Thursday, September 4, 2008

Bob's Currency Focus

The dollar’s relentless rally continues unabated, sending the euro to a 2008 low on Thursday of 1.4327. This happened after the ECB’s ‘no bias’ monetary policy statement when the Governing Council voted to hold rates steady. The market did go after the euro after that event believing the ECB will be forced to cut rates sooner rather than later but the dollar gained ground against all currencies, excluding the yen, after the IS reported that the US Services Sector expanded in August, with the business PMI coming in at 50.6, moderately above the 49.0 expected. Global stocks have tanked today, but the dollar continues to benefit from an inflow of safe haven flows and today it registered its highest exchange rate of the year against many currencies. The dollar and the yen seem to be the only game in town right now with investors reluctant to load bets on European or commodity currencies. Friday will offer another litmus test for the US economy when the nonfarm payrolls report is released. The omens don’t look good however, after Thursday’s initial jobless claims numbers came in at the worst level in 5 years, while both the ISM services and manufacturing reports record contractions in employment during August. It may well be a case of damage limitation and if the figure is something better than -50,000, then the dollar should not be penalised. The euro is oversold, but with support at 1.4365 taken out on Thursday, there seems little to stop the pair quickly descending to test the 1.40 level. Momentum could take the dollar there over the next week. Caution is needed however as the dollar has now registered a 10% gain against the euro in little more than 6 weeks, while the chance of a US interest rate hike seems more distant now than it did back in July. This dollar rally is not supported by any major shift in the rate outlook, which would tend to suggest it is unjustified and over-extended. Another point worth noting is that the positive economic data seen recently out of the US is nearly exclusively down to a sizeable upturn in exports, but in the past month alone the dollar has wiped out all of its losses for the year and subsequently its competitive advantage in the export market. Be warned! This dollar run is not sustainable, even if the greenback continues to make gains in the short run.

The nightmare continues for sterling and at one stage today the pound was down 23 cents on the price it was trading at on August 1st. The sell-off is extreme and it is not just a dollar phenomenon because sterling is also trading at a record low against the euro and a multi-year low against the yen. The Bank of England reneged on its duty today by pressing the mute button after they voted to keep interest rates unchanged. It beggars belief that the MPC did not see fit to offer some sort of statement to address the turbulence that has been unleashed in UK financial markets at a time when the Chancellor of the Exchequer states the economy is in the worst economic downturn for 60 years. We will have to wait 2 weeks to get an insight into the MPC’s thinking but given the Bank of England’s lack of foresight and indifference to the sort of creative monetary policy adopted by the Fed, much of the blame for sterling’s sudden collapse can be laid squarely at the door of the MPC. Sterling has had only one meaningful upside day since August 1st last and a depreciation of this magnitude is almost unprecedented, for the currency of a major developing economy. The technical indicators are nearly off the chart, so extreme is the sell off in the pound. One bright spark came today when the pound did at least manage to push the euro back to the 81 pence handle, but that is scant consolation for pound supporters that see GBP/USD record new lows on an almost daily basis. Cable has to rise above 1.80 before it is safe to buy. Another weak close today could se it hit 1.75 before the next shot at a recovery.

Bob B - Sep 4