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The Currency Week In Review
The big news in FX markets last week was the post-FOMC announcement that the Fed was going to buy back $300B of US long treasuries. The pattern was consistent across the major currency pairs - the USD got hammered from peak to trough to the tune of roughly 500-700 pips from the initial sell-off, a brief profit taking period and another mini sell-off the next day. This is a significant event for two reasons: one, the FX markets were clearly not pricing in any expectations of this and two, this event jarred the trend over the past few months of USD strengthening on the back of the "safe haven" theory.
In the 10-year history of the Euro, Wednesday was the largest single day jump for the EUR/USD currency pair. The FX markets were anticipating a largely quiet Wednesday, expecting the Fed to maintain the Fed Funds rate in the 0-0.25% target range. However, the announcement of the buyback rocked the markets as the consensus view was that the Fed was limiting itself to the conventional monetary policy tools and was constrained by an already bloated balance sheet. The Fed's actions showed a willingness to battle the recession at all costs and showed the FX markets to be badly out of synch with this mentality. This is significant, because going forward the markets will more closely track to the expectations of the Fed's view of the US recovery and the resulting potential balance sheet actions. Given that the Fed funds rate is not likely to change over the next 6 months, currency market watchers should pay very close attention to the nitty gritty details of credit expansion and the political machinations in DC.
In short, the trick to trading FX has always been to know which number is the key number, to figure out where it's going and to get ahead of it. Wednesday was an inflection point; the key number isn't about guessing a quarter point move in the funds rate, it's now guessing how much more political will does the Fed have to puff up its balance sheet.
In a general trend of risk aversion, the USD has quietly been strengthening over the past 3 months. Despite interest rates being at record lows, investors piled into dollars to avoid the contagion of the global depression and most investors adopted a bunker mentality in their outlook. Wednesday's announcement woke a lot of people up and opened the field for a more risk-friendly attitude. On the "So what?" meter, this is potentially huge. The mindset change could see a reversal over the next few months of the larger "safe haven" trend as investors pile back into the risky foreign assets that they've ditched. This could also be a poor sign for other proxy reserve currencies such as gold and the Swiss franc. The migration back to risk will require a few things, most notably a belief that the Fed can act successfully to get credit flowing and that the resulting lower spreads will be sufficient to justify increased foreign investment. Of course, these are two huge ifs that need to be closely monitored but the Fed's actions are a clear indication that such thinking is at least on the table.
On a separate note, look for the Japanese to strike back over the next 3-6 months. The yen has been gradually weakening and last week's movement are not likely to make the export-crazy Japanese too happy. While there is no official policy statement, the smart money consensus is that the Japanese government has and will engage in open market actions to continue to devalue the yen. Look for the USD/JPY to break the 100 barrier before the summer. Sphere: Related Content Print this post