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.
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.
EUR 2016 Outlook – Forget About Parity
By Kathy Lien, Managing Director of BKAsset Management
Six years after the financial crisis and the European Central Bank is still struggling to turn around their economy.
As recently as December, they increased stimulus in a desperate attempt to revive growth and drive inflation higher. This illustrates how deeply entrenched the slowdown is and how poor of a job Eurozone policymakers have done this past year. In the third quarter, the Eurozone economy expanded by a mere 0.3%. During this same period the U.S. economy grew 2%. Inflation is low around the world but the approximately 10% slide in EUR/USD combined with the full scale QE program launched in early 2015 should have been more effective in boosting inflation, which ran at a 0.2% annualized pace in November – well short of the central bank’s 2% target.
2016 brings more challenges for the Eurozone economy.
While the ECB is comfortable with the current level of monetary policy they will need to extend bond purchases beyond September 2016. September is only a soft target and we can’t see a scenario where growth or inflation will improve enough 9 months forward to warrant a reduction in stimulus. Also, if inflation and growth do not make significant upside progress, the ECB may need to expand the program in the coming year. The ECB’s decision to provide additional stimulus in December reflected their sense of urgency and their overall concern about the economy. Their efforts are paying off as there have been signs of recovery in the Germany but meaningful risks lie ahead. The prospect of further weakness in emerging markets, particularly China, unstable geopolitical situations in the Middle East and Russia, high unemployment, stagnant wages are just some of the problems posing downside risks for the Eurozone in 2016. Countries in the region will benefit from the new round of stimulus, weaker euro and low oil prices but the benefits will be slow to come. France and Italy have not made much progress in terms of growth and while Spain is doing well it is only the fourth largest economy in the region. The fiscal position of most Eurozone nations is also very weak with only a handful producing a budget surplus in the past 3 years. The largest sector, financials will suffer from negative deposit rates. Debt levels are high and major progress towards reducing that burden is not expected over the next 12 months.
British Pound and the Defining Issues for 2016
By Kathy Lien, Managing Director for BK Asset Management
2016 will be a defining year for the British pound – a year when politics will overshadow economics.
Considering that sterling ended the year near 7 month lows against the U.S. dollar, some of our readers may find it surprising that the U.K. was one of the best performing G10 economies. However according to the latest figures for the third quarter, the U.K. economy grew at an annualized pace of 2.1% which matches the pace of U.S. growth. In contrast the Eurozone and Japanese grew 1.6%, Australia expanded 2.5% and Canada contracted by 0.2%. There’s also very little debate that the Bank of England will be the next major central bank to raise interest rates. Yet sterling benefited from none of this and instead weakened versus the euro, Japanese Yen, U.S. and New Zealand dollars over the past 6 months. Part of the underperformance was driven by U.S. dollar strength but slow U.K. wage growth, mixed data and cautious policymakers has the market looking for rates to rise in 2017 and not 2016.
We believe the market is underestimating the Bank of England and the U.K. economy because 2016 should be a year of strong growth.
Consumer spending is the backbone of the economy and sales surged in the month of November. While wage growth slowed, labour force participation rates remain near their highest levels in 20 years and service sector activity is accelerating according to the latest reports. As the labor market tightens and inflation bottoms out, wages should rise as well. Slow Chinese and Eurozone growth poses a risk to the economy and the manufacturing sector but the U.K. is still expected to be one of the fastest growing G10 economies in 2016.
From the perspective of growth alone, the Bank of England should raise interest rates in the first half of the year. However there are 2 primary issues holding the central bank back – low commodity prices and the risk of Brexit. Oil prices could remain low for a large part of the year and as of November consumer prices are running at a 0.1% annualized pace, which is far short of the central bank’s forecast. Considering that the Federal Reserve raised rates with yoy inflation at 0.5%, the BoE may not need to see CPI above 1% before tightening monetary policy but they could be reluctant to do so until there is greater clarity on Britain’s position within Europe.
The greatest risk that the U.K. economy and the British pound faces in 2016 is Brexit.