FX sensitivities to yield differentials

A lot has been made about the hawkish language from a few Federal Reserve FOMC members over recent days and growing speculation about whether quantitative easing (QE2) will end earlier than initially planned. In turn, this has been noted as a positive factor for the USD. Undoubtedly there are a few in the Fed who are becoming more nervous about current policy settings but it is highly unlikely that the Fed will not complete its $600 billion in planned asset purchases by the end of June.

The biggest imponderable is how and when the Fed begins its exit policy and how effectively/efficiently it can be done. Whilst it is likely to be over a year before the Fed Funds rate is hiked, the USD will be sensitive to balance sheet reduction. Moreover, the way in which the Fed reduces the size of the balance will also be important given the likely active approach to liquidity withdrawal required.

For the present, it should be noted that even with the hawkish Fed rhetoric and increase in US bond yields (2 year yields have risen by close to 25bps over the last couple of weeks) the USD is actually lower versus EUR than where it was two weeks ago. The reality is that German bund yields have risen by even more than US yields ahead of the anticipated European Central Bank (ECB) rate hike on 7 April (the case for which appears to have been sealed by the above consensus 2.6% YoY reading for March eurozone CPI).

However, I would be cautious about ascribing general FX moves at present to yield / interest rate differentials given that it is only EUR crosses (including EUR/JPY, EUR/GBP, EUR/CAD, and EUR/USD) that hold a statistically significant relationship with yields. All of this implies EUR crosses look supported ahead of the upcoming ECB meeting, with EUR/USD unlikely to sustain a drop below 1.4000 ahead of the rate decision. What happens after depends on the press conference. Bearing in mind that markets have already priced in 75bps of rate hikes by the ECB it would take an even stronger tone from the ECB to push the EUR higher, something that looks unlikely


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