The Federal Reserve’s decision not to begin tapering off its monthly $85 billion in purchases of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities sent the dollar even lower against most global currencies. Today, September 19, the Dollar Index fell to a seven-month low. The dollar fell against the currencies of most U.S. trading partners—except Japan. And it looks like the dollar will stay under pressure for at least the next few sessions.
The big question is how long this trend lasts. If you think it will run for a while, then you want to join in on the rally in emerging market stocks that has accompanied the rally in emerging market currencies such as the rupee and real. If you think the run is getting a little over-extended—the euro is, after all at levels against the dollar that have marked resistance in the past BUT and it has recently broken above resistance at $1.345 to close today above $1.35—then this is a time to take some profits.
A lot will depend, in my opinion, on how big a scare Washington politics throws into global financial markets. I can’t imagine overseas investors rushing to move into dollars in the face of rhetoric threatening a government shutdown and a default on U.S. debt. I’d say current trends could hold for a couple of weeks yet, but I wouldn’t be rushing to add new positions that depend on dollar weakness right here
The one currency that is running against the weak dollar tide is the Japanese yen. The yen initially climbed on the Fed’s no taper decision—rising to 97.75 on the news—but then fell all the way back to 99 yen to the dollar and finished today at 99.42. (Remember that since the yen is quoted in yen to the dollar, a higher number is a sign of a weak yen and a smaller number means the yen is getting stronger.) The thinking seems to be that the recent Japanese trade deficit will push the Bank of Japan to further weaken the yen in order to boost Japanese exports. I continue to think that the yen will finish 2013 at weaker levels than current trading and that leads me to continue to hold positions in Japanese stocks such as Toyota Motor (TM) and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MTU). Both stocks are members of my Jubak’s Picks portfolio http://jubakpicks.com/the-jubak-picks/
Full disclosure: I don’t own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this post in my personal portfolio. When in 2010 I started the mutual fund I manage, Jubak Global Equity Fund http://jubakfund.com/ , I liquidated all my individual stock holdings and put the money into the fund. The fund did own shares of both Mitsubishi UFJ Financial and Toyota Motor as of the end of June. For a complete list of the fund’s holdings as of the end of June see the fund’s portfolio at http://jubakfund.com/about-the-fund/holdings/
Do you know the facts of life of the global currency market right now?
Is the U.S. dollar headed up or down over the next few weeks? How about the Japanese yen? Is the Indian rupee and the Turkish lira and the South African rand headed into a crisis? How about the Brazilian real?
I’m asking because right now global cash flows—into some developed markets and out of most emerging markets—are driving the prices of global stocks and bonds. The effects of those cash flows are being expressed in the prices of currencies such as the dollar and the real. The movements of those currencies are both the expression of those cash flows—the way that they’re being turned into rallies and corrections in the financial markets—and, increasingly, the fundamental driver for price movements in those markets as the ups and downs of currencies cause changes in monetary policies in countries such as Brazil and India. And finally, if you’re trying to figure out where the bottom is for Asia’s emerging markets—which entered official bear market territory this past week when the iShares MSCI South East Asia Index fell to a 21% drop from the peak on May 8—I think understanding the likely currency moves over the next quarter or two is a key. (That index tracks the markets in Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia.
So here’s my take on what you need to know about global currencies in 10 easy trends.
- In the short run the U.S. dollar is likely to get stronger against most global currencies. That’s because the gradual end of the Federal Reserve’s program to purchase $85 billion a month in Treasuries and mortgage-backed assets—possibly as early as the Federal Open Market Committee’s September 18 meeting–will push U.S interest rates at least slightly higher. With the rest of the developed world’s central banks still in stimulus mode (Japan) or in do-nothing mode (Europe), that means traders and investors looking for higher yields will turn to buying dollar denominated assets.
- We really don’t know how long the “short run” might be. It’s clear that Japan isn’t about to reverse its weak yen policy any time soon and the European Central Bank has revised its historic tendency to privilege low inflation above economic growth to the extent of keeping interest rates at historic lows for a long period of time as the EuroZone struggles to escape recession or near recession. But a sufficiently chaotic U.S. political season—one that saw a budget impasse and a credible threat of default resulting from a failure to raise the debt ceiling–could make the dollar seem decidedly less attractive as early as October.
- A strong dollar is a negative for commodities priced in dollars—such as oil—and for precious metals. Extreme fear and turmoil, such as that set off by the threat of U.S.-led military intervention in Syria can overwhelm the effects of a strong dollar in the short run. Gold was up 19% from its June low as of August 29 to $1409.80, but I think gold along with other physical commodities will have a hard time building a sustained rally as long as the U.S. dollar keeps moving up and as long as global growth remains slow enough to remove all fears of inflation. The pressure that a strong dollar puts on commodity prices plus weak commodity prices due to slow demand from China and other developing economies has hit commodity currencies hard. For example, the Australia dollar traded near 89 cents on August 28. That’s down from $1.05 in April.
- A strong dollar isn’t good for emerging market financial assets. In 2012 as the U.S. Federal Reserve expanded its balance sheet, $1.2 billion flowed into emerging financial markets. In 2013 that cash flow has reversed.
- The countries, currencies and financial markets hardest hit by the strong dollar are those running the biggest current accounts deficits. Economies such as India, Indonesia, and Turkey need to attract overseas cash in order to balance those deficits. Turkey, for example, needs to attract $5 billion a month.
- A falling currency can set off a vicious cycle in a current account deficit country. A falling currency makes it harder to attract the cash needed to balance a current account deficit. And worries over a country’s inability to cover its deficit can lead to a further retreat in the currency as investors and traders pull money out of assets that are worth less in dollar terms day by day.
- A stronger dollar and weaker local currencies works to make trade deficits higher in developing economies. For example, India imports about 80% of its fuel. A climb in the dollar price of benchmark Brent crude makes it more expensive to pay India’s fuel bill in rupee. India’s oil imports averaged $14.2 billion a month in the first seven months of 2013, up from $13.9 billion a month in the same period a year earlier. The same dynamic savages companies in emerging economies that collect revenues in local currencies but that have to pay costs in dollars. About 56% of the costs at Brazil’s airlines, for example, are denominated in dollars, mostly for jet fuel. If, as in the case of India, a relatively weak manufacturing sector makes it hard to take advantage of a cheaper currency to increase exports, a falling currency is a lose/lose proposition
- The potential responses by central banks to falling currencies all have nasty side effects. Central banks can intervene by spending down foreign exchange reserves to buy local currencies. That can actually weaken a local currency if the markets believe that the central bank doesn’t have the foreign exchange reserves or the policy will to spend enough to reverse the market trend. That’s the market’s take to date on interventions by India, Indonesia, and Turkey. Another potential response is to defend a currency by raising domestic benchmark interest rates. That has a potential toxic side effect: Higher interest rates slow rates of economic growth. That seems to be happening now in Brazil
- All this has made emerging market stocks and bonds cheaper, but also has led investors and traders to question if these markets are cheap enough yet. For example, the Indian rupee is down 20.1% n 2013 on its way to its worst loss since the 1991 balance of payments crisis forced the government to sell gold to pay for imports. But even at 68.845 rupees to the U.S. dollar on August 28, that may not be a bottom. Speculation now is that the currency will have to sink to at least 70 rupees to the dollar before this crisis is over. No one, right now though, is willing to bet very heavily that 70 rupees to the dollar will make a bottom
- Putting in a bottom in emerging markets in general will probably start with putting in a bottom in individual economies with larger foreign exchange reserves and that look closer to seeing economic growth move from slowing to expanding. Brazil is a strong candidate for an early turn on sufficient foreign exchange reserves, and a central bank that has been early to raise interest rates. But growth in Brazil is still anemic. Mexico is another early recovery candidate, especially if the government’s efforts to increase foreign investment in the country’s oil industry look like they will result in a significant increase in production at Pemex, the national oil company. An overall recovery in emerging markets, however, is probably a 2014 event and will depend on data showing a believable recovery in China’s rate of economic growth. Or at least confidence that growth in China isn’t about to fall much further. From that perspective improved manufacturing data in the August Purchasing Managers Index for China is a very positive step.
Full disclosure: I don’t own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this post in my personal portfolio. When in 2010 I started the mutual fund I manage, Jubak Global Equity Fund http://jubakfund.com/ , I liquidated all my individual stock holdings and put the money into the fund. The fund did not own shares of any stock mentioned in this post as of the end of June. For a complete list of the fund’s holdings as of the end of June see the fund’s portfolio at http://jubakfund.com/about-the-fund/holdings/
It puzzles a lot of you I know from your emails and your posts on my sites. Frankly, it puzzles me. And I’d say that anyone who says this doesn’t puzzle them has more ego than sense.
The world’s central banks have flooded the global financial markets with cash—and they’re still hooking up more and bigger hoses. The Bank of Japan alone now promises to add $80 billion to the global money supply each month.
And yet there’s no inflation. There’s no sign of inflation. Investors aren’t afraid of inflation. And inflation hedges such as gold are sinking like a stone.
Does this make any sense?
You can find a potential key to unlocking this puzzle in The Vapors 1980 hit “I’m turning Japanese I really think so.”
Let’s start by trying to understand the logic of the Japanese market at the moment. Read more
Friday’s market action on the very weak U.S. jobs number—just 88,000 jobs created in March—put worries about U.S. economic growth on center stage.
At least in the short term.
What with earnings season highlighting companies’ growth for the first quarter and projected growth for the second quarter, and what with the Commerce Department set to release retail sales figures for March on April 12, I think it will be easy for the market to get caught up in growth worries and for the bulk of investors to start behaving as if growth were the most important issue facing the market.
Don’t go with the crowd. Recent numbers casting doubt on U.S. growth rates shouldn’t be ignored, but they haven’t changed the basic forces driving global financial markets.
This is still the central banks’ game. And currencies—the relative price of the dollar, the euro, and the yen—are still the most important mechanism for transmitting messages from the central bank to the markets.
If I’m right and this remains the central banks’ game, I’m looking for a strengthening dollar (and a weakening yen and euro) to continue to put downward pressure on the price of oil, copper and other commodities—and to continue the rout in gold.
U.S. economic growth does figure into this equation since weaker than expected U.S. growth will temper the boost that the dollar might otherwise deliver to Japanese and U.S. equities. Decent growth in the U.S. economy is likely to give the current rally more room to run.
But growth is really a sidebar to the main story.
Which isn’t to say that the story hasn’t changed at all. Read more
And in the two major fronts in the world’s currency wars: The Japanese yen resumes its decline as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe looks close to making a choice for the new head of the Bank of Japan, and the British pound picks up speed in its drop as the government indicates that it’s not backing off from its program of economic austerity even after Moody’s Investors Service downgraded the country’s credit rating to AA from AAA last week.
Japanese stocks staged a monster rally overnight with the Nikkei 225 index climbing 2.43% as news reports pointed to Haruhiko Kuroda as Prime Minister Abe’s choice to run Japan’s central bank. Kuroda is known as a staunch opponent of deflation so he’s likely to be a pedal to the metal proponent of weakening the yen in order to push domestic inflation toward the top of the Bank of Japan’s new inflation target band of 1% to 2%. Kuroda was in charge of the foreign exchange portfolio at the Ministry of Finance from 1999 to 2003 before leaving to head the Asian Development Bank. He’s known as a very able international financial diplomat and the thinking on Tokyo markets is that he will be able to sell Japan’s program to weaken the yen to the country’s international trading partners with relatively less push back. The Nikkei index rose pretty much across the board with 209 of 225 stocks up and only 10 down. The yen fell another 0.14% against the U.S. dollar to 93.29.
Damage to London stocks has been relatively minor this morning in reaction to Moody’s downgrade of the United Kingdom to AA and continued bad news on economic growth. The FTSE 100 Index is actually up slightly with a 0.45% advance. With so many companies listed in London actually focused on the global economy that relatively strong performance for London equities isn’t too surprising. For real damage you have to look to the pound, which is down 0.26% today against the dollar and looks likely to hit a two-and-a-half year low against the U.S. dollar.
That has produced talk that the pound could fall to parity with the euro. (The pound is now at 1.14 euros.) The pound traded at 1.02 euros at the end of 2008. Ladbrokes, the big betting house, is giving 6/4 odds that the pound will fall to parity with the euro in 2013. Ladbrokes is also giving 4/1 odds that the pound will reach parity with the U.S. dollar in 2013. That would require a huge drop since the pound now trades at $1.51. But you know what they say…Where there’s odds, there’s fire.