Getting Shorter

Amid growing market disorder
The currency north of the border
Is feeling the strain
As traders abstain
From anything but getting shorter

While US dollar bears continue to drive the bulk of the discussion, there is at least one currency bucking the trend, the Canadian dollar. A combination of increasingly negative trade rhetoric on NAFTA from the Trump administration and a slowing in economic data pushing the BOC into a more dovish stance than before has resulted in a YTD loss of more than 3% (-0.3% overnight). Consider, yesterday we discussed the yen, which has been rocking all year (+0.65% overnight) and is now nearly 7% stronger YTD. What to make of this move? I think, in fact, it is quite healthy. The first thing it demonstrates is that some currencies are trading on fundamentals, or at least market perceptions of the data. Rather than a broad based risk-on/risk-off framework, there is actual consideration given to positioning. This is a good thing. The second thing it demonstrates is that as monetary policies around the world change, market volatility is growing and not just in equities. Rather, market volatility appears to be undergoing a paradigm shift.

Arguably, since Alan Greenspan first created the “Greenspan put” in 1987, we have seen a steady decline in both volatility across markets, and if you look at the long term trend, in interest rates. While there were certainly periods of movement over the past thirty years, with volatility spikes and some higher rate moves, the trend has been quite clear. I would argue that the causality runs from lower rates to lower volatility and has been doing so during that entire period. And what is different about now? Well, interest rates have pretty clearly bottomed and are no longer in their downtrend. Rather as monetary policy around the world tightens, we are going to see more market volatility across every product. This means that hedging is going to become a more important part of the discussion for every corporate risk manager as well as every investor. Low volatility environments are conducive to passive trades, things like index funds and carry trades, where a single feature of the markets is exploited and performance is positive. But within the new paradigm, those strategies, and others that rely on low volatility are going to perform far less well. In fact, I expect that actively managing risk is going to be the only way to mitigate it for the next 5-10 years.

But I have another bone to pick with the pundits, and that is about the strength (or weakness) of the dollar at any given point in time. As I have written before, I would argue that the dollar right now is neither strong nor weak; rather it is very close to the middle of its long term trading range. Versus the euro, for example, with a historic range of 0.86 – 1.60, the dollar this morning at 1.2328 is almost exactly in the middle of the range. That certainly doesn’t sound like a weak dollar to me, nor like a strong one. But beyond that, I am keen to understand why when Mario Draghi highlights the recent strength of the euro as an issue, nobody takes exception to him trying to talk down the euro, or when the Swiss National Bank creates an unlimited intervention plan to weaken the franc, that is acceptable, but when Steve Mnuchin mentions that a weaker dollar helps the trade account, which it clearly does, that is seen as out of bounds. Every country is going to act in accordance with what they perceive is in their own best interest. In fact, if the dollar were to weaken significantly and the trade accounts improved accordingly, I would wager that there would be no talk of tariffs in the US, there would be no need.

In the end, as I wrote yesterday, policies are what drive markets, and relative monetary policy is arguably the biggest driver in the FX markets. So if the Fed continues to tighten faster than everybody else, the dollar is going to benefit. In fact, every study done shows that there are two clear policy settings that impact a currency. Loose fiscal and tight monetary policies tend to strengthen a currency, while the opposite, tight fiscal and loose monetary policies tend to weaken it. Certainly we are looking at the loosest fiscal policy in the US in decades, between the tax cuts and increased budget deficits, and we are watching the Fed lead the way toward tighter money as QE is actually ending here with the balance sheet roll-off, rather than merely being discussed as elsewhere. It all points to a stronger dollar.

Enough ranting. On the day, the dollar is broadly softer despite the weakness in the Loonie. Yen is the leading gainer, but we are seeing strength in the euro (+0.2%) and the pound (+0.2%) as well. Funnily enough, the EMG space is actually feeling pressure this morning, with things like ZAR, TRY, and almost all of LATAM falling. So while the dollar index, which is weighted toward the G10 is down, there are actually more currencies falling than rising.

Looking at the overnight data, the surprise was Eurozone inflation, which printed at a softer than expected 1.1% annualized gain in February. Once again, the absence of an inflationary pulse continues to dominate the data there highlighting my view that the ECB is not going to be nearly as aggressive as many traders believe. Meanwhile, in the US this morning we see Housing Starts (exp 1.285M) and Building Permits (1.322M) early, then IP (0.4%) and Capacity Utilization (77.7%) at 9:15 followed by Michigan Sentiment (98.8) at 10:00. Once again I will highlight that the focus is growing on next week’s FOMC and that this data doesn’t feel like the type that will move markets, at least not the FX market. So, we will need to look elsewhere for catalysts, like equity markets where Europe has edged very slightly higher while US futures are little changed to slightly lower, and Treasuries, where despite headlines about the Chinese having reduced their holdings, and significantly increased auction sizes, yields have been softening pretty steadily for the past week. It is hard to get excited about dollar movement today, or in truth until we hear from Chairman Powell next Wednesday.

Good luck and good weekend