Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Disorderly Financial Markets

We have entered a very strange world of whiplash-like shifts in currency prices which has made trading a highly dangerous and totally unpredictable game. Over the past week we have seen record drops in many currencies against the dollar and the yen while in the past 2 days we have seen lazarus-like recoveries for the euro, sterling and all of the commodity currencies. The bounce in stock markets over the past 24 hours does not feel real and given the economic fundamentals are deteriorating further, it is also not sustainable. There have been some farcical episodes on the world’s stock markets with the German DAX gaining 11.28% on Tuesday, thanks primarily to some bizarre trading on a sole component, i.e. Volkswagon. Sterling has gained 20 yen since its lows of last Friday, while the UK currency has earned 10 cents against the dollar since yesterday morning. Add to this the Aussie dollar being up 15% against the yen in a day and the Canadian dollar up 8 cents against the dollar in the past 20 hours and you begin to see just how disorderly and ridiculous the world’s financial markets have become. It is almost laughable, except there are some big monetary exposures behind these huge swings which are proving to be very expensive for those holding them. It is simply not worth trying to trade in these conditions, unless traders are using the swings to unwind previously exposed positions. One should not be fooled into thinking that trends are reversing, they are not. The high yielding currencies in particular could get a hammering later in the week, especially against the US currency.

There is much talk about the Japanese authorities intervening in the currency markets, following a G7 meeting of finance ministers at the weekend, when the subject was discussed. We will not know until after the event if intervention has taken place, but such has been the depreciation in the yen since Tuesday morning that it may well be possible that the Bank of Japan came in and used the global stock rally as an opportunity to sell the yen. One fact is unavoidable though and that is that the yen’s recent appreciation owes nothing to speculators forcefully moving the currency, but rather it is the result of a repatriation of funds back to Japan, as investors liquidate assets which were originally taken out using the low-yielding yen as the funding currency. For this reason, intervention could prove to be useless exercise over the long run as essentially what is happening is that the yen is returning to its base value, having been grossly under-valued for years. The Bank of Japan may even move to cut rates on Thursday in an attempt to curb the currency’s appreciation but again the net result might only be some short term respite. The yen will only truly depreciate again when risk aversion levels abate and investors feel confident to once again fund risky assets in emerging markets through the low-interest yen.

Do not trade in these market conditions! If you must, use 1:1 leverage.

Bob B - Oct 29