Turkey sees currency driven inflation beginning to fade as the Lira rallies

A feature of the modern era is the way that we are presented crises but they then fall off the radar screen. An example of this has been Turkey which hit the media heights but has now faded away. Let us update ourselves via the view of Commerzbank on last months central bank meeting.

The Turkish central bank (CBT) left its benchmark interest rate unchanged at today’s meeting. In our view, this was a major policy mistake. CBT commented that it maintains a tight policy stance. But, when the benchmark rate is 24% and inflation is also 24%, how is this stance “tight”? The decision shows that CBT has not morphed into an active inflation-targeting central bank as some government officials have claimed. Rather CBT is simply taking the path of least resistance – since the market is forgiving at the moment, why ruffle political feathers by continuing to hike rates? Given this CB attitude, prepare for more lira volatility down the line.”  ( via FXStreet )

There is a large amount to cover here and let us start with the idea that a major mistake was made. Also that this from the CBRT is wrong.

The tight stance in monetary policy will be maintained decisively until the inflation outlook displays a significant improvement…….Accordingly, the Committee has decided to maintain the tight monetary policy stance and keep the policy rate (one week repo auction rate) constant at 24 percent.

There are many ways of measuring such a concept but an interest-rate of 24% on its own in these times makes you think, especially if we recall that it had been raised by 6.25% at the previous meeting. How many countries even have interest-rates of 6.25% right now? The real issue here to my mind is that Commerzbank  lost perspective with this by looking at inflation at the moment rather than looking ahead. If we take the view of the CBRT from back then the outlook was this.

In this respect, inflation is projected to be 23.5 percent at end-2018, and then fall to 15.2 percent at end-2019 and 9.3 percent at end-2020 before stabilizing around 5 percent in the medium term. Forecasts are based on a monetary policy framework that envisages that the tight monetary policy stance will be maintained for an extended period.

On this basis if we look ahead to when we might expect the interest-rate rise to be fully effective we should start with the end-2019 figure of 15.2%. Against that outlook then a real interest-rate of 9% is for these times eye-wateringly tight. Of course caution is required as central banks are hardly the best forecasters, But I am reminded of the template I set out on the third of May for such a situation.

However some of the moves can make things worse as for example knee-jerk interest-rate rises. Imagine you had a variable-rate mortgage in Buenos Aires! You crunch your domestic economy when the target is the overseas one.

My warning was given when interest-rates in Argentina were 30.25%, by the end of that day they were 3% higher and now the LELIQ rate is 68.1%. Sadly they are living out my warning.

Inflation now

Let us bring this up to date from the Hurriyet Daily News.

Turkish annual inflation surged to 25 percent in October, official data showed on Nov. 5, hitting its highest in 15 years……..Month-on-month, consumer prices jumped 2.67 percent, the Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK) data showed, higher than the 2 percent forecast in a Reuters poll. Core inflation surged 24.34 annually. October  inflation was driven by a 12.74 percent month-on-month surge in clothing and shoe prices and a 4.15 percent rise in housing prices, the data showed.

On a yearly basis, the biggest price hike was in furnishing and household equipment in October with 37.92 percent.

Initially Commerzbank may think it was right but this is only a small nudge higher in annual terms as the monthly increase more than halves. We also get a reminder that this is inflation which is essentially exchange-rate driven by the way that the core inflation rate is so similar to the headline. This is joined by which sectors are influenced by imports showing it is a bad time to overhaul your wardrobe or redecorate your home. Speaking of homes there will be central bankers reading this thinking that the rise in house prices is a triumph. The wealth effects! The wealth effects! Back in your box please.

The Turkish Lira

There have been changes here as we look to see what influence it will have on inflation trends. Here is @UmarFarooq_

Turkish is regaining some of its loses, looks set to return to pre-sanction days of August. Went from 6.3 to 5.3 versus dollar in one month. Still a ways to go compared to one year ago, when it was 3.8

Some of the move has been in relation to political changes but from our point of view that only matters if they intervene again. The fact is that a lot of inflationary pressure has faded in the move from the peak of 7.21 against the US Dollar at the height of the crisis to 5.34 as I type this.

So whilst there is still inflationary pressure in the system it has faded quite a lot and if you believe World Economics things are still out of line.

The Turkish Lira has an FX rate of 5.7 but a PPP value of 2.72 against the USD. ( PPP is Purchasing Power Parity)

Of course with inflation so high PPP may need a bit of an update.

Comment

The exchange-rate is the (F)X-Factor here but the inflation trend is now turning although due to base effects the headline may not respond for a couple of months or so. In some ways like so many things these days events have sped up and it has been like a crisis on speed. Here is the latest official trade data via Google Translate.

Our foreign trade deficit decreased by 92.8% to 529 million dollars in October compared to the same period of the previous year……..October, our exports increased by 13.1% compared to the same month of the previous year and reached 15 billion 732 million  dollars. Our exports increased to the highest level of all time and 
broke the record of the Republican history. 
In October, our imports decreased by 23.5 percent to 16 billion 261 million dollars.

There is an intriguing hint that the Ottoman export performance may have been quite something but we learn several things. Turkey seems to have a very price competitive economy as we see both exports and imports responding in size and in short order. We also have a large slow down and indeed recessionary hint from the size of the fall in imports. Next we admire their ability to have the October figures available on the 1st of November. Also if we look at the year so far you might be surprised at one of the names below.

In January-October period, exports to Germany increased 8.7% to $ 13.5 billion, while exports to the UK increased 17.5% to $ 9.3 billion.

Also Turkey seems to have avoided the automotive slow down which today has spread to Ford suppliers in Valencia.

Thus looking ahead the inflationary episode is now fading as ironically another consequence of the lower exchange-rate which is trade looks to be moving into surplus. For once the real economy is moving as quickly as the financial one. However one aspect that we do not know yet is the size of the slow down or recession partly because a sign of it – lower imports – flatters GDP via trade and often more quickly than the other numbers we receive show the actual cause of it. If you want a Commerzbank style Turkish economy imagine all of the above with another interest-rate increase……

 

 

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The Dollar shortage of 2018 and maybe 19

Today we return to a topic which has been regularly in the headlines in 2018. We started the year with the US administration that looking like it was talking the US Dollar lower in line with its America First policy. Back on the 23rd of January we were mulling this.

“Obviously a weaker dollar is good for us as it relates to trade and opportunities,” Mnuchin told reporters in Davos. The currency’s short term value is “not a concern of ours at all,” he said.

However as the year has gone by we have found ourselves mulling what the US Treasury Secretary said next.

“Longer term, the strength of the dollar is a reflection of the strength of the U.S. economy and the fact that it is and will continue to be the primary currency in terms of the reserve currency,” he said.

If we look at matters from the perspective of the Euro then the 1.20 of the opening of 2018 was fairly quickly replaced by 1.25. But since then the US Dollar has rallied and has moved to 1.15. Some of that has been in the past few days as it has moved from 1.18 to 1.15. That recent pattern has been repeated across most currencies and at 114 the US Dollar us now up on the year against the Yen as well. The UK Pound has suffered this year from a combination of the Brexit process and the machinations of the unreliable boyfriend but it too has been falling recently against the US Dollar to below US $1.30 whilst holding station with other currencies.

Year end problems

The currency moves above are being at least partly driven by this from Reuters.

As the Fed raises interest rates and reduces its balance sheet, and the dollar and U.S. bond yields move up, overseas investors are finding it increasingly difficult and costly to access dollars. That much is obvious. What’s perhaps more surprising – and potentially worrying – is just how expensive and scarce those dollars are becoming.

So with US Dollar scarce it seems that some have been dipping their toes into the spot currency markets as a hedge. This is because other avenues have become more expensive.

Until this week the cross-currency basis market, one of the most closely-watched measures of broad dollar demand, liquidity and funding, had showed no sign of stress. Demand for offshore dollars was being met easily and at comfortable prices.But the basis widened sharply on Thursday, the day after the Fed raised rates for the eighth time this cycle and signalled it fully intends to carry on hiking. In euros, it was the biggest one-day widening since the Great Financial Crisis.

So last week there was a type of double whammy of which the first part came from the US Federal Reserve.

In view of realized and expected labor market conditions and inflation, the Committee decided to raise the target range for the federal funds rate to 2 to 2-1/4 percent.

So US official interest-rates have risen but something else has been happening.

Three-month dollar funding costs are currently running around 2.50 pct. Not high by historical standards and, on the face of it, surely manageable for most borrowers. But it is heading higher, and the availability of dollars is shrinking.

So as you can see a premium is being paid on official interest-rates. So we have higher interest-rates and a more expensive currency. We know that in spite of the official rhetoric that various countries are moving away from dollar use the trend has been the other way. From Reuters again.

All this at a time when the world’s reliance on the dollar has never been greater. Its dominance as the international funding currency has grown rapidly since the 2008 crisis, especially for emerging market borrowers.

Dollar credit to the non-bank sector outside the United States stood at 14 percent of global GDP at the end of March this year, up from 9.5 pct at the end of 2007, according to the Bank for International Settlements.

Dollar lending to non-bank emerging markets has more than doubled to around $3.7 trillion since the crisis and a similar amount has been borrowed through currency swaps.

Regular readers will recall that back on the 25th of September I took a look at the potential for a US Dollar shortage as we face a new era.

The question to my mind going forwards is will we see a reversal in the QT or Quantitative Tightening era? The supply of US Dollars is now being reduced by it and we wait to see what the consequences are.

Indian problems

The largest country in the sub-continent has been feeling the squeeze in several ways recently. One has been the move away from emerging market economies and currencies. Another has been the impact of the fact that India is a large oil importer and the price of crude oil has been rising making the problem worse. This morning’s move through US $86 for a barrel of Brent Crude Oil may fade away but over the past year we have seen a rise of around 53%. For the Indian Rupee this has been something of what might be called a perfect storm as it has found itself under pressure from different avenues at the same time. Back on the 16th of August I looked at the Indian crude oil dependency and since then the metric have got worse. The price of oil has risen further and partly in response to that the Rupee has weakened from 70 to the US Dollar which was a record low at the time to 74 today.

Accordingly I noted this earlier from Business Standard.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Wednesday allowed oil-marketing companies (OMCs) to raise dollars directly from overseas markets without a need for hedging.

In a post-market notification, the RBI said the minimum maturity profile of the borrowings should be three years and five years, and the overall cap under the scheme would be $10 billion. The central bank relaxed criteria for this.

It gives us a guide to the scale of the Indian problem.

The oil-swap facility was much anticipated in the market, as that would have taken the pressure away from the market substantially. Annually, the dollar demand on oil count is $120 billion, or about $500 million, on a daily basis for every working day.

And the driving factor was a lack of US Dollar liquidity

The RBI announcements on liquidity are more focused towards providing relief to the NBFCs (non-banking financial companies) and banks, rather than cooling of the rupee in the FX markets,

Let us move on after noting that the Reserve Bank of India may have had a busy day.

Currency dealers say the RBI intervened lightly in the market.

Comment

Overnight we have seen news regarding a possible impact on the US treasury bond market which is for holders a source of US Dollars. From Janus Henderson US.

Euroland, Japanese previous buyers of 10yr Treasuries have been priced out of market due to changes in hedge costs.  For Insurance companies in Germany / Japan for instance, U.S. Treasuries yield only -.10% / -.01%. Lack of foreign buying at these levels likely leading to lower Treasury prices.

This has impacted the US treasury bond market overnight and prices have fallen and yields risen. The ten-year Treasury Note now yields 3.21% instead of 3.15%. That does not make Bill Gross right ( he was famously wrong about UK Gilts being on a bed of nitroglycerine ) as the line of least resistance for markets would be to mark them lower in price terms and see what happens. Try and panic some into selling.

As to the yield issue which may seem odd the problem is that the cost of currency hedging your position is such that you lose the yield. Thus relatively high yielding US Treasuries end up being similar to Japanese Government Bonds and German Bunds.

As ever when there are squeezes on it is not so much the overall position which is a danger but the flows. For example India’s pol problem is good news for oil exporters but if they are not recycling their dollars then there is an imbalance. I guess of the sort which is why this temporary feature became permanent.

In November 2011, the Federal Reserve announced that it had authorized temporary foreign-currency liquidity swap lines with the Bank of Canada, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan, the European Central Bank, and the Swiss National Bank.

Me on Core Finance TV

 

The Central Bank of Turkey has voted for Christmas

Back on the 3rd of May I pointed out that yet another feature of economics 101 was not working these days. Here was my response to interest-rate rises from the central bank of Argentina or BCRA.

This is perhaps the most common response and in my view it is the most flawed. The problem is twofold. Firstly you can end up chasing you own tail like a dog. What I mean by this is that markets can expect more interest-rate rises each time the currency falls and usually that is exactly what it does next. Why is this? Well if anticipating a 27,25%% return on your money is not doing the job is 30.25% going to do it?

Since then the BCRA  has indeed ended up chasing its own tail like a dog, as interest-rates are now an eye watering 60%. But the sequence of rises has been accompanied by further currency falls, as back then an exchange rate to the US Dollar of 21/22 ( it was a volatile day) has been replaced by 39.4. To my mind this has been influenced by the second factor I looked at back in May.

Next comes the way that markets discount this in terms of forward exchange rates which now will factor in the higher interest-rate by lowering the forward price of the Peso. So against the US Dollar it will be of the order of 28% lower in a year’s time so the expected return in each currency is equal. This should not matter but human psychology and nature intervene and it turns out often to matter and helps the currency lower which of course is exactly the wrong result.

Right now the forward price of the Argentine Peso will be heavily discounted by the 60% interest-rate. At least the Argentines got some welcome good news on the rugby front on Saturday when they beat Australia. Although they currently seem unable to avoid bad news for long.

The Argentine peso has lost more than half its value, but U2 frontman Bono is advocating for the economic well-being of the Argentine people  ( Bloomberg ).

Turkey

As you can imagine the announcement below on the 3rd of this month from the Turkish central bank or CBRT made me mull the thoughts above.

monetary stance will be adjusted at the September Monetary Policy Committee Meeting in view of the latest developments.

On the day itself ( last Thursday) the water got very muddy for a while as President Erdogan again made a case for low interest-rates. He apparently has a theory that high interest-rates create high inflation. But the CBRT is not a believer in that.

The Monetary Policy Committee (the Committee) has decided to increase the policy rate (one week repo auction rate) from 17.75 percent to 24 percent.

The consensus was that this was a good idea as highlighted by the economist Timothy Ash.

Turkey – huge move by the CBRT, doing 625bps, taking the base rate to 24%. Respect. Difficult decision set against huge political pressure, but the right should set a floor, and gives the lira and Turkish assets, banks etc a chance.

I have more than a few doubts about that. The simplest is what calculations bring you to a 6.25% rise, or was it plucked out of thin air?  Added to that is the concept of a floor and giving the currency and banks a chance. Really? The words of Newt from the film Aliens comes to mind.

It wont make any difference

Initially the Turkish Lira did respond with a bounce. It rallied to around 6.1 versus the US Dollar on the day and then pushed higher to 6.01 on Friday. In response I tweeted this.

In the case of Argentina the half-life of the currency rally was 24 hours at best….

So as I checked the situation this morning I had a wry smile as I noted the Lira had weakened to 6.26 versus the US Dollar. I also note that the coverage in the Financial Times had someone who agrees with me albeit perhaps by a different route.

But Cristian Maggio, EM strategist at TD Securities, said the central bank did not go far enough, because inflation was likely to rise beyond 20 per cent, and “higher inflation will require even higher rates”.

On the day some speculators will have got their fingers singed as the comments from President Erdogan sent the currency weaker at first, so following that the CBRT move whip sawed them. If that was a tactical plan it succeeded, but that is very different to calling this a strategic success.

Another issue is that the currency may well be even more volatile looking forwards. This is because holding a short position versus the US Dollar has a negative carry of 22% or so and against the Euro has one of 24% or so. Thus there will be a tendency to hold the Turkish Lira for the carry and then to jump out ahead of any possible bad news. The problem with that is not everyone can jump out at once! Any falls will lead to a mass exodus or panic and we know from the experience of past carry trades that the subsequent moves are often large ones.

Foreign Debt

Brad Setser has crunched the numbers on this.

Turkey has about $180 billion external debt coming due, according to the latest central bank data. And most of that is denominated in foreign currency. The Central Bank of Turkey’s foreign exchange reserves are now just over $75 billion, and the banks may have about $25 billion (or a bit less now) in foreign exchange of their own. I left out Turkey’s gold reserves, in part because they are in large part borrowed from the banks and unlikely to be usable.

The total external debt is now a bit over US $450 billion. Very little of that is the government itself although the state banks are responsible for some of it. The problem is thus one for the private-sector and the banks.

How this plays out is very hard to forecast as we do not know how many companies will not be able to pay, and how much of a domino effect that would have on other companies. Also we can be sure that both the government and CBRT will be looking to support such firms, but we can also be sure that they do not have the firepower to support all of them! This is another factor making things very volatile.

The domestic economy

There are a lot of factors at play here but let me open by linking this to the foreign debt. If we look back we would also be adding a current account deficit to the problems above but this is getting much smaller and may soon disappear. From the third of this month.

Turkey’s foreign trade deficit in August fell 58 percent on a yearly basis, according to the trade ministry’s preliminary data on Sept 1.

There should be a boost for exports which will help some but so far the main player has been a fall in imports which were 22.4% lower in the merchandise trade figures above. So a real squeeze is being applied to the economy which the GDP figures will initially record as a boost, as imports are a subtraction from GDP. So they will throw a curve ball as the situation declines.

Added to that is this which was before the latest interest-rate rise.

Switching to a year on year basis the impact so far of this new credit crunch is around three-quarters of the 2008/09 one. The new higher official interest-rate seems set to put this under further pressure as the banks tend to borrow short ( which is now much more expensive) and lend long ( which will remain relatively cheap for a while).

Comment

A major problem in this sort of scenario was explained by Carole King some years ago.

But it’s too late, baby, now it’s too late
Though we really did try to make it
Something inside has died and I can’t hide
And I just can’t fake it, Oh no no no no no

Regular readers will be aware that it is in my opinion as important when you move interest-rates as what you do. Sadly that particular boat sailed some time ago for Turkey ( and Argentina) and macho style responses that are too late may only compound the problem. Or as the CBRT release puts it.

slowdown in domestic demand accelerates

It must be a very grim time for workers and consumers in Turkey so let me end by wishing them all the best in what are hard times as well as a little humour for hard times.

 

 

 

The economic impact of the 2018 currency crises are now being felt

This morning has brought yet more developments in the ongoing currency crises of this summer. An early morning economic salvo was fired by the Turkish central bank the TCMB.

Recent developments regarding the inflation outlook indicate significant risks to price stability.
The Central Bank will take the necessary actions to support price stability.
Accordingly, in line with the previous communication, monetary stance will be adjusted at the
September Monetary Policy Committee Meeting in view of the latest developments.
The Central Bank will continue to use all available instruments in pursuit of the price stability
objective.

The press release was in response to this from the Turkish Statistical Institute.

A rise in general index was realized in CPI (2003=100) on the previous month by 2.30%, on December of the previous year by 12.29%, on same month of the previous year by 17.90% and on the twelve months moving averages basis by 12.61% in August 2018.

What we are seeing here as inflation accelerates is a consequence of the fall in the value of the Turkish Lira as it had been around 10% in the early months of this year. If we look back to last year as well the inflation boost has been ~7%, and if we look at the producer price data also released today we see that there is more to come.

Domestic producer price index (D-PPI) increased by 6.60% on monthly basis, by 25.32% on December of the previous year basis, by 32.13% on same month of the previous year basis and by 18.78% on the twelve months moving averages basis in August 2018.

We get the clearest guide to the driver here when we note what has happened in August alone to goods which are priced across the world in US Dollars.

The highest rates of monthly increase in D-PPI by sub divisions of industry were index for coke and refined petroleum products by 25.11%, for metal ores by 15.33%, for basic metals by 12.07%.

What we are seeing here are the economic consequences of a currency crisis on the real economy, as we see inflation not only considerably up but heading higher as well. This will impact directly on consumers and workers via its impact on real wages. There are other consequences as well.

7 local newspapers in İzmir all cut their Sunday editions this week due to the price of imports like paper ( @06JAnk)

Another is more sinister as there are reports of an investigation into companies which have raised prices. Also the state bank which sold some incredibly cheap US Dollars last week might wish it had not.

But returning to the TCMB it has trouble ahead as we note the last sentence of its press release as of course President Erdogan has publicly stated he is no fan of interest-rate increases. So after a rally the Turkish Lira has been slipped backwards and is at 6.61 versus the US Dollar.

The economic situation

The last few days have given us signals that the economy is not only heading south but it may be doing so at a fair old lick. Here is the Hurriyet Daily News from Saturday.

Turkey’s foreign trade deficit in August fell 58 percent on a yearly basis, according to the trade ministry’s preliminary data on Sept 1.

Trade Minister Ruhsar Pekcan said in a statement that the trade deficit of $2.48 billion last month was the lowest monthly figure in the last nine years…….She added that Turkish exports amounted to $12.4 billion in August, with a yearly fall of 6.5 percent, while the country’s imports declined by 22.4 percent to $14.8 billion.

Care is needed on two counts as there was a longish national holiday in these figures and they are just for merchandise trade. But it is hard not to note the fall in imports which is more of a plummet, and it comes on the back of this reported in the full trade figures for July released last week.

while imports decreased by 9.4% compared with July 2017.

We are seeing a large contraction in purchases of foreign goods and services and this is where initially national accounts let us down. This is because the fall in imports improves the trade balance and via that GDP ( as imports are a subtraction from GDP), so it is a bit like when in the cartoons someone runs straight off the edge of a cliff and hangs in the air before gravity takes over. It takes the national accounts a while to record that people are worse off. On the other side of the coin I think that some help will be provided by export rises and that the August fall was driven by the national holiday.

Looking ahead

The manufacturing survey of the Istanbul Chamber of Industry released this morning was rather pessimistic.

August was a month of challenging business
conditions for manufacturing firms in Istanbul.
Weakness of the Turkish lira led to strong inflationary
pressures, and contributed to slowdowns in both
output and new orders.

They also follow the Markit PMI methodology.

After posting above the 50.0 no-change mark at
51.0 in July, the headline PMI dipped back into
contractionary territory during August. At 46.3, the
PMI signalled an easing of business conditions for
the fourth time in the past five months and the most
marked moderation since July 2015.

The only flicker of good news was from exports.

There was positive news
with regards to new export orders, however, which
increased fractionally and for the second successive
month.

Cots however were reported as rising at a record rate ( since 2006) which after the inflation data should surprise no-one.

Argentina

In Argentina there has been a different response as the central bank has tried to battle a declining Peso with interest-rate increases of which the latest came only on Thursday. Those of a nervous disposition might like to sit down before reading this from the BCRA.

the Monetary Policy Committee (COPOM) of the Central Bank of the Argentine Republic (BCRA) resolved Unanimously after meeting outside the pre-established schedule to increase the monetary policy rate to 60%. Likewise, to guarantee that monetary conditions maintain their contractionary bias, COPOM undertakes not to reduce the new value of its monetary policy rate until at least December.

This is a new form of central bank Forward Guidance in that not only were interest-rate raised by an eye-watering 15%, which is only a couple of percentage or so less than even Turkey, but there was also a promise they would stay there until December. A consequence of such interest-rates was noted this morning by the Financial Times.

One of the bond market’s biggest investors has seen its flagship funds battered by the turmoil in emerging markets unleashed by Argentina’s spiralling financial crisis ………Franklin Templeton funds have lost $1.23bn in the past two weeks on just three of its biggest Argentine positions, according to FT calculations.

Those of you who have a wry sense of humour might like to mull how quickly things can change.

Argentina, which increased interest rates last week by 15 percentage points to 60 per cent, emerged as one of the hottest stories in emerging markets two years ago after the centre-right reformist Mauricio Macri came to power.

Or as David Bowie put it.

Fashion! Turn to the left
Fashion! Turn to the right
Oooh, fashion!
We are the goon squad
And we’re coming to town.

Meanwhile Argentinians will be facing soaring interest-rates for any mortgage or business borrowing rather I would imagine in the manner of their rugby team as it faces up to playing the All Black this weekend.

Comment

There is a certain irony in the war that the “currency wars” described by Brazil’s Finance Minister some 8 years ago have hit its neighbour Argentina. But of course Argentina has long had a troubled path, although we return to the concept of fashion as we recall that it was able to issue a 100 year bond in June of last year. The Vomiting Camel Formation for its likely price that I noted on the third of May performed really rather well.

However as we look at Turkey and Argentina in particular we see that the currency crises are causing inflation which will create a recession. How large and deep depends on where their currencies eventually settle as right now things could hardly be much more volatile. Yet they are far from alone as we note that the Indian Rupee has fallen to 71 versus the US Dollar and impacts on Russia, South Africa, Brazil and Indonesia. It should get more attention than it does as after all that is quite a bit of the world’s population. Also we see the power of the reserve currency the US Dollar.

 

The economic impact of the King Dollar in the summer of 2018

One of the problems of currency analysis is the way that when you are in the melee it is hard to tell the short-term fluctuation from the longer-term trend. It gets worse should you run into a crisis as Argentina found earlier this year as it raised interest-rates to 40% and still found itself calling for help from the International Monetary Fund. The reality was that it found itself caught out by a change in trend as the US Dollar stopped falling and began to rally. If we switch to the DXY index we see that the 88.6 of the middle of February has been replaced by 95.38 as I type this. At first it mostly trod water but since the middle of April it has been on the up.

Why?

If we ask the same question as Carly Simon did some years back then a partial answer comes from this from the testimony of Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell yesterday.

Over the first half of 2018 the FOMC has continued to gradually reduce monetary policy accommodation. In other words, we have continued to dial back the extra boost that was needed to help the economy recover from the financial crisis and recession. Specifically, we raised the target range for the federal funds rate by 1/4 percentage point at both our March and June meetings, bringing the target to its current range of 1-3/4 to 2 percent.

So the heat is on and looks set to be turned up a notch or two further.

 the FOMC believes that–for now–the best way forward is to keep gradually raising the federal funds rate.

One nuance of this is the way that it has impacted at the shorter end of the US yield curve. For example the two-year Treasury Bond yield has more than doubled since early last September and is now 2.61%. This means two things. Firstly if we stay in the US it is approaching the ten-year Treasury Note yield which is 2.89%. If you read about a flat yield curve that is what is meant although not yet literally as the word relatively is invariably omitted. Also that there is now a very wide gap at this maturity with other nations with Japan at -0.13% and Germany at -0.64% for example.

At this point you may be wondering why two-year yields matter so much? I think that the financial media is still reflecting a consequence of the policies of the ECB which pushed things in that direction as the impact of the Securities Markets Programme for example and negative interest-rates.

QT

QT or quantitative tightening is also likely to be a factor in the renewed Dollar strength but it represents something unusual. What I mean by that is we lack any sort of benchmark here for a quantity rather than a price change. Also attempts in the past were invariably implicit rather than explicit as interest-rates were raised to get banks to lend less to reduce the supply of Dollars or more realistically reduce the rate of growth of the supply. Now we have an explicit reduction and it has shifted to narrow ( the central banks balance sheet) money from broad money.

 In addition, last October we started gradually reducing the Federal Reserve’s holdings of Treasury and mortgage-backed securities. That process has been running smoothly.  ( Jerome Powell).

You can’t always get what you want

It may also be true that you can’t get what you need either which brings us to my article from March the 22nd on the apparent shortage of US Dollars. This is an awkward one as of course market liquidity in the US Dollar is very high but it is not stretching things to say that it is not enough for this.

Non-US banks collectively hold $12.6 trillion of dollar-denominated assets – almost as much as US banks…….Dollar funding stress of non-US banks was at the center of the GFC. ( GFC= Global Financial Crisis). ( BIS)

The issue faded for a bit but seems to be on the rise again as the Libor-OIS spread dipped but more recently has risen to 0.52 according to Morgan Stanley. What measure you use is a moving target especially as the Federal Reserve shifts the way it operates in interest-rate markets but they kept these for a reason.

In October 2013, the Federal Reserve and these central banks announced that their liquidity swap arrangements would be converted to standing arrangements that will remain in place until further notice.

Impact on the US economy

The situation here was explained by Federal Reserve Vice-Chair Stanley Fischer back in November 2015.

To gauge the quantitative effects on exports, the thick blue line in figure 2 shows the response of U.S. real exports to a 10 percent dollar appreciation that is derived from a large econometric model of U.S. trade maintained by the Federal Reserve Board staff. Real exports fall about 3 percent after a year and more than 7 percent after three years.

Imports are affected but by less.

The low exchange rate pass-through helps account for the more modest estimated response of U.S. real imports to a 10 percent exchange rate appreciation shown by the thin red line in figure 2, which indicates that real imports rise only about 3-3/4 percent after three years.

And via both routes GDP

The staff’s model indicates that the direct effects on GDP through net exports are large, with GDP falling over 1-1/2 percent below baseline after three years.

The impact is slow to arrive meaning we are likely to be seeing the impact of a currency fall when it is rising and vice versa raising the danger of tripping over our own feet in analysis terms.

What happens to everyone else?

As the US Dollar remains the reserve currency if it rises everyone else will fall and so they will experience inflation in the price of commodities and oil. This is likely to have a recessionary effect via for example the impact on real wages especially as nominal wage growth seems to be even more sticky than it used to be.

Comment

Responses to the situation above will vary for example the Bank of Japan will no doubt be saying the equivalent of “Party on” as it will welcome the weakening of the Yen to around 113 to the US Dollar. The ECB is probably neutral as a weakening for the Euro offsets some of its past rise as it celebrates actually hitting its 2% inflation target which will send it off for its summer break in good spirits. The unreliable boyfriend at the Bank of England is however rather typically likely to be unsure. Whilst all Governors seem to morph into lower Pound mode of course it also means that people do not believe his interest-rate hints and promises. Meanwhile many emerging economies have been hit hard such as Argentina and Turkey.

In terms of headlines the UK Pound £ is generating some as it gyrates around US $1.30 which it dipped below earlier. In some ways it is remarkably stable as we observe all the political shenanigans. I think a human emotion is at play and foreign exchange markets have got bored with it all.

Another factor here is that events can happen before the reasons for them. What I mean by that was that the main US Dollar rise was in late 2014 which anticipated I think a shift in US monetary policy that of course was yet to come. As adjustments to that view have developed we have seen all sorts of phases and we need to remember it was only on January 25th we were noting this.

The recent peak was at just over 103 as 2016 ended so we have seen a fall of a bit under 14%

Back then the status quo was

Down down deeper and down

Whereas the summer song so far is from Aloe Blacc

I need a dollar, dollar
Dollar that’s what I need
Well I need a dollar, dollar
Dollar that’s what I need

Me on Core Finance

 

 

 

The link between “currency wars” and central banks morphing into hedge funds

The credit crunch era has brought us all sort of themes but a lasting one was given to us by Brazil’s Finance Minister back in September of 2010. From the Financial Times.

“We’re in the midst of an international currency war, a general weakening of currency. This threatens us because it takes away our competitiveness,” Mr Mantega said. By publicly asserting the existence of a “currency war”, Mr Mantega has admitted what many policymakers have been saying in private: a rising number of countries see a weaker exchange rate as a way to lift their economies.

The issue of fears that countries were undertaking competitive devaluations was something which raised a spectre of the 1920s being repeated. I note that Wikipedia calls it the Currency War of 2009-11 which is in my opinion around 7 years too short as of the countries mentioned back in the FT article some are still singing the same song and of course Japan redoubled its efforts and some with the advent of Abenomics.

The Euro

It was only last week that we looked at the way Germany has undertaken a stealth devaluation ironically in full media view via its membership of the Euro. But also of course if QE is a way of weakening your currency then the ECB ( European Central Bank) has had the pedal to the metal as it has expanded its balance sheet to around 4.5 billion Euros. On this road it has become something of an extremely large hedge fund of which more later but currently hedge funds seem to be fans of this.

If we combine this with the positive trade balance of the Euro area which has been reinforced this morning by Germany declaring a 25.4 billion current account surplus in November we see why the Euro was strong in the latter part of 2017. We also see perhaps why it has dipped back below 1.20 versus the US Dollar and the UK Pound £ has pushed above 1.13 to the Euro as currency traders wonder who is left to buy the Euro in the short-term?

But let us move on noting that a deposit rate of -0.4% and QE of 30 billion Euros a month would certainly have been seen as a devaluation effort back in September 2010.

Turning Japanese

Has anyone tried harder than the Japanese under Abenomics to reduce the value of their currency? We have seen purchases of pretty much every financial asset ( including for newer readers commercial property and equities) as the Bank of Japan balance sheet soared soared to nearly ( 96%) a years economic output or GDP. This did send the Yen lower but in more recent times it has not done much at all to the disappointment of the authorities in Tokyo. Is that behind this morning’s news that the Bank of Japan eased its bond buying efforts? Rather than us turning Japanese are they now aping us gaijin? It is too early to say but it is intriguing to note that December was a month in which the Bank of Japan’s balance sheet actually shrank. Care is needed here as for example the US Federal Reserve is in the process of shrinking its balance sheet but some data has seen it rise.

Perhaps the Bank of Japan should play some George Michael from its loudspeakers.

Yes I’ve gotta have faith…
Mmm, I gotta have faith
‘Cause I gotta have faith, faith, faith
I gotta have faith-a-faith-a-faith

South Korea and the Won

Last week we got a warning that a new currency wars outbreak was on the cards as this was reported. From CNBC.

South Korea’s central bank chief said that the bank will leave its currency to market forces, but would respond if moves in the won get too big. Lee Ju-yeol said the Bank of Korea will take active steps when herd behavior is seen.

Not quite a full denial but yesterday forexlive reported something you are likely to have already guessed.

Bank of Korea is suspected to have bought around $1.5 billion in USD/KRW during currency trading today.

As we wonder what herd was seen in the Won as of course the “Thundering Herd” or Merrill Lynch is no longer with us? Also as this letter from the Bank of Korea to the FT last year confirms Korea does not play what Janet Kay called “Silly Games”.

First, Korea does not manage exchange rates to prevent currency appreciation. The Korean government does not set a specific target level or direction of the exchange rate. The Korean won exchange rate is basically determined by the market, and intervention is limited to addressing disorderly market movements.

Next time lads it would be best to leave this out.

Second, Korea’s current account surplus should not be understood as evidence of its currency undervaluation.

Of course not. Anyway the Won has been strong.

The South Korean currency surged almost 13 percent last year, as an expanding trade surplus and the nation’s first interest-rate increase in six years boosted its allure. (Bloomberg).

Another way of looking at that is to look back over the credit crunch era. We do see that the Won dropped like a stone against the US Dollar to around 1600 but with ebbs and flows has returned to not far from where it began to the 1060s. Of course we can get some more insight comparing more locally and if we look at the real trade-weighted exchange rates of the BIS ( Bank for International Settlements) then there was a case against the Yen in fact a strong one. Compared to 2010= 100 the Japanese Yen was at 73.7 ( see above) but the Won was at 113. However the claim of a strong currency might get the Chinese knocking at the South Korean’s door as the Yuan was at 121.4.

China

Perhaps the Chinese are now on the case as Bloomberg reports.

The yuan, which headed for its biggest drop in two months on the news, is allowed to move a maximum of 2 percent either side of the fixing. Analysts said the change shows China is confident in the yuan’s current trajectory, which has been one of steady appreciation.

Hedge Fund Alert

There are two pieces of good news for the modern theory of central banks morphing into hedge funds around this morning so let us first go to Switzerland.

According to provisional calculations, the Swiss National Bank (SNB) will report a profit in
the order of CHF 54 billion for the 2017 financial year. The profit on foreign currency
positions amounted to CHF 49 billion. A valuation gain of CHF 3 billion was recorded on
gold holdings. The net result on Swiss franc positions amounted to CHF 2 billion

With all that profit the ordinary Suisse may wonder why they are not getting more?

Confederation and cantons to receive distribution of at least
CHF 2 billion

Whilst the SNB behaves like a late Father Christmas those in charge of the ever growing equity holdings at the Bank of Japan may be partying like it is 1999 and having a celebratory glass of sake on this news.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 reaches fresh 26-year high; ( FT)

Meanwhile a not so polite message may be going from the ECB to the Bank of Finland.

The European Central Bank has sold its bonds of scandal-hit retailer Steinhoff , data showed on Monday, potentially suffering a loss of up to 55% on that investment. (Reuters)

Comment

So there you have it as we see that the label “currency wars” can still be applied albeit that the geography of the main outbreak has moved across the Pacific. Actually Japan was always in the game and it is no surprise that its currency twin the Swiss Franc is the other central bank which has become a subsidiary of a hedge fund. That poses a lot of questions should the currency weaken as the Swissy has albeit so far only on a relatively minor scale. There have been discussions so far this year about how bond markets will survive less QE but I do not see anyone wondering what might happen if the Swiss and Japanese central banks stopped buying equities and even decided to sell some?

For all the fire and fury ( sorry) there remains a simple underlying point which is that if one currency declines falls or devalues then others have to rise. That is especially awkward for central banks as they attempt to explain how trying to manipulate a zero-sum game brings overall benefits.

 

What is happening with the Swiss Franc?

One of the features of the credit crunch era has been the strength of the Swiss Franc. This has been for two interrelated reasons. The first is simply that Switzerland has been seen as something of a safe haven in these troubled times. The second as we have looked at many times comes from what was called the Carry Trade. This involved people and companies from other parts of the world borrowing in Swiss Francs because in something getting ever harder to believe interest-rates were much higher in their own domestic currencies than they were in the Swissy. In particular those taking out mortgages in some parts of eastern Europe with Hungary and Poland to the fore and also in places like Cyprus took out Swiss Franc mortgages to take advantage of the lower “carry” or interest-rate. The catch was the fact that there was an exchange rate risk which was obscured by the fact that the size of the trade put downwards pressure on the Swiss Franc ( and the Japanese Yen which was its currency twin in this regard). Accordingly it looked as if a financial triumph was on its way where interest-rate gains came with exchange-rate benefits. What could go wrong?

As the credit crunch hit there was a safe haven demand for Swiss Francs accompanied by some beginning to reverse their carry trades and the two reinforced each other. This meant that those who had taken Swiss Franc mortgages in eastern Europe found that the amount owed headed higher in their own currency and as the monthly repayments depended on the amount owed they headed higher too. The same happened to business borrowers. As more cut their losses the pressure was built up even more on those who remained. Meanwhile Switzerland was left feeling like a tennis ball bouncing around on a foreign currency ocean with consequences described the summer of 2011 by the Swiss National Bank like this.

The massive overvaluation of the Swiss franc poses a threat to the development of the economy in Switzerland and has further increased the downside risks to price stability.

It was afraid of a pricing out of the Swiss economy as it became less competitive. In September of that year it made something of a ground breaking announcement.

The Swiss National Bank (SNB) is therefore aiming for a substantial and sustained weakening of the Swiss franc. With immediate effect, it will no longer tolerate a EUR/CHF exchange rate below the minimum rate of CHF 1.20. The SNB will enforce this minimum rate with the utmost determination and is prepared to buy foreign currency in unlimited quantities.

On that road the SNB became an enormous hedge fund with at the time of writing some 724.4 billion Swiss Francs in its foreign currency reserves. An odd consequence of this is that it would have welcomed this news overnight. From Reuters.

Shares in the world’s most valuable company surged 6 percent after-hours to a record of more than $159, taking its market capitalization above $830 billion.

As 20% of its assets are in equities the SNB will be happy and the last number I saw had it holding some 15 million shares in Apple. However even “utmost determination” apparently has its bounds as this told us in January 2015.

The Swiss National Bank (SNB) is discontinuing the minimum exchange rate of CHF 1.20 per euro. At the same time, it is lowering the interest rate on sight deposit account balances that exceed a given exemption threshold by 0.5 percentage points, to −0.75%.

So the full set had been deployed in terms of monetary policy of foreign exchange intervention and negative interest-rates. But it was not enough and the retreat by the SNB was followed by another Swiss Franc surge causing worries for not only Switzerland but more losses for those who had borrowed in it.

Ch-ch-changes

More recently there has been signs and hints of a possible crack in the dam of Swiss Franc strength. At the end of last week Bloomberg was pointing out that it was at its weakest since the January 2015 announcement and that this was driven by stop-loss buying from Japanese banks. Whilst my career has seen regular episodes of stop-loss buying by Japanese banks across many instruments which begs the question of whether they ever make profits this is an interesting connection between what were the two currency twins. CNBC summarised the situation like this.

The franc fell sharply against the euro in morning deals, trading at 1.13 Swiss francs, a three percent drop on the week. Against the dollar, it hit a month low of 0.9724 Swiss francs.

This morning has seen the Euro rise to 1.143 Swiss Francs as the new beat goes on.

Swiss Cheese

The Financial Times notes that the hole in Swiss cheese production may be in the process of being fixed.

 

Its competitiveness wounded by the strong Swiss franc, Switzerland has imported more cheese than it has exported in some recent months — an unhappy state of affairs for producers of Gruyère and Emmental. “It would be great to get back to a reasonable exchange rate,” says Manuela Sonderegger, of Switzerland Cheese Marketing.

A real world impact of the exchange rate moves although of course it will take a while for the weaker level of the Swiss Franc to have any significant impact.

Comment

There is quite a bit to consider here so let us look at what is in play. We cannot rule out that this is a consequence of thin summer markets but it is also true that a weakening has been in play for a few months. One initial driver may have been the strong phase of the US Dollar offering an alternative but the main player now is the Euro area. The better phase for it economically is now being accompanied by a stronger Euro signalled by the way it has moved above 1.18 versus the US Dollar and in a lesser way by the UK Pound £ being just under 1.12.

Thus the SNB will be hoping for a continuation of the stronger Euro and thus has a vested interest in the next move of Mario Draghi and the ECB. It will be hoping that it will withdraw more of its stimulus measures once the summer and indeed elections are over. Of course now the web gets increasingly tangled as the ECB will not be that keen on further rises in the Euro as it moves it reduces its “price stability” target. This particular currency war is now in the world of strength rather than weakness which of course sends another Ivory Tower or two collapsing as we note there is still 60 billion Euros a month of QE from the ECB.

Also if we look wider there will be implications. For example we may hear a sigh of relief from eastern Europe but also what if the rally continues and the SNB gets the chance to trim its reserves. As it has been a factor in driving equity markets higher would it be a sign of a turn? That is a fair way away from here but much more nearby has been the recent disarray in the claimed safe haven of Bitcoin. It makes me wonder if this has impacted the Swiss Franc but am struggling to think of a causal link.

Let me finish with another potential consequence which would be quite a change which would be an interest-rate rise in Switzerland. Could it get away from negative interest-rates before the next downturn strikes or is it trapped there?