Posts in US Economy
(FX) Volatility to Make a Comeback?

I said my peace on what I consider to be the big market stories last week, so I won’t belabour bonds and equities too much this week. FX markets, however, could well be the driver of the NarrativeTM in the next few months, at least judging by the rustling of the grapevine. This story starts with the notion of the “global Fed,” which is not a new idea at all. Fed watchers tend to pivot between two extremes in their analysis of, and forecasts, for U.S. monetary policy. In one end, Fed conducts itself according to the reality of a relatively closed U.S. economy, without regard to the impact of its policy on the rest of the world, and the value of the dollar. At the other end, the Fed acts according to its role as a warden of the global reserve currency, taking into account the impact of its policy on the rest of the world. A more cynical version of this story is the idea that the Fed, in a world of free capital mobility, is constrained by the fact that other major central banks, in economies with large external surpluses, are stuck at the zero bound. This could happen in practice as tighter monetary policy in the U.S. drives the value of the dollar higher and/or leads to an increase in capital inflows. Both likely would drive up the external deficit, which would probably be counterproductive in an environment when the Fed would otherwise want to raise rates to curb inflation pressures.

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Agreeing to disagree about the DXY

One of the more interesting stories in markets last week was the disagreement about whether investors are bullish or bearish on the dollar. On the face of it, this is a silly debate. Clearly, sentiment has become significantly more positive on the dollar in the past three months, lifting the DXY index up by nearly 6% to a nine-month high of just under 95.0 at the start of Q3. On occasion, I nail my colours to the mast and try to come up with short-term ideas in equities and bonds, but I am generally loath to do it in FX markets. Currencies have a tendency to the exact opposite of what macroeconomists predict that they will. Usually, the stronger the conviction of economists, the stronger the countermove. With that warning in mind, I think it’s worthwhile looking at the stories which currently are propelling the dollar. The macroeconomic argument for a stronger dollar is simple. The synchronised global recovery has become de-synchronised since the beginning of the year, and the U.S. economy has emerged head-and- shoulders above the rest. Not only that; Europe and China have slowed while the U.S. economy appears to have gathered strength in the second quarter. 

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Markets were mulling familiar themes last week. Will a wider U.S. twin deficit change the rules for the dollar and treasuries and is elevated volatility here to stay in equities? Judging by last week, the answer would be: probably and yes. The contemplation over these stories, though, were interrupted by politics. Mr. Trump announced his intention to apply tariffs on steel and aluminium—25% and 10% respectively—and Mrs. May attempted to give clarity on the U.K. government’s Brexit position.* I was unimpressed with both. Before I have a dig at Mr. Trump, I ought to provide an example of someone who supports it. I have great respect for Stephen Jen, but his argument here is like endorsing the idea of a diet by advising someone to eat nothing but kale and carrots for a decade. The analysis of Mr. Trump’s tariffs requires a distinction between the principle and the concrete measures. I concede that China is bending the rules of global trade, but Mr. Trump is stretching the fabrics of macroeconomic policy if he starts imposing tariffs on industrial goods. He is presiding over an economy close to full employment, a low domestic savings rate, and a medium-sized twin deficit. To boot, he is about to let fly with unprecedented fiscal stimulus.

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