Higher Retail Sales Fails to Help

Job losses are increasing, but that hasn’t stopped Americans from spending and unfortunately that pretty much sums up American culture. Retail sales increased 1 percent in the month of January despite a sharp increased in jobless claims (Instant Insight on Retail Sales). Consumers took advantage of sharp January discounts and the bankruptcy of Circuit City.

This pace of spending cannot be sustained and skepticism towards future spending has driven the EUR/USD below 1.28. According to our technical analyst at FX360, intraday EUR/USD support is at 1.2785.

Also, here is why retail sales is increasing! This was the line at the Barney’s Warehouse Sale this morning in NY. At 7:11am, 50 people were on line and by 8, the line was down the block and around the corner. Luxury discounters are cutting prices significantly and if these people are lining up to shop today, it leads me to wonder, do they have a job?

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US Dollar Forecast: What’s In Store for 2009?

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
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Dollar Unfazed By Mixed Economic Data

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.
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Why Does the Drop in Oil Prices Matter?

Oil prices are trading at $33 a barrel and in retrospect, it is almost hard to believe that the price of crude was more than $140 a barrel this summer (gasoline prices were greater than $4.00 a gallon).

Since those highs, oil prices have plunged more than 70 percent and gas prices are down more than 50 percent. If we discount the run up in the first half of the year, we have still seen a 55 percent drop in oil prices since January.

Crude prices matter for a variety of reasons. Lower oil prices help to cushion the ever dwindling pocketbooks of US consumers. In addition, oil has a direct correlation with consumer prices. With CPI falling for 2 consecutive months, the risk of deflation is growing.

Take a look at the strong correlation between the price of oil and consumer prices.

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Retail Sales and PPI Still Stink

US retail sales and producer prices were basically in line with expectations but that does not undermine the fact that the data was very weak and confirms that the Federal Reserve will be cutting interest rates by 75bp next week. USD/JPY hit a 13 year low last night after news that the automaker bailout plan is not going happen before the new year. Everyone had hoped that the automaker saga would come to an end, but lawmakers are not letting that happen. On Wednesday, I said that USD/JPY could hit to a new 13 year. At that time, the currency pair was trading at 92.50-93.00. The possibility of the US taking interest rates below Japanese levels should keep the US dollar soft going into the Fed interest rate decision on Tuesday.

Consumer spending fell for the fifth month in a row while producer prices dropped for the second straight month. The two biggest inputs into GDP are retail sales and trade. Consumers cut back spending more aggressively in October and November which suggests that GDP growth could take a big dive in the fourth quarter, especially with the widening of the trade deficit.

GDP Could Contract by 4 to 6% in Q4

GDP could decline as much as 4 to 6 percent in Q4, which would be the largest contraction in growth since the 1980s. In the first quarter of 1982, GDP fell -6.4 percent. A 4 to 6 percent drop in GDP would not be out of the ordinary given the current conditions in the US economy. In the fourth quarter of 1990, GDP contracted by 3 percent and in the first quarter of 1991, it contracted by 2 percent. The currrent recession is worse than the one the US economy experienced in the 1990s, so a contraction in growth exceeding 3 percent would actually be expected.

The biggest drop in consumer spending came from gasoline station receipts. Prices at the pump have fallen more than 50 percent since the summer and gas stations are suffering as a result. The only silver lining in the retail sales report is the fact that not every sector saw slower sales. Electronics and sporting goods were in demand but this rebound after at least 4 consecutive months of softer spending is probably related to Black Friday sales.

BTW: EUR/GBP is at the brink of hitting 90 cents – a move that I called on Dec 8

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