Since I wrote my last post on the US dollar a week ago, US dollar under pressure, the slide in the dollar has accelerated against most currencies. Rather than being driven by an improvement in risk appetite however, it appears that the dollar is being hit by a major shift in sentiment. Indeed currency market dynamics appear be changing rapidly.
In particular, there has been a major breakdown in the relationship between the dollar and equity markets, suggesting that the influence of risk on FX markets is waning. For example, rather than rallying on the back of weaker equity markets over recent days, dollar weakness has actually intensified.
More likely this is becoming a pure and clear slide in sentiment for the dollar. There was some indication of this from the latest CFTC IMM Commitment of traders’ report which is a good gauge to speculative market positioning, showing that net dollar positioning has become negative for the first time in several months.
More evidence of this is the fact that the dollar / yen exchange rate has fallen even as risk appetite has improved. This is at odds with the usual relationship between the Japanese yen and risk appetite. The yen benefited the most from higher risk aversion since the crisis began, strengthening sharply against many currencies. As risk appetite improves and equity markets rally the yen would be expected to weaken the most as risk appetite improves.
I had looked for dollar weakness to accelerate into the second half of 2009 but against some currencies the drop in the dollar has come earlier than anticipated. I also thought that the dollar may stand a chance at a bit of a recovery in the near term if equity markets slipped and risk aversion increased. I was wrong about this. Despite the drop in equities over recent days the USD has also lost ground. Nor has the USD benefited from higher bond yields in the US.
The evidence is clear; USD bearishness is becoming more entrenched and the likelihood of a risk related rebound is becoming more remote even as risk aversion picks up once again. There appears to be a general shift away from US assets in general particularly Treasuries and most likely by foreign official investors who appear to be accelerating their diversification away from the dollar over recent weeks.
The importance of foreign buying of US Treasuries should not be underestimated in terms of its influence on the USD. Foreign purchases of US Treasuries made up 77% of total foreign buying of US securities in 2008. If there is a growing chance of a downgrade to the US’s AAA credit rating in the wake of a budget deficit that will be around $1.85 trillion this year and a rising debt/GDP ratio, the drop in the dollar seen so far may prove to be small compared to downside risks in the months ahead.