Their Siren Song

The trend ‘gainst the dollar is strong
With bears playing their siren song
As long as real rates
Are in dire straits
‘Twould be a mistake to go long

While there is usually some interesting tidbit on which to focus regarding market behavior that is not specifically FX related, this morning that does not seem to be the case. In fact, today’s most noteworthy story is that the dollar continues to drive lower vs. almost all its counterparts. As there was no specific news or data that appears to be driving other currencies higher, I can only attribute this broad resumption of the dollar downtrend to the fact that real interest rates in the US have turned back lower.

Looking back a few weeks, 10-year US real interest rates (nominal – CPI) bottomed at -1.08% on August 6th. That coincided with the peak price in gold, as well as the euro’s local high. But then Treasury yields began to back up as the bond market started getting indigestion from the Treasury issuance schedule ($316 billion total since then, of which $112 billion were Notes and Bonds.) The problem is that not merely is the size of the issuance unprecedented, but that it shows no signs of slowing down as the government continues to run massive deficits.

At any rate, real yields backed up by 14 basis points in the ensuing week, which resulted in both a sharp correction in the price of gold, and support for the dollar. But it seems that phase of the market may be behind us as Treasury yields have been sliding on both a nominal and real basis, and we have seen gold (and silver) recoup those losses while the dollar has ceded its gains and then some.

At this point, the question becomes, what is driving real yields? Is it fears of rising inflation? Is it hope that the Fed will maintain ultra-easy monetary policy even if the economy recovers strongly? Or is it something else?

Regarding the pace of inflation, while last week’s CPI data was certainly a shock to most eyes, it doesn’t seem as though it is the driver. I only point this out because the nadir in real yields occurred a week before the CPI data was released. Now it is certainly possible that bond investors were anticipating a higher inflation print, but there was absolutely no indication it would be as high as it turned out to be. In fact, based on the CPI release, I would have anticipated real yields to fall further, as the combination of higher inflation and a Fed that is essentially ignoring inflation at the current time is a recipe for further declines there. Remember, everything we have heard from the Fed is that not merely are they unconcerned with inflation, but that they welcome it and are comfortable allowing it to run hotter than their target for a time going forward.

This latter commentary implies that there is not going to be any change in the Fed’s policy stance in the near future either. Rather, Chairman Powell has made it clear that the Fed is going to provide ongoing support and liquidity to the markets economy for as long as they deem it necessary. Oh, and by the way, they have plenty of tools left with which to do so.

If these are not viable explanations for the change in trend, one other possible driver is the vagaries of the ongoing pandemic. Perhaps there is a relationship between increases in infection rates and investor assessments of the future. Logically, that would not be far-fetched, and there is growing evidence that there is a correlation between market behavior and covid news. Specifically, when it appears that covid is in retreat, bond yields tend to rise, and so real rates have been moving in lockstep. As well, when the news indicates that the virus is resurgent, the yield complex tends to head lower. Thus, in a convoluted way, perhaps the dollar bearishness that has become so pervasive is being driven by the idea that the US continues to suffer the most from Covid-19, and as long as that remains the case, this trend will remain intact.

Now, I would not want to base all my trading and hedging decisions on this idea, but it is certainly worth keeping in mind when looking at short-term risk exposures and potential timing to manage them.

But as I said at the top, overall, there is very little of note in the financial press and not surprisingly, market activity has been fairly muted. For example, equity markets in Asia basically finished either side of unchanged on the day (Nikkei -0.2%, Hang Seng +0.1%, Shanghai +0.3%). Europe, which had been largely unchanged all morning has been on a late run and is now nicely higher (DAX +0.9%, CAC +0.6%) and US futures have also edged up from earlier unchanged levels. As discussed, Treasury yields continue to drift lower (-1.5 basis points) and gold is rocking (+1.0% and back over $2000/oz.)

And the dollar? Well, it is definitely on its back foot this morning, with the entire G10 complex firmer led by GBP (+0.5%) on the strength of optimism over the resumption of Brexit talks and JPY (+0.45%) which seems to be benefitting from the ongoing premium for owning JGB’s and swapping back to USD.

In the EMG bloc, RUB (+0.8%) is the leader today, followed by ZAR (+0.7%) and MXN (+0.65%). All of these are benefitting from firmer commodity prices which, naturally are helped by the dollar’s broad weakness. But other than TRY (-0.2%) which has fallen in nine of the past ten sessions as President Erdogan and the central bank undermine the lira, and IDR (-0.3%), which has also seen a string of suffering, but this based on difficulty dealing with Covid effectively, the rest of the bloc is modestly firmer vs. the greenback.

On the data front, this morning brings Housing Starts (exp 1245K) and Building Permits (1326K), which if wildly different than expectations could have a market impact, although are likely to be ignored by traders. Rather, the trend in the dollar remains lower, with the euro actually setting new highs for the move this morning, and until we see a change in the rate structure, either by US real rates rising, or other real rates falling more aggressively, I expect this trend will continue. Hedgers, choose your spots, but don’t miss out.

Good luck and stay safe