Monday, September 22, 2008

Bob's Currency Focus - Sep 22

What does the US bailout fund mean for currency markets?

Since Friday’s US announcement of an extraordinary fund to allow financial institutions to cash in bad debts in exchange for taxpayer’s money, the dollar has got it on the chin. The creation of a help-out fund totalling $700 billion comes on top of a government bailout of AIG, which cost a further $85 billion earlier last week. As the US already has a vast current account and budget deficit, the required capital can only be provided through the issuance of government debt and the flooding of the market with dollars. This is not good for the dollar in the long run, because ultimately the more dollars on the market, the less they are worth individually. Even short term sentiment is against the dollar, despite the fact there is a global economic slowdown and investors across the world have been running for cover. Some analysts believe the final bill for the ‘bailout’ will more likely be closer to $2 trillion, an even worse prospect for the dollar. What the dollar does have going for it is the fact that there appears to be little to justify much faith in many of the other major currencies at the moment and because of this, ongoing volatility looks likely while investors weigh up the pros and cons of holding dollars versus other major currencies. The dollar’s strong Rally through July was fuelled by the repatriation of funds back to the US, rather than currency traders laying long positions on the dollar, so if these funds now dry up, given the dollar’s poor yield and rate outlook the currency will struggle and should be sold on any significant rallies. The euro should be able to make it back to 1.50 and only a firm indication of lower interest rates from the ECB is likely to terminally damage the single currency. There is the very real danger that a new commodity price bubble could form over the next couple of months, if the dollar declines too sharply. Speculators willingness to pour back into commodities en masse was evident again late last week, when oil and gold staged massive bull rallies. While Central Banks worldwide have thrown billions at the financial markets in an attempt to calm them, the massive and sudden injection of liquidity could come back to haunt Central Banks in the form of rising inflation and a return to a stagflation environment, which will temporarily put a stop to any consideration of easing in monetary policy. The commodity currencies should outperform in the coming weeks.

The market is less concerned about economic data at present while traders look more towards safe havens while risk aversion and general market uncertainty persists. The dollar has been abandoned as a safe haven as investors don’t like the thought of an additional $700 billion + being printed and circulated to protect the US banking system. The euro is trading almost 5 cents above the lows from last Friday as currency traders see the euro area financial system as much more secure than that in the US while the relatively flat current account balance in the euro area immediately looks a far more attractive bet than the ballooning one in the US. EUR/USD sold off by 21.5 cents from early July to the middle of September and there is every reason to believe that a 50% retracement of that move could now be underway. That would see the euro rise to 1.4950 and indeed a return to above 1.50 is possible, especially if the deterioration in euro area economic data does not accelerate. Currency markets are a law unto themselves at the moment and one thing we can be certain of is that uncertainty itself will continue to prevail, so big swings will make short-stop trading strategies virtually redundant. Wednesday’s German Ifo survey report is the next economic event that could potentially unhinge the euro. The sharp deterioration in that survey’s index last month caused a major euro sell-off.

Sterling has gained 5 cents against the dollar since last Friday morning, something of a remarkable feat when one takes into consideration the litany of bad economic data that continues to stream out of the UK. Last week’s surprise increase in retail sales offered some level of comfort but the accuracy and veracity of the retail sales figures have come in for much criticism over recent months and this number may simply be another blip in the series. The UK, along with the US, has a worrying current account deficit and with the British economy seemingly in freefall, there is little reason to buy the pound on fundamental grounds. The pound’s only real chance of appreciation is if risk tolerance levels rise further, thus attracting additional funds into the high-yielding currencies like sterling. Cable should struggle to make it past 1.85, but if the dollar comes under increased selling pressure because of market concerns over the US financing plans, cable could return to 1.90, before the market is forced to take stock of its value once again. If the dollar manages to stage a broader rally across all markets, then cable could quickly fall back to 1.7850 over the next week.

The yen got hammered last Friday as a surge in global stocks triggered a return to risk tolerance and a resumption of the carry trade. The Japanese currency has lost 10% against both the Aussie and New Zealand dollars in the past week, while it has also ceded major ground to the euro and the pound. The US dollar is the only currency against which it is trading higher against than at the start of last week. The yen will be undermined by the ban on short selling of financial stocks which will limit the downside for global stocks and hence prevent the sort of extreme bouts of risk aversion that were so evident all last week. However, the speed with which traders have returned to carry trades looks to be over-ambitious and with stock markets trading lower thus far on Monday, we could see a forced scaling back of these positions overnight which should help the yen claw back some ground. How markets respond to the US bailout plan for banks will be pivotal for determining direction over the next week, so the reaction of US stock markets needs to be watched very closely in the coming days. Economic data will not have any major significance this week.

The loonie has broken below key resistance of 103.71 on Monday, meaning the currency has now appreciated by 4 cents against the greenback in the past 3 sessions. Nothing has fundamentally changed in the Canadian economy, but a surge in oil prices over the last few sessions aligned with renewed appetite for risk has sparked a recovery in the Canadian currency. The loonie has been carried along on the wave that has seen a very sharp sell-off of the US dollar on Monday. Canada’s healthy current account balance is also attracting investors as markets look to a huge worsening of the US debt situation with the proposal of a $700 bailout package for US banks. Volatility is likely to remain and while the loonie does now have a chance to send the greenback back as far as 1.02, any sharp up-tick in risk aversion will work against it and could see USD/CAD jump back to 1.07 by the end of the week.

Bob B - Sep 22