A Weakening Buck

Said Powell, we’ve had quite some luck
Inflation’s apparently stuck
Right at two percent
So I won’t lament
If we see a weakening buck

You likely noticed the dollar’s sharp decline on Friday, which actually began shortly before Chairman Powell spoke in Jackson Hole. For that, you can thank the PBOC who reinstated their Countercyclical Factor (CCF). The CCF was the fudge the PBOC created in January of last year to help them regain control of the USDCNY fixing each day. Prior to that, the goal had been to slowly allow the FX market establish the fixing rate in their efforts to internationalize the yuan. But then, market turmoil upset the apple cart and they were no longer pleased with the yuan’s direction. In fact, that was the last time USDCNY made a move toward 7.00. But once they instituted the CCF, which is claimed to include market parameters, they essentially resumed command of the currency and at that time, simply walked it higher over the course of the ensuing year. At that point, they felt things were under control, and early this year they abandoned the CCF as unnecessary. Until Friday, when after the yuan made yet another attempt at 7.00, they decided it was time to reestablish control of the currency. And so, Friday, the yuan rallied in excess of 1.5% and has now stabilized, at least temporarily, around 6.80. With the PBOC’s thumb on the scale, I expect that we are going to see a reduction in CNY volatility, and arguably, a very mild appreciation over time.

Which leads us to discuss the other catalyst for dollar weakness on Friday, Chairman Powell’s speech. In it, he basically said that although inflation has reached their 2.0% target, there is limited reason to expect it to continue to go higher. The market’s take on those comments was that the Fed was likely to slow the trajectory of rate hikes, thereby undermining the dollar. The broad dollar index fell about 0.6% during the speech and has retained those losses since. One of the interesting things is that nobody has accused Powell of succumbing to pressure from Trump with regard to changing his tone. But economists around the world are clearly happier.

Their joy stems from the following sequence of events. In the decade since the financial crisis, when interest rates were pushed to zero or below by developed country central banks, there was a huge expansion of US dollar debt taken on by EMG countries and companies within them. As long as rates were low, and the dollar remained on the soft side, those borrowers had limited issues when it came to rolling over the debt and paying the interest. But once the Fed started to tighten policy, both raising rates and shrinking the available number of dollars in the global system, the dollar rebounded. This was a double whammy for those EMG borrowers because refinancing became more expensive on a rate basis, and it took more local currency to pay the interest, hurting their local currency cash flows as well. This has been a key underlying issue for numerous EMG nations like Argentina, Turkey, Brazil, Indonesia and India. It has exacerbated their currency weakness and expanded their current account deficits.

So now, if Powell and the Fed are going to slow down their efforts on the basis of the idea that inflation is not going to continue to rise, it will reduce the pressure on all of those nations and more. Hence the joy from economists. I guess the only thing that can derail this is if inflation doesn’t actually slow down. Remember, despite the fact that the Fed follows PCE, CPI has been rising sharply lately, and they cannot ignore that fact. If that trend continues, and there is a fair chance that it will, look for PCE to follow and for Powell to have to walk back those comments. I guess we shall see.

As to the overnight session, the dollar is little changed from Friday’s closes as we begin the week leading up to the Labor Day holiday in the US. We actually saw our first substantive data release in more than a week overnight, with the German IFO index rising for the first time in nine months to a much better than expected 103.8. But the euro has been unable to take advantage of the news and is essentially unchanged on the day, along with everything else. As to the US data calendar, it remains on the quiet side, although we do see the latest reading of the aforementioned PCE data.

Tuesday Case-Shiller Home Prices 6.5%
  Goods Trade Balance -$68.6B
Wednesday Q2 GDP 2nd Est 4.0%
Thursday Initial Claims 214K
  Personal Income 0.3%
  Personal Spending 0.4%
  PCE 0.1% (2.2% Y/Y)
  Core PCE 0.2% (2.0% Y/Y)
Friday Chicago PMI 63.0
  Michigan Sentiment 95.5

I expect that unless something remarkable happens to the GDP data on Wednesday, that all eyes will be on the Income and Spending data on Thursday. But in the end, there is a new tone to the market, one which is decidedly less dollar bullish, and given the number of dollar long positions that remain in place, I expect that we may see the dollar nursing its wounds for quite a while. This is a plus for receivables hedgers, as it does appear the dollar has stopped rallying for now. Just don’t get greedy!

Good luck