USD/JPY is on a tear this morning. US equities is also trading higher which is completely mind boggling given the fact that US economic data was very weak and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke warned that we may not be looking at a recovery in the US economy until 2011 or 2012.
There could still be more surprises in Bernanke’s testimony, which is only beginning as he will be facing questioning by the members of the Senate. Although the Q&A session could set the tone for trading this afternoon, the USD/JPY rally has been voracious. Unless there are new revelations from Bernanke, USD/JPY could be headed to 98. The level that it needs to hold above for this to happen is 96.15, the 38.2 percent retracement of the August to January sell-off.
Here’s his full testimony:
Chairman Ben S. Bernanke
Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to the Congress
Before the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C.
February 24, 2009
Chairman Dodd, Senator Shelby, and members of the Committee, I appreciate the opportunity to discuss monetary policy and the economic situation and to present the Federal Reserve’s Monetary Policy Report to the Congress.
Recent Economic and Financial Developments and the Policy Responses
In more than 40 years, we have never seen US consumers this pessimistic. The Conference Board’s report on consumer confidence fell to 37.7, the lowest level on record. The disappointing consumer confidence report will drag down risk appetite and drive investors into the safety of US dollars. The rally in the US dollar is a reflection of more panic selling and not optimism about US economy. On the heels of the report, we have already seen the EUR/USD and equities turn negative. We may not see a recovery in confidence Until job security is no longer a major concern. Unfortunately with headlines in national papers touting the 74k jobs axed in one day this morning, consumers will not turn optimistic anytime soon. The one silver lining in the report is that we have seen an increase in plans to buy automobiles within the next 6 months. Major discounts are enticing consumers to buy new cars. Looking ahead, discounts and incentives will be the only for businesses to push inventory. Fourth quarter GDP is due for release on Friday and weak consumer confidence supports the market’s belief that growth was the weakest in 26 years.
Earlier this morning, S&P/CaseShiller reported that house prices fell 18.18 percent in the month of November, the largest decline on record. Unfortunately house prices still have room to fall as the labor market remains weak and more inventory floods the market over the next few months.
2008 Price Action: It has been an exceptionally active year in the foreign exchange market as currency volatilities hit record highs. In the first half of the year, everyone was worried about how much further the dollar would fall but in the second half of the year the concern became how much further the dollar would rise. More specifically, after hitting a record low against the Euro in the second quarter, the US dollar surged to a 2 year high against the currency in the beginning of the fourth quarter. From trough to peak, the dollar index rose more than 23 percent in 2008.
3 Themes for 2009: The US economy and the dollar’s fate in the years ahead could be determined by what happens in 2009. We are focusing on 3 big themes that will impact the US dollar and each of these themes encompasses a lot.
1. U or L Shaped Recovery: The US is in recession and the slowdown is expected to deepen in 2009. Before a recovery is even possible, the economy has to work through more weakness and negative surprises. Non-farm payrolls declined by 533k in November, sending the unemployment rate to a 15 year high of 6.7 percent. With many US corporations forced to tighten their belts, the unemployment rate could rise as high as 8 percent. We expect this to happen because over the past 50 years on average, recessions have boosted the unemployment rate by 2.8 percent. When the current recession started in December, the unemployment rate was 5.0 percent. If you tack on 2.8 percent, that would drive the unemployment rate to at least 7.8 percent.
Therefore non-farm payrolls could double dip, just as it has in past recessions. In this case, we would expect a rebound followed by another sharp loss that rivals November’s job cuts. A rise in unemployment spreads into incomes, spending and then usually leads to more layoffs. We need to see this toxic cycle end before we can see a recovery. Consumer spending has already been very weak and the trade deficit is widening as the dollar strengthens. As the 2 primary inputs into GDP, we expect fourth quarter growth to be very weak. The strength of the US dollar in Q3 and for most of Q4 will also take a big bite out of corporate earnings, leading to disappointments for the stock market. This is why we expect more weakness in the US dollar and the US economy in the first quarter of 2009. However towards the middle of the second quarter, we may begin to see the US economy stabilize as it starts to reap the benefits of Quantitative Easing and President Barack Obama’s fiscal stimulus plan. New Administrations usually hit the ground running and as such we fully expect the rest of the TARP funds to be tapped shortly after his inauguration. The shape of the US recovery will have a big impact on the price action of the US dollar and the path to a stronger dollar will be through a weaker one.
The following chart illustrates the double-dip trend of non-farm payrolls during the 2001 recession.
2. Safety vs. Yield: The dollar’s rally in the second half of 2008 has been largely driven by risk aversion, deleveraging and repatriation. In other words, despite the next to nothing yield offered by dollar denominated investments, a flight safety into US dollars and government bonds has kept the US dollar from collapsing against
The US dollar appears to be unfazed by this morning’s mixed economic data. An improvement in consumer confidence has failed to help the dollar while the weaker news has pretty much been baked into the markets.
Christmas and New Years week is a time when traders are more focused on seeing family than making profits. It is probably truer this year than most because of the sharp volatility in the financial markets and the deep losses endured by most investors.
Third quarter GDP remained unrevised at -0.5 percent even though personal consumption slipped and core prices eased. Investors are more worried about the Q4 numbers than the Q3. The global recession and the stronger dollar could take a big bite out corporate earnings and growth.
The housing market also remains weak with new home sales falling for the fourth consecutive month and existing home sales falling by the largest amount on record. Sharp discounts on new homes is helping to slow the pace of falling demand.
The one piece of good news that we did see this morning was consumer confidence which was revised upwards in the month of December. Given that almost everyone knows someone that has been laid off, the price of gasoline is the only reason to cheer this holiday season. Prices at the pump have fallen close to 60 percent from its summer highs. For drivers, lower gas prices is like a tax cut. At a time when salaries are being frozen and bonuses are being reduced, a tax cut in the form of lower gasoline prices is welcomed with open arms.
Fresh concerns about the global economy have triggered sharp gains in the US dollar and the Japanese yen. Risk aversion continues to seep through the markets as the National Bureau of Economic Research finally admits that the US economy fell into recession in December 2007. The first trading day of the last month in the year has been exceptionally brutal with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling more than 635 points or 7 percent. Even President Elect Barack Obama’s nomination of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State has failed to help the markets.
Dollar Remains the Safe Haven Play, Bernanke Signals More Rate Cuts
There is no question that the meltdown in the equity market singlehandedly triggered the sell-off in the currency market today. Most people knew that the US economy was already in recession, but as reality hits with the official NBER announcement, investors bailed out of equities once again. In fact, we have seen a global flight to safety today with stock exchanges across Europe slipping more than 5 percent. The flight to safety has led to repatriation back into US dollars even though there is still more trouble ahead for the US economy. On day when manufacturing indexes across the globe hit decade to record lows, the US Federal Reserve was the only central bank to offer practical reassurance. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said in a speech today that further interest rate cuts are certainly feasible and even though their scope for conventional rate policy is limited, their other options include buying long term Treasuries or agency securities in substantial quantities.
Cyber Monday May Not Save the US Economy
Investors are looking to Cyber Monday in the hopes that retail sales may support the economy but even if consumers spent more this year than last, it is a result of discounts rather than underlying demand. Foot-traffic at the nation’s retailers on Black Friday was stronger than expected but many forecast that because the discounts were so deep this season, often reaching more than 50%, increased sales will not transfer into strong profits. The shopping event that transpired last Friday was more of an act of desperation by retailers than anything else. Industry groups, such as the National Retail Federation, note that weekend traffic fell-off significantly as buyers felt satisfied that they took advantage of all available discounts during Friday’s rush. In addition, more shoppers indicated that they were already done with their holiday shopping this year than last. Buyers also specified that gift purchases will be constrained to the younger audience, with older friends and family agreeing to forgo adult gifts. This type of behavior suggests that the momentum may be difficult to sustain for the remainder of the month.
Dollar Rally Should Continue