Taking a look at the day to day change in the U.S. dollar, it may seem that there was very little consistency in the performance of the greenback ahead of Wednesday’s monetary policy announcement. However if we isolate the price action to the U.S. session, the dollar moved higher against most of the major currencies. This morning’s U.S. economic reports were mostly better than expected with consumer confidence beating expectations and new home sales rising sharply. Service sector activity slowed according to Markit Economics and house prices dropped slightly but that was not enough to deter investors from buying dollars pre-FOMC. During a time when central banks around the world are actively talking about and planning for easing, the Federal Reserve’s hawkish bias will shine a bright light on the dollar. Many feared that the Fed would give up on the idea of tightening after Brexit but as we have seen U.S. markets and the U.S. economy have proven to be fairly resilient.
The following table shows more improvements than deterioration in the U.S. economy since the June Fed meeting. Retail sales increased, non-farm payrolls rebounded strongly with job growth rising 287k in June, the housing market is chugging along, manufacturing and service sector activity are on the rise. U.S. stocks also hit record highs while plunging U.S. yields provide support to the economy. The currency has strengthened across the board but the strongest gains were against the British pound. We’ve also heard from a number of FOMC voters since Brexit and they still seemed to support the idea of tightening. The FOMC statement generally reflects the views of the Fed leadership (Yellen, Fischer and Dudley) and it is likely to recognize the improvements in the economy since June. Of course, there will still be notes of caution and everything will be “data dependent” but we expect the main takeaway to be that a 2016 rate hike remains on the table. The Fed needs to move forward with policy normalization and they can’t wait around for the U.K. to invoke Article 50 which could take up to 2 years. So we expect the dollar to trade higher into and after FOMC. There won’t be fireworks but there could still be some quick trading opportunities.
In 24 hours the Federal Reserve will announce its monetary policy decision and everyone expects interest rates will remain unchanged. The Fed has done a great job of preparing the market for steady rates but no changes to monetary policy doesn’t mean no volatility for the U.S. dollar.
The reason why the April FOMC meeting is important is because it will help to shape expectations for June. There’s no monetary policy in May so if the Fed wanted to prepare the market for possible tightening, they would need to tweak this month’s FOMC statement. The problem is that the odds of a dollar positive and negative outcome is roughly balanced. With the global markets stabilizing and commodity prices moving higher, the Fed has less to worry about internationally but domestically, growth has slowed. So even though no changes in monetary policy is expected at this month’s meeting, the greenback could still have a meaningful reaction to FOMC based upon the Fed’s assessment of the economy.
Now lets run through the possible scenarios:
Scenario 1 – The FOMC statement remains virtually unchanged = Mildly negative for the dollar because it would imply an ongoing split within the Fed and reluctance to raise interest rates.
Scenario 2 – Fed acknowledges deterioration in data and leaves out risk assessment = Dollar Bearish
The balance of risks statement was removed from the last 2 monetary policy statements because policymakers could not agree on the outlook for the economy. So if the risk statement is absent again, the dollar could spiral lower as the market interprets it to mean no rate hike in June.
Scenario 3 – Fed acknowledges deterioration in data but describes it as transitory AND the risk statement returns = Dollar Bullish
If the risk statement reappears and the Fed describes the risks are balanced, the dollar will soar as the chance of a June hike increases significantly. Aside from the risk statement the central bank’s comments about recent data disappointments will also be important. If they say the deterioration is transitory, it will help the dollar.
The following table shows how the U.S. economy performed between March and April. An initial glance shows more deterioration than improvements with consumer spending, labor market activity, inflation, production and trade weakening. However there are glimmers of hope. The rally in U.S. stocks helped to boost consumer confidence as measured by the Conference Board’s report, consumer prices are still moving upwards as gas prices increased. New and pending home sales rebounded and most importantly manufacturing and service sector activity accelerated. With average hourly earnings on the rise, the Fed could argue that the economy will regain momentum in the near future and with prices rising, they need to get ahead of inflation expectations. In other words while the data suggests that the Fed should be less hawkish, they could also find reasons to stick to their plan of raising rates twice this year.
Top Forex Themes for 2016
Since the next two weeks are generally the quietest periods in the financial markets, we want to take this opportunity to think longer term and share with you our currency forecasts for 2016. We’ll start with an initial review of the top themes and explore them in further detail as the week progresses in our outlook for each of the major currencies.
But first – 2015 has been a big year for the foreign exchange market. Divergences in monetary policies led to strong moves in currencies with the U.S. dollar as the best performer. The U.S. saw its first rate hike in nearly a decade while other major central banks in the Eurozone, China, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan eased. In response, the greenback climbed to multiyear highs and this strength translated into significant weakness for many major currencies along with a collapse for commodities. These are some of the milestones reached in currencies this year:
The greatest risk for the financial markets and the global economy in the coming year is the feedback loop from the dollar and Fed policy.
While the quarter point hike in December represents only a nominal increase in U.S. rates, the Federal Reserve expects to tighten 4 additional times next year which will have broad ramifications for currencies, equities and commodities. In mid-December, we published a piece outlining the Consequences of a Strong Dollar and a lot of these issues will return to focus in 2016.
The first few months of the year should be good for the dollar as long as Fed officials don’t backtrack on their hawkish views.
There will be more hawks voting on the FOMC in 2016 than 2015 so the balance swings in favor of continued tightening. Between the warm El Nino weather and gas prices below $2.00 a gallon in some states, consumer spending should also rise in the first quarter. So while the dollar is rich, the path of least resistance is still in higher. However our outlook changes in the second half of 2016 as we believe rate hikes and the strong dollar will force the Fed to slow tightening makring the top for the greenback and the bottom for other major currencies.
Here are some of the themes that we are looking for in 2016:
Is Buying Dollars in 2016 a Smart or Foolish Trade?
2015 has been a great year for the U.S. dollar but with only 5 trading days left many investors are wondering if being long dollars in 2016 is still a smart trade. December has been a difficult month for the greenback with dollar bulls struggling to maintain control. The Federal Reserve raised interest rates for the first time since June 2006 but instead of appreciating, the dollar erased nearly all of November’s gains. Now many investors are wondering that if a rate hike and hawkish forward guidance can’t lift the dollar, is it foolish to be buying greenbacks in 2016.
To answer that question we have to understand why investors sold dollars in December. The bet that the dollar would rise in 2015 was one of the world’s most crowded trades and according to the CFTC’s Commitment of Traders report, forex futures traders were busy adjusting positions ahead of the December 16 FOMC meeting. The biggest changes were in euro and yen where investors aggressively cut their short euro and short yen positions. This means that investors started to unwind their long dollar trades ahead of FOMC and based on the price action after the meeting, liquidated further after the rate hike. Buying dollars became a very crowded trade in 2015 and a lot of money moved to the sidelines at the end of the year.
This means there’s money to put back into play in 2016.
Yet positioning was not the only reason why investors bailed out of the greenback. According to the following chart past tightening cycles have not been good for the dollar and this scared many investors. While USD/JPY generally appreciated leading up to the rate hike, on a number of occasions it reversed course after tightening but this cycle is different because the first few months of the year will be good for the U.S. economy and the dollar. The warm El Nino weather and low gas prices will boost consumer consumption, which is already supported by steady job creation, wage growth and consumer borrowing. The Fed also welcomes new hawks to their roster of FOMC voters.