Hardly a Sign

The thing that I don’t understand
Is why people think it’s not planned
The dollar’s decline
Is hardly a sign
The FOMC’s lost command

Based on the breathless commentary over the weekend and this morning, one would have thought that the dollar is in freefall.  It’s not!  Yes, the dollar has been sliding for the past two months, but that is a blink of an eye compared to the fact that it has been trending higher since its nadir a bit more than twelve years ago.  In fact, if one uses the euro as a proxy, which many people do, at its current level, 1.1725 as I type, the single currency remains below the average rate over its entire life since January 1999.  The point is, the current situation is hardly unprecedented nor even significant historically, it is simply a time when the dollar is weakening.

It is, however, instructive to consider what is happening that has the punditry in such a tizzy.  Arguably, the key reason the dollar has been declining lately is because real US interest rates have been falling more rapidly than real rates elsewhere.  After all, the Eurozone has had negative nominal rates since 2014.  10-year German bunds went negative in May 2019 and have remained there ever since.  Given that inflation has been positive, albeit weak, there real rates have been negative for years so the world is quite familiar with negative rates in Europe.  The US story, however, is quite different.  While nominal rates have not yet crossed the rubicon, real rates have moved from positive to negative quite recently and done so rapidly.  So, what we are really witnessing is the FX market responding to this relative change in rates, at least for the most part.  Undoubtedly, there are dollar sellers who are bearish because of their concerns over the macro growth story in the US, the second wave of Covid infections in the South and West and because of the growth in US debt issuance.  But history has shown that the most enduring impacts on a currency’s value are driven by relative interest rates and their movement.  And that is what we are seeing, US rates are falling relative to others and so the dollar is falling alongside them.

In other words, the current price action is quite normal in the broad scheme of things, and not worthy of the delirium it seems to be inspiring.  As I mentioned Friday, this is also what is driving the precious metals complex, which has seen further strength this morning (XAU +$40 or 2.1%, XAG +$1.50 or 6.7%).  And it must be noted that gold is now at a new, all-time nominal high of $1943/oz.  But since we are focusing on the concept of real valuation, while the price is higher than we saw in 2011 on a nominal basis, when adjusted for inflation it still lags pretty substantially, by about 18%, and both current and 2011 levels are significantly below gold’s inflation adjusted price seen in 1980 right after the second oil crisis.

However, the fact that the current reporting of the situation appears somewhat overhyped does not mean that the dollar cannot fall further.  And in fact, I expect that to be the case for as long as the Fed continues to add liquidity, in any form, to the economy.  Markets move at the margin, and the current marginal change is the decline in US real interest rates, hence the dollar is likely to continue to fall if US rates do as well.

The current dollar weakness begs the question about overall risk attitude.  So, a quick look around equity markets globally today shows a mixed picture at best, certainly not a strong view in either direction.  For instance, last night saw the Nikkei edge lower by 0.2% (after having been closed since Wednesday) and the Hang Seng (-0.4%) also slide.  But Shanghai (+0.25%) managed to eke out small gains.  In Europe, the DAX (+0.3%) is pushing ahead after the IFO figures bounced back much further than expected, although the CAC and FTSE 100 (-0.2% each) have both suffered slightly.  A special mention needs to be made for Spain’s IBEX (-1.3%) as the sharp increase in Covid infections seen in Catalonia has resulted in several European nations, notably the UK and Sweden, reimposing a 14-day quarantine period on people returning from Spain on holiday.  Naturally, the result is holidays that had been booked are being quickly canceled.  As to US futures, they are currently in the green, with the NASDAQ up 1.0%, although the others are far less enthusiastic.

Bond markets continue to show declining yields, with Treasuries down another basis point plus and now yielding 0.57%.  Bunds, too, are seeing demand, with yields there down 3 bps, although both Spanish and Italian debt are being sold off with yields edging higher.  In other words, the bond market is not pointing to a risk-on session.

Finally, the dollar is weak across the board, against both G10 and EMG currencies.  In the latter bloc, ZAR is the leader, up 1.3% on the back of the huge rally in precious metals, but we are also seeing the CE4 currencies all keeping pace with the euro, which is higher by 0.6% this morning.  As a group, those four currencies are higher by about 0.65%.  Asian currencies also performed well, but not quite to the standards of the European set, but it is hard to find a currency that declined overnight.  In G10 space, the SEK is the leader, rising 1.0%, cementing its role as the highest beta G10 currency.  But we cannot forget about the yen, which has rallied 0.75% so far this morning, and is now back to its lowest level since the Covid spike, and before that, prices not seen since last August.  A longer-term look at the yen shows that 105 has generally been very strong support with only the extraordinary events of this past March driving it below that level for the first time in four years.  Keep on the lookout for a move toward those Covid inspired lows of 102, although much further seems hard to believe at this point.

On the data front, this week’s highlight is undoubtedly the FOMC meeting on Wednesday, but there is plenty to see.

Today Durable Goods 7.0%
  -ex Transport 3.6%
Tuesday Case Shiller Home Prices 4.10%
  Consumer Confidence 94.4
Wednesday FOMC Rate Decision 0.0% – 0.25%
Thursday GDP Q2 -35.0%
  Personal Consumption -34.5%
  Initial Claims 1.445M
  Continuing Claims 16.3M
Friday Personal Income -0.5%
  Personal Spending 5.4%
  Core PCE 0.2% (1.0% Y/Y)
  Chicago PMI 43.9
  Michigan Sentiment 72.8

Source: Bloomberg

Of course, the GDP data on Thursday will be eye opening, as a print anywhere near forecasts will be the largest quarterly decline in history.  However, that is backward looking.  Of more importance, after the Fed of course, will be the Initial Claims data, which last week stopped trending lower.  Another tick higher there and the V-shaped recovery narrative is likely to be mortally wounded.  As to the Fed, while we will discuss it at length later this week, it seems unlikely they will do or say anything that is going to change the current market sentiment.  And that sentiment continues to be to sell dollars.

Good luck and stay safe

Adf