, but most certainly won’t be to the same extent. As long as Brazilian interest rates can keep up with inflation, then, it looks like the Real will end 2010 in much the same fashion as 2009.

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CAD/USD Parity: Reality or Illusion?

Feb. 15th 2010

In January, the Canadian Dollar (aka Loonie) registered its worst monthly performance since June. Many analysts pointed to this as proof that its run was over, after coming tantalizingly close to parity. Others insisted that the decline was only a temporary correction, a mere squaring of positions before the Loonie’s next big run. Who’s right? Both!


There are (at least) two separate narratives presently weighing on the Loonie. The first is causing it to decline against its arch-rival, the US Dollar, for reasons that essentially have nothing to do with the Canadian Dollar and everything to do with the US Dollar. Specifically, the mini-crisis that is playing out in Greece and the EU has caused risk aversion to resurface, such that investors are now returning capital to the US. One analyst explains the impact of this seemingly tangential development on the Loonie as follows: “When you get any sort of ‘risk-off’ type of environment like we’ve had over the past week or so, currencies like the Canadian dollar and the Australian dollar will come under pressure.”

The second narrative explains why the Canadian Dollar continues to hold its own against most other currencies. Specifically, Canada’s economic recovery continues to gain momentum as commodity prices continue their rally. In the latest month for which figures are available, the economy added about 80,000 jobs, more than five times what forecasters were expecting. This turn of events is helping to quash the “view that the Canadian trade sector is incapable of growth with a strong currency,” and making traders less nervous about sending the Loonie up even higher.

Going forward, there is tremendous uncertainty. Both short-term (determined by the Bank of Canada) and long-term (determined by investors) interest rates remain quite low, such that the Loonie is not really a candidate for the carry trade. In addition, the Bank of Canada hasn’t completely ruled out the possibility of intervention on behalf of the Loonie; it may simply leave its benchmark interest rate on hold (at the current record low of .25%) for longer than it otherwise would have. In addition, a series of recent tightening measures by the government in China threatens to crimp demand for commodities and weigh on prices. Finally, the market turmoil in Greece is causing investors to look afresh at the balance sheets (in order to weigh the likelihood of default) of other economies. This probably won’t help Canada, which continues to run large deficits and whose debt level once earned it the dubious distinction of “honorary member of the Third World.”

Still, Canada’s capital markets are among the most liquid and stable in the industrialized world, and if risk-aversion really picks up, it won’t suffer as much as some other economies. “The Canadian economy is not as structurally impaired as the U.S. or the U.K. It creates a sense that Canada is less exposed to the fickleness of foreign investors that are causing uncertainty in other locations.” In fact, the Central Bank of Russia just announced that it will switch some of its foreign exchange reserves into Canadian Dollars, and other Central Banks could follow suit.


While the Canadian Dollar should continue to hold its own against other currencies, the same cannot necessarily be said for its relationship to the US Dollar. “Options traders are the most bearish on the Canadian dollar in 13 months…The three-month options showed a premium today of as much as 1.34 percentage points in favor of Canadian dollar puts.” In other words, the price of insurance against a sudden decline in the CAD/USD is rising as investors move to cushion their portfolios against such a possibility. While this trend could ease slightly in the coming weeks, I personally don’t expect it to disappear altogether. All else being equal, given a choice between owning Loonies or Greenbacks, I think most investors would choose Greenbacks.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Canadian Dollar, Economic Indicators, News | 2 Comments »

“Logic” Returns to the Forex Markets, Benefiting the Dollar

Dec. 26th 2009

Many analysts are pointing to Friday, December 4, as the day that logic returned to the forex markets. On that day, the scheduled release of US non-farm payrolls indicated a drop in the unemployment rate and shocked investors. This was noteworthy in and of itself (because it suggests that the recession is already fading), but also because of the way it was digested by investors; for the first time in perhaps over a year, positive news was accompanied by a rise in the Dollar. Perhaps the word explosion would be a more apt characterization, as the Dollar registered a 200 basis point increase against the Euro, and the best single session performance against the Yen since 1999.

US Dollar Index
Previously, the markets had been dominated by the unwinding of risk-aversion, whereby investors flocked back into risky assets that they had owned prior to the inception of the credit crisis. During that period, then, all positive economic news emanating from the US was interpreted to indicate a stabilizing of the global economy, and ironically spurred a steady decline in the value of the Dollar. On December 4, however, investors abandoned this line of thinking, and used the positive news as a basis for buying the Dollar and selling risky currencies/assets.

If you look at this another way, it reinforces the notion that investors are paying closer attention to the possibility of changes in interest rate differentials. The fact that the recession seems to have ended suggests that the Fed must now start to consider tightening monetary policy. This threatens the viability of the US carry trade – which has veritably dominated forex markets – because it literally increases the cost of borrowing (carry): “If the market thinks that Fed rates are about to move higher, the dollar will cease to be a funding currency and the inverse correlation between the dollar and risky assets will break.”

To be fair, it will probably be a while before the Fed hikes rates: “It’s a prerequisite to have a continuing decline in the unemployment rate for at least three months before the Fed considers tightening,” asserted one analyst. At the same time, investors must start thinking ahead, and can no longer afford to be so complacent about shorting the Dollar. As a result, emerging market currencies probably don’t have much more room to appreciate, since the advantage of holding them will become relatively less attractive as yield spreads narrow with comparable Dollar-denominated assets.

To be more specific, investors will have to separate risky assets into those whose risk profiles justifies further speculation with those whose risk profiles do not. For example, currencies that offer higher yield but also higher risk will face depressed interest from investors, whereas high yield/low risk currencies will naturally greater demand. You’re probably thinking ‘Well Duh!’ but frankly, this was neither obvious nor evident in forex markets for the last year, as investors poured cash indiscriminately into high-yield currencies, regardless of their risk profiles.

To be more specific still, currencies such as the Euro and Pound face a difficult road ahead of them (as does the US stock market, for that matter), mainly due to concerns over sovereign solvency. (Try saying that three times fast!) On the other hand, “Commodity-linked currencies such as the New Zealand, Australian and Canadian dollars [have] rallied sharply, and will probably continue to outperform as their economies strengthen and their respective Central Banks (further) hike interest rates.

It remains to be seen whether investors will remain logical in 2010, since part of the recent rally in the US Dollar is certainly connected to year-end portfolio re-balancing and profit-taking, and not exclusively tied to a definitive change in perceived Dollar fundamentals. Especially since they remain skittish about the possibility of a double-dip recession, investors could very easily slip back into their old mindsets. For now, at least, it looks like reason is in the front seat, making my job much less complicated.

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Dollar Could Go Either Way, Depending on the Carry Trade

Dec. 18th 2009

As I outlined in my last two posts, the Dollar could witness a rapid appreciation if/when the Fed finally raises interest rates. Given Chairman Bernanke’s frequent erring on the side of inflation, however, it could be months (at the earliest) before the Fed actually pulls the trigger. With forex markets guided by interest rate differentials, and traders’ uncertainty about the timing of interest rate hikes, its fair to say that the Dollar is at a crossroads.

Currently, the case for an interest rate hike (as the Fed confirmed this week) remains weak: “They will need to see a lot more, better numbers consistently, not just for one or two months, before they would start to genuinely be talking more hawkish…I think the markets may be disappointed if they’re looking for hints of hikes coming soon,” said one strategist. While the data continues to improve – witness last week’s miracle jobs report – it has not yet been demonstrated convincingly and unequivocally that the economy has exited the recession. There are too many contingent possibilities that could send the economy into relapse for the Fed to even consider acting. As I said in my last post, I don’t personally expect a rate hike until next summer.

Still, the markets are alert to the possibility. And where perception is reality, any sniff of rate hikes is enough to send the Dollar soaring; it has risen an impressive 5% against the Euro over the last couple weeks. That investors are acting so early to protect themselves against a possible rate hike shows the precariousness of the foundation on which the Dollar’s rise has been predicated.


What I’m talking about here is the Dollar carry trade, in which investors borrowed in Dollars at record low rates, and invested the proceeds in riskier currencies and assets. It wasn’t so much the interest rate differentials they were chasing (only a few percentage points in most cases, hardly enough to compensate for the risk), but rather outsized returns from currency and asset price appreciation. In other words, while the S&P has risen by an impressive 50% from trough to peak (providing a handsome return to any investor smart enough to have foreseen it), stock markets outside of the the US have performed just as well. Factor in currency appreciation, and in some cases you are talking about gains of around 100%.

But we all know that volatility is the enemy of the carry trade, and volatility is slowly creeping up. First, there was the Dubai debt crisis, then came the downgrading of Greece’s sovereign debt. With talk of interest rate hikes, it’s no wonder that investors are becoming jittery. Bloomberg News reports that, “The so-called 25-delta risk-reversal rate, which was flat as recently as October, hasn’t shown such high relative demand for dollar calls since hitting a record 2.595 percentage points in November 2008….[and] JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s G7 Volatility Index rose to 14.43 last month from the low this year of 12.32 in September.”

JP Morgan G7 Volatility Index
The consensus remains that neither the Dubai nor Greece episodes signals broad systemic risk, and that the Fed probably won’t hike rates for a while. Still, investors must brace themselves for the possibility of surprise on one of these fronts, or from a completely unsuspected “bolt from the blue” as one analyst put it, because of what happened to the Dollar after Lehman’s collapse in 2008. As evidenced by the Dollar’s sudden turnaround in the last couple weeks, this kind of uncertainty is self-begetting. As some investors get nervous and begin to unwind their carry trade positions, other investors also begin to move towards the exists, lest they get stuck short the Dollar after the music stops (or when it starts, depending on how you look at it.)

In that sense, the best paradigm for analyzing the Dollar is the end of the carry trade on one hand, weighed against the possibility of interest rate hikes on the other hand. “The dollar will depreciate to $1.55 against the euro by March from $1.49 last week, and to $1.62 by June, according to JPMorgan,” which is betting heavily that investors will remain clear-headed about interest rate differentials. Those that are looking at the Dollar from a risk-aversion/carry trade standpoint have slightly different projections: “I wouldn’t surprised if the euro makes it to $1.40 before the end of the month without much trouble, maybe a little bit lower.”

In short, in forex, it’s never enough to be able to predict the economic future. Instead, you must be able to predict how these predictions will be syncretized into currency valuations by the markets. In this case, that means you need not necessarily be able to accurately predict when the Fed will hike rates; rather you need only be concerned with how other investors view that possibility, and whether that makes them feel more or less confident about holding certain currencies.

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Euro: It’s Still Mostly About the Dollar

Dec. 5th 2009

It’s been a while since I last wrote about the Euro (October 26: Euro Optimism (And not just Dollar Pessimism)). That’s because my perspective recently has been mainly Dollar-centric; I continue to believe that much of the recent movement in forex markets (with the exception of certain cross rates) can best be explained by the Dollar. Nowhere is this more evident than the Euro, whose rise should really be thought of in terms of the depreciation of the Dollar. It’s no surprise then that yesterday’s Euro decline – the steepest in months – was the result not of internal European developments, but rather of the US jobs report.

eurp dollar
One analyst summarized the Euro’s ascent by noting, “The bias for risk-seeking is still in vogue.” This has nothing to do with the Euro, but rather is a roundabout way of speaking about the Dollar carry trade, which is responsible for an exodus of capital from the US, some of have which has no doubt found its way into Europe. In some ways, then, it’s almost pointless to scrutinize EU economic indicators too closely.

That being said, there are a few meaningful observations that can be made. The first is that the EU economy is tentatively in recovery mode. Some of the most closely-watched indicators such as the German IFO index, capacity utilization, and Economic Sentiment Indicator, have all ticked up in the last month, while the unemployment rate is holding steady. For better or worse, this improvement can attributed entirely to export growth, due to the recovery in world trade. GDP rose by .4% in the most recent quarter, which means that the Euro Zone has officially exited the recession.

The second observation is that many expect this exit to be short-lived. Due to the relative rigidity of the EU economy, specifically regarding the labor market, it may take additional time to get back on really solid footing. Thus, the European Commission “thinks that euro-area unemployment will continue to rise next year, reaching 10.9% in 2011. That will dampen consumer spending. Another worry is investment, which the commission thinks will fall by 17.9% this year. Businesses are unlikely to waste scarce cash on new equipment and offices when they have spare capacity. Firms confident enough to splash out may find it hard to secure the necessary financing from fragile and risk-averse banks.” The Commission also expects public finances to continue to deteriorate, perhaps bottoming at some point next year. There is even an outside concern that one of the fringe members of the EU could default on its debt, requiring a bailout in the same vein as the lifeline grudgingly being thrown to Dubai by the UAE.

Finally, there is the European Central Bank. Much like the Fed – and every other Central Bank in the industrialized world, except for Australia – the ECB is nowhere near ready to hike rates. “The overall economic context doesn’t suggest that they would want to tighten anytime soon. There is a feeling that, yes, things have improved, but that nonetheless, the outlook is still quite fragile,” summarized one economist. Sure, the ECB is winding down its liquidity programs, but so is the Fed. Based on long-term bond yields, investors believe that US rates could even eclipse EU rates at some point in the future.

In short, there isn’t really much to be optimistic about, when it comes to the Euro. The nascent recovery is hardly remarkable, and probably not even sustainable. While the Euro might continue to perform the Euro in the short-term for technical reasons, I would expect this edge to evaporate in the medium-term.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Economic Indicators, Euro, News | 2 Comments »

Debunking the Myth: The Dollar and the Deficit

Dec. 2nd 2009

Last week, I opined on the official US forex policy (“Strong Dollar” Policy is a Joke). Most of my analysis was directed towards the lackluster efforts of US policymakers in failing to execute this policy, and I paid short shrift to the policy itself. With this post, then, I would like to address whether a Strong Dollar is, on balance, actually good for the US economy, specifically as it bears on the balance of trade.

Dean Baker, of the American Prospect, in a post germane to this discussion, wrote that “Folks who took econ 101 know that currency fluctuations are the mechanism through which trade imbalances adjust.” Unfortunately, as anyone who follows the forex markets no doubt understands, reality is much more complicated. As the WSJ reported, US exports skyrocketed during the last decade when the Dollar was falling. Case closed, right? However, exports also rose during the 1990’s, when the Dollar was in fact rising. This contradiction should make make anyone think twice before assuming a cut-and-dried relationship between the Dollar and exports think twice.

Dollar and US exports 1990-2009
While exchange rates certainly correlate with export volume, there are a few confounding variables. Fist is the lag time between fluctuations in exchange rates and corresponding changes in exports. That’s because the majority of international trade is conducted by large companies and because global supply chains are not completely fluid. In other words, if the Dollar collapses tomorrow, it will take years before companies can fully modify their sourcing arrangements accordingly.

In addition, it is mainly on non-durable goods that companies have relative flexibility on choosing sourcing locations. In this age of ODM and OEM, it’s not difficult for Nike to shift production to Vietnam if the Chinese Yuan is suddenly revalued. On the other hand, it is significantly more complicated to move an automobile manufacturing plant or oil refinery. Investments in production facilities for durable goods are made on a long-term basis, then, and aren’t responsive to short-term changes in exchange rates. If you look at the breakdown of US exports, it is heavily concentrated in services and high-tech products, many of which it’s not (yet) practical to outsource.

For goods and services that are low-skilled labor-intensive, it’s obviously cost-effective to produce them overseas, because wages are lower. This is not a product of exchange rates, but rather to disparities in standards of living and levels of development. In China (where I am based), factory wages rarely exceed 8RMB per Dollar (about $1.25 at current exchange rates). Conservatively, that’s probably less than 1/20th of US counterpart wages, when you look at salary and benefits. That’s why the weak Dollar hasn’t done much to dent US demand for imports. Personally, I don’t expect to see the RMB rise 1500% in the next few years to erase this discrepancy, which means that’s unrealistic to ever expect the US Dollar to depreciate enough to ever make the US competitive enough in certain export categories.

Obviously, the inverse is true for imports. From the perspective of the US, the shifting of non-durable goods production outside the US represents a permanent structural changes in the US economy. Regardless of how low the Dollar sinks, it’s not reasonable to assume that the US will once again become the hotbed of low-tech manufacturing activity that it once was.

Overall, exports have actually risen steadily over the last decade (and the last 50 years, on average); the problem is that imports have risen even faster. In fact, ebbs and flows in the trade deficit can be better explained by global economic cycle than by short-term fluctuations in exchange rates. Despite the weak Dollar, the US trade deficit has exploded over the last decade because of a comparable explosion in US consumption, which was made possible by cheap credit. When that cycle came to an abrupt end in 2008, the trade deficit narrowed dramatically, despite the rise in the Dollar that took place simultaneously.

US trade deficit 1945-2009

Given that the US has basically committed itself to importing certain goods, a Strong Dollar is actually beneficial, because it reduces the cost of those imports. In the short-run, then, a 20% decline in the Dollar might be expected to correlate with a 20% rise in the trade deficit. The hope is that this can be offset over the long-term, with the relocation of production facilities (yes, foreign companies also outsource to the US; it’s a not a one-way exodus) to the US and the creation of new products/services that can fill the void of those that have already been outsourced.

In short, it’s not clear that a weak Dollar will dramatically improve the US trade imbalance. This can best be accomplished not through a weak exchange rate, but through incentives that stimulate innovation and discourage consumption of low-quality, non-durable goods, the majority of which are produced overseas. When you consider the inflation (Strong Dollar keeps prices in check) and financing (Strong Dollar increases the willingness of foreigners to invest in and lend to US entities) perks, the Strong Dollar probably provides a net benefit to the US economy. If Bernanke and Geithner actually believe this, it would be nice if they conducted policy accordingly.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Economic Indicators, News, US Dollar | 3 Comments »

Dollar Reverts Back to Former Self

Aug. 22nd 2009

Only two weeks ago, analysts were singing about a new day for the Dollar, which had risen on the basis of good news for the first time in months. In hindsight, it looks like such talk was premature, as the Dollar has returned to its old ways. Good news once again causes the Greenback to fall, while bad news causes it to rise.

This development (or lack thereof) suggests that investors may have gotten ahead of themselves, when they sent the Dollar surging after the employment picture brightened slightly. At the time, the news was interpreted as a sign that rate hikes were imminent. On a broader level, it was a sign that investors had dumped the paradigm of risk aversion, in favor of a model based on comparing economic fundamentals. Since then, investors have slowly moved to distance themselves from the notion that the Fed will soon hike rates, and in the process have moved back towards trading based on risk dynamics.

As a result, positive news developments over the last couple weeks have coincided both with a rise in equity prices and a decline in the Dollar. When the Chinese stock market collapsed one day last week, investors responded by dumping high-yield assets, and moving temporarily back into “safe haven” currencies. “Diving Shanghai Helps Dollar” read one headline. “Worries over the continued fragility of the world economy outweighed a firmer tone in overseas equity markets to underpin the U.S. dollar versus major counterparts,” explained another report.

Meanwhile, a divide is forming among fundamental analysts. There is one school of thought which argues that the US will be the first industrialized economy to recover, and hence the first to raise rates. Based on this line of reasoning, then, positive economic news provides a foundation upon which to buy the Dollar. A competing school of thought, meanwhile, has suggested that regardless of if/when a US recovery materializes, it will be overshadowed by out-of-control inflation. In this regard, then, the Dollar is not such an attractive buy.

No less than the venerable Warren Buff has insisted that the Fed’s quantitative easing program and the US economic stimulus plan – while necessary – threaten to create even bigger problems than the ones they purport to solve. “But enormous dosages of monetary medicine continue to be administered and, before long, we will need to deal with their side effects. For now, most of those effects are invisible and could indeed remain latent for a long time. Still, their threat may be as ominous as that posed by the financial crisis itself,” he said.

If this true, then the Dollar is damned either way. Damned in the short-term as a result of a pickup in risk appetite, and damned in the long-term due to inflation.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Economic Indicators, News, US Dollar | 3 Comments »

Euro retreats from 2009 Highs

Aug. 18th 2009

In forex, timing is everything. If I had written this post a couple weeks ago, the headline would read “Euro Touches 2009 High.” Perhaps if I had waited another week, it would have read, “Euro Approaching 2009 High.” But alas, I chose today to write about the Euro, and the headline I chose is probably the most appropriate under the circumstances.

On August 5, “The euro hit a high for the year against the dollar as stocks trimmed their losses in afternoon trading Wednesday despite a generally cautious tone in currency markets.” Analysts were careful to point out that the markets remained cautious and the Euro eased past – rather than smashed through – its previous high. Technical analysts would and have argued that this paved the way for the subsequently rapid decline: “The euro is testing the base of an ascending channel with daily momentum charts showing a ‘double top in overbought territory.’ ”

This notion might have some merit, considering that fundamentals arguably favor a continued Euro appreciation. “The economy of the 27-country European Union shrank 0.3 percent in the three months ended June 30, for an annual rate of roughly 1.2 percent. The 16 countries that use the euro registered a 0.1 percent decline for the second quarter, or an annual rate of roughly 0.4 percent.” While output remains well below its 2008 levels, the slight contraction represents a tremendous improvement from the first quarter, when GDP shrank by 2.5%.

“Underlying the strong reading were solid performances in France and Germany, each of which grew 0.3 percent in the second quarter, government data showed.” This is helping to offset further contractions in Italy and Spain, which have turned into economic laggards as a result of the housing bust. In addition, exports in Germany grew by 7% last month, and “Investor sentiment improved more than analysts had expected in August to its best level since April 2006.” On an aggregate basis, “the euro zone’s trade balance with the rest of the world rose to 4.6 billion euros ($6.5 billion) in June, compared to a flat balance in the same month last year,”

Still, explorers looking for bad news and/or cracks beneath the surface will have no difficulty finding them. German exports (and output in general remain down year-over-year. In addition, there are still trouble spots in the EU, notably in western Europe. “Already, the euro area’s unemployment rate stands at 9.4 percent, its highest level in 10 years, and the anemic growth of the coming quarters will not be enough to arrest the slide. That, in turn, could drag down consumer confidence or even generate political backlash in Europe, economists said.” Most worrying is perhaps that, “consumer prices in the euro area dropped 0.6 percent in July…” ‘Deflation is becoming entrenched in the euro area, which would be very bad for the economy.’ ” Good thing the ECB left some room to lower rates further.

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The Force is With the Yen

Aug. 17th 2009

Just when it looked like the carry trade was back for good and all signs pointed to a Yen depreciation, out of nowhere came a series of surprise developments, propping the Yen back up. Spanning finance, economics, and politics – a Forex Trifecta – these developments moved swiftly through the markets, creating optimism for the Yen where before there was only pessimism. Of course, it’s possible that this bump will prove temporary, and a reversal could transpire just as quickly.


The biggest news, by a large margin, was a report that the Japanese economy had returned to growth. Similar in scale and in tenor to stories coming out of other countries, the data showed that Japan grew at an annualized rate of 3.6% in the second quarter of 2009, a sharp reversal from the 11.7% contraction in the previous quarter (which was itself revised upward from -14%).

Japan GDP 2008-2009

The sudden sea change was brought about by a combination of government spending and export growth. “New tax breaks and incentives to help sales of energy-efficient cars and household appliances, coupled with lower gas prices and a rebound in share prices, spurred consumer spending. Prime Minister Taro Aso has pledged 25 trillion yen (about $263 billion) in stimulus money, including a cash handout plan and more public spending on programs like quake-proofing the country’s public schools, to revive the economy.” Meanwhile exports grew by a healthy 6.3% from the previous quarter, while imports fell, causing the trade surplus to widen.

The announcement of economic recovery was accompanied by a noteworthy reversal in capital flows, such that Japan’s capital account swung into surprise weekly surplus: “Foreign investors bought 292.9 billion yen ($3.1 billion) more Japanese stocks than they sold during the week ended Aug. 8 and domestic investors were net buyers of 125 billion yen in overseas bonds and notes.” Meanwhile, speculation is mounting that Japanese investors will move to repatriate some of the coupon and redemption payments they receive on their US Treasury investments.

While seemingly unrelated to the economic turnaround (it’s important not to read too much into weekly data), this could be a sign that Japanese investors are growing more optimistic about domestic economic prospects and are moving to invest more at home. It’s worth noting that such a shift could actually be necessary if the recovery is to be sustained, in order to increase the role of (capital) investment, relative to exports and government spending. Ironically, it could instead be a sign of excessive pessimism, if Japanese believe that prospects for US/global growth have been overestimated, in which case risk appetite and the carry trade would be due for a combined correction.

Domestic consumption could also play an increasing role in Japan’s economy going forward, as a result of imminent political changes. “To stimulate consumption at home, the Democrats have pledged to put more money in the hands of consumers by providing child allowances, eliminating highway tolls and making fuel cheaper. That marks a shift away from the long-ruling LDP’s emphasis on steps to help companies.”

Along similar lines, the Democratic Party (which has a wide lead over the incumbent Liberal Democratic Party), has also conveyed its opposition to currency intervention, since such tactics inherently prioritize export growth over domestic consumption. “Japan’s export-led growth is reaching its limits and Tokyo should not intervene in markets to weaken the yen as long as currency moves match fundamentals, the No.2 executive in the main opposition party said on Monday.” Could the carry trade be in trouble?

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Brazil Real Edging Up, Despite Efforts of Central Bank

Aug. 15th 2009

The Brazilian Real has been one of the world’s best performers in 2009, having risen by a solid 25%. The currency is now close to pre-credit crisis levels, and is even closing in on an 11-year high. When you consider that only six months ago, most analysts were painting doomsday scenarios and predicting currency devaluations and bond defaults for the entire continent, this is pretty incredible!

The currency’s rise has been supported by a variety of factors, few of which are grounded in fundamentals. To begin with, while Brazil has staved off depression, it’s not as if the economy is firmly back on solid footing. The economy contracted by 5% in the first quarter, and forecasts for 2009 GDP growth still vary widely, from a slight contraction to modest expansion. Meanwhile, the economy is importing more than it exports, despite the rebound in commodity prices. “The central bank said the net trade result was based on $9.89 billion in receipts for exports and $12.72 billion in import payments overseas.”

“Investment inflows, meanwhile, totaled $33.88 billion, while outflows totaled $29.78 billion.” The disparity between investment and trade data goes a long way towards explaining the Real’s rise. Thanks to a recovery in risk appetite, foreigners have poured cash into Brazil at an even faster rate than they once removed it. As a result, Brazil’s “Bovespa stock index has risen 51 percent this year, the world’s 12th-best performer among 89 measures tracked by Bloomberg, as foreign investors moved 13.7 billion reais into the market through July, the most since the exchange began tracking data in 1993. Brazilian local bonds returned 37 percent in dollar terms after falling 13.8 percent in 2008.” The country’s foreign exchange reserves also just set a new record, surging past the $200 Billion mark.

Brazilian interest rates tell the rest of the story. Despite a gradual decline over the last decade (made possible by a moderation in inflation), Brazil’s benchmark SELIC rate stands at a healthy 8.65%, which is the highest in South America, after Argentina. Unlike Argentina – and the dozen or so other economies around the world that boast equally lofty interest rates – Brazil is perceived as relatively safe place to invest. Given interest rate levels in the western world, combined with the expectation that Brazil’s currency will appreciate further, investors are more than happy to accept a little bit of risk in order to earn an out-sized return.


Just like the Bank of Korea, Bank of England (both profiled by the Forex Blog in the last week), the Bank of Brazil is not happy with the resilience in its currency. “Brazil’s central bank said on Wednesday it bought $779 million on the spot foreign exchange market this month to Aug. 7 as dollar inflows to the country surged because of growing demand for local stocks and bonds.” This brings the total intervention expenditure to $9 Billion.

Unfortunately for the Bank of Brazil, the forces in the forex market are way beyond its control. “Dollar inflows to the country totaled $2.26 billion this month to Aug. 7, compared with inflows of $1.27 billion in all of July.” Analysts are also unconvinced, and are racing to revise their Real forecasts upward. One economist, caught completely off guard, just “changed his year-end real forecast to 1.8 from 2.5 at the start of the year. ‘The resilience of the Brazilian economy to weather this crisis has been spectacular,’ ” he explained.

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Korean Won Rebounds Strongly

Aug. 13th 2009

Last year the Korean Won was one of the world’s weakest currencies- and that’s saying a lot when you you consider how many currencies tanked at the onset of the credit crisis. The Won lost nearly half of its value, driven by concerns that Korean creditors would be unable to pay their foreign debts. Since March, however, the currency has rebounded by an impressive 25%, as the government took action: “To avert a crisis, South Korea forged a dollar-swap agreement with the U.S., pumped money into the banking system, boosted fiscal spending, set up funds to replenish bank capital and cut rates.”


In the last quarter, South Korea’s economy grew 2.3%, the fastest pace in nearly six years, marking a significant turnaround from the 5% contraction recorded in the fourth quarter of 2008. Still, “South Korea’s economy will shrink 1.8 percent this year, the IMF said yesterday, revising a July prediction for a 3 percent contraction.” Exports, which account for 50% of GDP, have also recovered, and are now rising by nearly 20% on an annualized basis. Retail sales are climbing, and bank lending to households has risen for six straight months. Finally, “Stimulus measures at home and abroad are fueling South Korea’s revival. The government has pledged more than 67 trillion won ($53 billion) in extra spending, helping consumer confidence climb to the highest in almost two years in June.”

However, an inflow of speculative hot money – which has buttressed a rally in Korean stocks – threatens to undo the recovery. “With an anticipated increase in risk appetite, foreign investors may invest further in emerging-market equities, leading to more dollar supply,” said one analyst. The first half 2009 current account surplus set a record, with forecasts for the second half not far behind. Korea’s foreign exchange reserves, meanwhile, have recovered, and could touch $300 Billion within the next year.

Of course, the Central bank is not simply standing by idly. It has already lowered its benchmark rate to a record low 2%, and at yesterday’s monthly monetary policy meeting, it firmly refused to consider raising it for at least six months. Commented one analyst, “There is no urgent need to raise rates. The most likely course of action is that the Bank of Korea will wait until the economy fully recovers, and in particular, they will wait until the unemployment rate stops increasing.” Still, given both that interest rates remain above levels in the west (see chart below) and that the Korean Won is considered undervalued, funds could continue to flow in.


The Central Bank’s other tool is direct intervention in the forex markets, in order to depress the strengthening Won. But this, it is loathe to do: ” ‘It would be better to have a larger foreign exchange reserve in order to better deal with economic crises, but attempts to buy dollars to artificially boost the reserve volume could lead to accusations of currency manipulation, while excess won in the markets could stoke inflation,’ a high-ranking ministry official said.” Still, investors are growing increasingly nervous about this possibility:”A state-run bank that usually doesn’t participate much in the market bought some dollars at the day’s low, prompting speculation about a possible intervention, a local bank trader said.” Sure enough, after hitting the psychologically important level of 1,220 at the end of July, the Won dived. It has yet to bounce back.

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British Pound due for Correction, Thanks to BOE

Aug. 11th 2009

The British Pound’s rise since the beginning of March has been nothing short of spectacular: “Improving economic data have helped the pound advance 14 percent against the dollar this year and 12 percent against the euro.” Due primarily to a recovery in risk appetite and the concomitant belief that the Pound had been oversold following the onset of the credit crisis, investors began pouring hot money back into the UK. As recently as two weeks ago, one analyst intoned that, “Longer term, we are in part of an uptrend for the pound. I don’t think this is over.”


Since then, however, a series of negative developments have cast doubt on such optimism. The first was the release of economic data, which indicated an unexpected widening in Britain’s trade deficit. While exports rose, imports rose even faster, causing analysts to wonder whether it would be realistic to expect the British economic recovery would be led by exports: “We remain skeptical that the U.K. is about to become an export-driven economy any time soon. A return to sustained growth continues to look unlikely in the near term,” said one economist.

The second development was the decision by the Bank of England to expand its quantitative easing program: “The central bank spent 125 billion pounds since March as part of the asset-purchase program and had permission to use as much as 150 billion pounds, about 10 percent of Britain’s gross domestic product. Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling has now authorized an extra 25 billion pounds.” This came as a huge shock to investors, which had collectively assumed that the program had already been concluded.

Upon closer analysis, it appears that the rise of the Pound and the expanding trade deficit might have contributed to the BOE’s decision: “According to the Bank’s rule of thumb, this [the Pound’s rise] is equivalent to interest rate increases of 1.5 percentage points.” However, interest rates are already close to zero. The BOE has already conveyed its intention to maintain an easy monetary policy for the near-term (March 2010 interest rate futures reflect an expectation for a 75 basis point rate hike); otherwise, there is nothing else it could do on the interest rate front. “Unless the UK is ready to deflate its production costs heavily, it can only achieve required competitiveness by reducing the value of sterling…The BoE knows this and its decision to increase its quantitative easing efforts may well have to be seen in the context of summer sterling strength.”

The final factor has been the Dollar’s sudden reversal. Previously, the Pound had been helped as much by UK optimism as by Dollar pessimism. This changed last week, when positive US economic data triggered expectations of a near-term economic recovery and consequent Fed rate hikes. In short, the Pound must now rest on its own two feet, and can no longer count on Dollar pessimism for a boost: “The current gloomy sentiment, which has chipped some 3% off sterling’s value against the dollar in the past four trading days, represents a sharp turnaround.”

The prognosis for UK economic recovery should receive some clarity tomorrow, when the Bank of England releases a report on inflation and GDP. At this point, we will have a better idea as to what to expect from the Pound going forward.

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Dollar Reverses Course

Aug. 10th 2009

A recent WSJ headline reads, Good Economic News Threatens the Dollar, and summarizes the Dollar’s trading pattern as follows: “Demand for the U.S. currency continues to erode amid a tide of more encouraging economic data and corporate earnings that have fed a thirst for riskier assets such as stocks, commodities, and growth-sensitive currencies.”

Less than two weeks after that article was published, the Dollar rose by a healthy 2% against the Euro in only one trading session, as US labor market conditions improved slightly: “The U.S. unemployment rate fell in July for the first time in 15 months as employers cut far fewer jobs than expected, giving the clearest indication yet that the economy was turning around from a deep recession.” While technically another 250,000 jobs were lost and economists forecast that the employment rate will rise past 10% before peaking, investor sentiment is still at a high.

Unsurprisingly, the news triggered a stock market rally. More noteworthy, though, is that the Dollar also rallied. Since the beginning of 2009 and especially since the beginning of March, there has been a clear negative correlation between stocks and the Dollar, as a result of risk appetite. “At one point this year, the correlation between the euro-dollar rate and the S&P 500 index hit 50 percent, according to BNP Paribas calculations. That is, the euro and S&P 500 rose or fell in tandem half the time.”

This latest development suggests that this relationship has broken down, at least temporarily. Argues one analyst, “The dollar’s going to turn. The U.S. economy is more able to withstand shocks than other economies, especially Europe.” Perhaps going forward, the markets will be driven less by risk appetite and more by comparative growth trajectories and economic fundamentals.

Not so fast, though. Much of the Dollar’s recent slide has been a product carry trading patterns, as investors borrow in low-yielding Dollars and invest in higher-yielding alternatives. An improvement in economic conditions could compel the Fed to hike rates, which would seriously dent the attractiveness of the carry trade. “Indeed, long-dated U.S. interest rates have been quietly moving in the dollar’s favor while U.S. interest rate futures on Friday started pricing in a federal funds rate of 1.25 percent by the mid-2010, the highest since June.” Based on this paradigm, then, it’s still risk appetite that’s driving the Dollar, whether up or down.

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The US Housing Market and the Dollar

Aug. 4th 2009

As reported today by the Mortgage Calculator and other sources, the US housing market could be in the early stages of recovery. “Nationwide, home resales in June are up 9 percent from January, on a seasonally adjusted basis. Sales of new homes have climbed 17 percent during the same period. And construction, while still anemic, has risen almost 20 percent since the beginning of the year. Even home prices, down one third from the top, edged up in May, the first monthly increase since June 2006.” While the data is certainly susceptible to overly optimistic interpretation, these represent positive developments by any standard.

Before I lose the forex traders out there who probably think that they logged on to a housing blog by mistake, I’d like to point out that the release of this data coincided with a marked decline in the value of the Dollar, which “hovered near its 2009 low against the euro on Tuesday as a surprisingly strong U.S. housing report suggested the recession was waning.” This sound-byte encapsulates two important relationships: between forex and housing, and between housing and the economy. The former is indirect, while the latter represents a direct connection.


In a vacuum, forex traders probably couldn’t care less about housing data. Between interest rates, economic performance, geopolitics, risk appetite, financial markets, there is enough fodder to overwhelm most amateur analysts. Housing, then, is only important insofar as it bears on one of these “primary” forex factors. However, given the increasing role of housing in the US economy, perhaps it should itself be elevated to the top tier.

Let me explain: when the positive housing data was released last week, financial markets rallied, led by a “4.5% leap in the Dow Jones U.S. Home Construction Total Stock Market Index.” This immediately carried over into forex markets, as investors sold the Dollar en masse. “The market was desperate looking for direction, and a number like this is giving the market a small lift,” offered one analyst.

“The dollar remains vulnerable to good economic news,” summarized another. At face value, it might seem somewhat ironic that the Dollar is now inversely related to US economic performance. From the collective standpoint of investors, the US economic recovery is simultaneously indicative of and less interesting than a global recovery, and an improved environment for risk-taking. This tends to manifest itself in the form of a shift of funds away from safe-haven currencies is riskiery alternatives. In short, pay attention to the US housing market (data); the Dollar hangs in the balance.

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

Pound: All Indicators Point to Down

Jul. 16th 2009

If an investor only read the story, Pound a Buy Before ‘Steep’ U.K. Recovery, they could be forgiven for assuming that the fundamentals underlying the Pound must be strong enough to just such a bold claim. In fact, virtually all economic indicators are trending downward, and most analysts (with the exception of the source behind the above story) are revising their Pound forecasts proportionately.

While all data is subject to “spin,” all of the big picture indicators paint a consistently negative picture of the UK economy. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said on June 24 that U.K. gross domestic product will shrink 4.3 percent this year, revising its March forecast for a 3.7 percent contraction. Sterling has fallen 1 percent in the past month. Meanwhile, unemployment is still rising (albeit at a slower pace than before), and prices are falling.

The BOE will probably expand its liquidity program by the sanctioned 25 Billion Pounds, and “Speculation has also started to circulate that the Bank of England could announce it will seek approval from the Treasury to boost the size of the program even further.” Meanwhile, the government deficit is surging: “The U.K.’s credit rating is an issue that’s still there and public spending in an election year is causing concern for investors.

A sane analyst, then, could only come to one reasonable conclusion- that the Pound is doomed. In the short-term, the Pound will be punished by a weak economic prognosis, low interest rates, and the inflationary monetary/fiscal policy. Additionally, as the summer rolls in, investors will likely move funds outside of the UK into more stable locales. In the long-term, the Pound is equally dubious: “The pound’s decline in 2008 returned the currency to its real trade-weighted exchange rate of the 1970s, which could be its ‘new fair value’ as the U.K. becomes a net oil importer and is less able to rely on financial services to earn foreign exchange.”

There is even less equivocation among investors, themselves. According to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, “More hedge funds and large speculators have positioned for a decline in the pound against the dollar rather than a rise — so-called net shorts — every week since August.” While the Pound is currently trading around $1.65, “The median of 39 analysts and strategists’ forecasts compiled by Bloomberg is for the pound to trade at $1.59 by the end of September and $1.62 by the end of the year.”

Pound Rises

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Inflation Update: US Prices Creep up in May

Jul. 8th 2009

The debate over US inflation continues to be waged- in academic circles, among economists, and in the financial markets. There is no still no clear consensus as to the likelihood that the inflation will flare up at some point, as a result of the Fed’s easy monetary policy and the government’s record budget deficits. While the unprecedented nature of this crisis means that such a debate is still a matter of theory, that hasn’t stopped both sides from weighing in, often vehemently.

Admittedly, the risk of inflation in the short-term is still low: “With so much of the world ensnared by the economic downturn, demand for goods and services is weak, which tends to push down prices. Amid high unemployment, workers are in no position to demand wage increases.” Still, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) is already creeping up. The Fed’s “core” measure, which excludes food and energy prices, rose 1.8% from a year ago. If commodity prices continue to rise, the total CPI could soon become positive. (It currently stands at -1.3%).

Among academics and economists, the discussion is being framed relative to the Fed; specifically, can it – and more importantly, will it – move to unwind its quantitative easing program when the time comes? “If it acts prematurely to reduce the money supply, the Fed could stifle the recovery. If it waits too long, it could contribute to a jump in inflation. Its timing is going to have to be perfect,” says a former Fed economist.

This question remains divisive, as evidenced by the ongoing feud between the chief economist at Morgan Stanley and his counterpart over at Goldman Sachs. MS is concerned that the Fed will leave rates too long. According to one of his supporters, “The Fed absolutely has the tools and know-how, but the question is, will they have the guts to use them? I don’t think there is a snowball’s chance in hell they will be willing to tighten to slow inflation down.” Counters the GS camp: ““The Fed will be able to contain inflation pressures through a combination of raising interest rates and unwinding its balance sheets.”

All of this talk seems premature when you consider that the money supply is barely growing, despite the Fed’s QE program: “M2, a gauge that includes savings and checking accounts, is 4.7 times the base cash supply, down from 9.3 times a year ago.”


“Of the $2.1 trillion that the Fed is injecting into the financial system, more than half, or 51 cents per dollar, is being posted back at the central bank by financial institutions in the form of excess reserves, a record high.” In other words, most of the Fed’s cash is not actually finding its way to consumers.

Financial markets are equally ambivalent, although erring on the side of caution. Treasury yields on the long end of the curve have risen over the last few months, though this can be attributable to several causes. More specifically, “The spread been nominal 10-year Treasury yields and comparable-maturity TIPS yields has increased from approximately 0.25% at the start of the year to 1.65% currently, reflecting a 1.4% increase in expected CPI inflation over the next decade.” Based on this, it’s clear that while investors don’t share the doomsday pessimism of inflation hawks, they are nonetheless growing increasingly concerned.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Central Banks, Economic Indicators, News, US Dollar | 1 Comment »

British Pound “Pauses for Breath” [Part 1 of 2]

Jun. 29th 2009

After a nearly 20% rise against the Dollar, the British Pound has been rangebound for nearly the entire month of June, with one columnist likening the situation to a “pause for breath.” For him, this amounts to a temporary cessation on the Pound’s inevitable upward path: “Compared to long term levels, the pound was still better value than its peers. He said: ‘It’s still cheap – about 10% below it’s trade-weighted average at present.’ ” For others analysts, however, the picture is not so cut-and-dried.


Forgetting about purchasing power parity for a minute, there are numerous factors which could halt the Pound’s rise. First and foremost is the British economy, which is still struggling to find its feet. “The U.K. economy will recover ‘mildly’ next year, according to the OECD, compared with a previous projection of a 0.2 percent contraction. Gross domestic product will drop 4.3 percent this year, versus a March forecast of 3.7 percent.”

Some economic indicators have begun to stabilize, but the two most important sectors, housing and finance, are still wobbly. Economists warn that “any recovery could be slow and uneven because banks are still unwilling to pump loans into the economy.” In the latest month for which data is available, mortgage lending slowed to a record low, with consumer lending not far behind. With regard to housing,”The annual fall in house prices in England and Wales slowed for a third consecutive month in June, according to property data company Hometrack, but prices were still 8.7 percent lower than a year ago.”

There is the possibility that the BOE’s quantitative easing plan and the government’s fiscal stimulus will provide the economy with the boost it needs. At the same time, both programs will have to be reined at some point, sooner rather than later in the case of government spending. With UK national debt predicted to reach 90% of GDP by 2010, “Most people – the prime minister excepted, apparently – believe that taxes will have to rise and/or public spending fall after the next election. This would at least threaten to hold back economic activity.” Not to mention that both QE and government spending could actually backfire and generate inflation without economic growth (i.e. stagflation). BOE Governor Mervyn King captured this overall sentiment, when he said, “I feel more uncertain now than ever. This is not the pattern of a recession coming into recovery that we’ve seen since the 1930s.”

In short, from a purely economic standpoint, it doesn’t look good for the Pound Sterling. But of course forex is about much more than GDP…stay tuned for Part 2, in which I’ll elaborate on this point, and bring interest rates and inflation into the discussion.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in British Pound, Economic Indicators, News | 2 Comments »

Can the Fed Control Inflation?

Jun. 22nd 2009
This week, the Federal Reserve Bank is scheduled to meet for two days, during which it will debate not only whether or not to adjust its benchmark interest rate but also whether to tweak its Quantitative-Easing program, which is slated to end in August. Futures prices indicate an expectation of nil that the Fed will tighten its monetary policy. Still, there is a definite possibility that the Fed will vote to continue injecting liquidity into credit markets: “Market watchers want to hear if the Fed will announce a plan to buy more than the original $300 billion in long-term Treasurys in order to help tamp down interest rates and keep credit flowing.” In this context, it’s worth asking: Is the Fed focusing on growth at the expense of inflation?
To be fair, inflation is currently non-existent. Prices rose at an annualized rate of .3% last month, and have actually fallen, relative to last year. Commodity prices are indeed rising, but seem to be taking their cues from the stock market and abnormal/temporary shocks, rather than a real change in the dynamic between supply and demand. The Dollar is also falling, but Bernanke himself has argued previously that this shouldn’t trickle down to the consumer price level in a significant way.
US CPI May 2009
Meanwhile, GDP is negative and unemployment is rising. The ubiquitous talk of “green shoots” notwithstanding, there is still no solid evidence that the economy has begun to recover. In short, if it’s question of priorities, you can’ fault the Fed for focusing on the economy instead of price stability. “A nation can endure high inflation for a time without destroying its long-term economic prospects…On the other hand, economic depressions have far more severe aftereffects and require more drastic measures to solve,” agrees
one analyst.
Still, the concern is not that a sudden economic turnaround will drive domestic inflation. “There is growth in the emerging markets…There’s an international demand as well as a U.S. demand. The inflationary pressures are going to be coming from outside the walls of Troy.” But even this is small beer compared to the Fed’s quantitative easing program and the record-setting government budget deficits.
Fed apologists argue that QE was implemented with the implicit understanding that all of the excess cash would be siphoned out of the system long before the economy returned to full steam. “The Fed is well aware of the exit problem. It is planning for it, is competent enough to carry out its responsibilities and has committed itself to an inflation target of just under 2 percent. Of course, none of that assures us that the Fed will hit the bull’s-eye. It might miss and produce, say, inflation of 3 percent or 4 percent at the end of the crisis — but not 8 or 10 percent,” asserts one economist. He points out that the bond markets agree with this assessment: “The market’s [five-year] implied forecast of future inflation…was about 1.6 percent and the 10-year expected rate was about 1.9 percent. Notice that the latter matches the Fed’s inflation target.”
Without doing an in-depth, historical study, it’s still reasonable to say that investors are prone to making errors. Consider the euphoria surrounding mortgage bonds up until that bubble burst last year, that in hindsight was completely baseless. With regard to the Fed, one need look no further than the artificially low monetary policy maintained by Bernanke’s predecessor, Aland Greenspan, that has since been blamed for the current recession.
According to a WSJ analysis, “There is no evidence that Mr. Bernanke and his Fed colleagues have changed their thinking…But this time, the Fed has also gone to greater easing lengths than it ever has, taking short-rates nearly to zero and making direct purchases of mortgage securities and even Treasuries. These are extraordinary acts that push the Fed deeply into fiscal policy, credit allocation and directly monetizing Treasury debt. Combined with the 2003-2005 mistake, they have also raised grave doubts about the Fed’s credibility and independence.”
Then there is the fact that the optimistic forecasts hinge on two crucial assumptions. The first is that the economy will indeed recover and that record government (not just the US) deficits will soon abate. The second assumption is that regardless of whether the global economy improves swiftly and convincingly, the increase in sovereign debt can be absorbed by the capital markets. In my opinion, this assumption is both wrong and negligent. Even the optimists expect the ratio of G20 gross national debt to GDP, to surpass 100% for the first time ever this year. [Chart courtesy of The Economist]. Let’s just hope that the investors continue to turn out, and that Central Banks (including the Fed) aren’t stuck mopping up the difference.
Gross Government debt in the G20, % of GDP
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BOC Nervous about Loonie Appreciation, but Not Enough to Take Action

Jun. 12th 2009

Canada right now seems to typify the contradiction between political posturing and economic reality. GDP dropped by a whopping 5.3% in the first quarter- less than what the Central Bank had predicted but greater than thr 3.7% drop in the previous quarter. “The economy will shrink by 3 percent this year, the central bank predicts. That would be the biggest drop since 1933, according to Statistics Canada. The unemployment rate has also been at a seven-year high of 8 percent the last two months.” The most grim statistic is that “Canadian exports fell an annualized 30.4 percent in the first quarter, led by the automotive industry.” This is particularly problematic for Canada, whose economy is 30% depending on such exports.

Meanwhile, Canada’s Prime Minister, Steven Harper, is bandying the term “green shoots” around, and has declared “The worst is behind us now.” I guess it just depends on which statistics you choose to cite. After all, “April data…showed new jobs were created for the first time in six months and sales of existing homes rose the most in more than five years. Credit markets are also improving, with the Bank of Canada’s composite index of financial market conditions rising to its strongest level last month since September.” Still, a majority of surveyed economists forecast economic contraction for at least another quarter.

At least the Bank of Canada seems to have two feet planted firmly on the ground. It has warned investors not to expect a rate hike (from the current record low of .25%) for about a year, although it admits that could change depending on inflation. The BOC has thus far abstained from unveiling a massive “quantitative easing” plan to match that of the UK and US, which were subtly gibed for not having viable “exit strategies.” In addition, while Canada’s outstanding public debt has surged past $500 Billion, the country’s debt/GDP ratio is still the lowest in the G8 and projected to remain stable (despite projections of deficit for the next five years). In short, inflation inflation is probably not a realistic concern.

What is worrying to the Bank of Canada is the rise in the Loonie, which has surged 14% since March and shows no signs of stopping. In its decision last week to maintain rates at current levels, the BOC referred to “the unprecedentedly rapid rise in the Canadian dollar (which reflects a combination of higher commodity prices and generalized weakness in the U.S. currency).” Given that it can’t cut rates any further and is reluctant to devalue the currency through printing money, the only real option is for the Central Bank to intervene directly in currency markets, last done in 1998. Analysts, though, reckon that this is extremely unlikely.

What would it take for the Loonie to return to a more sustainable level? A decrease in risk appetite, for one thing. If investors got spooked and returned to the Dollar, this would probably crunch the Canadian Dollar. More likely, at least in the short-term, seems to be a retreat in commodity prices. The Loonie has pretty closely tracked the recovery in commodity prices [see chart below], any any pullback in oil and metals would likely be reflected in decreased demand for the currency. A recent report in the NY Times suggested that the surge in Chinese buying activity – which was clearly correlated with rising prices – may soon come to an end. The inevitable fall in commodities prices that would follow will certainly help officials at the BOC to sleep better.

Loonies is Correlated with Commodity Prices

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Chinese Yuan Inches Towards Reserve Currency Status

Jun. 8th 2009

The last week brought a few more developments in China’s quest to turn the Yuan into a viable reserve currency. Don’t get me wrong – I used the term “inches” in the title of this post for a reason – the Yuan will not supplant the Dollar anytime soon, if ever. Still, China deserves credit for their resolve on forcing the issue, as well as for providing an alternative to the Dollar monopoly.

An important boost came from Russia’s Finance Minster, who suggested that, “This could take 10 years but after that the yuan would be in demand and it is the shortest route to the creation of a new world reserve currency,” as long as it was accompanied by economic and exchange rate liberalization. The Head of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, agreed: “Ultimately, that’s a good thing. And ultimately it’s good if you’ve got, I think, some multipolarity of reserve currencies to create, to make sure that people manage them well.”

These soft endorsements were precipitated by comments from  a top Chinese banker that companies should start to issue bonds denominated in Yuan. “Guo Shuqing, the chairman of state-controlled China Construction Bank (CCB), also said he is exploring the possibility of issuing loans to trading companies in yuan, allowing Chinese and foreign companies to settle their bills in yuan rather than in dollars.” This would serve two ends simultaneously; not only would Chinese capital markets be strengthened, but the Chinese Yuan would benefit from the increased exposure. Already, “HSBC and Standard Chartered have both said they are preparing to issue bonds denominated in yuan” and international monetary institutions might not be far behind.

Conspiracies aside, the Chinese Yuan will become a reserve currency when it is ready to become a reserve currency. I’m sure this seems self-evident, but it’s important for China (and China watchers) not to get ahead of itself. It doesn’t make sense for risk-averse investors to hold a currency that is still essentially pegged to the US Dollar and that isn’t fully convertible. If there’s no pretense that the Yuan fluctuates in accordance with market forces, and if investors aren’t guaranteed the ability to withdraw RMB if need be, what possible reason would they have to hold it in the first place?

Summarizes one columnist, “China would have to gradually make the yuan convertible on the capital account; it needed a more liquid foreign exchange market; its bond markets and banking system needed to be more developed; and there had to be proper monitoring of cross-border capital flows.” The importance of having functioning capital markets cannot be understated. Simply, investors and Central Banks buying Yuan would not want to simply invest in paper currency; instead they would want stocks and bonds that trade transparently.

Currently, foreign investors are limited to savings accounts and investing/lending to firms that record earnings opaquely and are ultimately subject to the whims of the Central government. This system has functioned well in the past, only because investors were betting generally on the Yuan’s appreciation, and not necessarily on specific opportunities within China. If China wants the Yuan to be a serious contender with the Dollar, it needs to give investors more and better options. Ironically, if China had taken these steps in the past, it wouldn’t have found itself with $2 Trillion worth of Dollar assets that it is desperately trying to dispose of.


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British Pound Rises to Seven Month High, but Holes are Beginning to Appear

Jun. 2nd 2009

You may have noticed that the phrase “seven month high” appears quite frequently in recent Forex Blog posts, regardless of the currency being discussed. I offer this preface as context for Pound’s recent rally because it suggests that the factors driving the Pound are hardly unique from the factors driving other currencies. In other words, “It’s a mixture of a dollar-weakness story and a global-growth story.”

Of course, it would it be unfair to so glibly dismiss the Pound, so let’s look at the underlying picture. On the macro-level, the British economy is still anemic: “Gross domestic product dropped 1.9 percent in the latest quarter, the most since 1979, according to the Office for National Statistics. The International Monetary Fund now expects the British economy to shrink by 4.1 percent in 2009.” Without drilling too far into the data, suffice it to say that most of the indicators tell a similar story.

The only relative bright spots are the housing market and financial sector. Mortgage applications are rising, and there is evidence that housing prices are slowing in their descent, perhaps even nearing a bottom. Optimists, naturally, are arguing that this signals the entire economy is turning around. History and common sense, however, suggest that even if the most recent data is not a blip, it’s still unlikely that the UK will able to depend on the housing sector to drive future growth. Besides, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that foreign buying (due to favorable exchange rates) is propping up real estate prices, rather than a change in market fundamentals.

The stabilization of financial markets is also good for the UK, as 1/3 of its economy is connected to the financial sector. “Sterling is basically a bet on global financial well-being…Now that the banking sector has stepped away from the Armageddon scenario, the prospects for London and the U.K. economy look better.” But as with housing, it’s unlikely that the financial sector will return to the glory days, in which case the UK will have to turn elsewhere in its search for growth.

What about the Bank of England’s heralded attempt at Quantitative easing? While it’s still to early to draw conclusions, the initial data is not good. In fact, the most recent data indicates that half of the bonds that the BOE bought last month (with freshly minted cash) were from foreign buyers, which causes inflation without any of the economic benefits from an increase in the domestic flow of money. Given that S&P recently downgraded the outlook for UK credit ratings, it’s no surprise that foreigners are moving towards the exits. In short, “With underlying weakness in money and credit – plus large gilt sales by overseas investors – we doubt that quantitative easing is playing much direct role in the economy’s possible turnaround,” summarized one analyst.

If you ask me, the Pound rally is grounded in nothing other than naive technical analysis, which relies on indicators that are largely self-fulfilling. In other words, if the Pound seems like it should rise, than it probably will, simply as a result of investor perception. “Citigroup Inc. said in a report last week the pound is ‘among the most undervalued major currencies…’ Barclays Plc predicts it will rise as much as 18 percent against the dollar and 11 percent versus the euro in the coming year. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. sees a 23 percent gain versus the dollar and 15 percent advance against the euro.” Call me skeptical, but it’s hard to understand what kind of analysis underlies these predictions other than simple intuition. Sure the Pound was probably oversold, but is a 20% rise is two months really justified?

The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data indicated a slight downtick, but “big speculative players continue to hold large net short positions in the pound versus the dollar,” which suggests that the savviest investors are not yet sold on the rally. Emerging markets offer growth and higher yield. Commodity currencies, such as the  Australian and New Zealand dollars, rise in line with energy and commodity prices. Someone please tell me where the Pound fits into this?

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Foreigners Continue to Fund US Trade Deficit

May. 29th 2009

Economists generally and Dollar bears specifically both love to harp on the perennial US trade imbalance. Despite the halving of the trade deficit (reported by the Forex Blog last week), the gap between exports and imports remains sizable; it is projected at about a $350 Billion for 2009.

The more important data point, however, concerns capital flows. This is applies mainly currency traders, which are less intrinsically worried about the US trade imbalance than how the rest of the world feels about supporting such a balance. For example, if the entire trade deficit is recycled (i.e. invested) back into the US, than theoretically a trade deficit presents nothing to worry about, at least not in the short run. [Of course, such a trend may not be sustainable for the long-term, but that is outside the purview of this post].

The Dollar’s de facto role as the world’s reserve currency has historically ensured that this has been the case. This phenomena has even been strengthened by the credit crisis, as the initial spike in risk aversion generated a steady demand for Dollar-denominated assets. However, there was concern that this demand was leveling off over the last few months as risk aversion ebbed, and foreigners collectively sold a net $95 Billion worth of American assets. Over this period, the Dollar by no coincidence has declined across the board, against both emerging market currencies as well as the majors. us total net capital inflows

In March – the most recent month for which data is available – this trend reversed itself. Net capital inflows totalled $23.2 Billion, close to the $27 Billion US trade deficit. Especially surprising is that foreign demand for US Treasury securities remained strong – to the tune of $55 Billion – despite low yields. Moreover, the two most important customers both chipped in: “China, the largest holder of U.S. Treasury securities, increased its holdings of government bonds further in March to $767.9 billion. In February, it held $744.2 billion. Japan’s Treasury holdings stood at $686.7 billion in March, compared with $661.9 billion in the prior month.”


Even demand for equity securities remained strong, as foreigners purchased $12 Billion in March alone. Foreign demand and the rising stock market are probably now reinforcing each other. Meanwhile, US investors collectively continue to pull money from abroad and return it to the US; over $100 Billion has already been returned to the US in this way.

Taken at face value, this is certainly good news. Given all the bad news, the fact that capital is still flowing into the US is worth celebrating. At the same time, the fact that the Dollar continues to fall suggests that this more to the story than meets the eye…

Note: Both Charts courtesy of International Business Times.

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Euro Rises Despite EU Economic Malaise

May. 25th 2009

Their is no way to sugarcoat it; the EU economy is in poor shape, and is steadily worsening. In the most recent quarter, it contracted by 2.5%, most in at least 13 years. [It very well could have been the worst quarter in 50 years, but Eurozone economic data was only compiled beginning in 1996].

Germany’s economy is leading the pack (downwards), having contracted by 3.8% in the most recent quarter, and by 7% since the recession officially began. Compared to similar declines in other economies, “The 1.2% fall in France, large by any normal standards, almost counts as a boom,” quipped The Economist. It turns out that many of the EU’s headline economies were especially dependent on exports and/or housing to drive growth, both of which have been annihilated by the credit crisis. “One of the ironies of this downturn is that it was caused by global housing and credit busts, and yet the economies that have suffered most, such as Germany and Japan, sat out the credit boom.”

Still, some economists continue to wear rose-tinted glasses: “Hopes rose…that the worst could be over for Germany’s economy as a closely-watched index measuring the confidence of financial market players rose to a near three-year high in May, its seventh consecutive monthly gain.” Added Axel Weber, a member of the ECB’s governing council, “‘There is definitely hope that the euro zone economy will gradually stabilise in the later part of 2009.” A more realistic analyst responds: “That points not to a revival but rather to a slower rate of GDP decline in the present quarter (it could scarcely get worse).” To prove that economists truly create their own reality, another confidence indicator that was released on the same day fell to a six-year low.

Other analysts have found solace in EU labor markets, which remain relatively buoyant due to a lack of flexibility in hiring and firing. In fact, “Unemployment in the United States has risen to European averages, and seems likely to pass them when international data for April is calculated.” While this might be good news for workers, however, it negatively impacts GDP growth by preventing the economy from returning to a stable production base.

eu unemployment rate

The Euro, meanwhile, has never been stronger. It has risen over 10% since touching a low against the Dollar on March 10, and recently broke through an important psychological barrier of $1.40. There are couple of explanations for this “contradiction.” The first is simply an application of the risk-aversion narrative. Simply put, “the euro is generally considered a risky bet on currency markets and therefore gains at times when there is greater perceived economic stability.” Recent trends suggest that financial market stability is more important than economic stability in the eyes of investors, but the idea is the same.

The other explanation concerns inflation, or rather the lack thereof. The European Central Bank’s response to the credit crisis has been much more restrained than its counterparts, most of which are pumping money into credit markets with little concern about the future implications. Sure, the ECB has authorized a program to extend low-interest loans to member banks, and plans to purchase up to $80 Billion in corporate bonds, but these measures pale in comparison to what the Fed and BOE have announced.

The ECB has also opted not to cut rates all the way to 0%, electing instead to hold its benchmark at 1%. Jean-Claude Trichet, head of the ECB, recently underscored that the role of the ECB is primarily to guard against inflation, rather than stimulate economic growth. “We are there to deliver price stability and price stability in the medium term is a crucial element in activating confidence,” he said. While there is certainly room for the debate as to whether this is economically sensible, Euro bulls can rest assured that their currency is being actively protected.


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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Central Banks, Economic Indicators, Euro, News | 1 Comment »

US Trade Deficit Nears 10 Year Low; Good News for USD?

May. 24th 2009

Over the last year, declines in imports and commodity prices have contributed to a veritable collapse in the US trade imbalance. While the deficit increased to $27 Billion last month, the general trend is definitely still downwards.

Since the inception of the credit crisis, US imports have fallen by a record 40%, on an annualized basis. In March, “Imports decreased 1 percent to $151.2 billion, the fewest since September 2004. Demand fell for industrial supplies such as natural gas and steel and for capital goods such as engines and machinery, reflecting the slump in U.S. business investment.” Lower commodity prices have also played a role on the imports side of the equation. In fact, if not for a slight uptick in energy prices, the deficit probably would have declined further this month.

Exports are also falling, but at a slower pace, such than the net effect is a more positive US balance of trade. “The 2.4% monthly fall in exports in March more than reversed the 1.5% rise the month before. But even that 2.4% drop compares well with the monthly declines of 6% plus that had become the norm since last September,” explains one economist. In other words, worldwide demand (as symbolized by US exports), is stabilizing.

Economists remain divided as to whether the trade deficit will continue to decline: “The low-hanging fruit has been achieved, and it will be difficult to narrow the trade deficit by much more going forward, especially if the vicious downturn in the economy seen in the fourth quarter and first quarter has begun to abate…..Once the economy begins to return to health in earnest (mainly a 2010 story), the trade deficit will likely begin to re-widen.” But a competing view expects “drooping consumer demand to weigh on imports and keep the trade deficit on a narrowing trend in the coming months,” in which case the deficit could fall to $350 Billion by the end of the year. Compared this to the record $788 Billion deficit of 2006!

While the balance of trade doesn’t figure directly into GDP (although it confusingly is incorporated into the expenditure method), a declining trade balance is generally reflective of a healthier economy. It implies that either exports are growing relatively faster than imports, and/or consumers are diverting more of their relative spending towards domestic consumption, both of which should contribute positively to GDP. Summarizes one economist, “If the current account did move towards balance, then it would allow the U. S. economy to probably grow at a more sustainable rate in the long term.”

The idea of sustainability (not in the environmental sense, unfortunately) is also connected to the US Dollar. Generally speaking, it is the Dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency which has enabled the US to run a trade imbalance almost continuously for the last 30 years. In other words, trade surplus economies are willing to accept Dollars because they can be stably and profitably invested in the US. In this regard, one commentator hit the nail right on the head: “When it comes to the U.S. trade gap, how many refrigerators the U.S. sells overseas is far less important than how many dollars the rest of the world wants.”

US 2009 trade balance

Note: Both Charts courtesy of International Business Times.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Economic Indicators, News, US Dollar | 2 Comments »

Asian Currencies Rally for Third Straight Month

May. 22nd 2009

According to a recent Reuters poll, investors are increasingly bullish on emerging market Asian currencies, including the Taiwan dollar, Indonesian rupiah, Singapore dollar, Malaysian ringgit, Philippine peso, South Korean won, and Indian rupee. The Thai Baht wasn’t covered by the poll, but given its strong performance over the last few months, it seems safe to include it in the bunch.

This uptick in sentiment is somewhat unspectacular, since “The Bloomberg-JPMorgan Asia Dollar Index, which tracks the 10 most-active regional currencies,” has now risen for almost three consecutive months [See chart below]. Leading the pack are the Taiwan Dollar and South Korean Won, which recently touched five-month and seven-month highs, respectively. “The Korean currency has climbed 28 percent since reaching an 11-year low of 1,597.45 in March.”


Investors are now pouring money back into Asia at rapid clip. “Asia ex-Japan received $933 million in the week ended May 20, the most among emerging-market stock funds, bringing the total this year to $6.9 billion.” Meanwhile, the “The MSCI Asia Pacific Index of regional stocks climbed 22 percent this quarter” while Chinese stocks are up 45% since the beginning of 2009.

But it’s unclear – doubtful is a better word – whether this rally is supported by economic fundamentals. One commentator summarized this contradiction as follows: “Improved sentiment has led to a massive resurgence in flows to emerging markets, irrespective of the underlying data, which remains weak. Investors are going out of dollars to riskier markets, riskier currencies.”

Let’s drill down into some of the data. Chinese exports fell 15% in April. Japan’s economy contracted 15% in the most recent quarter. Singapore’s exports are down 20% on an annualized basis. The South Korean economy is projected to shrink by 2% this year. The Central Bank of Thailand just cut its benchmark interest rate to an unbelievable 1%. The only bright spot economically is Taiwan, which is benefiting both from improved economic ties with China and a healthy current account surplus. I suppose everything is relative, as “developing Asian economies will grow 4.8 percent in 2009, even as the world economy contracts 1.3 percent” according to the International Monetary Fund.

The notion that the rally is not rooted in fundamentals is shared by the region’s Central Banks, which clearly realize that economic recovery will be much more difficult in the face of currency appreciation. One analyst argues that, “Until the signs of global economic recovery become more convincing, central banks will unlikely tolerate significant currency appreciation.” The Central Banks of South Korea, Taiwan, and Indonesia have already actively intervened to hold their currencies down, while Malaysia and Singapore (discussed in a Forexblog post last week) have also intervened for the sake of stability.

As a result, this rally could soon begin to lose steam. “A ‘correction’ in regional currencies is ‘appropriate’ following recent gains,” said one analyst. Another has called the rally “overdone.” Still, Central Banks and economic data pale in comparison to capital flows and risk/reward analysis. In short, these currencies (and other investments) will continue to find buyers for as long as there are those hungry for risk. Citigroup, whose “Asia-Pacific foreign-exchange volume may rise about 10 percent from the first quarter,” is bullish. A representative of the firm declared: “Fund managers are still ‘sitting on lots and lots of cash’ so the pickup in volumes will continue.”

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Outlook is Positive for Australia, but Less so for Australian Dollar

May. 19th 2009

The economic outlook continues to improve for Australia. Most recently, both the government and the Central Bank released five-year growth forecasts, both of which show a modest recovery in 2010. “By 2011-12, the commodity-rich economy will again be firing on all cylinders with growth of 4.5%, well above the long-term growth rate of around 3%.”

This positive development coincided with the release of similarly upbeat economic data: “Retail sales surged 2.2 percent in March from the previous month, four times as much as economists forecast. Home-loan approvals jumped 4.9 percent, the sixth consecutive gain.” Meanwhile, unemployment shrank for the first time in months, and consumer confidence is once again rising. While the economy is forecast to shrink by .75% in the current fiscal year, this compares favorably with other industrialized countries.

The sudden turnaround can be attributed to a couple factors. First of all, the pickup in China’s economy is stimulating demand for natural resources, which had been slack for the last year. If not for simultaneously falling commodity prices, Australia might have even achieved positive economic growth for the year.

The government’s stimulus plan and spending initiatives have also played a role, although the extent cannot be measured accurately for a few months. “The government claims that measures in its budget will inject a further A$8.8 billion into the economy in 2009-10, adding to around A$50 billion in fiscal measures already announced since October 2008.”

The outlook for the Australian Dollar, meanwhile, is not so rosy. The 425 basis points in cumulative rate cuts that the Royal Bank of Australia (RBA) effected over the last year have lowered the interest rate differential with other industrialized countries. While the RBA has indicated that it will pause before cutting rates further, interest rate futures reflect the expectation that rates will be lower twelve months from now. “Economists say the RBA is open to cutting interest rates again if consumer and business confidence appear threatened, but for now it is content to let monetary and fiscal stimulus measures take hold.”

To be sure, the uptick in risk tolerance has been good for the Australian Dollar, igniting a 25% rise since March. The currency now stands at a 7-month high against the US Dollar. But the increasingly modest differential is now causing some analysts to question whether it is a reasonable risk to take, especially against the backdrop of volatility and a high correlation with global stock prices. “What’s the point of picking up a 3 percent interest-rate differential by being long Aussie and short Japan in a world where the exchange rate can move by that much in two days?” Asks One analyst rhetorically.

This same analyst is actually recommending investors to use the Australian Dollar as a funding currency, and go long on higher-yielding currencies, such as the Brazilian Real. This particular trade would have netted a respectable 5.9% return in 2009. How quickly the roles have reversed!


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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Australian Dollar, Economic Indicators, News | 1 Comment »

Deflation: Worst-Case Scenario or Already Here?

May. 18th 2009

In following up on last week’s post (“Inflation or Stimulus: An In-depth Look At the Fed’s Response to the Credit Crisis“) on the possibility of inflation, I want to focus today’s post on the opposite phenomenon: deflation.

As evidenced by the huge expansion of government borrowing and Fed Quantitative easing, it is deflation which is currently the paramount concern of policymakers. While falling prices would seem to represent an ideal solution to the current economic downturn, deflation is actually quite pernicious if left unchecked. To elaborate: “When prices fall across the board, businesses and consumers postpone purchases because they expect lower prices later, or worry their incomes will decline or don’t want to acquire assets that will fall in value. Shrinking demand forces sellers to cut prices further, triggering a vicious cycle.” Deflation is also detrimental to consumers with liabilities, which remain the same even as incomes are falling.

Now that we understand what deflation looks like, let’s examine its likelihood. In fact, the current economic environment represents a perfect breeding ground for deflation. For example, both consumers and businesses are using stimulus and bailout checks to pay down debt, rather to increase spending. In addition, businesses are selling out of inventory rather than ramping up production, due to uncertainty for the future. Bond yields are rising, making it more expensive – and hence less likely – for companies to borrow and invest.

And what about the data? The Retail Price Index, “RPI – which turned negative for the first time in almost 50 years in March – is expected to fall from minus 0.4% to minus 1% in April.” The Consumer Price Index, meanwhile, “declined by 0.7 percent year-over-year in April, the largest 12-month drop since 1955.” It’s hard to take this data seriously, however, given the “seasonal adjustments” and “stripping of so-called volatile energy prices, and using the dubious ” ‘owners equivalent rent,’ OER, to measure consumer housing expenses” in order to conceal the actual decline in property values. In short, the actual decline is probably much worse, especiall given the steep drop in commodities from 2008.
At least Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is satisfied, and was most recently quoted for his belief that “the risks of deflation were receding.” Bernanke remains committed to pumping money into the economy via its purchases of government bonds. It still has a ways to go in making good on its promise to buy more than $1 Trillion in securities.

While it’s easy to blame the Fed, it’s also hard not to begrudge it some sympathy for having to toe a very thin line between deflation and hyperinflation. In the event that its successful in forestalling a decline in prices, it will have just enough time to catch its breath before drawing all of the new money out of the economy so as to prevent inflation from taking hold and another bubble from forming in asset prices.


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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Central Banks, Economic Indicators, News | No Comments »

China’s Gold Holdings Surge 76% over Six Years

Apr. 29th 2009

Based on the title, you’re probably groaning: ‘Wait, I thought this was supposed to be a forex blog?” Bear with me, however, as this subject is extremely pertinent to forex.

Last week, it was revealed that China has been clandestinely adding to its gold reserves since 2003, to the extent that its holdings increased by 76%, to approximately 1,050 tons. The news initially sent a ripple through forex and commodities markets, which were overwhelmed by the figures involved. After analysts had a chance to gather some perspective, however, the markets relaxed. You see, although the increase seems tremendous in size, it is quite small in relative terms.

It is relatively small compared to other countries: “This places China fifth in the world, ahead of Switzerland’s 1040 tons but behind the U.S. ranked first with 8,133 tons, followed by Germany (3,412 tons), France (2,508 tons) and Italy (2,451 tons).”

It is relatively small given the six-year duration of accumulation: “I think as soon as people realized it’s not a year-on-year increase, or a quarter-on-quarter increase, people realized it should not have that big an impact.”

It is small relative to China’s mammoth $2 Trillion forex reserves: “As a proportion of foreign exchange reserves, which have risen five-fold over the same period, gold now stands at a tiny 1.6 percent, versus 1.7 percent in 2003.”

On some level, the development has at least some symbolic importance, as it demonstrates that it cannot be taken for granted that China will simply continue to plow its (dwindling) trade surplus into Dollar-denominated securities, or even currencies in general. This is underscored by the suspicious timing of the announcement; China essentially waited six years before revealing its buildup in gold, probably in order to coincide with the uproar surrounding the Dollar’s role as global reserve currency. In other words, even though China’s gold purchases in and of themselves don’t amount to much, the Central Bank of China is trying to send a message that it will defend itself against “the depreciation risk of some foreign currencies.”

The announcement also explains the recent buoyancy of gold prices. Historically, there existed an inverse correlation between gold and the Dollar. This correlation has all but broken down as a result of the credit crisis, and for the first time a strong Dollar has been accompanied by high gold prices. Part of the reason may be increased buying activity by Central Banks, including the Bank of China: “The physical market remained well-bid by an unknown buyer despite bullion prices spiking to levels that normally cooled demand…Purchases were made in Shanghai, traders said, in an effort to absorb domestic production and lessen the impact of bullion prices on global markets.”


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Is the Bear Market Rally Temporary?

Apr. 16th 2009

The stock market rally that has unfolded over the last month is nothing short of incredible; stocks have now risen 25% since bottoming on March 9. Unsurprisingly, the rally has been deeply intertwined with an ebb in volatility. “The VIX, which measures options trading sentiment on the S&P 500 Index has crashed from a high of 80.86 to 38.85 ahead of Thursday’s trading, a 52% decline.” [Chart below courtesy of DailyFX]

Forex Volatility Declines

This decline in volatility can be witnessed in all corners of the financial markets, including forex. “The lack of volatility in currency markets has been especially mysterious considering the relationship between the dollar and risk adversity since the onset of the credit crisis almost 20 months ago.” The Dollar has been locked in a comparatively tight range, with one analyst even using the word “listless” to describe its recent performance. With the exception of the Japanese Yen- which is declining for economic reasons- most currencies are gradually stabilizing.

Does this lull represent the end of the storm or the metaphorical eye of the hurricane? Naturally, the answer depends on who you ask. Personally, I am inclined to believe that it is only temporary. The last year has already witnessed two “false starts,” and it wouldn’t surprise me if this time around proved to be yet another one in hindsight.

Whether or not the economic picture is “less bad” than before, it remains grim. “The system is bursting with overcapacity. Demand is falling faster than any time since the 1930s. Inventories will have to be trimmed and budgets cut to muddle through the downtimes. Foreign trade has slowed to a crawl, auto sales are down by 40 percent or more, and unemployment is rising at 650,000 per month.” Two economists, meanwhile, have published a widely-circulated piece which uses juxtaposed graphs as a basis for comparing the current downturn to the Great Depression. Of course, this comparison has become hackneyed, but from a purely statistical standpoint, it’s hard to dispute.

four-bears-largeThe difficulty with forecasting the current recession is that its causes are structural rather than cyclical. Argues one analyst: “It is unwise and foolish to treat this bear market like any other in the post-WW II period because it is totally unique; the scope and depth of the ongoing destruction of consumer and business credit, bank balance sheet compression and insolvency, consumer retrenchment and soaring unemployment should not be underestimated.” As a result, many economic models are out of date. “Economic forecasters have underestimated how bad it is because they have over-estimated the strength of the real economy and failed to take into account the extent of its dependence upon a buildup of debt that relied on asset price bubbles.”

Not only will future growth have to be built on actual wealth (rather than debt), but the mountain of debt that fueled the most recent economic expansion will also have to be resolved. The most recent IMF estimates imply that “Toxic debts racked up by banks and insurers could spiral to $4 trillion.” Until all of this bad debt can be identified and sorted, economic recovery will remain illusory.

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

Concerns about Corporate Earnings Lift Dollar

Apr. 14th 2009

Last week marked the beginning of earnings season, as corporations release the results from the first quarter of 2009. The season got off to a strong start with financial heayweights Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo both smashing analysts’ expectations with large profits. Over the next few weeks, most listed companies will report earnings, which could collectively set the pace for financial markets for the next couple months. “Markets will continue to watch the corporate earnings data very closely in the short term with company comments on prospects also very important for sentiment with any optimism liable to curb defensive dollar demand.”

The last few weeks have witnessed a general decline in risk aversion, as investors have selectively interpreted economic data to support the notion that the economy as bottomed out. Improvements in corporate earnings could reinforce this trend, especially if a majority of companies beat analysts’ expectations. In short, “Forecast-busting first quarter results from Goldman Sachs on Monday encouraged optimism that the worst may be over for financial firms, but investors stayed cautious given that there are many more results to concern.”

It will be interesting to see if and how the strong Dollar will affect corporate earnings. On the one hand,the expensive currency would be expected both to drive a decrease in exports as well as a decrease in earnings from companies that do significant business overseas, since such companies earnings appear relatively smaller in Dollar-terms when exchange rates are more favorable. On the other hand, the decrease in the US trade deficit (to a nine-year low), suggests that the strong Dollar is not exerting a negative impact. “Exports sprang back in February after six months of decline, increasing by 1.6 percent to 126.8 billion dollars and comprising mostly consumer goods, automotive vehicles, foods, feeds and beverages.”

us_trade_balance_february_2009Ironically, an improvement in corporate profitability would further drive risk-taking and would thus have the effect of weakening the Dollar. One would think that an improved economic outlook would strengthen the Dollar. In actuality, financial and psychological factors continue to predominate in financial markets, and investors are looking for an excuse to dump the Dollar in favor of higher-yielding alternatives.

Their is a danger in currency markets taking their cues from stocks, given that the bear-market rally that unfolded over the last month is one of the most dramatic in history. The herd mentality has caused investors to become complacent about risk and pile willy-nilly back into the markets. Writes one analyst, “The growing potential for economic disappointment due to further growth contraction as well as overly confident, economically myopic policy-makers leaves stocks set up for a major wave of selling.”

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

Emerging Market Currencies Receive Boost from IMF

Apr. 13th 2009

Only two months ago, the Wall Street Journal published an article under the headline “Slowdown hits Emerging Markets.” Buttressed with economic data and testimony from economists, the piece underscored the notion that “The global downdraft is hitting the world’s emerging economies with a speed and ferocity few imagined possible.” On Monday, the same newspaper published an article entitled “Emerging Markets Go on a Tear,” exploring how emerging markets have outperformed in 2009.


That these stories are built around opposing themes is not surprising, but given that they were published only two months apart, it seems impossible that they could both be meaningful. A deeper analysis, however, reveals some powerful insights, namely that investors seem to be flocking back to emerging markets despite poor fundamentals.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the start of the rally, but it accelerated in earnest in early March for no apparent reason other than investors arbitrarily decided to collectively increase risk-taking. This seems like a classic case of ‘making one’s own reality,’ given that the economic picture continues to deteriorate, and “positive” developments were limited to an increase in government intervention and stimulus plans. But, perception is everything in financial markets, and if investors collectively decide they want a rally, then a rally will indeed obtain.

In the case of emerging markets, the rally has certainly surpassed all expectations. “A Morgan Stanley index tracking emerging-market stocks is up 12% in dollar terms. By contrast, its index following stocks in developed markets outside the U.S. and Canada is down 9%.” Meanwhile, “The extra yield investors demand to own developing nation debt instead of U.S. Treasuries narrowed 10 basis points, or 0.1 percentage point, to 5.68 percentage points.

Emerging market currencies have also enjoyed a nice bounce, led by an across-the-board 7% gain in the Mexican Peso, Brazilian Real, and Russian Ruble over the last five weeks. Analysts at both Citigroup and Goldman Sachs are now encouraging clients to pile back into such currencies, evidently confident that the rally is sustainable: “Valuation has become very attractive in many cases, in particular in historically higher-yielding currencies.”

The concern, however, is that this rally is a product of financial and technical factors, and is not underlied by macroeconomic fundamentals. Exports and confidence have tumbled at a record pace, such that “J.P. Morgan forecasts at least 11 emerging economies — among them South Korea, Taiwan, Russia, Turkey, and Mexico — will shrink in 2009, with another 4 posting no growth.” Instead, investors are using low prices and a lull in bad news – rather than a change in economic tenor – as a basis for buying.

Of course, the bulls will selectively point to data which paint a different picture.  “From monetary easing to joint fiscal policy to capital becoming less constrained at banks, the potential for a recovery in 2010 and 2011 seems more likely.” Some analysts have argued that they believe emerging markets have been, and will continued to be cushioned from the worst of the financial crisis due to their conservative financial sectors, but this argument strikes me as self-justification. Others point to the $500 Billion increase in capital that the IMF (via the G20) will potentially make available to developing countries. As I wrote in a recent post, however, much of the perceived increase is redundant and/or has not yet been guaranteed by rich countries.

Personally, I fall in the “cautiously pessimistic” camp, summarized as follows: “The economic picture is cloudy enough that a number of investors say it is worth adopting a more nimble approach in the short run.” In other words, a wait-and-see approach is probably more prudent than following the crowd, especially since it was the crowd that as originally responsible for the bubble.

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Yen Continues to Drop Despite Government Stimulus Plan

Apr. 10th 2009

This week, the Yen continued its decline against the Dollar and Euro, dipping well below 100 Yen/Dollar en route to a six-month low. Most analysts attribute this trend to a pickup in risk aversion: “Some kind of optimism is returning to the market and that’s putting pressure on the yen,” explained one analyst succinctly.

An ongoing rally in stocks and commodities is reinforcing investor attitudes that the economic recession is under control, and is stimulating risk-taking. In other words, the same forces that contributed to the unwinding of the carry trade during the beginning of the credit crisis, are now working in reverse and causing investors to flee from the Yen en masse. “As long as stocks can retain their buoyancy… risk appetite and risk-based trades will be in vogue and investors will continue to add to and rebuild yen short positions.”

According to the most recent International Monetary Market report, “Short positions on the currency have been building up for three consecutive weeks, and are now at levels last seen in the late summer of 2008,” which means the Yen’s slide has basically become self-fulfilling. From a technical standpoint, “A move above 101.00 yen was technically significant as it was a 38.2 percent Fibonacci retracement of its decline from a peak in 2007 to its 13-year low in January.” Even domestic Japanese investors have signaled their bearishness by taking advantage of last week’s Yen upswing by making “aggressive purchases of foreign bonds.”

From a fundamental standpoint, the decline in the Yen makes sense, given the abysmal economic situation in Japan. In fact, the “Minutes from the Bank of Japan’s March meeting showed members of the central bank were leaning toward cutting the bank’s economic forecast in April, and that they believed the BOJ would need to continue to provide substantial liquidity to financial markets that they see as still under substantial stress.”

The government is finally responding to the economic crisis, having most recently unveiled a $150 Billion plan, to supplement the $100 Billion initiative announced earlier this year. “If implemented competently, these steps could stabilize the domestic economy and stop the bleeding in labor markets.” At the same time, the intertwined tailspin in confidence and spending suggest that the government’s efforts could be in vain.

While equity investors have reacted positively – pushing the stock market into positive territory for the year- bond and currency traders are understandably concerned. Yields on Japanese bonds are already rising in anticipation of $100 Billion in bonds that the government will have to issue in 2009 alone. Naturally, the burden to purchase these bonds will fall on the Bank of Japan, which will be forced to print money and contribute to the further devaluation of the Yen in the process.


Ultimately, the duration of the Yen’s slide depends on the duration of the global stock market rally. If you believe that the global economy has turned a corner, then the Yen is done. If, on the other hand, you are inclined to side with George Soros, who opined recently that “It’s a bear-market rally because we have not yet turned the economy around,” then there is still cause for Yen bullishness.

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Yen Falls Below 100 as Risk Aversion Fades

Apr. 2nd 2009

This week marked a couple milestones for the Japanese Yen. First, the Yen fell below 100 JPY/USD for the first time in five months. Second, the Central Bank of Japan “celebrated” five years of not having intervened in forex markets. Of course, the relationship between these two events is not difficult to ascertain; as the Yen retreats from the stratospheric highs of 2008, intervention is becoming progressively less necessary (and hence less likely).
Risk aversion, or in this case a decline thereof, has been identified as the likely cause of Yen weakness, although as I alluded in an earlier post, there is still a question of causation, as opposed to correlation. Is it higher equity and commodity prices that are driving risk tolerance, or the other way around?

Regardless of whether the chicken or the egg comes first, higher asset prices have recently been accompanied by modest declines in so-called “safe haven currencies,” namely the Dollar and the Yen. In the case of the Yen, there were previously two different narratives, one that underlies the Yen’s performance solely against the Dollar, and another thread seems to govern its fluctuations against virtually all other currencies.

In recent weeks, however, a combination of forces have come together to drive the Yen down against all currencies. First, of course, is the theme of declining risk aversion: ” ‘The euro was bought for the yen on the back of recent firm stock markets and this supported the dollar relative to the yen,’ ” summarized one analyst. The $1 Trillion economic stimulus plan unveiled today by the G20 will also have the effect of “sapping demand for Japan’s currency as a refuge.”

There are also end-of-quarter factors that have played a role in the Yen’s decline. ” ‘The dollar is being buoyed as Japanese investors try to secure currency on the last day of the fiscal year. Investors’ demand for the yen stemming from repatriation flows, on the other hand, appears to have peaked,’ said a trader at a Japanese bank.”

Last but not least, there is the Japanese macroeconomic picture, which shows a country that is headed towards a deep recession. The latest monthly figures show a 49% year-over-year decline in exports, which is contributing to rising pessimism among Japanese businesses. According to a recent survey by the Bank of Japan, “Confidence among Japan’s large manufacturers dropped to minus 55 in March from minus 24 in December, [which]…would be the lowest since 1975 and the biggest drop since the bank started the survey.” Given that Japanese household spending is also falling, “Japanese companies are caught in a double bind, facing markets at home that are shrinking with the population as well as the global downturn.”


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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Economic Indicators, Japanese Yen | 1 Comment »

USD/EUR: Conflicting Signals Make Predictions Difficult

Mar. 24th 2009

If you read analysts’ coverage of the Dollar decline (and consequent Euro rally), there is an even divide over whether it is sustainable. Economic data and technical indicators paint a nuanced picture, such that this kind of uncertainty is understandable.
On the one hand are the the Dollar bears, who point to an economic recession that continues to deepen, and the seeming complacency of the Federal Reserve Bank towards inflation. If there is any doubt as to how the forex markets feel about the Fed’s plan to purchase over $1 Trillion in US government bonds, consider that the the Dollar just recorded its worst weekly performance in 24 years, while the Euro simultaneously recorded its strongest week since its inception in 1999. There’s not much nuance there.

Meanwhile, the economic picture is equally depressing. Summarized by Kathy Lien of GFT Forex:

The Empire state manufacturing survey plunged to a record low in the month of March while Industrial production fell 1.4 percent, driving capacity utilization back to its record lows.  Foreign investors reduced their holdings of U.S. assets by the largest amount since August 2007. Homebuilder confidence held near its record lows in the month of March as the slump in the real estate sector shows no signs of easing.

Unfortunately, there is a contradiction in the argument that the Dollar is being plagued both by economic collapse and by the risk of inflation. Writes Marc Chandler, head of FX strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman, “The pessimist camp wants it both ways. The US is going down the same path as Japan, where the end of a real estate bubble led to a banking crisis and a deep economic contraction. And they want to caution that printing of money will boost interest rates, fuel inflation and debase the currency.” He points out that history, as well as common sense, contradict this line of thinking.
Those that remain bullish on the Dollar argue that the Euro rally is a function of technical, rather than fundamental developments. First of all, we are approaching the end of a fiscal quarter. As evidenced by the Dollar decline which took place at the end of December, these periods are usually marked by portfolio rebalancing and hedging, such that it’s not uncommon to see large swings in forex markets. From a technical standpoint, when the Dollar failed to breach the $1.30 level against the Euro, many short sellers were probably forced to cover their positions, which accelerated the Dollar’s decline.

Bulls are confident that the pickup in risk-taking which catalyzed a 20% stock market rise is here to stay. “The move to the upside came after the government described a plan that will…generate $500 billion, and possibly $1 trillion over time, to buy hard-to-trade and badly deteriorated assets from banks.” The banks will be recapitalized, the financial system is being repaired, and everything will be okay, right?

The markets are certainly prone to false-starts. I can count numerous instances of government officials and market commentators insisting that “the worst is behind us.” Nevertheless, if this time proves to be different, it could be bearish for the Dollar, whose role as ‘safe-haven’ currency would likely be eroded by a positive change in market sentiment.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Economic Indicators, Euro, US Dollar | 6 Comments »

Swiss Bank Fulfills Promise of Forex Intervention, Franc Collapses

Mar. 17th 2009

Last week, the Forex Blog concluded a post on the Swiss Franc by suggesting that the Swiss National Bank (SNB) could artificially depress the value of its currency, which had “not just posted strong gains against the euro since late August but has gained 8% on a trade weighted basis.”

The very next day, the SNB followed its widely anticipated rate cut by announcing that it would indeed intervene in forex markets, “implementing” a decision to buy foreign currencies. The Swiss Franc immediately fell into a tailspin, falling 7 units against the Euro, and more than 3 against the Dollar. According to one trader, “the way this was communicated was intended at maximizing its shock value.” By the end of the week, the Franc had posted a record decline, as investors remained alert to the possibility of further invention.

This is the first ‘solo’ intervention since 1992 by the SNB, which has “followed a noninterventionist policy when it came to its currency, occasionally hinting at interventions but never following it up. It remained on the sidelines in September 2001 when the euro traded even lower than its present rate, at 1.44 Swiss francs.” It is also the first intervention by any Central Bank since 2003, when Japan intervened unsuccessfully to try to halt the rise of the Yen.

Evidently, the SNB felt justified in its decision not only because of a deteriorating economy, but more importantly because of monetary conditions. Inflation is now projected to dissappear by 2010, and may even “slow to the point where prices broadly fall.” Traders also speculated that the move was designed to relieve downward pressure on Eastern European economies, whose economic woes are being compounded by the fact that much of their debt is denominated in Swiss Francs.

It is doubtful that Switzerland will receive much sympathy from other countries, nearly all of whom have thus far refrained from forex intervention in spite of widespread economic contraction and the risk of deflation. In the words of one analyst, “It is troubling that a country with a current surplus larger than 10% of GDP feels compelled to depreciate its currency.”

The greater concern is that this could ignite some kind of “currency war,” where Central Banks around the world compete with each other to see who can most debase their respective currency. Traders are already speculating that the Bank of Japan could be next: “The BoJ should pay close attention to the SNB’s actions, given that both central banks have expressed a desire to see their currencies weaken.”

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Fundamentals Catch up with Yen

Mar. 2nd 2009
In hindsight, it is now clear that the Japanese Yen’s dramatic rise in 2008 was mostly due to financial, rather than economic factors. In other words, a decline in risk aversion led to the unwinding of the Yen carry trade and a subsequent inflow of capital into Japan. Unfortunately, the recession and inflated currency have since taken their toll on the Japanese economy, resulting in an annualized 13% contraction in GDP for the latest quarter. The balance of trade has also shifted, to such an extent that Japan actually recorded a trade deficit in the most recent month. Having concluded, for the moment at least, that forex intervention is no longer necessary, the Central Bank has announced plans to deploy some of its $1 Trillion+ forex reserve hoard to help ailing companies. Barron’s reports:
A reversal of the yen, from strength to weakness, will have “major global implications…” Perhaps beleaguered Japanese authorities already have begun reacting to the “carnage” the yen’s rise has wrought.
Read More: An Odd Decouple
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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Economic Indicators, Japanese Yen | No Comments »

Yuan Revaluation is in China’s Interest

Feb. 21st 2009

While China remains committed, in rhetoric at least, to a flexible Chinese Yuan that rises and falls in accordance with market forces, its actions suggest otherwise. Beginning in the second half of 2008, China stopped allowing the Yuan to appreciate, for fear that a more expensive currency would exacerbate the domestic effects of the credit crisis by making exports less competitive. What China fails to realize however, is that a more valuable Yuan is not only conducive to global economic stability, but also to its own economic well-being. In fact, the artificially cheap Yuan may have actually worsened the economic downturn in China, because de-incentivized the creation of a domestic economic base. Now that overseas demand has dried up, it is left feeling the consequences of this neglect. The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

With China far too dependent on export-driven growth, it is now extremely vulnerable to the current steep decline in global export demand. Unless that structural imbalance is fixed, China’s long-term growth prospects are as bleak as those of the United States.

Read More: Undervalued currency helps, hurts U.S. economy

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Chinese Yuan: Up or Down?

Feb. 13th 2009

Speculation surrounding the Chinese Yuan has been mounting for months, beginning with a sudden halt to the currency's appreciation and continuing with the insinuation of the Obama administration that China is a currency manipulator. In the context of falling exports and a sagging economy, meanwhile, the Chinese Ministry of Finance has issued a research report encouraging the Central Bank to allow the currency to appreciate. Despite the Central Bank's insistence that it wants a "stable" currency, futures prices indicate a mean expectation that in fact, the Yuan will be nudged downward over the next twelve months. On the other side of the equation are financial analysts, who collectively forecast a slightly stronger Yuan, with one bullish analyst projecting a 3.5% appreciation in 2009, on the basis of selectively culled economic data. Bloomberg News reports:

“The consensus around China has been weak growth and falling reserves. The recent data challenges both views. Lending looks good, money supply looks good, and the PMI balanced to slightly bad from very bad levels.”

Read More: Citigroup Is Bullish on Yuan, Bets for 6.60 Year-End

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Strong Dollar Hurts US Businesses

Feb. 11th 2009

While the year-long surge in the Dollar has been a welcome development for American consumers and the US government (in terms of cheaper imports and easy credit, respectively), American businesses are not smiling. The strong Dollar has resulted in decreased competitiveness in the eyes of foreign consumers, and consequently, lower exports. For this reason, the US trade deficit has not shrunk significantly, despite a slight down-tick in imports. One must also look at the overseas earnings of American multinational corporations, which are frequently repatriated to the US and booked in Dollar-terms. In fact, as much as 50% of S&P 500 member company profits now come from overseas. Simply, lower exchange rates mean lower profits. In short, investing in the stocks of companies as a proxy for the markets in which they do business is not (as) profitable when the Dollar is strong. The Financial Times reports:

As a result of this greater impact of currency swings, companies are starting to put greater emphasis on trying to hedge their foreign exchange exposure, according to a recent survey from JPMorgan.

Read More: US company earnings hit by turbulence in currency markets

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

Swiss Franc in Spotlight

Jan. 29th 2009

The Swiss Franc is in the same boat as the US Dollar and Japanese Yen, benefiting from an increase in risk aversion and an unwinding of carry trade positions. In other words, the currency rising on the back of the sound monetary policy of the National Bank of Switzerland, with its low rate of inflation and proportionately low interest rate. Despite the fact that the Swiss economy is poised to contract in 2009, its economy is in better shape than its rivals, and its current account balance is still in surplus. As a result, the consensus among analysts is that investors will continue to flock to the Franc, as Switzerland is sill perceived as a relatively low-risk place to invest. Especially compared to the Euro, which has risen against the Dollar of late, the Swiss Franc remains undervalued. Bloomberg News reports:

Investors are drawn to the franc in times of international tension and economic upheaval because of the country’s history of neutrality and political stability.

Read More: There's Nothing Swiss Can Do to Stop Franc's Rise

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Krone/Krona Poised to Rally

Jan. 20th 2009

Even the most diligent forex traders would probably have difficulty distinguishing the Swedish Krona from the Norwegian Krone. Given current market conditions, such a distinction may no longer be necessary. Despite important differences in the structure of their respective economies, both currencies have moved in lockstep and fallen drastically, as a result of investor risk aversion associated with the credit crisis. The Norwegian Krona has been singled out especially due to the decline in the price of its most important export: oil. Despite sluggish growth, however, both Sweden and Norway expect to report large current account surpluses in 2009. In addition, inflation in both countries is practically non-existent. It is no surprise, hence, that both fundamental and technical indicators signal that the Krona/Krone are grossly undervalued. Bloomberg News reports:

Based on purchasing-power parity, which measures the relative level of currencies based on the cost of goods in different countries, the krone and krona are the only ones undervalued versus the dollar among their eight most-traded peers, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Read More: Nordic Currencies Beaten in Market Slump Lure Goldman

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

Emerging Market Currencies Continue to Slide

Jan. 15th 2009

Despite a late 2008 rally on the basis of improved risk tolerance, the prospects for emerging market currencies remain grim. The decline in commodity prices have deprived many such countries, namely Russia and Venezuela, of much-need export revenue. Moreover, the credit crisis and consequent abatement in inflation paved the way for massive interest rate cuts, which made investing in emerging market securities much less attractive. Current-account balances have turned from surplus to deficit in a matter of months, and governments have turned to foreign lenders to make up the difference. Unfortunately, confidence in such currencies is still quite low, forcing governments to issue debt denominated in USD, rather than local currency. Even despite this accommodation, investors remain hesitant. Bloomberg News reports:

Lower levels of foreign investment in these countries will make it harder for policy makers to cut current-account deficits, leaving their currencies “potential flashpoints” for losses.

Read More: Emerging Currencies to Drop, Morgan Stanley Says

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NZD, AUD Down in 2009?

Jan. 9th 2009

While the Australian Dollar and New Zealand Kiwi technically started 2009 in the black, most analysts believe that both currencies will continue their record declines that began in 2008. All economic indicators continue to point downward, due to the adverse conditions created by the worldwide recession. The economies of Australia and New Zealand are extremely dependent on exports of raw materials and dairy products, respectively. Unfortunately, due to a contraction in demand and a decline in speculation, the prices for both types of commodities appears unlikely to erase even a fraction of the losses suffered last year. The death blow into the heart of both currencies will likely be delivered by their respective Central Banks, which are expected to make additional interest rate cuts. This will further erode the rate differential with the US/Japan, that previously signaled the currencies as attractive investments. Bloomberg News reports:

The average forecast is for the currency [AUD] to reach a low of 62 cents in the first quarter before recovering to 66 cents by the end of 2009. New Zealand’s dollar…will bottom at 52 U.S. cents in the second quarter and recover to 55 cents by the end of the year…

Read More: Australian, New Zealand Dollars Complete Worst Year on Record

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Australian Dollar, Economic Indicators | 4 Comments »

Tobin Tax Could Restore Yen

Jan. 6th 2009

While the Yen's 30% rise in 2008 is no mystery (a result of the unwinding of carry trades), its performance nonetheless defies economic fundamentals. Exports have fallen and industrial production has collapsed, such that recession now appears inevitable. Japan is not alone in this regard, as a number of economies have suffered unnecessarily as a result of excessive volatility in currency markets. The solution could be the so-called "Tobin tax," which aims to limit forex speculation by levying a nominal tax on short-term currency trades. The proceeds from such a tax would be used to restore some equilibrium in forex markets by providing Central Banks with funds for direct intervention. While the tax itself has never been implemented, countries have previously taken to cooperating on forex matters for the sake of global macroeconomic stability. Seeking Alpha reports:

Exchange rates have to be within a certain range for all economies to prosper. The major economies have to work together to ensure this. If the Group of Five could work together to depreciate the "Super Dollar" in 1985, so the major nations today can and should work together to stem the surge of the super Yen.

Read More: Japanese Yen: An Excessively Strong Currency Spells Recession

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Vietnam Dong Finally Devalued

Jan. 5th 2009

The Central Bank of Vietnam finally acceded to reality and devalued its currency, the Vietnam Dong, by 3%. Prior to the change, the Dong (as well as its neighbor, the Chinese Yuan, which has also experienced a decline) was one of the few relative winners of the credit crisis. Perhaps this was because the currency had already depreciated significantly in recent years (35% since 1994), as well as because it remains fixed to the Dollar and hence it is impossible for the markets to short it when it becomes overvalued. Vietnam continues to be plagued by double-digit inflation and a surging current account imbalance, which suggest that the currency will probably have to suffer an additional 'correction' before reaching a sustainable level. In fact, the black market rate remains well below the official rate, reports Bloomberg News:

The devaluation followed five interest-rate cuts by the central bank this quarter to help bolster the economy. Policy makers last lowered the benchmark rate on Dec. 19 by the most ever this year to 8.5 percent, from 10 percent.

Read More: Vietnam Devalues Dong to Fight Slowdown, Help Exports

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Softening Risk Aversion Impacts Forex

Dec. 19th 2008

The last two weeks have proved the old adage, "What goes up must come down." In other words, the year-long Dollar rally has begun to fade, as investors once again embrace economic reality. Previously, Dollar strength could be largely attributed to exit trades out of other currencies, rather than any substantive benefit of investing in the US. Now, risk appetite is slowly recovering, having received a boost from the just-completed government bailout of the US automobile industry. Less concerned about risk/volatility, investors have taken to re-assessing economic fundamentals. In the case of the US, unemployment is rising, the twin deficits continue to expand at a breakneck pace, and the interest rate disparity between the ECB and Fed will remain in place for the near-term. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Whether the dollar will continue to weaken is a matter of debate. Currency strategists caution that the dollar often is weaker toward the end of the year, particularly against the euro, as companies and investors adjust bets.

Read More: Less Panic Puts Pressure on Dollar

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

Emerging Markets Poised for Recovery?

Dec. 17th 2008

In a recent interview, three emerging market fund managers aired a common view: the asset class which comprises emerging markets represents a solid investment. Their reasoning is that the tremendous declines wrought in emerging market equities and currencies over the last six months were caused primarily by technical factors, rather than a substantive change in the long-term economic picture. In other words, this drop was effected by foreign investors that withdrew money en masse from emerging markets in order to meet fund redemptions and repay loans denominated in Dollars. At the same time, economic analysis, as well as common sense, dictate that an increasing portion of future global growth will be realized in the developing world. Many such countries have invested wisely in infrastructure and built up sizable foreign exchange reserves. Consequently, they are well-positioned to survive the current downturn intact. Accordingly, once investors "come to their senses" and recover their collective appetite for riskier investments, it probably won't be long before emerging market assets and currencies are bid up to pre-crisis levels. Forbes reports:

"Current valuation of emerging markets is the lowest it has been since I began investing in this asset class in 1988. Based on trailing 12-month earnings, emerging markets is trading at a price/earnings ratio of only 7.7x, and a price/book of 1.3x (with return on equity at 17%)," [observed one analyst].

Read More: Emerging Markets: What To Buy

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Canadian Dollar Hurt by Economy, Politics

Dec. 15th 2008

Having fallen well below parity with the USD, the Canadian Loonie is now being attacked on two fronts. First, there is the deteriorating economic situation. Prices for virtually all commodities, namely oil, have declined significantly this year, dealing a harsh blow to the natural resource-dependent Canadian economy. In addition, its largest trade partner, the US, is suffering from economic woes of its own and is in no position to support the Canadian export sector. The result is surging unemployment and the most precipitous decline in factory production in 25 years. The most optimistic economists are forecasting GDP growth of 0.0% in 2009. The second prong of the attack against the Loonie is being waged unintentionally by the country's Prime Minister, who recently suspended Parliament in order to avoid a no-confidence vote in his leadership. In short, bulls for the Canadian Dollar (not to mention democracy) don't have much to be excited about these days. Bloomberg News reports:

"The global backdrop is bearish for the Canadian dollar and domestic numbers are merely piling on,"said a senior currency strategist. "No one is looking for reasons to buy the Canadian dollar right now. They want reasons to sell."

Read More: Canada's Dollar Posts Weekly Decline on Jobs, Politics, Oil

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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 »

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 »

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 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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Credit Crisis could Bring Deflation

Oct. 18th 2008

Policymakers are once again uttering the dreaded D-word. Not "depression," but rather "deflation." Food and energy prices have retreated from record highs, and the economic downturn is threatening to crimp demand further. In addition, the deleveraging brought about by the credit crisis has sent asset prices (real estate, stocks) tumbling, and it’s not clear when they will stabilize. Economists are also forecasting that a tightening labor market and decreasing demand could force workers to accept pay cuts in return for job security. In short, a sustained period of deflation, such as that which plagued Japan in the 1990’s, is becoming a very real possibility. Last week’s coordinated interest rate cut was motivated by financial and economic factors; it was aimed at providing liquidity to financial markets and stimulating aggregate demand. Future rate cuts, however, may be driven by monetary concerns. One thing to keep in mind is that deflation can be kind to currencies; witness the strength of the Japanese Yen despite its long-term economic malaise. If the entire world experiences falling prices simultaneously, however, its not clear how forex markets would respond. Bloomberg News reports:

The deflation scenario might go like this: Banks worldwide, stung by $588 billion in writedowns related to toxic assets — especially mortgage-related securities — will further reduce the flow of credit, strangling growth. As the credit crisis worsens, businesses will find it almost impossible to raise prices.

Read More: Deflation Threat Returns as Asset Markets Decline

Read the rest of this entry »

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

Inflation Will Dog the Dollar

Oct. 13th 2008

That the credit crisis has been kind to the US Dollar is possibly the understatement of the century. In other words, despite the rapid drop in US equity prices and the impending economic recession, the Dollar has gained over 15% against its chief rival, the Euro. The cause of the Dollar bounce is a perception that the US is a safe place to invest during periods of economic uncertainty. This may or not be true. Regardless, some analysts insist that the Dollar remains doomed in the long-term. The US government has already spent $2 Trillion trying to restore confidence in capital markets and/or forestall recession. It seems unlikely that this entire amount can be raised from foreign investors, in which case the Federal Reserve Bank will be forced to print money to make up the difference. Even if the federal government can recover half of this outlay in the form of higher tax receipts and returns on its bailout "investments," the increase in the money supply will nonetheless be tremendously inflationary. The Market Oracle reports:

Americans will soon learn to change their mindset from focusing on their return on capital, to worrying about conserving the capital they have left. We have seen the beginning of this paradigm shift in the run on banks, and the flight to Treasury instruments.

Read More: US Dollar Doomed as Credit Crisis Turning into a Currency Crisis

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

Fed is Ahead of the Curve

Oct. 6th 2008

The rapid and insidious spread of the credit crisis to Europe and even farther afield is catching Central Bankers completely off guard. In fact, they have been forced to rapidly shift gears from fighting inflation to preventing recession. Depending on how you look at it, the Fed was actually ahead of the curve in this regard, having moved to adjust its monetary policy and facilitate greater liquidity in credit markets nearly one year ago, well before other Central Banks. Since such policymaking usually takes about 18 months to trickle down to the grassroots of the economy, the US could conceivably begin the long road to economic recovery well before the rest of the world. As a result, the Dollar is rapidly reversing the multi-year decline it has suffered against the Euro, and analysts are predicting that in a few years the flow of tourists across the Atlantic Ocean will reverse directions. The Times Online reports:

In the longer term, rising productivity and lower domestic inflation, should enable Americans to stomp across the pleasure spots of Europe, paying only $1.25 for each euro.

Read More: A bailout won’t wreck economy

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

How will Bailout Impact Inflation?

Sep. 24th 2008

In day 2 of our bailout coverage, let’s look at the potential impact on inflation. On one hand, the government is proposing spending $700 Billion to buy faltering mortgages. Combined with the funds that have already been spent to deal with the credit crisis, this brings the total expenditure $1 Trillion, which amounts to more than 10% of the current liquid money supply. On the other hand, global food and commodity prices have eased over the last few months, causing a similar abatement in record rates of inflation. As a result of the economic recession and consequent depressed demand, prices don’t appear likely to return to the stratospheric levels of early 2008. In the end, the risk of inflation is probably most closely connected to the willingness of foreign institutional investors and Central Banks to continue financing American borrowing. If they hesitate, this would send the government running to the Federal Reserve Bank, which would be forced to print money, thereby stoking inflation. The Wall Street Journal reports:

If the Fed has to print money to pay this debt, "the more dollars put into the system, the more you dilute the value of the dollars out there," said Chuck Butler, at EverBank World Markets.

Read More: Will Bailout Spur Inflation? Hedge That Bet

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Economic Indicators, US Dollar | 1 Comment »

Unpacking the Credit Crisis

Sep. 22nd 2008

In case you were asleep, US and global capital markets last week experienced unprecedented turmoil, followed by an unprecedented rebound. US stock market indices, for example, declined nearly 10% over the course of two days as it was revealed that three financial institutions (AIG, Merril Lynch, Lehman Brothers) were in deep trouble. Granted, the three scenarios managed to resolve themselves (government purchase, shotgun merger, bankruptcy), but the unthinkable had transpired. The following day, the markets promptly recouped their losses, as the earliest details of a sprawling US government bailout were announced. However, investors remain wary as they attempt to sort out the details. According to one piece of analysis, the forex implications are as follows:

First, the carry trade has officially fallen out of favor. Look for funding currencies (Japanese yen, Swiss Franc) to benefit and recipient currencies (Australia, New Zealand, etc.) to continue suffering. Next, while the US remains a safe haven because of perceived stability/liquidity, the monetary situation could still ignite a sharp decline in the Dollar, as the Federal Reserve performs an about-face and cuts interest rates in order to avert a complete financial meltdown. Instead, economies that have performed relatively better (less poor, to be more accurate) than the US, will probably witness a rise in their currencies. Think Canada and perhaps, the EU.

Read More: Lehman Fails And AIG Is On The Verge – What Is The Currency Impact?

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

Yen Unfazed by Dollar Rally

Sep. 15th 2008

Over the last couple months, the Dollar has notched some impressive returns against nearly all major currencies, including a 13% gain against its chief rival, the Euro. Nearly is italicized because the pack includes a lone stray-the Japanese Yen-which has managed to maintain most of its value during the Dollar rally. The Yen has benefited from the same trend towards risk aversion that has underlied the Dollar’s strength. Because of the preponderance of carry trades which utilize Yen as a funding currency, spikes in volatility tend to benefit the Yen disproportionately as skittish investors unwind their Yen-short positions. Even excluding volatility, a global easing of monetary policy (including recent cuts in Australia and New Zealand) has lowered yield differentials and made the carry trade far less lucrative. In any event, the Yen now finds itself locked in an epic battle with the Dollar to determine which currency is the least risky in times of crisis. The Wall Street Journal reports:

"As we’ve seen during past episodes of risk aversion and the unwinding of risk trades, some of those were funded with the yen. As those were unwound it involves buying back the yen and it appreciated against a lot of currencies."

Read More: Clash of the Titans: The Dollar and Yen

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

Inflation Drives Latin American Currencies

Aug. 14th 2008

While not yet in the same league as other popular emerging market currencies, the Brazilian Real and Mexican Peso are sure to join their ranks soon; both currencies have risen markedly over the last few years, and have performed especially well in the year-to-date. They have been propelled by interest rates that are generously high, especially compared to those of the US and EU. Brazil’s benchmark rate currently stands at 13%, while Mexico’s equivelent rate is slightly lower, at 8%. In fact, interest rates are quite high throughout the region, including in Peru and in Chile. Anlaysts expect most of these Central Banks will further tighten their leding rates because of surging inflation, which would provide further impetus to the upward marches of their respective currencies against the Dollar. Reuters reports:

"We see EMEA (European, Middle Eastern and African) central banks as reaching the end of their (monetary) tightening cycles, whereas there is still more to go from Latin America," wrote Barclays Capital.

Read More: Latam inflation eyed for currency impact

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Analysts: Loonie to Fall

Aug. 12th 2008

The Canadian Dollar continues to lose its luster. Falling natural resource prices and the credit crunch have combined to exact a devastating blow on the Canadian economy, causing it to actually contract in the most recent month for which data is available. Now, the Central Bank is predicting that the economy will expand by only 1% in 2008. Most economists expect that Canadian Monetary Policy will soon lag US policy, especially if the Fed raises interest rates to combat inflation. Based on these developments, the consensus is that the Canadian Loonie is significantly overvalued, and will lose some of its value over the next few years, falling to a more sustainable level against the US Dollar. Bloomberg News reports:

The loonie will slide to C$1.05 by the end of December, and to C$1.09 by the start of 2010, according to the median estimate of 31 strategists surveyed by Bloomberg.

Read More: Loonie Loses Currency Wings as Canada Hurt by U.S.

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

AUD: So Much for Parity

Aug. 8th 2008

The parallels between the Australian Dollar and the Canadian Dollar are remarkable! Both currencies are backed by economies highly dependent on natural resources. Both countries’ Central Banks are considering rate cuts in response to slowing growth. Finally, both currencies have slipped well below parity with the US Dollar. Unlike the Canadian Loonie, the AUD had never quite breached the mythical 1:1 level with the USD. Furthermore, given the deteriorating economic picture in Australia, parity is off the table for a long time.

Demand for Australia’s vast natural resources had begun to taper in response to rising prices, and now that prices have softened, exports are off even more. The Central Bank of Australia is indicating that it considers this drop in demand more of a threat than rising inflation. Accordingly, it will attempt to cushion the blow by lowering rates, perhaps as soon as next month. The Australian Dollar’s status as a beneficiary of the carry trade- because of the lofty 7.25% benchmark interest rate- may soon come to an end. Bloomberg News reports:

Investors have increased bets the central bank will cut borrowing costs. [It] will lower the benchmark rate by 91 basis points, or 0.91 percentage point, in the next 12 months, showed [one index].

Read More: Australia Signals First Rate Reduction in Seven Years

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Bumpy Road Ahead for Canadian Dollar

Aug. 7th 2008

2007 was a momentous year for the Canadian Loonie, which rose 17.5% and even reached parity against the US Dollar. 2008 has been somewhat less kind to the Loonie; it has been battered repeatedly from falling commodity prices and the global credit crunch. Actually, even before the price of oil peaked near $140, the link between the Canadian Dollar and natural resources had begun to break down. The rationale among investors had shifted such that expensive commodities were now seen as a drag on global economic growth, and hence, bad for Canada in the long-term. Using this logic, the currency should have received a reprieve from falling prices, but this was interpreted as bad for Canada in the short-term. In other words, a lose-lose situation. Perhaps, the Loonie climbed too high too fast, and a simple technical correction is in order. The Guardian reports:

The Canadian dollar has been stuck in a tight range since the end of last November. If the Canadian currency eventually closes below the low end of that range, it would be considered a sign of U.S. dollar bullishness and likely open the door to further losses.

Read More: Canadian dollar feels heat of economic slowdown

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

AUD: Closer to Parity

Jul. 22nd 2008

After a brief hiatus, the Australian Dollar has resumed its upward march against the Dollar; its next milestone will be a 25-year high against the Greenback. Of course, its continued strength is due to a combination of high domestic interest rates and high commodity prices. In fact, its performance seems to mirror the price of gold, which is no coincidence since gold may be Australia’s most valuable export. In addition, gold has value as a monetary instrument, which means an appreciation in gold can give the Australian Dollar a double-boost by lifting it while simultaneously punishing the US Dollar. With regard its domestic monetary policy, Australian inflation recently passed the 4% mark, which means interest rates (already at 7.25%) are likely to stay high for a while. The countdown to parity continues, reports Bloomberg News:

The local dollar rose to its highest since 2000 against the New Zealand currency before an inflation report tomorrow that may support the case for the Reserve Bank of Australia keeping interest rates at a 12-year high.

Read More: Australian Dollar Trades Near 25-Year High as Commodities Rally

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Credit Crisis is “Ongoing”

Jul. 17th 2008

Who’s familiar with the "song that never ends?" How about the credit crisis that never ends? Only a few months ago, the talking heads were trying to convince us that the worst of the credit crunch had already passed, and that analysts had overestimated the amount of the debt that would ultimately need to be written down. Congress was congratulating itself for its economic stimulus plan, and the Federal Reserve was patting itself on the back for engineering an increase in liquidity to the financial markets. Then, without warning, round two (or three, depending on how you count) was ignited as FANNIE MAE and FREDDIE MAC- which together anchor America’s sprawling mortgage sector- announced financing problems. Commentators are already talking about the possibility of a government bailout. Buckle your seatbelts; it’s going to be a bumpy ride. The International Business Times reports:

Continue to monitor this situation, paying particular attention to whether the bigger investment banks are still lending to customers. Any shutdown in the system would be extremely bearish for the Dollar across the board.

Read More: U.S. Financial Market Turmoil Continues to Beat Down Dollar

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

Geopolitics Affect Dollar

Jul. 14th 2008

The narrative in forex markets had recently become so cut-and-dried, that investors may have forgotten that in the long-term, a variety of factors weigh on currencies. Last week, they were sternly reminded of this fact when tensions in the Middle East boiled over and sent the Dollar racing downwards. An Iranian missile launch sparked the initial uproar, but was quickly followed by unrelated violence in Turkey and Iraq. First, the price of oil skyrocketed, and then the Dollar fell, consistent with the inverse correlation which has been observed between the two commodities. It is unlikely that geopolitical tensions will supercede the macroeconomic situation; investors continue to monitor the credit crisis and interest rate differentials with vigilance. Nonetheless, the events in the Mid East served as a warning against tunnel visions when trading forex. Reuters reports:

Analysts said geopolitics could soon take a back seat again once macroeconomic newsflow picks up after a lack of first tier economic releases from U.S. or euro zone.

Read More: Dollar knocked by geopolitical tensions, oil

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UK Housing Crisis Could Affect Pound

Jul. 11th 2008

When one hears the phrase "housing crisis" uttered, the US immediately comes to mind. Not without reason, of course, since the US housing market is the largest in the world, and the scope of any US housing crisis is sure to dwarf a comparable crisis in any other country, in absolute terms. At the same time, let’s not forget that prices in the UK, for example, began to decline earlier than in the US. In addition, as one columnist points out, the impact of the UK housing crisis may be relatively greater on the UK economy. While some of the statistics he quotes are dubious, housing and consumer debt (on a per capita basis)  may in fact be larger in the UK than in the US. As a result, the ongoing correction in housing prices would be expected to punish the UK more than the US. The story could be the same for the Pound, vis-a-vis the US Dollar. Money & Markets reports:

[One analyst] is…a long-term bear on the British pound and believes any rallies in the currency represent an opportunity to enter short at a better price. Selling the pound against the dollar with a 10-12 month time frame may present one of the best opportunities in the currency markets today.

Read More: UK Housing Bust Spells Trouble for Pound

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

Inflation or Economic Growth?

Jul. 8th 2008

Global capital markets remain caught in a tug of war between inflation and economic growth. For most of 2008, the economic growth story prevailed as the Federal Reserve Bank cut interest rates aggressively to cushion the blow from the housing crisis. However, the pendulum soon swung to inflation and the Fed began to worry that perhaps it had lowered rates too far and may in fact need to hike them in response to surging food and fuel prices. In fact, the European Central Bank recently hiked its benchmark interest rates. Now, a slew of negative economic data threatens to shift the rhetoric back to the other corner. Securities and currencies have fluctuated wildly over this period, and investors remain unsure about which side the world’s Central Banks will err on. Currency traders need to look no further than credit markets for a snapshot of the current consensus, which often presages changes in currency valuations. A quick and dirty analysis would place American and Euro-zone short-term bonds side by side and compare the yields (or prices), as a proxy for the EUR/USD exchange rate. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Two-year yields in all three markets have been on a wild ride in June, driven up by tough inflation rhetoric from central banks, then down again by renewed worries about the credit crisis and the state of financial markets.

Read More: Inflation and Growth   Compete for Attention

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Indian Rupee at 14-Month Low

Jun. 27th 2008

The Indian Rupee has fallen to a 14-month low as a result of the sagging Indian stock market and surging inflation. Foreign investors have withdrawn $5.7 Billion from the Indian stock market in the first half of 2008, reinforcing the 30% drop in stock prices that occurred over the same time period. Meanwhile, the nation’s benchmark inflation rate has risen to the highest level in nearly 13 years, and investors are clamoring for the Royal Bank of India to do more. The RBI has already raised interest rates as well as intervening on the Rupee’s behalf in forex markets, as indicated by data on the RBI’s foreign exchange reserves. Both moves were explicitly aimed at combating inflation, but may also carry the unavoidable consequence of stunted economic growth. The Rupee will likely continue to be caught in the slipstream. Bloomberg News reports:

"The rupee is under pressure to weaken because the losses in the stock market are raising concern about capital outflows. The currency could fall further if not for support from the central bank.”

Read More: India’s Rupee Falls to Near 14-Month Low on Stock Market Losses

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EU Inflation CounterBalances Oil

Jun. 23rd 2008

Forex analysts reckon the two most powerful forces weighing on the Dollar are commodity prices and European prices, so-to-speak. With regard to commodity prices, it seems plausible that rising commodity prices have contributed to a weaker Dollar, as much as vice versa. Thus, when Saudi Arabia announced recently that it would increase oil production, the Dollar received a nice boost. Conversely, European prices, or inflation, are important for traders to monitor because they represent a proxy for the future of EU monetary policy. Specifically, Eurozone inflation just touched another high, at 3.7%, which analysts point out is now 1.7% higher than the ECB’s stated comfort zone. The likely result is an interest hike in the near-term, which would further widen the differential with US interest rates. Unless, of course, the Fed follows suit with a rate hike if its own. Forbes reports:

"High oil and food prices are already clearly denting any hopes for a pick-up of private consumption but only a severe deterioration of economic confidence indicators might prevent the ECB from pulling the rate trigger at the next rate-setting meeting."

Read More: Euro climbs as inflation figures cement rate hike expectations

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

ECB, Unemployment Weigh on Dollar

Jun. 6th 2008

In the near future, this day may be looked back on as important in the battle between the Dollar and Euro that is currently being waged. The previous month had been relatively kind to the Dollar, which had gradually clawed its way back from a record low against the Euro. Then came yesterday, when Jean-Claude Trichet, leader of the European Central Bank, surprised investors when he announced that not only will the ECB not be cutting rates, but in fact, it may hike them. If enough members of the Central Bank become convinced that inflation is unlikely to abate, the rate hike could come as soon as next month. Today, the knockout punch was delivered, when the US unemployment rate came in at 5.5%. Not insignificant by itself, what was most shocking was that the crucial indicator had risen .5% from last month, its largest increase in more than a decade. Reuters reports:

That should undermine the dollar’s prospects…"The focus is on the unemployment rate, as it’s obviously starting to catch up with the softening in the payrolls figures…and that’s what the market is reacting to."

Read More: Dollar falls as US jobless rate shoots up

Read the rest of this entry »

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Bank of Canada Must Lower Rates

May. 29th 2008

According to one index, commodity prices have risen 40% over the last twelve months. One would therefore expect the Canadian economy to be commensurately strong. According to the most current economic data, however, just the opposite is true. Wholesale manufacturing sales are down for the second straight quarter. Non-commodity exports are also trending downwards due to sustained economic weakness in the US, Canada’s most important trade partner. Continued strength in the Canadian Dollar is also to blame. In addition, Canadians are traveling abroad in greater numbers, while international visitors to Canada have dwindled to record lows. As a result, Canadian GDP is expected to fall close to 0% for the second quarter, significantly below the Central Bank’s goal of 1%. The Bank will likely respond with a series of rate cuts, perhaps totaling as much as 1%, intended to reduce buying pressure on the Loonie and ignite the economy. reports:

"The loonie is rising, boosted by last week’s energy and resource powered rise in the trade surplus as well as a positive
interest rates spread."

Read More: Deeper rates cuts expected as Cdn. economy slumps

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EU Economy Weakens

May. 26th 2008

While the credit crisis has ravaged the economies of the US and the UK, the EU has largely been spared. First quarter GDP grew at a healthy annualized rate of 2.8%, helped by a whopping 6% expansion in Germany. However, a number of economic indicators now suggest that all is not well on the European front. Business and consumer confidence indexes are trending downward. Manufacturing output is down. So are retail sales. Spain, which benefited the most during the credit boom, is now reaping the greatest losses during the crunch, and could put a drag on the entire Euro-zone. One prominent economist is predicting that the EU economy won’t expand at all in the second quarter.

Unfortunately, the only data point which is trending upwards is inflation. Even though the EU is much more efficient than the US in terms of its use of oil, record oil prices (as well as food prices) are taking their toll. As a result, the European Central Bank cannot (or will not) lower interest rates until price inflation returns to a more palatable level. Accordingly, EU member states are taking matters into their own hands by unveiling economic stimulus plans and tax cuts. As far as the Euro concerned, the ECB’s focus on price stability (at the expense of growth) is not hurting the common currency, although if the economy really tanks, the story could change depending on concurrent circumstances in the US. The Economist reports:

The ECB has a strict remit to keep inflation in check, so rising commodity prices are likely to keep interest rates high, lending further support to the euro.

Read More: The euro-area economyToo good to last

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

Fed is Downbeat on Economy

May. 22nd 2008

Yesterday’s release of the minutes from the Federal Reserve Bank’s April meeting sent shock waves through the investing community. The text revealed that the Fed Board of Governors has become significantly more bearish on the outlook of the US economy, as compared to sentiments expressed at the January meeting. The consensus forecast covering 2008-2009 worsened for all of the major economic indicators, including GDP growth, inflation, and employment. If the low end of the new GDP estimate ultimately obtains, the US economy will expand by only .3% for 2008. Fed officials went so far as to say that even by 2010, they don’t expect rates of inflation and unemployment to return to acceptable levels. To make matters worse, the minutes revealed some opposition to the 25 basis point rate cut that was implemented at the April meeting, on the basis of inflation concerns. The minutes further confirmed that the Fed does not plan to cut rates any further, for fear of stoking price inflation and fomenting another asset bubble. The Wall Street Journal reports:

In a speech Wednesday, Fed Governor Kevin Warsh said the central bank now must look to financial institutions to raise capital and take other actions to improve market functioning.

Read More: Fed’s Forecast Grows Gloomier

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Q1: Dollar Down 4%

May. 13th 2008

Although the first quarter of 2008 ended on March 31, it wasn’t until last week that the Federal Reserve Bank finally finished tallying all of the data and released its obligatory report on the performance of the Dollar. On a trade-weighted basis, the Dollar declined 4%, a figure which accounts for a whopping 11% decline against the Japanese Yen and an 8% decline against the Euro. According to the Fed’s analysis, January was relatively kind to the Dollar, as traders remained uncertain as to how the credit crisis would affect the US economy. An outpouring of negative data in the next 4-6 weeks sent the Dollar spiraling downward, although it recovered at the end of March, as the Fed moved to build liquidity in the financial markets. The Fed also noted that it did not intervene in currency markets during the first quarter, firmly putting to rest rumors to the contrary. Forbes reports:

There had been intermittent discussion in the markets of a coordinated foreign exchange intervention by the G-3 central banks, but the Fed report confirmed officially what markets already realized.

Read More: NY Fed reports trade-weighted dollar down more than 4% in first quarter 

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Fed Lowers Rates

May. 2nd 2008

The Federal Reserve Bank recently lowered interest rates for the seventh, and perhaps final, time, bringing its benchmark federal funds rate to 2.0%. Since inflation is still hovering around the 4% mark, the Fed will probably be reluctant to lower rates further. Thus, the markets have been given all of the boost that they are likely to receive, and it is "fate" that will determine whether the economy will find its footing. (GDP growth clocked in at an anemic .6% for the last two quarters). The most recent data (including the just-released jobs data) indicate that the economy may be stabilizing, although consumption and the employment situation are still deteriorating. As a result, the National Bureau of Research has yet to officially declare the current economic downturn a "recession," since the picture remains nuanced. The New York Times reports:

The recession-or-not question is now almost entirely academic, Mr. Bernstein contended, given the steady erosion of American spending power and soaring costs for food and gasoline.

Read More: Low Spending Is Taking Toll on Economy

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Turkish Lira Set for Decline

May. 1st 2008

2007 was a banner year for the Turkish Lira, which appreciated 21% against the US Dollar. However, in the year-to-date, the currency has returned nearly 10% of this gain, making it the third worst performing currency in the world. Turkey generally, and the Lira specifically, are considered by investors as proxies for emerging markets. The global trend towards risk aversion, as well as skyrocketing inflation, are hurting many such currencies. In Turkey, inflation is so problematic (9.4% at last count) that the Central Bank has raised its benchmark interest rate to 15.25%. Ironically, the more the Lira depreciates, the harder it becomes for the Central Bank to control inflation, causing the Lira to slide further as part of a self-perpetuating free-fall. In addition, the country is beset by political uncertainty, as the courts determine whether the nation’s current government can stay in office. Bloomberg News reports:

"The recent political developments are likely to complicate policy-making and the investment climate. The deteriorating political backdrop will in turn undermine the prospects for restoring fiscal discipline and reviving the reform agenda."

Read More: Lira Goes From First to Worst as Politics Whack Bulls

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April Marks Dollar Turnaround

Apr. 30th 2008

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

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

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

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

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Chinks in the Euro’s Armor

Apr. 28th 2008

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

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

Read More: An Endgame for the Euro?

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BOC Cuts Rates

Apr. 24th 2008

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

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

Read More: Canada poised to cut after benign inflation data

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Economists: Euro Correction Inevitable

Apr. 15th 2008

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

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

Read More: The euro as reserve currency? Hah!

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

Fundamentals Harm Emerging Market Currencies

Apr. 1st 2008

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

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

Read More: Currencies at mercy of deficits

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Loonie in Trouble

Mar. 28th 2008

In a recent article published in the Toronto Star, a Canadian columnist outlined five reasons why the Canadian economy is in trouble.  Only a couple factors are unique to Canada, and several can be subsumed under the credit crunch, but the pessimists are sounding broad alarm bells. First on the list is the looming drop in prices for commodities, the cornerstone of Canada’s economy. Oil recently sank below $100/barrel, and gold dropped 5% in one day! In addition, China is threatening to curb demand in order to rein in inflation. 

The second and third causes for concern are a decline in bank credit and loss of confidence, respectively. Neither of these factors are endemic to Canada, as banks around the world have suddenly developed an aversion to risk and have tightened lending accordingly. Next, corporate expansion (namely of American companies) is stalling; Home Depot and Proctor & Gamble have already announced a temporary hold on opening new stores in Canada.  The final factor(s) are American consumers, which collectively spend $9 Trillion per year.  The recent tightening of wallets could spell massive trouble for Canada, since some of its provincial economies are primarily driven by cross-border sales to Americans.

In short, the Canadian economy could actually contract in 2008.  But perhaps the resulting decline in Canada’s currency, the loonie, would make Canadian exports comparatively more attractive and return the economy to firm footing in 2009.

Read More: 5 reasons to start worrying

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

USD: What is the story?

Feb. 28th 2008

Recent news reports have painted a downright bleak picture of the US economy. Home prices are now falling. Equity prices are also falling, at an annualized rate of 20%.  Meanwhile, energy and food prices are rising, dipping into what little purchasing power consumers can still claim.  Somehow, as DailyFX, recently reported, the Dollar has held its own. Their reasoning is that there is a struggle being waged in forex markets between yield and growth. On the one hand are investors who are bearish on the Dollar because of interest rates that are headed downwards, despite already being low.  On the other hand are investors who think that yield is comparatively unimportant, since the rate cuts are needed to shore up the economy. While interest rate differentials do not favor the US, the economic growth that they are intended to bring about tell a different story. DailyFX reports:

The only problem with this thesis is that 2 percent interest rates or 100bp is about as low as the market expects the Fed will go. If banks are forced to take more write-offs and the US economy deteriorates further, the Federal Reserve may be forced to go below 1.00 percent.

Read More: What Matters More For the US Dollar:  Yield or Growth?

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Fed in Lose-Lose Situation

Feb. 26th 2008

Remember the expression "Goldilocks economy," used to to characterize the Fed’s perennial aim of simultaneously pursuing economic growth and price stability?  How about "stagflation," a term coined in the 1970s to describe a unique period in US economic history where low growth coincided with inflation.  Now, these two scenarios are being juxtaposed as the Goldilocks economy gives way to stagflation. The Fed is trying to delicately toe the line, as equity and home prices sink while prices rise; one index suggests prices have risen over 7% year-over-year.  The index more often cited, the CPI, reads 4.3%.  Both of these figures exceed current interest rate levels. 

What, then, is the Fed’s proper course of action, especially as far as Dollar bulls are concerned?  If it holds rates or contindfues to lower them, the economy could avert recession but prices would likely continue to climb, eroding the value of the Dollar.  On the other hand, if rates are hiked to mitigate against inflation, a recession would almost become inevitable, and the Dollar would feel the drag of capital being pulled overseas. The New York Times reports:

“February may go down in history as the month that the previously indefatigable U.S. consumer finally threw in the towel, beaten by a combination of deteriorating labor market conditions, surging prices for food and energy and collapsing house prices,”

Read More: As Inflation Rises, Home Values Slump, Data Show

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China’s Trade Surplus Expands Further

Feb. 20th 2008

China’s trade surplus grew 22.6% year-over-year for the month of January, on top of export growth of 26.7%.  If there is any silver lining to what many policymakers would consider bad news, it is that growth in imports is slightly outpacing growth in exports.  Unfortunately, that is unlikely to allay the critics, and there are still many of them. The argument remains unchanged- that China is not allowing its currency to rise fast enough.  On paper, however, the Yuan has appreciated by 15% since China officially de-pegged it from the Dollar in July 2005.  In addition, the G7 failed to scold China in its annual meeting, which suggests that economic policymakers are becoming less concerned with China’s forex policy.  Ironically, the revaluation of the Yuan is probably boosting the value of of China’s exports in the short-term, because other countries are now paying more for the same quantity of imports.  AFP reports:

The International Monetary Fund…urged the Chinese government to loosen the reins on the yuan. "We encourage a faster pace of appreciation that would be helpful for addressing China’s key economic challenges and would also contribute to preserving global economic stability."

Read More: China’s trade surplus rises 22.6 percent in January

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Dollar Benefits from Risk Aversion

Feb. 11th 2008

As talk and evidence of a US economic recession builds, the Dollar has witnessed a slight upswing.  How to explain these seemingly contradictory trends? The rationale is surprisingly simple.  While a US recession would predictably hit the US harder than other countries, it would still hamper growth abroad, especially in emerging markets that have come to depend on exports to the US to drive growth.  Accordingly, investing in such emerging markets becomes relatively more risky than investing in the US, which is still considered to have the world’s most stable investing climate from a long-term perspective.  Thus, as risk aversion rises, so does the Dollar. Thomson Financial reports:

The combination of poor data weighed on stock markets in the US and Asia, while major bourses in Europe have all opened lower today. This meant the dollar gained support as investors shy away from riskier emerging market assets.

Read More: Dollar gains on the back of rising risk aversion

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USD May Bottom Out

Feb. 4th 2008

As far as Dollar bulls are concerned, all news is bad news. An economic recession seems inevitable. Interest rates are already negative in real terms, and are now the lowest in the industrialized world, save Japan.  It’s still unclear how much subprime debt will be written down by financial companies before all is said and done.  But analysts from Brown Brothers Harriman, an investment bank, think the Dollar’s multi-year decline is coming to an end.  There are two main reasons underlying their rationale.  The first point is purely technical- that the all of the bad news and in fact, the worst possible scenario, has already been priced into the Dollar.  The second point is fundamental- that the speculative hot money that has poured into the US as foreign investors take advantage of a weak Dollar and that is sustaining the US current account deficit is now transitioning into long-term foreign direct investment.  The Financial Post reports:

In addition, BBH believes that in a weak dollar environment, foreign companies will now start looking to move production and sourcing to the United States, following the successful example of Japanese auto makers.

Read More: Greenback is nearing bottom, currency experts say

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

Foreign Investors Target US

Jan. 24th 2008

So-called ‘Sovereign Wealth Funds’ are the talk of the town, stealing headlines as part of a multi-billion dollar buying spree.  Anecdotally, stories of these funds and other institutional foreign investors have made a big splash, epitomized by a few high-profile investments in struggling American investment banks.  It no longer appears these stories were isolated, as suggested by some pretty compelling economic data.  In 2007, total foreign direct investment into the United States totaled $400 Billion, which represents a 90% increase over 2006.  In addition, the first few weeks of 2008 saw a frenzy of activity, which suggest this trend will continue.  Investment in the US is being driven primarily by a weak Dollar and attractive stock market valuations.  If the bad news on the US economy continues to pour in, analysts warn that foreigners could play an even larger role in mitigating against recession. The New York Times reports:

The weak dollar has made American companies and properties cheaper in global terms. Even as Americans confront the prospect of a recession, economic growth remains strong worldwide, endowing oil producers like Saudi Arabia and Russia and export powers like China and Germany with abundant cash.

Read More: Overseas Investors Buy Aggressively in U.S.

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China’s Forex Reserves Roar Past $1.5 Trillion

Jan. 16th 2008

On January 24 last year, the Forex Blog reported with great fanfare that China’s forex reserves had breached the epic milestone of $1 Trillion. [In hindsight, it turns out that the psychologically important barrier was broken several months earlier, but that is beside the point].  Less than one year later, China’s forex reserves reached another important threshold, soaring past $1.5 Trillion. It appears that new reserves are being accumulated at  an exponential rate, having increased $460 Billion last year and over $30 Billion in the month  of December alone. By no coincidence, China’s 2007 trade surplus of $262 Billion shattered the previous record and is expanding at a comparably supersonic pace.

Most analysts reckon that the country is locked in a vicious cycle: when its trade surplus grows, its forex reserves grow proportionately. Moreover, the lopsided trade imbalance th\at China maintains with most of the world ensures that the demand for Chinese Yuan exceeds the supply. In the short run, a more expensive currency equates to higher prices paid for its exports which only increases the trade surplus and forex reserves further, and exerts still more pressure on the currency to appreciate.  Meanwhile, as the Yuan rises, the value of China’s forex reserves, which are denominated predominantly in USD, falls.  What a conundrum indeed! Xinhua News reports:

The value of Chinese RMB against the US dollars has appreciated by over six percent in 2007. The central parity rate of the RMB was 7.2672 to the US dollar on Friday.

Read More: Forex reserve tops $1.53 trillion

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Yen Buoyed by Exporters

Dec. 26th 2007

The Yen has received a nice boost from Japanese exporters, which moved en masse to exchange Dollars for Yen to meet certain year-end financial obligations.  The logic is that exporters had owed money in arrears to domestic Japanese producers of the goods and services being exported and needed to be paid in Yen. Such logic could theoretically be applied to exporters in ever country, which would provide the same boost to their respective currencies.   However, in addition to being the world’s fourth-largest exporter, Japan’s economy is unusually dependent on exports.  Thus, it is understandable that Japanese exporters could exert such influence on forex markets when entering the market at the same time.

Read More: Yen Rises on Speculation Japanese Exporters Buying the Currency

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

Emerging Currencies at Risk

Oct. 17th 2007

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

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

Read More: Hedge funds target currency pegs

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UK Pound Nears Plateau

Oct. 12th 2007

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

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

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

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Adjusting to Life at Parity

Sep. 24th 2007

Over the last five years, the Canadian Dollar has slowly climbed to parity against the USD, finally reaching the mythical 1:1 exchange rate last week. Canadian shoppers and
American tourists have taken notice, gradually adjusting their behavior in accordance wit their changing purchasing power. For many Canadians, this has translated into more frequent shopping trips across the border, whether for gasoline or for clothing. For Americans, this has resulted in a decline in the number of tourists visiting Canada. It is also slowly redefining the US-Canada trade dynamic. However, as Canada has become the United States’ largest supplier of oil, it is likely Canada that will
benefit most in this relationship. The New York Times reports:

The weakness of the American dollar worries some Canadian investors as well as businesses that rely on American customers.

Read More: Currency Parity Brings Canadian Shoppers South

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Trade data supports Yuan appreciation

Sep. 13th 2007

That the balance of trade between the US and China is becoming more and more lopsided in favor of China should come as no surprise to anyone.  In fact, economists yawned when the August trade data revealed a 33% jump in the Chinese trade surplus.  As a result, many are beginning to argue that China can allow the Yuan to appreciate at a faster pace against the Dollar, since it is obvious that China’s export sector will not be materially affected by a stronger Yuan.  In addition, China now exports more goods and services to the EU than to America, yet another statistic which supports the notion that China can allow its currency to appreciate against the Dollar (the implication here being that the Euro-Yuan exchange rate should be more important to China at this point).  Finally, China’s inflation rate is now hovering around 6.5%, its highest level in over a decade.  A more valuable Yuan would presumably make imports less expensive, thus lowering prices across the board for Chinese consumers. Bloomberg News reports:

The Chinese currency is selling for about 7.51 to the dollar. It has risen almost 6 percent against the U.S. currency in the past year while falling more than 3 percent against the euro, leaving the overall competitiveness of China’s exports little changed.

Read More: Rising Euro Is What China Needs to Dump Dollar

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US Job Slump Causes Dollar To Fall

Sep. 7th 2007

August reports show that the US lost 4000 jobs in one month. The biggest employment slump in several years, it appears that problems with the subprime market are affecting more people than ever. The dollar fell to a 30-day low after these reports went public. According to Reuters:

The euro vaulted to a one-month high of $1.3768 <EUR=> after the report before easing to $1.3751, up 0.5 percent. The dollar was down 0.8 percent at 114.42 yen <JPY=>, near a session low of 114.31 yen.

Read more: Dollar tumbles as August U.S. payrolls contract

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Vietnam Sees Massive Forex Reserve Increase

Aug. 15th 2007

Officials from the State Bank of Vietnam have confirmed that the country’s forex reserves have doubled, thanks to a solid investment in US dollars. What was once enough money to pay for 10 weeks of imports now buys 20. This windfall comes with a price, however, as inflation will now increase. Deputy Governor of the State Bank, Nguyen Dong Tien, hopes to keep the adverse effects to a minimum. Reports Daily Times:

Economists say double-digit inflation is a possibility, but Tien told the news conference that the central bank had stepped up its draining of inflation-fueling funds from the economy through open market transactions.

Read more: Vietnam doubles forex reserves

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Euro’s Rise due to Optimism?

Jul. 23rd 2007

The Euro’s rise against the USD over the last year has been swift and unimpeded.  Many commentators have theorized that it is intense pessimism surrounding the US economy and economic conditions-namely the burgeoning twin deficits-that is responsible for the Dollar’s demise.  Now, a new theory is being batted around, one that is quickly gaining traction with analysts:
perhaps it is optimism directed towards the EU economy rather than pessimism towards the US that is causing the Euro to spike.  After all, the European economy has rebounded nicely and boasts stable monetary and trade statistics. However, this notion of European optimism, if it in fact exists, has some analysts worried that the markets are becoming too optimistic, and that if they are not careful, they will end up wrecking the European economy by driving up the Euro too high. The Times Online reports:

If the euro keeps rising without limit, Europe’s export industries will be decimated, as they were not only in Britain, but also in America in the mid-1980s and also in Japan after 1995.

Read More: The euro’s rise and rise is unsustainable

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Economic woes plague Dollar

Jul. 22nd 2007

The story behind the Dollar’s decline contains two threads:
narrowing interest rate differentials and growing concerns surrounding the US economy. With most of the industrialized world’s Central banks not scheduled to meet again for a few weeks, the interest rate story can temporarily be placed on hold in favor of the economic story, which is becoming uglier every day. The centerpiece remains the US housing market, which many analysts believe will soon slide into a major rut. There is a great deal of uncertainty over whether homes can retain their value and if borrowers will be able to pay off their mortgages. Rising rates have squeezed many low-income, high-risk borrowers, causing a crisis of growing proportions in the market for mortgage-backed securities, which is at risk for spreading to other areas of securities markets. Forbes reports:

“Credit concerns, rating reviews, yields tumbling; it has been one-way traffic against the dollar in recent minutes and euro/dollar has rallied up a fresh all-time high.”

Read More: Dollar slump sends euro
to record high

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Big Mac Index Offers Currency Valuations via PPP

Jul. 19th 2007

The Economist just released its an updated iteration
of its famous Big Mac Index, underscoring growing disparities in currency valuations. For those of you that aren’t familiar, the Big Mac Index uses the price of a McDonald’s Big Mac sandwich in different countries as a proxy for measuring purchasing power parity (ppp), that perennial staple of economics that theorizes a country’s currency and its inflation rate should move in opposite directions. Thus, where a Big Mac is observed to be more expensive than in the US, it would suggest that country’s currency is overvalued relative to the USD. Of course there are numerous other factors in the local price of a Big Mac, including raw materials and taxes, but the index still packs a pretty profound punch. Unsurprisingly, the most undervalued currencies can be found in Asia – notably the currencies of Japan, China, Thailand, Indonesia, etc. The most comparatively expensive Big Macs (and hence most overvalued currencies) can be found in Europe, especially in Scandinavia and Northern Europe.

Read More: The Big Mac Index

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US Economy Hit by Housing Sector

Jul. 10th 2007

These days, the US economy seems to rise and fall on the wings of the housing sector.  Unfortunately, this sector is in a tailspin as higher interest rates have left many homeowners unable to pay their mortgages, causing a crisis in the oft-cited subprime market.  Already, several hedge funds have nearly collapsed due to subprime mortgage uncertainty, and nearly 600 portfolios of subprime mortgages (representing $12 Billion) have been downgraded as a result of declining creditworthiness.  Investors fear that instability in the subprime market could spread to the rest of the US economy and/or drive the Federal Reserve Bank to lower interest rates, which would narrow the interest rate differential between the US and most of the west. Reuters reports:

Lower U.S. bond yields arising from problems in the subprime sector have diminished the allure of U.S. Treasury debt. The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note…is at 5.08 percent, down from about 5.29 about a month ago.

Read More: Dollar hits record low vs euro on subprime woes

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How to Value a Currency

Jun. 25th 2007

With the US government doggedly clinging to the notion that China is manipulating its currency and insisting that the communist country be punished accordingly, it bears asking “how can we determine that a currency (in this case the Yuan) is in fact undervalued, and if so, by how much.  One notable economist has laid out three general techniques for “valuing a currency,” which may prove useful to all of you amateur economists.

First, there is the concept known as “purchasing power parity,” which suggests that a pair of currencies should fluctuate in value relative to each other based on changes in their respective interest rates and inflation. Second, there is the notion of a “sustainable” or “fundamental equilibrium” exchange rate which brings a country’s current account into balance- neither deficit nor surplus.  Third, historical exchange rate data can be regressed against various economic indicators (productivity, employment, etc.) in order to distill the select few that had the most direct effect on the currency in the past. The most current economic data can then be plugged into the resulting equation and tested against actual exchange rates.  However, while economists agree that these techniques are the most theoretically sound, they ignore the fact that currencies today seem less tied to the laws of plain economics than they do to financial economics- capital flows.

Read More: Misleading misalignments

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USD Gets Double Kick

Jun. 13th 2007

Over the last couple months, a raft of positive economic developments has driven the USD steadily to its highest level in months. These developments include GDP data, retail sales data, and housing data have all shown signs of strength after an all-encompassing slump in the first quarter. However, it was not until last week that the markets fully removed the possibility of near-term rate cuts out of the markets, sending US benchmark interest rates to their highest levels in years. As a result, the USD received a second bump, as higher yields sucked in a risk-averse capital from other parts of the world.  The delay between positive economic data and the subsequent rise in yields that took place here is rare, but Dollar bulls were probably happy to ride the wave upwards.  Dow Jones News reports:

Amid soaring rates, the dollar’s rally got a second lease of life, confounding those who had been calling for a reversal in the greenback’s fortunes. Contrast that with late April, when the euro hit a record high of $1.3682 – and analysts were forecasting a run to $1.40.

Read More: Dollar Perhaps Undeserving Of Recent Rally

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Economic Data Gives USD a Boost

Jun. 3rd 2007

Since reaching record-highs against the British Pound and Euro in April, the USD has pulled back slightly, due in part to the perception that the US economy is back in track. Last quarter’s round of GDP and housing data revealed that by some measures, the US economy was expanding at the slowest pace in years.  However, that notion was contradicted by last week’s release of employment, retail, and manufacturing data, all of which exceeded analysts’ expectations.  As a result, some economists have reversed their positions on the near-term outlook for US monetary policy, by switching their predictions from rate cut to rate hike.  The Tapei Times reports:

“Against a backdrop of stubborn inflation and tight labor markets, our analysis going forward will be more focused on the timing of rate hikes, not cuts.”

Read More: Expectations of healthy growth boost US currency

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Corporate Profits Buoyed by Forex Gains

May. 10th 2007

While the American economy is sputtering, US corporations are earnings record profits and stock market capitalization is soaring.  These seemingly contradictory trends are being driven by the decline in the USD.  Multinational corporations, especially those based in the US, are conducting a growing portion of their business abroad and subsequently, their foreign sales are booming.  When corporations convert these profits from the currencies they are booked in back to USD, on which their financial statements are based, they are realizing the equivalent of a 5-10% bump from foreign exchange gains.  Many of these companies are web-based, such as Yahoo, Amazon and eBay.  Ironically, as the economy sags, betting on these types of companies may be akin to a bet against the USD.

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Fed Tries To Maintain ‘Goldilocks’ Economy

May. 9th 2007

Today, the US Federal Reserve Bank announced that it would hold the benchmark federal funds rate at 5.25% and will likely wait a few more months before nudging rates upward or downward.  In a press release that accompanied its monthly meeting, the Fed was unusually candid, indicating that it is receiving conflicting signals from economic data.  On the one hand, the economy is now growing at is slowest pace in nearly four years. On the other hand, the unemployment rate is below 5% and jobless claims remain low.  Typically, such an economic deadlock would be broken by inflation data, but in this case, inflation is trending only slightly above the Fed’s stated comfort level. In short, economists are mixed as to what kind of interest rate movements would be most conducive to what has been termed the ‘Goldilocks’ economy [not too hot, not too cold, but just right]. The New York Times reports:

In March, the Federal Reserve gave itself more flexibility to make its next move a rate cut rather than a rate increase. Instead of referring to the possible need for “additional firming,” which is Fed-speak for a rate increase, it simply referred to the possibility of “future policy adjustments.”

Read More: Fed Gives No Signal of Rate Shift

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Carry Trade Beginning to Unwind

May. 1st 2007

Nearly two months ago, China’s stock market declined 15% in one session, leading capital markets around the world to drop off precipitously. This collapse quickly spread to forex markets, where spooked traders began to unwind their Japanese yen carry trades, fearful that the volatility would trigger a short squeeze, causing the Yen to rapidly appreciate. While the yen has returned to its former low levels, it seems foreign investors have prudently unwound up to 60% of their short positions in the Yen, anyway.

A quandary has plagued analysts, who are attributing the failure of the Yen to appreciate to a surge of carry trade interest by Japanese retail investors. Long term Japanese interest rates remain pathetically low, and Japanese investors have taken to buying securities in American and Australia, where yields are significantly higher. However, if Japan’s Central Bank begins to raise rates- as analysts expect will take place as soon as May- investors could be persuaded to repatriate their capital to Japan. The Economist reports:

Retail investors’ direct share of Japan’s
foreign-currency market may be 20-30%, whereas individuals’ holdings of foreign
currency exceed foreigners’ holdings of Japanese securities. The clue to the
yen’s future, in other words, lies with the little man.

Read More: Out with a whimper

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

Euro hovers near all-time high

Apr. 30th 2007

The Euro is currently hovering above its all-time high against the USD, and is flirting with levels never-before-seen in the Euro’s brief, eight-year history.  The Euro had
toyed with the record for the last couple of weeks, before finally breaching it upon last Friday’s release of US GDP data, which indicated the US economy had weakened to its slowest pace of growth in over four years. Investors are now waiting to see how the Fed responds to this latest development, as the bank has found itself in the unenviable position of navigating rising inflation and a slowing economy. Reuters reports:

Benign inflation data and modest growth in Midwest business activity provided more evidence of slowing U.S. economic growth, keeping sentiment bearish for the dollar, traders said.

Read More: Dollar stays near record low vs euro in quiet


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Dollar Hinges on Economic Data

Apr. 26th 2007

This week witnessed a flurry of economic data, capped by tomorrow’s scheduled release of employment and GDP statistics.  At the beginning of the week, the perennially pointless monthly durable goods statistics indicated a rise in durable goods orders, which Dollar bulls interpreted as a good sign.  However, real estate data indicated a lower-than-expected rise in new home sales as well as a dramatic decline in the sale of existing homes.  Polled economists are predicting that tomorrow’s news will likely fall into the dovish category, painting a picture of an economy that has already peaked and making the case for the Fed to hold interest rates at current levels.  However, the bond markets are still pricing in 1-2 rate hikes over the near-term, which currency markets may use to prop up the Dollar.  The Daily Reckoning reports:

Money supply growth has a negative impact on the dollar. Inflation is a currency killer, and looking at the broadest measure (M3), money supply growth is out of control.

Read More: Currency Markets Take a Rollercoaster Ride

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Pound Surges to 15-Year High

Apr. 17th 2007

Since 1992, two macroeconomic events had not occurred in Britain: price inflation has no exceeded 3% annually and the British Pound has not surpassed the $2 barrier.  Both events were realized today, however, as an early-morning release of economic data indicated inflation in Britain was hovering around 3.1% and the British Pound quickly rose above 2 USD/Pound.  Interest rate futures also witnessed an immediate correction, to the extent that the markets are now pricing in a British benchmark interest rate of 5.75% 6 months from now, .5% above the current rate.  Meanwhile, US inflation statistics were dovish, suggesting the gap between British and US interest rates is set to widen, which should propel the Pound further upwards.  The Financial Times reports:

There is little that is inevitable about currencies moving in line with expected interest rates and nothing in long-term trends that allows people to predict currency movements in connection with inflation and other variables. But on Tuesday, the currencies moved exactly as if they were linked to the inflation figures by an umbilical cord.

Read More: Pound rises on prices and rates fears

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Brazilian Real surges to 6-year high

Apr. 11th 2007

Six years ago, Brazil’s economy was in shambles, annual price inflations routinely exceeded 10%, and Brazilian interest rates were hovering around 20%.  Its currency, the Real, traded at roughly 4/USD.  Flash forward to the present: Brazil’s economy is now on solid footing, inflation has been held in check, and Brazilian asset prices are strong.  The result is a much stronger Real, which has doubled in value since 2002. Of course, many analysts have been quick to point out that the Real is benefiting from high commodity prices, which are unlikely to be sustained in the medium-term.  The Financial Times reports:

Brazilian assets suffered during recent nervousness over the troubled US mortgage market. But this seems to have passed and confidence in the global economy and strong commodity prices have caused a return of investment flows.

Read More: Brazilian currency set to hit fresh peak

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

USD to be driven by economic data

Apr. 3rd 2007

Most analysts reckon that the USD has resumed its downward path against the world’s major currencies, after a two month hiatus.  The fear is that the mess in the real estate market (via subprime mortgages) will spread to the rest of the economy, with loan defaults and a decline in consumption.  In such a case, the Federal Reserve Bank would be forced to cut interest rates dramatically in order to prevent the US from sinking into a full-fledged recession, which would decrease the relative attractiveness of US assets.  Traders will be eying a couple pieces of economic data this week for any indication as to the direction of the economy. 

The Wall Street Journal reports:
This week’s data parade is bracketed by two key releases: Monday’s national report on U.S. manufacturing activity in March from the Institute for Supply Management and Friday’s payrolls report.

Read More: U.S. Economic Reports Could Ease Dollar’s Woes

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Markets await data, Fed for USD

Mar. 20th 2007

While the USD appears to be trending downward these days, commentators note that the currency is actually traveling sideways, as market participants look for cues indirectly from economic data and directly from the Fed. Many pundits feel the economy is resting precariously on the back of the housing market, and are anxiously waiting for the data to provide guidance either way. Already, a spate of bad news surrounding one sector of the mortgage market coupled with disappointing data on new home sales are worrying investors. Ultimately, however, the USD will live or die by the Federal Reserve Bank’s reaction to this news. In fact, the Fed’s Open Market Committee is scheduled to meet today and tomorrow, during which point it is expected that interest rates will be held constant. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Analysts will also be watching for any changes to the Fed’s inflation outlook, particularly after Friday’s stronger-than-expected consumer-price report.

Read More: Dollar Treads Water, Waiting for the Fed

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US trade deficit not a concern

Mar. 15th 2007

While the figures are still being calculated and confirmed, it looks like 2006 was the worst year ever for the US trade deficit, which is estimated to exceed $800 Billion. Economists have long argued that such an aberration is not sustainable in the long run and that the USD must fall in order to make goods and services relatively less expensive from the standpoint of foreigners. Now, however, economists are beginning to question this logic, by arguing that due to underdeveloped capital markets abroad, foreigners will continue to favor the US as a place to invest their assets. In hindsight, it looks like forex markets were ahead of the curve, since the failure of the USD to fall against other currencies despite its burgeoning deficits signals an utter lack of concern among forex traders that this is an important issue. The Economist reports:

If global imbalances are the result of such frictions, they are unlikely to unwind quickly. Financial systems, after all, do not mature overnight.

Read More: Sustaining the unsustainable

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Canadian Dollar shows resilience

Feb. 25th 2007

Since reaching a 14-month low earlier this month, the Canadian Dollar has rebounded, thanks to data which indicate the Canadian economy is emerging from a mild recession. The currency was also helped by surging prices for commodities, which account for more than half of the country’s exports. As the summer draws closer, the currency will likely accelerate upwards, helped by predictably strong energy prices. In short, it seems the Canadian Dollar’s recent sluggishness is probably just a seasonal adjustment rather than a long-term correction. Bloomberg News reports:

“The agency didn’t see any need for revising either the growth, or job numbers, which is the Canadian dollar positive development.”

Read More: Canada’s Dollar Rises a for Third Week as Economy Strengthens

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Relative EU exchange rates diverge

Jan. 29th 2007

One technique for estimating the relative value of the Euro is to aggregate the value of all of the constituent EU currencies, using relative price movements as proxies for currencies. In Spain and Italy, for example, wages have skyrocketed over the past five years while productivity has lagged, which means these countries are relatively more expensive now. Germany, on the other hand, has been the economic leader of the EU, having benefited from declining real wages and surging productivity. When viewed as a sum of its parts rather than as a whole, Europe is plagued by many of the same economic problems that beset America, such as a negative balance of trade. A weighted average of European prices reveals a picture of what the Euro should be worth. Based on these three countries, it looks like the Euro is between fairly valued and overvalued. The Economist reports:

Spain now has the second-largest current-account deficit in the world in dollar terms. Germany’s resurgence has set a challenge for the euro zone’s southern members. Without the option of devaluation, their medium-term outlook looks less than rosy.

Read More: Beggar thy neighbor

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New Index uses PPP to value currencies

Jan. 18th 2007

The economic law of purchasing power parity (PPP) dictates that price levels and exchange rates should move in opposite directions. Stated another way, when a currency appreciates, its prices should decline proportionately so that the net effect on prices is zero. Methods for measuring PPP-let alone testing it- are imprecise. Recently, an Australian bank has capitalized on the success of The Economist’s Big Mac index and merged it with one of the most popular consumer electronics, the Apple iPOD. The result is the iPOD index, which uses the retail price of an iPOD in different countries as a basis for assessing relative currency valuation. The upshot for forex traders is that the USD inferred to be undervalued, since the US price of an iPOD is among the lowest in the world. The Financial Express reports:

Brazilians pay the most for an iPod, shelling out $327.71, well above second-placed India at $222.27. Canada was the cheapest place to buy a Nano at $144.20, while…the US was fourth cheapest at $149.

Read More: The iPod as currency markets index

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Declining Yuan hurts Chinese Exporters

Jan. 15th 2007

Since China revalued the Yuan in July 2005, the currency has appreciated by over 6% against the USD. Having since moved past the Hong Kong Dollar, the currency is showing no signs of slowing down. American politicians and trade representatives could not be happier. Their Chinese counterparts, on the other hand, are peeved. Many Chinese exporters have been forced to lower their prices in order to offset the rising yuan and maintain their competitiveness in overseas markets. Such exporters are complaining to anyone who will listen that a more expensive yuan is already eating into their profits. While China’s government prizes stability, it has not yet given any indication that it will halt the appreciation of the yuan in order to placate such malcontents. The Associated Press reports:

“When they started out on this process, they knew that some people would be hurt,” said Rothman. “If they can see the results are necessary to put the economy on a sounder footing long-term, then they can deal with the pain.”

Read More: China’s exporters suffering as currency rise

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

Canadian Dollar continues to slide

Jan. 10th 2007

Since peaking in July, the Canadian Dollar has declined by over 6% against the USD, finishing the year down for the first time in five years. While movements in currency markets are often difficult to dissect, the reason for the fall of the loonie are not difficult to discern: falling commodity prices. Over the last few years, the Canadian Dollar has moved in near tandem with global commodity prices. Commodities now account for over half of Canadian exports, a figure which may grow further as Canada fine tunes its technique for squeezing valuable oil out of its now famous tar sands. Bloomberg News reports:

“The time to buy the Canadian dollar is nearing.” The currency will gain strength from a fast-recovering U.S. economy and the lack of a benchmark interest rate cut from the Bank of Canada in 2007, Citigroup predicted.

Read More: Canada’s Dollar Touches 11-Month Low as Commodity Prices Drop

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FX markets punish hedge funds

Jan. 3rd 2007

As the markets ease into 2007, investors and money managers are beginning to think about how they want to (re)allocate their portfolios. While hedge funds will likely remain a popular investment vehicle, investors would be wise to avoid certain types of funds, namely those that utilize a “global macro” strategy. Technically, such hedge funds examine global economic fundamentals and allocate capital accordingly. In reality, most of these funds make predictions about the global interest rate climate- specifically how interest rates will behave in relation to each other. Since currencies are often seen as proxies for interest rates, many global macro hedge funds are active participants in forex markets. And 2007 was an especially volatile year for forex markets, which translated into a rough year for global macro funds.

Read More: What’s hot and what’s not in hedge funds

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PetroDollar peg drives US trade deficit

Dec. 21st 2006

While the Yuan is currently rising at an annualized rate of 7% against the USD, China continues to earn the brunt of the ire of US politicians, who point to China’s nearly $200 Billion current account surplus. Meanwhile, the oil-exporting nations of the world have largely escaped detection despite their collective trade surplus of $500 Billion, $300 Billion of which can be attributed to Middle Eastern countries. The countries of Gulf Co-operation Council, or GCC (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar), separately link their currencies to the USD, and as the price of oil soared to record highs in 2006, the coffers of these countries expanded proportionately. Many economists are advocating that these countries abandon the peg to the Dollar in favor of a link to a basket of currencies, which would probably favor the Euro.

This seems to be a sensible approach for several reasons. First, the EU represents the region’s biggest trading partner. Second, the USD-peg has constrained the ability of GCC Central Banks to conduct monetary policy, which has contributed to high inflation and overheating economies. Finally, it is rumored that GCC countries will merge their currencies into a common regional currency in 2010, at which point a peg to the USD will become an economic disaster waiting to happen.

Read More: The Petrodollar Peg

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USD decline spurs fear of “hard landing”

Dec. 6th 2006

With the USD in a full-fledged tailspin, many economists and analysts are mapping out the implications of a further decline and modeling worst-case scenarios. The release of new economic data is only adding fuel to the fire, and for the first time, many are embracing the possibility of a complete collapse of the USD, as investors rush en masse for the exits. Already, the Dollar is nearing all-time lows against the British Pound and the Euro. Housing data has stabilized slightly, but manufacturing data reveals that many companies are building unhealthy balances of unsold inventory. Meanwhile, GDP growth forecasts have been downgraded to sluggish and the Fed is threatening to further raise interest rates. The Financial Times reports:

“Combined with other soft US data, the ISM data will reinforce fears of a hard landing and will add to the momentum behind the dollar sell-off,” said Martin Slaney at GFT Global Markets.

Read More: Hard landing fears hit dollar

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

British Pound may harm economy

Dec. 5th 2006

As the British Pound hovers around a 14-year high against the USD, economists have begun to assess the implications. The most obvious consequence is that UK exports will become less attractive to buyers in the US, which is one of Britain’s primary export markets. Along the same lines, British people may begin funneling some of their consumption and investment dollars into the US to take advantage of comparatively lower prices in the US. Many analysts are predicting that this sudden inflow of British capital into the US will halt the decline of the USD against the Pound. The savviest investors have already begun to lock in the current exchange rate to hedge against a reversal. The Finance Daily reports:

“Forward contracts are a great way for people looking to move to the US to take advantage of the favourable exchange rate.” In essence, a ‘forward contract’ means that you can buy the currency now and pay for it later.

Read More: Mixed Benefits to Strong Pound Stateside

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

A halt in the Dollar Decline

Nov. 29th 2006

Over the last month, the USD has decline precipitously in value, to the extent that the currency is approaching a two-year low against the Euro, a 14-year low against the British Pound and an all-time low against the Chinese Yuan. Most economists had been predicting this decline for quite some time, and felt it was a matter of when it would happen- not if it would happen. With the release of US GDP data indicated that the US economy grew by a healthy clip last quarter, the decline in the Dollar was brought to a sudden halt. However, the news has already begun to dissipate in the markets and will likely soon be offset by dollar-negative news in the coming weeks. The Financial Times reports:

Analysts said that, while it might be something of a surprise that the dollar had failed to derive support from Mr Bernanke’s remarks, he might be in danger of “crying wolf” over US inflationary pressures.

Read More: Dollar relieved by economic growth

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

ECB promises “strong vigilance”

Nov. 2nd 2006

At its monthly meeting held his week, the European Central Bank (ECB) left the benchmark Euro-zone lending rate unchanged at 3.25%. However, Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the ECB, announced that the ECB would exercise “strong vigilance” in monitoring economic conditions and weighing future rate hikes. While this kind of language could be confused as rather vague and generic, Trichet’s promise of “vigilance” has been used in the past to preface rate hikes. In addition, Trichet hinted that he would conform to the markets’ prediction that the ECB will raise rates in December. Meanwhile, the US economy is sputtering, and many economists expect the Fed to lower interest rates by a notch in the coming months, which could provide the impetus for the inevitable appreciation of the Euro. The Financial Times reports:

“We have a sneaking suspicion from the tone of the minutes that the ECB feels that it may well have at least a little more work to do in 2007 after December’s interest rate hike.”

Read More: ECB statement boosts the euro

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

Will the Fed raise rates any further?

Oct. 26th 2006

Speculation over whether the Federal Reserve Bank (Fed) would raise interest rates at its monthly policy meeting reached fever-pitch this week, culminating in the Fed’s announcement yesterday to leave rates unchanged. Analysts reckon the calculus of factors that weigh on Fed interest rate decisions is more complex now than ever before. The Fed must not only contend with high inflation, stubborn unemployment, and the need for economic growth, but also asset prices and the balance of trade. Everyone agrees that core inflation, at 3%, is higher than it should be. However, Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Fed, clearly realizes that while a rate hike would certainly stem inflation and limit the possibility of asset bubbles forming, it would also dampen the economic growth which has become so critical to America.

Read More: Why Fed Might Keep Rates on Hold

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How does public debt affect currencies?

Oct. 19th 2006

By now, we all know that in the short run, interest rates and currency valuations are often correlated. In the long term, however, interest rate parity dictates that a country’s currency should move in the opposite direction as its domestic interest rates, in order to guarantee that investors in different countries receive comparable returns. This is consistent with financial economics, in that higher-yielding securities tend to elicit less demand, which means that the corresponding currencies sag due to insufficient capital inflows. Now, let’s apply this theory to the recent downgrade of Italy’s public debt. This downgrade will drive Italian interest rates higher as risk-averse investors flee Italy in search of safer investments. (Bond prices and interest rates move in opposite directions) The resulting capital outflows would cause the Italian currency (if it still existed) to depreciate. Fortunately for Italy, the capital outflows it suffers will be spread across the entire Euro-zone, and the net effect on the Euro will be negligible.

Read More: Euro shrugs off Italy downgrades

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

UK inflation data buoys Pound

Oct. 17th 2006

Traders bullish on the British Pound have been waiting anxiously for economic data to be released that would provide an impetus for the Central Bank of Britain to raise interest rates. On Tuesday, they got their wish, as a flurry of data revealed British price levels are slowly creeping up. Despite sagging energy prices, core inflation is running at an annualized rate of 2.4%, and retail sales are up nearly 4% in 2006. The new consensus is for the UK Bank to raise interest rates by 25 basis points at its next meeting, which is scheduled for November. The Financial Times reports:

By mid-afternoon in New York, the pound was 0.5 per cent higher at a one-week high of $1.8700 against the dollar and up 0.4 per cent to £0.6707 against the euro.

Read More: Inflation Figures Boost Sterling

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

US trade deficit widens further

Oct. 14th 2006

The most recent US trade statistics indicate a record trade deficit, at $70 Billion per month and growing. It bears mentioning that $22 Billion of that deficit is with China, alone. At the current rate of growth, the deficit will likely cross the symbolic $1 Trillion dollar barrier in the next few years. Despite this devastating development, the USD hardly budged in forex markets, which suggests that traders remain unfazed in their belief that foreigners will continue to finance the deficit, regardless of how large it grows. However, the current USD valuation runs contrary to the one of the most fundamental laws of classical economics: purchasing power parity. While traders may believe that they can indefinitely forestall the collapse of the USD, they are only making it more likely that a “hard landing” will take place.

Read More: Dollar holds up despite record US trade deficit

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

EU economy shows signs of life

Oct. 11th 2006

When Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank (ECB), threatened “vigilance” against inflation last month, markets braced for what they believed would be several consecutive rate hikes. Recently, however, inflation seems to have largely disappeared, thanks to a leveling off of commodity prices. In the eyes of Euro bulls, this trend has been offset by a spate of positive economic indicators, which suggest the EU economy is as strong as it has been in over five years. Economists are now projecting growth of 2.5% for the EU area this year, with productivity increasing and unemployment declining. The result should be higher interest rates and a proportionately stronger Euro. The Economist reports:

In the long run, theory suggests that higher growth, other things equal, should mean higher interest rates for a given rate of inflation.

Read More: The euro area’s economy

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

ECB lowers rate hike expectations

Sep. 26th 2006

Since reaching a one-year high over the summer, the Euro has been punished in forex markets, due primarily to a less favorable outlook for ECB rate hikes. Previously, analysts were expecting the ECB to raise rates three to four more times, raising the base rate to 4%. Now, however, analysts have revised their models to reflect one to two rate hikes. Forecasts for the Euro have been adjusted proportionately to undo the narrowing of interest rate differentials that Euro appreciation had been predicated on. The Daily News reports:

Steve Pearson at HBOS said the scaling back in rate hike predictions is probably a reaction to the drop in oil prices which should in turn drag euro zone inflation well below the European Central Bank’s 2 pct target rate.

Read More: Euro continues lower as investors rethink ECB rate hike prospects

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

US trade imbalance to eat into GDP

Sep. 12th 2006

The US Bureau of Economic Statistics today released its monthly report on America’s trade balance, and the numbers were not pretty. The monthly current account deficit has reached a new high, at $68 Billion, attributed primarily to soaring commodity prices. As the trade balance (exports minus imports) represents one of the components of production, economists are now revising their GDP growth estimates downward to reflect this latest development. The Federal Reserve Bank would love to see the USD depreciate in order to stem the balance, but it may have to wait for interest rates to narrow further before it sees its wish fulfilled.

Read More: Dollar survives knee-jerk selling after record US trade deficit

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

Inflation may drive UK rate hike

Sep. 11th 2006

The UK Pound has stood in virtual lockstep with the Euro, as both currencies have steadily appreciated against the USD. The UK Pound is poised to breakout, however, due to relatively high inflation. Inflation, in and of itself, would theoretically be expected to erode purchasing power and thus lead to currency depreciation. In this case, the opposite will likely obtain, as the byproduct of inflation will likely be a rate hike by the UK Central Bank to keep pace with price levels. The move will bring the short-term UK rate to 5%, just below the US Federal Funds Rate. AFX News reports:

”With consumer price inflation unexpectedly moving back up in August and core inflation rising, another interest rate hike in November remains very much on the cards.”

Read More: Pound gets lift from stubbornly high UK inflation

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ECB rate hikes appear uncertain

Sep. 1st 2006

Speculation has been building in forex markets over whether the European Central Bank (ECB) will raise interest rates at this week’s meeting. Previously, the consensus among traders was that the ECB would continue to tighten through the end of this year in order to keep pace with inflation. Since then, however, new data has been released, indicating that the European economies may have already peaked. Germany’s economy, for example, is now predicted to expand by less than 2% this year. Combined with moderating inflation, these new numbers indicate that another rate hike may not yet be needed. As a result, the narrowing interest rate differentials that USD bulls were fearing will not likely be realized for a few more months. Dow Jones News reports:

“There has been little indication that the central bank is prepared to step up the pace of its interest rate hikes and the likely timing for the next move is the meeting Oct. 5, with a further one in December leaving interest rates at 3.5% by year-end.”

Read More: ECB Unlikely To Hold Surprises For Euro

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

Inflation concerns buoys USD

Aug. 29th 2006

The last few months have witnessed a spate of bad news surrounding the USD. First, quarterly GDP data indicated the US might already have entered a period of recession, due in part to a slowing housing market. Then, the Federal Reserve Bank announced that it was halting its interest rate hikes, after raising rates 17 consecutive times. Today, monthly inflation data revealed prices are growing faster than most economists had predicted, at an annualized rate of 5.5%. The sudden jump in inflation is being attributed to you guessed it- soaring energy costs. While economists would argue inflation is bad for the USD because it erodes the currency’s real value, many traders reacted positively to the news because they believe it might drive the Fed to hike rates further. AFX News reports:

“The Fed has been focused on the consumers’ perceptions of inflation of late and this may set off some alarm bells among the FOMC hawks.”

Read More: Dollar edges up along with US inflation expectations

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Global economy might be hurt by US

Aug. 25th 2006

For many decades, it was an accepted truth that the fate of the global economy depended largely on the state of the US economy. Over the last few years, however, this link has gradually eroded and many economists now believe the global economy can expand even when the US is in recession. As it becomes more apparent that the US economy is peaking, this belief will soon be put to the test. US housing data, which is closely followed by economists because of the important role it plays in the US economy, indicates that the real estate market is beginning to recede. If emerging markets-which are most dependent on the US as an export market- are able to cushion their economies from the looming US recession, their currencies will be the first to gain. AFX News reports:

Major currencies were stuck in narrow ranges against each other amid concerns about the prospect of a slowdown in the US spilling over to affect growth elsewhere in the world dampening sentiment all around.

Read More: Major currencies rangebound amid worries about slowing growth outlook

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CPI validates Bernanke

Aug. 16th 2006

Last week, Ben Bernanke, Chairman of America’s Federal Reserve Bank, announced that rates would be left unchanged due to slowing economic growth. USD bulls cringed at the possibility that the Fed was done finished hiking rates. Unfortunately for them, Mr. Bernanke’s assessment was born out by CPI data, released today, which revealed growth in prices is indeed slowing. In fact, the monthly change in inflation was only .2%, the smallest increase in almost half a year. Yields on US debt instruments, including Treasury securities, fell across the board- bad news for traders who are hoping foreigners will continue to finance the US trade deficit. Bloomberg News reports:

The Fed is now done raising rates and will be cutting them next year, said Andrew Balls, a global strategist at Pacific Investment Management Co.

Read More: U.S. Economy: Slowing Inflation Validates Bernanke

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

USD ambivalent towards economic data

Jul. 29th 2006

A slew of economic data was released yesterday, each with the potential to exert pressure on the USD. Traders and economists were eyeing the data closely, in order to gauge the likelihood of a Fed rate hike next month. The first two pieces of data to be released were new home sales and durable goods orders, both of which came in below analysts’ expectations. Quarterly GDP data was next to be released, indicating the US economy has slowed considerably since last quarter, when GDP grew at an astounding 5.3%. The new consensus is that inflation appears to be easing, and hence, the likelihood of another quick rate hike is waning. It seems traders have been bracing for the end of monetary tightening for quite some time, because the net effect of the economic data on the USD was neutral. The Star Tribune reports:

The uncertainty has caused volatility in the markets, although the dollar has remained in very tight ranges with traders reluctant to push currencies in any one direction without further guidance from the Fed.

Read More: Dollar Little Changed

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

AEI examines US current account balance

Jul. 27th 2006

In a recent white paper, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a think-tank with a conservative bend, examined the sustainability of the US current account deficit. The AEI focused its analysis on the net savings and investment side of the account balance equation in its attempt to ascertain the factors that influence capital flows. They concluded that the deficit is ultimately sustainable because of the variety of “wealth storage” opportunities available in the US. In other words, foreigners will continue to park their savings in US-denominated assets because of the inherent liquidity, diversity, and stability afforded by such assets. Further, the AEI argues that while high oil prices have driven vast increases in the value of oil imports, the net effect on the US current account balances may be positive because oil exporters often immediately turn around and reinvest oil profits in US securities. The AEI reports:

Today, the real trade-weighted dollar is virtually at its average level for the past sixteen years and is slightly stronger than it was in 1991, when the U.S. current account deficit stood virtually at zero.

Read More: America’s External Balances

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Bernanke is vague about interest rates

Jul. 25th 2006

In the days leading up to Ben Bernake’s semi-annual testimony before Congress, financial markets ratcheted up their expectations of an August rate hike to 90%, signaling that it was nearly certain to happen. After Bernanke’s testimony, the expectation of an August rate hike-proxied by interest rate futures-declined sharply. Now, investors have two conflicting sources on which to predicate their interest rate expectations: Bernanke, himself, and actual inflation data. Depending on which products and services are included in the calculation, inflation is hovering between 2.5% and 4%, which is higher than many economists would like to see. Meanwhile, Bernanke has indicated that he is essentially unconcerned with current inflation levels, and is not in any hurry to raise rates, which is bad news for dollar bulls. The Economist reports:

If the economy is slowing only modestly, as his words suggested, his relaxed attitude to inflation seems odd, especially after recent months’ inflation figures.

Read More: Making Sense of Bernanke

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

Ifo Data Stronger than Expected

May. 24th 2006

The latest Ifo survey released earlier today showed only a slight dip in German business expectations. The index dropped from its 15-year high 105.9 in April to 105.6 in May, much better than most had expected. While the Ifo may slip more in the coming months, a sharp dropoff is unlikely, as most believe the German economy should gain momentum later in the year. Forbes reports:

‘The smaller than expected drop in the index will help the euro to sustain its gains and will do little to dissuade many in the market who look for the ECB to hike by 50 basis points next month,’ said Mitul Kotecha.

Read more: Euro remains firm after strong Ifo data; market awaits US data

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Economic Indicators, Euro | 1 Comment »

Foreigners continue to purchase US assets

Apr. 20th 2006

One of the most fundamental principles of macroeconomics dictates a nation’s currency should depreciate when its current account balance is negative, in order to induce foreigners to buy its products and services. What happens when foreigners substitute their purchase of goods and services for stocks and bonds? This is precisely the question that economists and currency traders have been asking themselves for years, as the US current account deficit has ballooned while foreigners continued to purchase American assets. According to the most recent data, foreigners are on pace to buy nearly $1 trillion of American debt and equity this year. This number has remained fairly constant and suggests the USD will remain buoyant until demand for US assets declines.

Read More: Foreigners Flock to U.S. Securities

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US trade data is pleasant surprise

Apr. 12th 2006

As far as currency traders are concerned, trade data is the most important in the spectrum of economic indicators. Economic theory suggests a nation’s currency should appreciate when its balance of trade is positive, and vice versa. Accordingly, when the monthly report on US trade data revealed a decline in the US current account deficit, dollar bulls rejoiced. In fact, the deficit narrowed by 4.1%, its largest drop in several months. However, pessimists are predicting that next month’s data will reveal a sharp expansion in the deficit, in order to compensate for this month. AFX News Limited reports:

For the long term, many analysts think structural considerations will become more of a concern to currency markets especially as the US Federal Reserve is expected to call a halt to its rate hike cycle by the summer.

Read More: Dollar wins brief respite from better than expected US trade data

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Laws of Economics may soon catch up with Dollar

Apr. 7th 2006

This year, the US current account deficit is projected to reach $800 Billion, an astounding 7% of GDP. If current trends continue, the deficit will jump to 13% of GDP by the end of the decade. Moreover, this year will probably mark the first ever that the net US return on foreign investment will be less than the money earned by foreigners on US investments. For this trend to be reversed will require a massive depreciation in the value of the USD. Unfortunately the US is tightening monetary policy at a faster rate than the rest of the developed world, which renders such a reversal unlikely. The Economist reports:

Not only is the yen relatively weak in nominal terms, but falling prices in Japan have made it even more competitive.

Read More: The Yen also Rises

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Economic Indicators, Japanese Yen, US Dollar | 2 Comments »

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