Decidedly On

While risk is decidedly on
Investors have kept being drawn
To dollars, so they
Can still overpay
For stocks, and sometimes, a junk bond

With the trade story still titillating markets, or at least distracting them, a funny thing has happened to the broad picture; the dollar has continued to rally despite the market’s embrasure of risk. Touching on the trade story, we continue to get dueling headlines from both sides as to how things are progressing, but the key is that both sides say things are progressing. The latest is confirmation that any phase one deal will, in fact, include a rollback of some portion of the existing tariffs, and there has been absolutely no discussion regarding the mooted tariffs to be imposed on December 15th. In addition, this morning, EU President Jean-Claude Juncker announced that he was certain there would be no US tariffs on European automobiles going forward, at least no additional ones.

This has been more than sufficient to encourage the equity bulls to continue to drive indices to new highs, at least in the US, but to generally rally around the world. At the same time, this week has seen a massive selloff in haven assets, specifically in US Treasuries and German bunds. For instance, last Friday, the 10-year closed at a yield of 1.712%. This morning it is trading at 1.924%. We have seen a similar, albeit not quite as large, move in the bund market, where the yield has risen from -0.386% to -0.247%. Still a 14bp move, given the low absolute level of yields, is nothing to dismiss.

Other favorite havens are the Japanese yen and the Swiss franc, both having fallen -1.1% this week. Gold? It too is lower by 3.45%, with Silver (-7.3%) and Platinum (-5.8%) faring even worse. And yet, despite this strong risk-on market sentiment, the dollar continues to perform well against all comers. In fact it is firmer against every G10 currency (SEK and NZD have been the worst performers, each down 1.4% this week), and it is firmer vs. most of its EMG brethren, with the South African rand (+1.6%) the major outlier based on the news earlier this week that it would not lose its last investment grade rating and so bond investors would not be forced to liquidate their positions.

But it begs the question, why is the dollar remaining so strong? Typically when risk is acquired, investors are seeking the highest yielding assets they can find, which includes EMG government bonds, junk bonds and equities. Usually, the carry trade makes a big comeback, where those who view FX as an asset class simply sell dollars and earn the points. But this time around, that doesn’t seem to be the case. In fact, one might point to the fact that US yields are the highest G10 yields, and higher than many EMG yields (e.g. South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Croatia, Greece and the Czech Republic) and so on a risk adjusted basis, it appears that investors are far more willing to buy Treasuries and clip that coupon. At any rate, the dollar remains well bid across the board, and barring a sudden negative trade headline, I see no reason for this trend to change in the near term. This is especially true if US data continues to surprise to the high side, like we saw last week with the payroll numbers.

The upshot is hedgers need to beware of the current situation. While the dollar hasn’t had any days where it exploded higher, it continues to grind higher literally every day. Hedgers, at least receivables hedgers, need to be actively managing their risks.

One other thing supporting the dollar has been the change in market tone regarding the Fed’s future activities. It wasn’t that long ago, September, when the futures market was pricing in one more 25bp rate cut for December and one in March of next year. But now, looking out a full year shows there is not even one more rate full cut priced into the market. So the Fed’s dovishness has been effectively dissipated as made evident yesterday by Atlanta Fed President Rafael Bostic’s comments that if he were a voter, he would have dissented from cutting rates last week.

Looking ahead to this morning’s session, the only data we see is Michigan Sentiment (exp 95.5) at 10:00, although at 8:30 Canada releases their employment report. Yesterday’s Initial Claims data was mildly better than expected, just 211K, which indicates that the US jobs situation is not deteriorating in any real way. Perhaps a bit more surprising was the sharp decline in Consumer Credit yesterday, falling to just $9.5 billion, its lowest increase in more than a year, and a data point you can be sure will be highlighted by those pining for a recession. We also hear from three more Fed speakers, Daly, Williams and Governor Lael Brainerd, although both Daly and Brainerd are speaking at a climate change conference, which seems a less likely venue to discuss monetary policy.

Overall, the dollar remains bid and while it may stall as it runs into some profit-taking this afternoon, there is no reason to believe it is going to reverse course anytime soon.

Good luck and good weekend
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