Has Currency Volatility Hit a Peak?

On Tuesday, we talked about how volatility in the forex market has exploded in 2008. Although trading ranges expanded significantly in October and November, volatility has contracted since the beginning of the month.

The following chart from Bloomberg illustrates how far 3 month volatility for the EUR/USD has fallen since hitting a record high in late October. Anyone that follows the currency market on a regular basis can attest to its recent range trading behavior. There are good reasons for the compression in volatility as the year is winding is coming to a close and new positioning becomes one of the last things on the minds of currency traders. It has been a tough year and many funds are closing their books early to lock in remaining profits.

If volatility does continue to fall, it would help carry trades recover. One of the big reasons why the Japanese Yen has outperformed this year is the explosion in volatility.

However it may still be premature to say that volatility in the currency market has peaked because December 16th will be a historic moment for the US Federal Reserve. Not only are they expected to take interest rates to the lowest level this generation has ever seen but they have to figure out how to effectively signal their intentions of taking US interest rates to zero without completely spooking the markets.

Thin trading going into the holidays can also exacerbate moves in the currency markets. I remember how the EUR/USD increased 300 pips between Christmas and New Years in 2007 and did the same in the first 3 trading days of the year.

Source: Bloomberg

Source: Bloomberg

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Explosion in Forex Trading Ranges

Forex trading ranges have exploded over the past few months. The daily average trading range has doubled for all of the actively traded currency pairs in 2008, with some currency pairs even seeing a 200% rise in their average daily range.

However the big explosion in volatility has actually happened in the past 9 weeks. EUR/GBP, USD/CAD and the AUD/USD have seen the largest increases to their average daily range, but the range for the EUR/USD and GBP/USD has also increased materially.

More specifically, in 2007, the EUR/USD had an average daily range of 84 pips. Since October, its average daily range has been 267 pips, a more than 300 point rise.

Understanding trading ranges is very important because it plays a big role in developing effective money management strategies. I explore this concept in more detail in the second edition of Day Trading & Swing Trading the Currency Market.

EUR/GBP which use to known as one the range trading currency pairs saw its average daily trading range increase from 36 pips in 2007 to 142 pips since October, a whopping 400 percent rise. Say goodbye to the days of the hiding in low volatility of EUR/GBP because it is currency pair that has seen the largest expansion in volatility.

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What Matters More? The Good or the Bad

Every day, equities, currency and bond traders weigh the good news with the bad to determine if they want to buy or sell.

Today, there were just as many positive reports that should have helped to stabilize the markets but has instead failed to stem the bleeding in equities and currencies.

In a market environment where pessimism is being felt in the bones of investors, it has become increasingly difficult to shift market sentiment.

The US dollar and the Japanese Yen continued to outperform as risk aversion drags nearly all of the major currency pairs lower. Even though USD/JPY has remained unchanged, the EUR/USD and GBP/USD fell more than 200 pips.

The Good News: US Government Accelerates Efforts to Minimize Foreclosures

As investors remain nervous about the outlook for the global economy, good news has failed to have a positive impact on risk appetite. Today officials from the Treasury and the Federal Housing Finance Agency said that through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac they plan on accelerating efforts to help homeowners that are facing foreclosures. This includes reducing interest rate and extending loan terms, which should have been perceived as a step in the right direction. More specifically, the mortgage servicers will help borrowers who are more than 90 days delinquent bring their monthly payments down to 38% of their gross income, which is now considered the threshold of affordability. For an American that earns $75,000 a year, affordable means monthly payments of $2375 or under.

In addition after falling to a record low, IBD/TIPP reported a material improvement in economic optimism.

The Bad News: Fears of GM Bankruptcy

However the market has completely shrugged off the positive developments and has instead chosen to focus on the fears that General Motors will be forced into bankruptcy. The White House has indicated that they are open to accelerating the loans previously approved for the auto industry while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on Congress to pass an emergency rescue package for the industry.

$25B loans were originally allocated to the automakers for developing more fuel-efficient vehicles, but the legislation could be changed to divert the money towards more urgent initiatives such as helping the automakers fend off bankruptcy.

Given President-elect Barack Obama’s pledge to help the auto industry last week, official support is inevitable. However if the government does not act fast, the market could push the automaker into bankruptcy. On Monday, analysts issued price targets of zero for GM’s stock. With 263k workers under their umbrella, General Motors could be too big to fail.

EUR: Pressured By Problems in the Banking Sector
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FX Trading Ranges: How Much Have they Expanded since 2007?

We all know that the daily trading range of the major currency pairs have expanded, but by how much?

Compared to 2007, the daily average trading range for the EUR/USD year to date has increased 195%. The average range for GBP/USD has increased 150% while the range for USD/JPY has expanded by 140%.

Since the beginning of October, the ranges have exploded even further. The average trading range for the EUR/USD is now 300% greater than the range in 2007.

The biggest increase has been in EUR/AUD and the AUD/USD which saw their ranges rise by a jaw dropping 628% and 427% respectively!

Here is a table with all of the details (click to enlarge):

Source: Kathy Lien

Source: Kathy Lien

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