What Lies Ahead

This afternoon, word from the Fed
Might tell us ‘bout what lies ahead
How high might rates rise?
Or did they revise
Their balance sheet forecasts instead?

As the market awaits the release of the FOMC minutes this afternoon, the dollar is extending its recent losses. While there have been many potential catalysts, as usual I would suggest that none of them are long term in nature. Consider that during the past three months, we have seen significant long dollar positions build up in the speculative community as the dollar rallied sharply amid tighter Fed monetary policy. In fact, the CFTC report has shown that short currency positions have grown toward record levels. However, a combination of events including; mixed US data, recovering foreign data, concerns over potential yield curve inversion by Fed presidents and Trump’s complaints about higher interest rates, have served to cool the ardor of the dollar bulls more recently. As such, in the past week we have seen the dollar retrace a bit more than 2.5% of the 8.6% rally that started in April. Many pundits continue to point to the President’s comments as the driving factor, although I put less stock in that. History is replete with instances of Presidents complaining about the Fed, and arguably the only reason this seems to be an issue is that during the Obama administration, as rates remained at zero for virtually the entire time, he had nothing to complain about.

So as we survey the landscape, what can we surmise about the FX markets right now? While there has been a lull in important data lately, this morning did bring news that wage growth in the Eurozone rose to 2.2% annually, well ahead of previous figures and a sign that inflation may begin to percolate there. But beyond that, there has been virtually nothing of substance since last week’s UK Employment and Inflation data showed that growth there was still solid despite Brexit uncertainties. Regarding the trade situation, there has been precious little news lately as both the US and China prepare for some mid-level meetings this week, but expectations are limited for any breakthroughs. Additionally, many pundits are pointing to recent political troubles for President Trump as a catalyst to sell dollars, and that may have been a driving force, but if there is one thing I have observed about the current administration, it excels at changing the subject and withstanding attacks. In other words, I see nothing that, by itself, would be reason for alarm over the dollar’s future course.

Do not mistake this for a change in the underlying macroeconomic conditions, which still point to structural dollar weakness. I am, of course, referring to the massive budget and current account deficits. But as of now, there is no evidence that the structural has overtaken the cyclical with regard to trading decisions. As long as the US continues to have the strongest economy, especially with an upward trajectory, and the Fed remains the central bank leading the way toward tighter monetary policy, the dollar should retain its strength.

Regarding the FOMC Minutes today, it seems that the key questions to be answered are; has there been more discussion on the eventual size of the balance sheet; what constitutes r* (the neutral interest rate); and how to respond if the long end of the curve refuses to follow short rates higher and the curve inverts. However, given that we are going to hear directly from Chairman Powell first thing Friday morning, I would suggest that today’s Minutes are going to be somewhat stale, and would be surprised if there is anything truly newsworthy in the release.

Scanning the markets this morning, while the dollar is generally weaker, it is not universally so. The euro is leading the way higher (+0.35%) in the G10 space, seemingly on the aforementioned wage data as well as simple short covering. However, AUD is a touch softer (-0.15%) after comments by RBA deputy governor DeBelle indicated that policy rates Down Under were appropriate and unlikely to change for quite a while to come as they try to encourage inflation back to its targeted level of 2.5%.

In the emerging markets, yesterday was notable for the 2% decline in BRL, which traded back through 4.00 for the first time since early 2016. The catalyst appears to have been stepped up concerns over the upcoming presidential election, where one of the favorites, Lula da Silva, remains in prison and ineligible to run. As there has been virtually no data released in the past week, we can only ascribe the movement to politics. This morning also sees the ruble falling 1.25% as talk of increased sanctions on Russia, including by the Eurozone economies, makes the rounds. And while movements in the Turkish lira have settled to less dramatic levels, it continues to slowly drift lower, falling another 1% this morning. In the end, while the G10 is faring well, EMG currencies are having a much less positive day.

Before the FOMC Minutes are released, we see our first data of the week in the form of Existing Home Sales (exp 5.4M), although I would be shocked if it impacted the FX markets in any way of note. Rather, look for a quiet morning as traders await the Minutes, and then a quiet afternoon once they realize that nothing new was learned. This week is all about Friday’s Powell speech. Further consolidation in the dollar ahead of that seems the most likely outcome in my view.

Good luck