Tag Archive | "Japanese Yen"

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Euro Rises On Greece, Yen Remains Under Pressure

FX markets were looking a bit more optimistic to start the week out.  This was especially true for the Euro.  The single currency rose to as high as 1.3281 in the overnight session, following the passage of new Greek austerity measures shortly before the Asian market open.

Under enormous pressure by European leaders, interim Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos pushed through new and harsher austerity measures as tens of thousands of Greek citizens took to the streets of Athens to demonstrate.  According to the new measures, pension cuts of up to 300 million euros are set to be instituted along with a 22% cut in the minimum wage rate.  Additional job cuts are expected on budget reduction benchmarks – resulting in over 100,000 new layoffs in the next year.

Although drastic, the measures are expected to help Greece reduce its current deficit ratio of 160% to 120% of GDP in the next 10 years – with the cuts expected to represent about 1.5% of gross domestic product.  The weekend passage sets up the Greek economy for approval of a second bailout in the amount of 130 billion euros – but not before Eurozone finance ministers’ meeting, scheduled for the 15th of February.  Speculators elated over the passing of the bill are now focusing on their concern ahead of the meeting – where policymakers are expected to evaluate the new adjustments.

Nonetheless, the euro remains technically supported above 1.3200, currently.

Going across the continent, the Japanese yen continued to suffer following the release of less than anticipated gross domestic product figures.  For the fourth quarter, the world’s third largest economy shrank by an annualized 2.3%.

The decline was attributed to lower than expected manufacturing and export volume as companies continually struggled to get their operations back on line following the March tsunami disaster.  Companies additionally seemed to be hurt by an appreciated yen – which helped to erode competition of Japanese made goods overseas.  Although low, the actual figure is expected to improve in the medium term with many of the government’s expansive policies still yet to surface in the private and public sectors.  An additional $150 billion in aid was recently approved by the Japanese parliament – which will add to already existing funding expected to improve upon tsunami stricken areas.

For more on the Euro – http://forexalliance.com/2012/02/nikkei-kospi-limited-gains-euro-rise/

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Swiss Franc is the Only Safe Haven Currency

According to conventional market wisdom, there are three safe haven currencies: the Swiss Franc, Japanese Yen, and US Dollar. It is to these currencies that investors flock whenever there is a crisis, or merely an outbreak of uncertainty, and for much of the period following the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the three were closely correlated. As you can see from the chart below, however, one of these currencies has begun to distinguish itself from the other two, leading some to argue that there is now only one true safe haven currency: the Swiss Franc.

What’s not to like about the Franc? It boasts a strong economy, low inflation, and low unemployment. Unlike the US and Japan, Switzerland is not plagued by a high national debt and perennial budget deficits. Its monetary policy has been extremely conservative: no quantitative easing, asset-purchases, or any other money printing programs with euphemistic names.

Ironically, the only thing that makes investors nervous about the franc is that it has already risen so much. Remember when it reached the milestone of parity against the dollar in 2010? Since then, it has appreciated by an additional 20%, and seems to breach a new record on an almost weekly basis. The same goes for the CHF/EUR and CHF/JPY. The President of Switzerland’s export association is expecting further gains: “Parity is a realistic scenario. Given the indebtedness of the eurozone and the strong attraction of the franc, the euro is likely to continue to lose value.”

Given that Swiss exports have surged in spite of (or even because of) the rising Franc, however, he has very little to worry about at the moment. As you can see fromt he graphic below (courtesy of the Financial Times), the balance of trade continues to expand, and has exploded in a handful of key sectors. To be sure, economists expect that this situation will eventually correct itself and are already moving to revise downward 2011 and 2012 GDP growth estimates. Then again, they made the same erroneous predictions in 2010.

The main variable in the Swiss Franc is the Swiss National Bank (SNB). Having booked a loss of CHF 20 Billion from failed intervention in 2010, the SNB is not in a position to make the same mistake again. In fact, SNB President Philipp Hildebrand has not even stooped to verbal intervention this time around, undoubtedly cognizant of the fact that he has very little credibility in forex markets.

At the same time, the SNB is not in any hurry to raise interest rates, lest it stoke further speculative interest in the Franc. Its June meeting came and went without any indication of when it might tighten. Interest rate futures currently reflect an expectation that the first rate hike won’t come until March 2012. Thus, the downside of holding the Franc is that it will continue to pay a negative real interest rate. The only upside, then, is the possibility of further appreciation. Fortunately, the SNB is unlikely to stop the Franc from rising, since it serves the same monetary end as higher interest rates. In other words, a more valuable Franc serves as a direct check on inflation because it lowers the cost of commodity imports and should (eventually) soften demand for Swiss exports.

It is possible that the Swiss Franc will suffer a correction at some point, if only because it rose by such a large margin in such a short period of time. On the other hand, given that its economy has proved its ability to withstand the Franc’s appreciation, it’s no wonder that investors continue to bet on its rise.

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Japanese Yen In “No Man’s Land”

This, according to a hedge fund manager that has decided to cancel all of his fund’s bearish bets on the Japanese Yen. The reason: the yen is rising, and it’s unclear when – or even if – the government will intervene to push it back down. Even though the yen’s strength is fundamentally illogical, it seems that investors are growing increasingly wary of betting against it.

As I pointed out in my previous post on the Yen (“Japanese Yen Strength is Illogical, but Does it Matter?“), the yen has actually fallen over the last twelve months, on a correlation weighted basis (though to be fair, it has staged a pretty impressive comeback since the beginning of April). Unfortunately, investors mainly care about how it is performing against a handful of key currencies, namely the US Dollar. Simply, the yen continues to rise against the dollar, and it is unclear when it will stop.

Japanese government analysis has indeed confirmed that “speculators” are behind the strong yen, as the alleged wide-scale repatriation of yen by Japanese insurance companies has yet to materialize. Of course, there isn’t really much doubt: Japan’s economy is contracting, due to decrease in output spurred by the tsunami. In May, it recorded its second largest monthly trade deficit ever.

Meanwhile, interest rates and bond yields are pathetically low, and the Bank of Japan is being urged to expand its asset buying program, which would theoretically result in a devaluation of the yen. As  a result, retail Japanese forex traders (nicknamed “Mrs. Watanabes“) have resumed shorting the Yen as part of a carry trade strategy.

Alas, speculators either don’t share their pessimism or are running out of patience. While everyone continues to assume that the BOJ will intervene if the Yen rises to 80 against the dollar, no one can be sure whether the line in the sand might not be 78 or even 75. At this point, intervention seems to hinge more on politics than on economics, which means predicting it is beyond the scope of this post. In other words, “There is too much uncertainty and volatility in markets right now to make that yen trade appealing.” And sure enough, the most recent Commitments of Traders data shows that speculators have been re-building their yen long positions over the last month.

In the end, the speculators are probably right. The Bank of Japan has intervened twice over the last twelve months, and the impact has always been short-lived. Besides, given that many speculators still remain committed to shorting the yen, it remains extraordinarily vulnerable to the kind of short squeeze that sent it soaring 5% in a single session en route to the record high it touched in March.

I’m personally still bearish on the yen, but I also think it’s too risky to short it against the dollar, which seems to be declining for its own reasons. As you can see from the chart below, the yen has fallen against virtually every other major currency. Yen shorters, then, might be wise to avoid the dollar altogether and focus instead on any number of other currencies.


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Pound Stagnates, Lacking Direction

The British Pound has struggled to find direction in 2011. After getting off to a solid start – rising 4% against the US dollar in less than a month –  the Pound has since stagnated. At 1.625 GBP/USD, it is now at the same level that it was at five months ago. Given the paltry state of UK fundamentals, the fact that it still has any gains to hold on to is itself something of a miracle.

The Pound’s failure to make any additional headway shouldn’t come as a surprise. First of all, the Pound is not a safe haven currency. That means that the only chance it has to rise is when risk is “on.” Unfortunately, the Pound also scores pretty low in this regard. Annual GDP growth is currently a pathetic .5%, and is projected at only 1.8% for the entire year. Inflation is high, and both the trade balance and the current account balance are in deficit. Deficit spending has caused a surge in government debt, and there is a possibility that the UK could lose its AAA credit rating.

Investors might be willing to overlook all of this if interest rates were at an attractive level. Alas, at .5%, the Bank of England’s (BOE) benchmark rate is among the lowest in the world. Moreover, it isn’t expected to begin hiking rates for many months, and even then, the pace will be slow. Simply, the economy is too fragile to support a serious tightening of monetary policy. Interest rate futures reflect a consensus expectation that rates will be only 75 basis points higher one year from now.

If that’s the case, why hasn’t the Pound crashed entirely? To be fair, the Pound is losing groroundround against both the euro and the franc, the former of which has it bested in economic grounds while the latter is cashing in on its status as a safe haven currency. On the other hand, the Pound is still up for the year against the US dollar and Japanese Yen, both of which are also safe haven currencies.

It could be the case that the Pound is simply not the ugliest currency, since all of the charges that can be leveled against it can similarly be leveled against the dollar. Head-to-head, it’s actually quite possible that the Pound still wins, if only because its interest rates are slightly higher than the US. Or, it could be the case that investors still believe the BOE will come around and begin hiking rates. After all, at the beginning of the year (when by no coincidence, the Pound was still rising), expectations were that the BOE would have already hiked twice by this time, bringing the benchmark to a level that would make the Pound attractive to carry traders. While the BOE hasn’t followed through, carry traders may be sticking around, since the opportunity cost of holding the Pound is basically nil.

As for whether the Pound correction (that I first observed last month) will continue, that depends entirely on the BOE. Unfortunately, there is very little reason to believe that the UK economy will suddenly pick up, and hence very little reason to expect the BOE to suddenly tighten. At some point, earning .5% interest on Pounds will become unattractive to investors. Until that day comes, that might stick with the Pound out of sheer inertia. While the Pound may hold its value for this reason, I don’t think it has any hope of appreciating further this year.

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Swiss Franc at Record Highs

This month, the Swiss Franc touched a record high against not one, but two currencies: the US dollar and the Euro. Having risen by more than 30% against the former and 20% against the latter, the franc might just be the world’s best performing currency over the last twelve months. Let’s look at the prospects for continued appreciation.

As I wrote on Monday, the Swiss Franc has been one of the primary beneficiaries of the safe haven trade. With each spike in volatility, the Swiss Franc has ticked upward. Due to monetary and fiscal stability as well as political conservatism, investors have flocked to the Franc in times of crisis. Of course, the Japanese Yen (and the US dollar, of late) has also received a boost from this phenomenon, but to a lesser extent than the franc, as you can see from the chart above.

Personally, I wonder if this isn’t because the Swiss economy is significantly smaller than that of Japan and the US. In other words, its capacity to absorb risk-averse capital inflows is much smaller than that of Japan and the US. For example, the impact of one million people suddenly rushing out to buy shares in IBM stock would have a much smaller impact on its share price compared to a sudden speculative flood into FXCM. The same can be said about the franc, relative to the dollar and yen.

Ironically, the franc is also rising because of regional proximity to the eurozone. I use the term ironic to denote in order to signify that the franc is not being buoyed by positive association with the euro but rather because of contradistinction. In other words, each time there is another flareup in the eurozone sovereign debt crisis, the franc typically experiences the biggest bounce because it is the easiest currency to compare with the euro. In some ways, it is basically just a more secure version of the euro. This phenomenon has intensified over the last month, as the euro faces perhaps its most uncertain test yet.

It is curious that even as investors have gradually become more inclined to take risk, that not only has the franc held its value, but it has actually surged! Perhaps this is because it is expected that the Swiss National Bank (SNB) will soon hike interest rates, making the franc both high-yielding and secure. To be sure, some analysts think that the SNB will hike as soon as June. The fact the the economy has continued to expand and exports have surged in spite of the strong franc only seems to support this notion.

On the other hand, inflation is still basically nil. And just because the Swiss economy can withstand an interest rate hike hardly provides adequate justification for implementing one. Besides, the SNB hardly wants to give the markets further cause to buy the franc. If anything, it may even need to intervene verbally to make sure that it doesn’t rise any higher. Thus, “The median forecast among economists is for a rate increase in September.”

In short, I think the franc is overbought against the dollar. In fact, you can see from the most recent Commitment of Traders data that speculators have been net long the franc for almost an entire year, and it seems inevitable that this will need to reverse itself. On the other hand, the franc probably has more room to rise against the euro. The takeaway here is that it is less important to know where you stand on the franc in general and more important to understand the cross currency.

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Japanese Yen Strength is Illogical, but Does it Matter?

On a correlation-weighted basis, the Japanese Yen has been one of the world’s weakest performing currencies in 2011. Alas, while this information is interesting for theoretical purposes, it is of little concern to traders, who focus instead on individual pairs. Against the dollar (USDJPY), the Japanese yen is still quite strong, having recovered most of the losses inflicted upon it by the coordinated G7 intervention in March. Does the yen deserve such a lofty valuation? No. Will it continue to remain strong as the dollar? Well, that is a different question altogether.

As a fundamental analyst, I am inclined to look at the data before making a determination on whether a particular currency will rise or fall. In this case, the fundamentals underlying the yen are beyond abysmal. The recent release of Q1 GDP showed a 3.7% contraction in GDP. Thanks to an interminable streak of weak growth combined with deflation, Japan’s nominal GDP is incredibly the same as it was in 1996! Based on industrial production, consumption, and other economic indicators – all of which were negatively impacted by the earthquake/tsunami – this trend will undoubtedly continue.

The only force that is keeping Japan’s economy afloat is government spending. While this was a necessary response to anemic growth and natural disaster, it is clearly a double-edged sword. The government’s own (inherently optimistic) forecasts show a budget deficit of 5% in 2015, which doesn’t even include the costs of rebuilding the earthquake region. This will necessitate tax hikes, which will further erode growth, requiring ever more government spending. It seems self-evident that Japan’s national debt will remain the highest in the G7 for the foreseeable future.

From a macro standpoint, there is very little to be gained from investing in Japan. The stock market continues to tank, and bond yields are the lowest in the world. To be fair, years of deflation have made the yen an excellent store of value, but this is hardly of interest to speculator, whose time horizons are usually measured in weeks and months, rather than years and decades.

If not for the yen’s safe haven status, it would and does make an excellent funding currency for the carry trade. Short-term rates are around 0%, and the Bank of Japan (BOJ) has made it clear that this will remain the case at least into 2013. As you can see from the chart above (which mimics a strategy designed to take advantage of interest rate differentials), the carry trade is alive and well. Granted, it has suffered a bit since 2010, due to increased fiscal and financial uncertainty. However, given that the rate gap between high-yielding emerging market currencies and low-yield G7 currencies continues to widen, this strategy should remain viable.

And yet, the Yen continues to rise against the US dollar. It has receded in the last couple weeks, but remains close to the magic level of 80, and it’s not hard to find bullish analysts that expect it to keep rising. They argue that Japanese investors are eschewing risky asset, and that the yen remains an attractive safe haven currency. Not to mention that volatility (aka uncertainty) serves as an effective deterrent to those thinking about shorting it and/or using it as a funding currency for carry trades.

Personally, I’m not so sure that this is the case. If you look at the way the yen has performed against the Swiss Franc, for example, the picture is completely reversed. The Franc has risen 20% against the Yen over the last twelve months, which shows that heads-up, the Yen is hardly the world’s go-to safe haven currency. In addition, you can see from the chart below that on a composite basis, the yen peaked during the height of the financial crisis in 2009, and has since fallen by more than 10%. This shows that its performance in 2011 should be seen as much as dollar weakness as yen strength. Since I’ve spent countless previous posts explaining why I think dollar bearishness is overblown, I won’t revisit that topic here.

In the end, the majority of traders don’t care about this nuance – that the Yen has conformed to fundamental logic and depreciated in the wake of the natural disasters against a basket of currencies – and want to know only whether the yen will rise or fall against the dollar. Even though, I think that shorting the Yen remains an attractive (and as I argued yesterday, comparatively riskless) proposition. Given that the dollar also remains weak, however, traders would be wise to short it against other currencies.

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Forex Markets Focus on Central Banks

Over the last year and increasingly over the last few months, Central Banks around the world have taken center stage in currency markets. First, came the ignition of the currency war and the consequent volley of forex interventions. Then came the prospect of monetary tightening and the unwinding of quantitative easing measures. As if that wasn’t enough to keep them busy, Central Banks have been forced to assume more prominent roles in regulating financial markets and drafting economic policy. With so much to do, perhaps it’s no wonder that Jean-Claude Trichet, head of the ECB, will leave his post at the end of this year!

The currency wars may have subsided, but they haven’t ended. On both a paired and trade-weighted basis, the Dollar is declining rapidly. As a result, emerging market Central Banks are still doing everything they can to protect their respective currencies from rapid appreciation. As I’ve written in earlier posts, most Latin American and Asian Central Banks have already announced targeted strategies, and many intervene in forex markets on a daily basis. If the Japanese Yen continues to appreciate, you can bet the Bank of Japan (perhaps aided by the G7) will quickly jump back in.

You can expect the currency wars to continue until the quantitative easing programs instituted by the G4 are withdrawn. The Fed’s $600 Billion Treasury bond buying program officially ends in June, at which point its balance sheet will near $3 Trillion. The European Central Bank has injected an equally large hunk of cash into the Eurozone economy. Despite inflation that may soon exceed 5%, the Bank of England voted not to sell its cache of QE assets, while the Bank of Japan is actually ratcheting up its program as a result of the earthquake-induced catastrophe. Whether or not this manifests itself in higher inflation, investors have signaled their distaste by bidding up the price of gold to a new record high.

Then there are the prospective rate hikes, cascading across the world. Last week, the European Central Bank became the first in the G4 to hike rates (though market rates have hardly budged). The Reserve Bank of Australia, however, was the first of the majors to hike rates. Since October 2009, it has raised its benchmark by 175 basis points; its 4.75% cash rate is easily the highest in the industrialized world. The Bank of Canada started hiking in June 2010, but has kept its benchmark on hold at 1% since September. The Reserve Bank of New Zealand lowered its benchmark to a record low 2.5% as a result of serious earthquakes and economic weakness.

Going forward, expectations are for all Central Banks to continue (or begin) hiking rates at a gradual pace over the next couple years. If forecasts prove to be accurate, the US Federal Funds Rate will stand around .5% at the beginning of 2012, tied with Switzerland, and ahead of only Japan. The UK Rate will stand slightly above 1%, while the Eurozone and Canadian benchmarks will be closer to 2%. The RBA cash rate should exceed 5%. Rates in emerging markets will probably be even higher, as all four BRIC countries (Russia, Brazil, China, India) should be well into the tightening cycles.

On the one hand, there is reason to believe that the pace of rate hikes will be slower than expected. Economic growth remains tepid across the industrialized world, and Central Banks are wary about spooking their economies with premature rate hikes. Besides, Fed watchers may have learned a lesson as a result of a brief bout of over-excitement in 2010 that ultimately led to nothing. The Economist has reported that, “Markets habitually assign too much weight to the hawks, however. The real power at the Fed rests with its leaders…At present they are sanguine about inflation and worried about unemployment, which means a rate rise this year is unlikely.”  Even the ECB disappointed traders by (deliberately) adopting a soft stance in the press release that accompanied its recent rate hike.

On the other hand, a recent paper published by the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) showed that the markets’ track record of forecasting inflation is weak. As you can see from the chart below, they tend to reflect the general trend in inflation, but underestimate when the direction changes suddenly. (This is perhaps similar to the “fat-tail” problem, whereby extreme aberrations in asset price returns are poorly accounted for in financial models). If you apply this to the current economic environment, it suggests that inflation will probably be much higher-than-expected, and Central Banks will be forced to compensate by hiking rates a faster pace.
Finally, in their newfound roles as economic policymakers, Central Banks are increasingly engaged in macroprudential policy. The Economist reports that, “Central banks and regulators in emerging economies have already imposed a host of measures to cool property prices and capital inflows.” These measures are worth watching because their chief aim is to indirectly reduce inflation. If they are successful, it will limit the need for interest rate hikes and reduce upward pressure on their currencies.

In short, given the enhanced ability of Central Banks to dictate exchange rates, traders with long-term outlooks may need to adjust their strategies accordingly. That means not only knowing who is expected to raise interest rates – as well as when and by how much – but also monitoring the use of their other tools, such as balance sheet expansion, efforts to cool asset price bubbles, and deliberate manipulation of exchange rates.

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Gold Hits Record High

Historically, demand for gold increases as political unrest sets in and causes the value of the dollar to drop.  In other words, the environment for a gold rush is perfect.  Investors drove gold to an all-time high on Thursday at $1,508 per ounce.  At the same time, silver reached a 31-year high at $41.64 per ounce.

As confidence in the United States, the euro zone and the Japanese yen diminished, gold has fared very well.  In 2010 gold rose 30% after gaining 25% in 2009.  The price of gold has doubled since hitting low points in 2008.

The uncertainty in the Middle East and North Africa, the tragedy in Japan and the rising inflation in China and India are all compounding the weakness in the dollar, the euro and the yen.

Reuters recently polled 12 analysts.  Predictions for the future of gold covered a wide range from $1,000 to $2500.  The average projects that gold will hit $1,500 by 2015. The consensus revealed that the value of gold could change if positive political action begins and if economic recoveries gain solid ground.

Investors in India and China appear to be driving the price of gold.  As individual wealth increases in these vibrant economies, investors are selecting gold over other markets.  Based on the trends of these investors, an analyst from FastMarkets, James Moore, said that the demand from China and India will raise the price of gold to at least the $1,750 mark by 2015.

China and India purchased 1.54 tons of gold jewelry, bars and coins in 2010.  The World Gold Council reports that there are only 4,108 tons of gold in the market.

Wang Tao, a Reuters analyst, suggested that gold follows and eight year cycle.  Tao’s theory is that gold will hit $2,000 in 2012 and then will have a sharp slide.  The ability and will of the United States to reduce their deficit and strengthen the dollar are major factors in this scenario.

This week, the dollar has hit three-year lows.  The warning from Standard and Poors and the endless bickering in Washington have caused the dollar’s decline.  It is not just U.S. taxpayers that have lost confidence in Congress but it is also international investors.

The lack of confidence in the dollar has also spurred a strong rise in the price of oil.  At the rate oil is rising, Americans have a chance to hit $6.00 per gallon this summer.

Ronald Simpson of Action Economics  in Tampa Florida, “ There’s no reason to buy dollars right now.” Unfortunately, Simpson has it right.  Washington needs to get together and restore the U.S. image from its current third world imitation to the strongest economy in the world.

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Report Portends Changes to Forex Reserve Currencies

This week’s Bank of International Settlements (BIS) quarterly report came with some interesting revelations (most of which I’ll discuss in a later post). Below, I’d like to focus on one particularly interesting section entitled, “Foreign exchange trading in emerging currencies.” This section carries tremendous implications for the future of reserve currencies and is a must read for fundamental analysts.

According to the BIS, “Foreign exchange turnover evolves in a predictable fashion with increasing income. As income per capita rises, currency trading cuts loose from underlying current account transactions…moreover, currencies with either high or very low yields attract more trading, consistent with their role as target and funding currencies in carry trades.” In other words, the most liquid currencies (and hence, most suitable reserve currencies) are primarily those of advanced economies and secondarily those with abnormal interest rates.

In theory, one would expect a close correlation between forex turnover and trade. In fact, this turns out to be precisely the case for lesser-developed countries. Since the capital markets of such countries are commensurately undeveloped, offering limited opportunities for foreign investment, most of the demand for their currencies stems directly from trade. In fact, the currencies of Malaysia, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and (notably) China closely fit this profile, with a 1:1 ratio between forex turnover and trade.

At the same time, the BIS discovered a strong correlation between the ratio of foreign exchange turnover to trade and GDP per capita.  That means that as a country grows economically and enters the realm of industrialized countries, its currency will experience exponential growth in turnover. For example, the British Pound and Japanese Yen are exchanged at a quantity that is 50 times greater than required for trading purposes. The ratio of forex turnover to trade for the US Dollar, meanwhile, exceeds 100!

The BIS was able to fit a regression line to the data that seemed to explain this phenomenon quite well. The majority of economies/currencies that it surveyed fall pretty close to this line, suggesting that forex turnover is exactly where it should be relative to GDP per capita and trade. In fact, the line runs directly through the Euro, Hong Kong Dollar, Canadian Dollar, and Swedish Krona, and Norwegian Krona.

There are also plenty of outliers. Given the size of China’s economy, for instance, the model would predict that turnover in the Chinese  Yuan should be 2-3 times what it currently is. Unsurprisingly, all of the world’s major reserve currencies (except for the Euro) can be found well on the other side of the regression line. Turnover in the US Dollar, Japanese Yen, and Australian Dollar is almost twice as high as the model predicts. Perhaps the most flagrant outlier is the New Zealand Dollar, which seems to be traded at a frequency that is 8-10x higher than it should be. Of course, New Zealand is a unique case; there isn’t another economy that is as small and stable, and yet always has higher-than-average interest rates.

One interpretation of this analysis is that demand for the all of the currencies that fall above the regression line should decline over time, and should experience at least some depreciation. The opposite can be said for currencies that currently fall the regression line, especially if their economies continue to expand at a faster-than average pace.

At the same time, it puts things into perspective. Even if demand for the Chinese Yuan doubled in accordance with the BIS model (which would necessitate looser capital controls, among other things), GDP per capital would need to increase 20x and US GDP per capita would need to remain constant in order for the Yuan to rival the Dollar in importance. Also, I’m beginning to wonder if the New Zealand Dollar isn’t in fact oversubscribed and overvalued…

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Forex Volatility Rises from Multi-Year Lows

In the last month, volatility in the forex markets touched both a two-year low and a one-year high. In the beginning of March, volatility essentially returned to pre-credit crisis levels. One week later, when the earthquake and inception of the nuclear crisis in Japan, volatility surged 40%. While it has since resumed its downward path, investors are still bracing themselves for continued uncertainty.

The carry trade has perhaps born the brunt of the volatility spike. The carry trade depends on interest rate differentials – as opposed to currency appreciation – to drive profits, and  thus demands stability. When the markets become choppy and exchange rates spike wildly in one direction or another, it makes the carry trade significantly more risky. Hence the paradoxical rise of the Japanese Yen to a record high following a series of crushing disasters, as highly leveraged traders moved to unwind their Yen-short carry trades.

Likewise, high volatility should spur demand for so-called safe haven currencies. If only it were clear what constitutes a safe haven currency. Traditionally, that would send the US Dollar, Swiss Franc, and Japanese Yen upwards. In this case, the Franc has benefited most, followed closely by the Yen. The Dollar spiked against emerging market and high-risk currencies, but hardly budged against its G4 counterparts. Could it be that the Dollar’s multi-year positive correlation with volatility has (temporarily?) abated.

With regard to strategy, currency traders have a handful of choices. If you believe that volatility will continue declining or remain stable, you’re probably going to go long emerging market and high-yielding currencies, and short one of the safe-haven currencies, all of which are quite cheap to borrow. The main risk of such a strategy, of course, is that volatility will once again spike, in which these safe have currencies will rally.

If you think that the ebb and volatility isn’t sustainable, then you’re probably going to bet on the Franc, Dollar, or Yen. As I wrote in an earlier post, I think the Yen could theoretically appreciate in the short-term, but actually remains quite risky over the long-term. Despite the best efforts of the Swiss National Bank, the Franc will probably continue appreciation. Economically and monetarily, it is in an excellent shape. Besides, the fact that the supply of Francs is intrinsically small means that even modest capital inflow often translates into a big jump in its its value. As for the Dollar, it is now the most popular currency to short. It remains a safe choice and a good store of value, but probably won’t deliver the returns that safe-haven strategists have come to expect.

From a practical standpoint, you may also want to consider reducing your leverage. As everyone knows, high leverage increases profits but also magnifies losses. In the current environment of heightened volatility, leverage also magnifies risk. Either way, you may also want to consider hedging your exposure, by trading a basket of currencies and/or through the use of options.

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