Dollar Debasement Continues

My finger has not exactly been on the pulse given that I am currently on leave and trying to avoid spending much time looking at markets but like an addict it is difficult to stay away. So here are some thoughts on the current state of affairs.

The dollar remains in trouble and not much has changed on this front. It’s hard to believe that the Fed FOMC meeting will change much from this perspective.

The bottom line is that the debasement of the dollar continues as the Fed’s printing press remains in full swing, at least until the end June when the printing press will shut down.

Added to the dollar’s troubles is the jolt of reality given to the US administration and Congress that the country’s AAA rating should not be taken for granted. Whilst an actual credit ratings downgrade looks unlikely the US fiscal/debt situation looks precarious at best. The USD may benefit if the ratings action forces officials into action.

It’s pretty difficult to believe that the EUR is now eyeing the 1.50 handle versus the USD but that the reality. A stronger currency bodes badly for the periphery in the eurozone, making economic recovery all the more difficult. The truth is that the strengthening of the EUR is far more negative than the recent rate hike by the ECB. Nonetheless, the currency continues to float on thin air.

However, weak dollar and Fed QE means continued strong capital inflows to Asia, stronger Asian currencies and more diversification by Asian central banks as they soak up USDs via intervention and then diversify into other currencies, benefiting the likes of the EUR and AUD in particular. Unfortunately for the USD there is not much to deter this trend currently.

Another Day, Another Drop In The US Dollar.

The USD index is now close to breaching its November 2009 low around 74.17, with little sign of any turnaround in prospect. A surprise jump in weekly jobless claims to 412k (380k expected) did little to help the USD’s cause whilst higher commodity prices, and in particular energy prices played negatively.

Indeed, many USD crosses have experienced an increase in sensitivity to oil price movements over recent weeks, with the USD on the losing side when oil prices move higher. Commodity currencies including CAD and NOK are the key beneficiaries but EUR/USD is also highly correlated with the price of oil.

Various Fed comments overnight including supportive comments on the USD’s role as a reserve currency have done little to boost USD sentiment despite the generally hawkish slant to comments. A host of US data releases will keep markets busy.

The data are unlikely to deliver any strong surprises but given the growing FX attention on Fed policy, CPI data may take on more importance than usual. Our expectation of a trend like 0.2% increase in core CPI, which is unlikely to cause any consternation within the Fed, suggests that the USD will garner little support.

The ability of the EUR to withstand a torrent of bad news regarding the eurozone periphery is impressive. In particular, peripheral bond yields continue to rise especially Greek yields as expectations of debt restructuring grow. Comments from Germany’s finance minister have added to such expectations. News that the Bank of Spain approved the recapitalisation of 13 bank and that Spanish banks borrowed only EUR 44 billion last month, the lowest since Jan 2008, may have provided some relief.

However, given that markets are already relative hawkish about eurozone interest rates and given growing peripheral worries as well as overly long EUR market positioning, the upside for EUR/USD is looking increasingly restrained, with a break above technical support around 1.4580 likely to be difficult to achieve over the short-term.

AUD and NZD have registered stellar performances over recent weeks as yield attraction has come back to the fore and risk appetite has strengthened. The gains since their post Japan earthquake lows have been in the region of 7.3% and 10.5%, respectively for AUD and NZD.

The additional element of support, especially for AUD has come from central bank diversification, an increasingly important factor for both currencies. The gains in both currencies have been impressive and neither is showing signs of reversing but there are clear risks on the horizon.

One indication of such risks is the fact that market positioning is stretched especially in terms of AUD positioning, with CFTC IMM contracts registering an all time high. The move in AUD especially has been well in excess of what interest rate / yield differentials imply. Whilst I would not suggest entering into short AUD and NZD positions yet, the risks to the downside are clearly intensifying.

Financial Times Guest post: Rupee can serve as a reserve currency too

Please see below an excerpt from the Financial Times beyondbrics section in which I wrote a guest post about the Indian rupee.

Amidst the euphoria surrounding the internationalisation of China’s currency, the renminbi, attention on the Indian rupee appears to have fallen into the shadows. Admittedly China has been announcing new measures on the path to internationalisation almost on a weekly basis whilst India appears to have taken a more gradual approach, but it’s not too late for India to regain some of the limelight.

Perhaps it is surprising that the rupee is hardly talked about when discussing reserve currencies. The last BIS Triennial Survey of FX market activity revealed that the rupee accounted for 0.9 per cent (the same as the Russian rouble) of daily foreign exchange market turnover, which may seem small compared to the 84.9 per cent of turnover accounted for by the USD or 39.1 per cent by the EUR but is still ahead of many other developing currencies including China, which accounts for only 0.3 per cent of turnover. Moreover, India’s share of turnover has risen steadily from 0.1 per cent in 1998.

Read the rest at http://blogs.ft.com/beyond-brics/2011/04/14/guest-post-rupee-can-serve-as-a-reserve-currency-too/

US Dollar Facing Battle On US Debt Ceiling

President Obama, the Fed’s Beige Book and a firm reading for US retail sales provided some temporary relief for the beleaguered USD but this soon gave way to renewed pressure. Obama proposed cutting around $4 trillion from the fiscal deficit over the next 12-years, similar in size to Republican plans, but structured differently. Separately the Beige Book relatively upbeat, noting “widespread” economic gains across sectors. Finally, whilst top line retail sales were slightly softer than forecast ex-autos sales were upbeat, with upward revisions to the past month.

President Obama’s deficit reduction plans sets the stage for a fractious political battle regarding the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling. Having averted a government shut down following a late agreement between Republicans and Democrats the USD will have a much bigger challenge to face in the weeks ahead. Obama has stated his support for raising the debt ceiling but if agreement is not reached by around mid May (or July if temporary measures are introduced), the US government may effectively default.

When will the USD lose its funding currency mantle? The approach of the end of quantitative easing (QE2) by end June 2011 (assuming the Fed sticks to the plan) will be a particularly important period for the USD. Assuming that there will be no QE3 much will depend on how proactive the Fed is in reducing the size of its balance sheet. This remains unclear and judging by the variety of comments from Fed officials over recent weeks, there is plenty of debate within the Fed FOMC about the pace of balance sheet reduction.

St Louis Fed President Bullard (non-voter) maintained his hawkish stance by highlighting his preference for reducing the Fed’s balance sheet rather than hiking interest rates as a first step towards policy normalisation. There will be further clues both in terms of Fed thinking as well as inflation pressures.

Fed speakers including Duke, Kocherlakota and Liang, Plosser, Tarullo, Lacker, Baxter and Evans will give further clues. CPI inflation data will also be in focus, with headline inflation likely to be boosted by higher energy prices but core inflation likely to remain well behaved. Despite Bullard’s comments the majority of Fed officials appear to be taking a more cautious stance, suggesting that the USD will remain under pressure for a while yet.

The EUR continues to capitalise on generally weak USD sentiment despite nervousness about the details of Portugal’s bailout program. More worryingly for the EUR is ongoing speculation about Greek debt restructuring, with S&P ratings agency noting that the risk of Greek debt restructuring was almost one in three and the Zeit newspaper reporting that investors could lose around 50-70% in a restructuring. Although plans to restructure have been denied by the Greek government this has not stopped Greek bond yields from skyrocketing.

Dollar Reprieve

The US dollar has managed to gain a temporary reprieve as risk aversion increases in the wake of more aftershocks in Japan and an intensification of nuclear fears, with Japan upgrading the level of the nuclear threat. Overall though, pressure on the USD is unlikely to ease quickly given the relatively dovish Fed stance relative to other central banks.

The ECB’s policy rate hike last week highlighted its contrasting stance with the Fed, solidifying support for the EUR. However, its worth noting that markets have already priced in two more 25 basis point rate hikes in the eurozone. This suggests limited upside potential for the EUR unless the ECB becomes even more hawkish, something that seems unlikely. Given the FX market’s attention on yield and interest rate differentials, this week’s inflation releases in the US, Europe and UK as well as various Fed speakers will provide direction.

The USD may have been helped by the 11th hour US budget agreement at the end of last week, which barely avoided a government shut down. Any relief may prove to be temporary however, given that there is still major disagreement between Democrats and Republicans over medium to long term deficit reduction plans. Ultimately in the worst case scenario this may manifest itself in a failure to increase the US debt ceiling if an agreement is not reached by mid May.

Portugal will remain in the spotlight following the country’s request for an European Union bailout. This week officials from the ECB, IMF and EU will be in the country to begin discussions on the terms and size of the aid package, with estimates ranging from EUR 80-90 billion. FX markets have largely taken news of a Portugal bailout in its stride, but EUR/USD will continue to struggle close to the 1.45 level.

Australian Dollar Looking Stretched

Central bank decisions in Japan, Europe and UK will dictate FX market direction today. No surprises are expected by the Bank of Japan (BoJ) and Bank of England (BoE) leaving the European Central Bank (ECB) decision and press conference to provide the main market impetus. Although a hawkish message from ECB President Trichet is likely the market has already priced in a total of 75 basis points of tightening this year. We retain some caution about whether the EUR will be able to make further headway following the ECB meeting unless the central bank is even more hawkish than already priced in.

EUR/USD easily breached the 1.4250 resistance level and will now eye resistance around 1.4500. News that Portugal formally requested European Union (EU) aid came as no surprise whilst strong German factory orders provided further support to the EUR. The data highlights upside risks to today’s February German industrial production data. The EUR will find further support versus the USD from comments by Atlanta Fed’s Lockhart who noted that he doesn’t expect the Fed to hike interest rates by year end.

USD/JPY is now around 7.5% higher than its post earthquake lows. Japanese authorities will undoubtedly see a measure of success from their joint FX intervention. To a large degree they have been helped by a shift in relative bond yields (2-year US / Japan yield differentials have widened by close to 30 basis points since mid March, and are finally having some impact on USD/JPY as reflected in the strengthening in short-term correlations. Whilst the BoJ is unlikely to alter its policy settings today the fact that it is providing plenty of liquidity to money markets, having injected around JPY 23 trillion or about 5% of nominal GDP since the earthquake, is likely playing a role in dampening JPY demand.

AUD/USD has appreciated by close to 6% since mid March and whilst I would not recommend selling as yet I would be cautious about adding to long positions. My quantitative model based on interest rate / yield differentials, commodity prices and risk aversion reveals a major divergence between AUD/USD and its regression estimate. Clearly the AUD has benefitted from diversification flows as Asian central banks intervene and recycle intervention USDs. However, at current levels I question the value of such diversification into AUD.

Speculative AUD/USD positioning as indicated by the CFTC IMM data reveals that net long positions are verging on all time highs, suggesting plenty of scope for profit taking / position squaring in the event of a turn in sentiment. Moreover, AUD gains do not match the performance of economic data, which have been coming in worse than expected over recent weeks. Consequently the risks of a correction have increased.

Markets in limbo ahead of policy rate decisions

Markets are generally range-bound ahead of tomorrow’s Japan, Eurozone and UK interest rate decisions, as reflected in the flat performance of equity markets overnight. Risk appetite remains positive though still lower than the high levels seen during most of March. China’s interest rate hike did not change the market’s perspective, with markets reacting well.

Overnight the Fed FOMC minutes reflected a range of opinions on the timing of the end of QE2 and the Fed’s exit strategy but the majority view was to end QE2 as planned at the end of June leaving markets, with little new to digest. The USD was a little undermined by a weaker than expected US March ISM non-manufacturing survey but losses are likely to be limited.

Meanwhile there was more negative peripheral news in Europe, with Moody’s cutting Portugal’s sovereign credit ratings by one notch, with Moody’s highlighting the urgent need for financial support from the EU. Portuguese debt took a hit but eurozone markets in general including the EUR continue to take such news in their stride, with EUR/USD holding above 1.4200. Firm readings for the eurozone final services purchasing managers index (PMI) in March helped to support sentiment, outweighing the negative impact of a drop in eurozone retail sales.

GBP was a key outperformer, helped by a much stronger than expected services PMI, which helped GBP/USD breach 1.63 overnight. Today’s industrial and manufacturing production data will likely reveal firm readings too, helping GBP to consolidate its gains but the currency looks rather rich around current levels, with risks skewed to the downside.

JPY was another mover, having breached 85.00 versus the USD, with USD/JPY now some 6 big figures higher from its post earthquake lows. Japanese authorities will undoubtedly see a measure of success from their joint intervention but the reality is that the shift in bond yields (2-year US / Japan yield differentials have widened by close to 30 basis points since mid March, are finally having some impact on USD/JPY as reflected in the strengthening in short-term correlations.

EUR/USD remains resilient to negative peripheral news such as the Portugal credit ratings downgrade, with further direction from tomorrow’s European Central Bank (ECB) meeting and accompanying statement. The risk that the ECB is not as hawkish as the market has priced in holds some downside risks to EUR.

Asian currencies are holding up well though it looks as though the ADXY (Bloomberg-JP Morgan Asian currency index) may have hit a short term barrier. Range trading for EUR/USD suggests little directional influence for Asian currencies in the short-term. Nonetheless, portfolio capital inflows continue to support Asian FX with all Asian equity markets recording foreign inflows so far this month. In particular, KRW continues to outperform. Note that Korea has recorded a whopping inflow of $1.1bn in equity inflows month-to-date.

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