What makes a currency a safe haven these days?

The subject of safe havens is something that comes to mind as one considers the situation concerning North Korea. An unhinged leader combined with nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missile technology does not make for a stable mix and of course there is Kim Jong-Un to consider as well. Mind you Twitter took the news of a possible Korean H-Bomb very calmly yesterday as it was soon replaced in the headlines by Wayne Rooney’s difficulties and today events are led by a headline which could refer to North Korea but fortunately McStrike is in fact the first strike at MacDonald’s in the UK.

So let us consider an environment where risk is higher and maybe a lot higher. This poses an early issue as my time in derivative and particularly options markets taught me that we as humans are very bad at quantifying things to which we give a low probability. We are even worse when it is something we do not want to happen. Establishments magnify this issue as I recall the excellent work of the Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman on the NASA Challenger space shuttle disaster. He was part of the enquiry and was officially told that the odds were millions to one whereas when he interviewed individual engineers they told him that individual parts had a one in five hundred chance of failure. It turned out that the disaster was not a surprise as the surprise was that it had not happened before.

What does risk-off do now?

The Japanese Yen

Each time the rhetoric or a North Korean missile rises the Japanese Yen follows it. This felt especially odd when one of the missiles overflew Japan and tripped civil defence alarms as well as no doubt having the self-defence force scrambling. Also the rally to 109.60 this morning against the US Dollar will have steam coming out of the ears of the Bank of Japan on two counts. Firstly because a lower value for the Yen is part of Abenomics and secondly it will send equity markets lower ( 190 points on the Nikkei 225 index).Still the Bank of Japan will be able to occupy itself by buying yet more equities.

If we look deeper into Yen strength in risky times I note this from the IMF in November 2013.

since the mid-1990s, there have been 12 episodes where the yen has appreciated in nominal effective terms by 6 percent or more within one quarter and these coincided often with events outside Japan

Why might this be?

Safe haven currencies tend to have low interest rates, a strong net foreign asset position, and deep and liquid financial markets. Japan meets all these criteria

The first point if we modify low to lower to bring it up to date gives us food for thought on what determines interest-rates. We are usually told domestic considerations but there is a correlation between strong trade positions and negative interest-rates for example. As to the foreign asset position then unlike its public-sector which has lots of debt Japan is in fact the largest creditor. From Reuters.

Japan’s net external assets rose to their second-highest amount on record at the end of fiscal 2016, driven by rising mergers and acquisitions overseas by firms and portfolio investment, the Finance Ministry said Friday.
The net value of assets held by the government, businesses and individuals stood at ¥349 trillion ($3.12 trillion) — just behind 2014’s record ¥363 trillion. It meant Japan remained the biggest creditor nation for the 26th straight year, the ministry said.

There is a twist though as you might think the Yen rallies because of the money beginning to be brought home but in fact according to the IMF not so.

In contrast, we find evidence that changes in market participants’ risk perceptions trigger derivatives trading, which in turn lead to changes in the spot exchange rate without capital flows.

In essence it is expectations of a change rather than actual capital flows. I would imagine that the carry trade ( where foreign investors borrow in Yen) are a factor in this.

Swiss Franc

Many of the same factors are at play here which is why in the early days of this website I labelled the Yen and Swiss Franc as the “Currency Twins”. We can reel off negative interest-rates, trade, carry trade and so on including with a wry smile that official policy is in the opposite direction! There are two main differences the first is that there tend to be actual inflows into Swiss Francs. The second is the way that net private assets have been replaced by the Swiss National Bank. From a Working Paper from the Graduate Institute of Geneva

At the end of 2016, the Swiss net international investment position (NIIP, the value of foreign assets held by Swiss residents, net of liabilities of Swiss residents to foreign investors) reached 131 percent of GDP ……. The net international investment position of the private sector was thus close to balance in 2015, and only amounted to 24 percent of GDP at the end of 2016.

So we have seen something of a socialisation of Switzerland’s net investment position. Does that matter? I suspect so but markets seem less worried as the Swissy has rallied against the US Dollar by 0.75% to 0.9574 today.

Euro

It is hard not to raise a wry smile at the articles saying the Euro is no longer a safe haven currency as we note its rise today! Here is Kathy Lien of Nasdaq from last week with an explainer of sorts.

However the central bank’s positive economic outlook, their hawkish monetary policy bias

In future my financial lexicon for these times will have negative interest-rates and large QE as part of my “hawkish” definition. Anyway as we note that it is the countries with ongoing types of QE who are the new apparent safe havens we are left mulling the chicken and egg conundrum. Being a funding currency in the global carry trade is another consistent factor.

US Dollar

So far the era of the military dollar seems to have ended. Maybe it awaits a proper test as in an actual war but considering the stakes I would rather not find out.

Comment

So we see that a potential factor in being a safe haven currency is for official policy to be for the currency to fall? Not quite true for the Euro at least explicitly although of course it used to be expected ( outside the Ivory Towers who still do) that negative interest-rates and QE  weaken a currency. A side effect of the official effort is clearly that the QE and supply of money aids and abets those who wish to borrow in that currency and at times like this even if they do not actually reverse course markets price in that they might. The currency then sings along to “Jump” by Van Halen. You can turn the volume up to 11 Spinal Tap style if actual carry trade reversals happen.

Also there is the issue of what is a safe haven? In terms of Japan it is clearly not literal as it is in the likely firing line. We see that front-running expected trends remains the main player here as opposed to clear logical thinking. Also we see that another safe haven only flickers a bit these days as bond markets rally a bit but nothing like they used to That is another function of the QE era as how much more could they rise? Also I note that equity markets do not seem to fall that much as the FTSE 100 is off 10 points as I type this.

So a safe haven may simply be front-running? If so it means we need to dive even deeper in future as does this below for Switzerland show strength or potential weakness?

Specifically, assets held by Swiss residents abroad represent 671 percent of GDP, while claims by foreign investors on Switzerland amount to 541 percent of GDP. With this leverage, a movement in asset prices and exchange rates that affects more assets than liabilities has a sizable impact on the NIIP.

 

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Could the Japanese Government cope with an end to QE in Japan?

It is time for us to look east again to the land of the rising sun or Nihon. It remains in the grip of an extraordinary economic experiment as its central bank continues to offer freshly printed Yen ( albeit electronic rather than paper ones) on a grand scale in return for bonds, commercial paper , corporate bonds, equities and property so just about everything!

With regard to the amount of JGBs to be purchased, the Bank will conduct purchases at more or less the current pace — an annual pace of increase in the amount outstanding of its JGB holdings of about 80 trillion yen — aiming to achieve the target level of the long-term interest rate specified by the guideline. …… The Bank will purchase exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and Japan real estate investment trusts (J-REITs) so that their amounts outstanding will increase at annual paces of about 6 trillion yen and about 90 billion yen, respectively.

Perhaps it was the scale of all of this that led much of the media to start writing articles that the Bank of Japan would reduce its operations or as it is now called “taper” them. Only on Friday I quoted this from the Wall Street Journal.

Japan shows Europe how to dial back stimulus without spooking investors

The Bank of Japan responds

Sadly for the media the word taper required the word reverse in front of it. From the Nikkei Asian Review only a few short hours later.

At 10:10 a.m. Japan time, the BOJ unleashed what a market manager for a leading brokerage called a “devastating” combination, announcing both a fixed-rate operation, in which the central bank agrees to buy unlimited bonds at a fixed yield, and an increase in the size of regular bond-buying operations. It was the first time the bank had executed such policies simultaneously.

So more is apparently less as we note that this bit could only have come from Japan.

When yields on 10-year Japanese government bonds hit 0.1% on Thursday evening, the central bank was forced to ring up Japan’s leading securities firms for advice.

What would they have done in places like Greece Italy or Portugal in the Euro area crisis or in the early days of my career when longer UK Gilt yields passed 15%?!

By Friday morning, 10-year JGB yields had reached 0.105% — the last straw

We will have to see what happens next but should the Bank of Japan feel the need to keep intervening this could be the state of play.

If the central bank keeps buying up 10-year JGBs as quickly as it did Friday, annual purchases could exceed new issuance, according to Takenobu Nakashima of Nomura Securities, burning through fuel for measures to combat a future yield surge.

Actually if it bought them all that would of itself tend to stop any yield surge. Although of course that is just the flow so there would still be an existing stock albeit one which the Bank of Japan owes a fair bit of.

Massive bond purchases have swollen the BOJ’s balance sheet to roughly the size of Japan’s gross domestic product

Around 90% I think. There are various issues here one of which has been conveniently pointed out by the European Central Bank this morning.

Worsened liquidity in domestic government bond market

They mean in the Euro area but imagine how much worse the state of play will be in Japan. We do know that trading volumes have dropped a lot so should the day come that the Bank of Japan decides to withdraw a lot of Japanese fingers will be crossed that past traders and buyers will return. The truth is we simply do not know.

Oh and I see some looking at the equity capital of the Bank of Japan implying it could go broke. But that misses the fact that not only is it backed by the Japanese Treasury but it is pursuing Abenomics a government policy.

Number Crunching

Currently Japan owes this according to Japan Macro Advisers.

At the end of March 2017, the Japanese general government owed a total of 1270.5 trillion yen in liability, equivalent to 236.4% of GDP. The liability includes 863 trillion yen of JGBs, 115.2 trillion yen of T-bills and 157.5 trillion yen of loans.

The Bank of Japan owns over 400 Trillion Yen of these so in round numbers if it wrote these off it would reduce the debt burden to ~160% of GDP. I am by no means suggesting this but if such a situation led to a lower value for the Japanese Yen well that is government policy isn’t it? Of course the danger of debt monetisation of that form is that the currency falls heavily or plummets in a destabilising fashion like Ghana saw for those who recall when I looked at its woes.

The Yen

This has been drifting lower recently and Friday’s news added to that with it now taking more than 114 Yen to buy one US Dollar. This continues a trend which began in the middle of last month.  A sign of the Yen weakness is that the poor battered UK Pound £ is near its post EU Leave vote highs at 147 Yen.

But none of this is anything like enough to spark off the amount of inflation required by Abenomics.

The Inflation Target

More than 3 years down the road after the Bank of Japan kicked off its QQE ( Qualitative and Quantitative Easing) effort we find ourselves noting this. From Japan’s Statistics Bureau.

The consumer price index for Japan in May 2017 was 100.4 (2015=100), up 0.4% over the year before seasonal adjustment, and the same level as the previous month on a seasonally adjusted basis……  The consumer price index for Ku-area of Tokyo in June 2017 (preliminary) was 99.8 (2015=100), the same level as the previous year before seasonal adjustment, and the same level as the previous month on a seasonally adjusted basis.

This represents not far off complete failure in spite of the rhetoric about defeating deflation as if Tokyo is any guide 0% is the new 2%. Although of course we have seen asset price inflation leaving us mulling how much of the rise in the Nikkei 225 equity index from around 8000 to the current 20000 is growth and how much inflation?

Often policies to raise inflation really mean wages growth so let us look at that. From The Japan Times.

Japan’s real wages in May gained 0.1 percent from a year earlier for the first rise in five months, the government said Friday.
Total cash earnings per worker, including base and overtime pay, increased 0.7 percent to an average ¥270,241 (around $2,300), the second consecutive monthly rise, the Health and Welfare Ministry also said in a preliminary report.

You can look at this in two ways. The first is that it is not much and the second is that it is about as good as it has got over the past decade or so. One area that is different to the West where we are worrying about workers in the gig economy is that wage growth in Japan is centred on part-time work. It appears to be the one area where conventional economics can breathe a sigh of relief.

Comment

The situation continues to see some gains but also some retreats as these two quotes from The Japan Times today indicates.

Japan ‘economy watchers’ sentiment rises in June for third straight month……..Core private-sector machinery orders defied expectations and fell in May, the second consecutive month of decline, due to weakness in the service sector, the government said Monday.

Of course the UK data on Friday reminded us of the problems that sentiment indicators can have as optimism emerged as a fall!

I would like to return to my central theme that Japan has done okay in many ways with 0% inflation especially as we note its demographic problem. So why all the bond buying? Well a debt burden does of course often require some inflation to ease the burden for debtors of which the largest debtor is the government. The biggest beneficiary has been the Japanese government which has been able to do a lot of its borrowing for pretty much nothing for a while. Could it afford a return to normality? At what bond yield would it find things difficult and would it have to apply austerity? A sort of road to nowhere……

 

 

Are the currency wars still raging?

One of the features of the post credit crunch era is that economies are less able to take further economic stress. This leads us straight into today’s topic which is the movements in exchange rates and the economic effects from that. Apart from dramatic headlines which mostly concentrate on falls ( rises are less headline grabbing I guess…) the media tends to step back from this. However the central banks have been playing the game for some time as so many want the “cheap hit” of a lower currency which is an implicit reason for so much monetary easing. The ( President ) Donald was on the case a couple of months ago. From the Financial Times.

“Every other country lives on devaluation,” said Mr Trump after meeting with US motor industry executives. “You look at what China’s doing, you look at what Japan has done over the years. They play the money market, they play the devaluation market and we sit there like a bunch of dummies.”

Actually the FT was on good form here as it pointed out that perhaps there were better examples elsewhere.

South Korea has a current account surplus of nearly 8 per cent of gross domestic product, according to the International Monetary Fund, compared with just 3 per cent for China and Japan. Taiwan, meanwhile, has a colossal surplus of 15 per cent of GDP while Singapore is even higher at 19 per cent.

Care is needed here as a balance of payments surplus on its own is not the only metric and we do know that both Japan and China have had policies to weaken their currencies in recent years. So the picture is complex but I note there seems to be a lot of it in the Far East.

Japan

Ironically in a way the Japanese yen has been strengthening again and has done so by 1% over the weekend as it as headed towards 110 versus the US Dollar. So the Abenomics push from 76 was initially successful as the Yen plunged but now it is back to where it was in September 2014. Also for perspective the Yen was so strong partly as a consequence of US monetary easing. Oh what a tangled web and that.

The Bank of Japan will be ruing the rise ( in Yen terms) from 115 in the middle of this month to 110.25 as I type this because it is already struggling with this from this morning’s minutes.

The year-on-year rate of change in the consumer price index (CPI) for all items less fresh food is around 0 percent, and is expected to gradually increase toward 2 percent, due in part to the upward pressure on general prices stemming from developments in commodity prices such as crude oil prices.

Even worse for the Bank of Japan and Abenomics – but not the Japanese worker and consumer – the price of crude oil has also been falling since these minutes were composed. Time for more of what is called “bold action”?

Germany

It is not that often on these lists because the currency manipulation move by Germany came via its membership of the Euro where it added itself to weaker currencies. But its record high trade surpluses provide a strong hint and the European Central Bank has provided both negative interest-rates and a massive expansion of its balance sheet as it has tried to weaken the Euro. So we see that an exchange-rate that strengthened as the the credit crunch hit to 1.56 versus the US Dollar is now at 1.086.

So the recent bounce may annoy both the ECB and Germany but it is quite small compared to what happened before this. Putting it another way if we compare to Japan then a Euro bought 148 year in November 2014 but only 120 now.

The UK

In different circumstances the UK might recently have been labelled a currency manipulator as the Pound £ fell. As ever Baron King of Lothbury seems keen on the idea as he hopes that one day his “rebalancing” mighty actually happen outside his own personal Ivory Tower. There is food for thought for our valiant Knight of the Garter in the fact that we were at US $2.08 when her bailed out Northern Rock and correct me if I am wrong but we have indeed rebalanced since, even more towards our services sector.

However it too has seen a bounce against the US Dollar in the last fortnight or so and at US £1.256 as I type this there are various consequences from this. Firstly the edge is taken off the inflationary burst should this continue especially of we allow for the lower oil price ( down 11.2% so far this quarter according to Amanda Cooper of Reuters). That is indeed welcome or rather will be if these conditions persist. A small hint of this came at the weekend. From the BBC.

Motorists will see an acceleration in fuel price cuts over the weekend as supermarkets take up to 2p off a litre of petrol and diesel.

Not everybody welcomes this as I note my sparring partner on BBC 4’s MoneyBox Tony Yates is again calling for higher inflation (targets). He will then “rescue” you from the lower living-standards he has just created….

The overall picture for the UK remains a lower currency post EU vote and it is equivalent to a 2.5% reduction in Bank Rate for those considering the economic effect. Meanwhile if I allow for today’s rise it is pretty much unchanged in 2017 in effective or trade-weighted terms. Not something in line with the media analysis is it?

South Africa

This has featured in the currency falling zone for a while now, if you recall I looked at how cheap property had become in foreign currencies. There had been a bounce but if we bring things right up to date there has been a hiccup this morning. From the FT.

The rand plunged almost 2 per cent in less than half an hour on Monday morning after the latest row between president Jacob Zuma and his finance minister Pravin Gordhan, only moments after it had risen to its highest level since July 2015.

Perhaps the air got a bit thin up there.

The rand has been the best-performing currency in the world over the last 12 months, strengthening more than 23 per cent against the dollar, but it has suffered a number of knock backs prompted by the president and finance minister’s battles.

Back to where it was in the late summer of 2015.

Bitcoin

If we look at the crypto-currency then there has been a lot of instability of late. At the start of this month it pushed towards US $1300 but this morning it fell to below US $940 and is US $991 as I type this. Not for widows and orphans…

Comment

There is much to consider here as we wonder if the US Dollar is merely catching its breath or whether it is perhaps a case of “buy the rumour and sell the fact”. Or perhaps facts as you can choose the election of the Donald and or a promised acceleration in the tightening of monetary policy by the US Federal Reserve. But we see an amelioration in world inflation should this persist which of course combines as it happens with a lower oil price.

So workers and consumers in many countries will welcome this new phase but the Bank of Japan will not. Maybe both Euro area workers and consumers and the ECB can as the former benefit whilst the latter can extend its monetary easing in 2017 and, ahem, over the elections. Whilst few currencies are stable these days the crypto one seems out of control right now.

Is this a genuine “currency war” or just happenstance?

It is time for us to take a look at what I have long argued is the major player in monetary policy these days which is/are exchange rates. Actually although he would not put it like that Bank of England Governor Mark Carney implicitly agreed with me on Tuesday.

“The UK economy has … had a large external imbalance and that large external imbalance as represented by a large current account deficit needed to be righted,” he said. “The exchange rate is part of that adjustment mechanism.”

I will return to the situation of the UK later but the main mover recently has Trumped (sorry) markets as we have seen the US Dollar soar. This morning Investing.com put it like this.

The dollar paused on Thursday after rising to 14-year highs against a basket of the other major currencies……..The US dollar index, which measures the greenback’s strength against a trade-weighted basket of six major currencies, was at 100.26. On Wednesday, the index hit highs of 100.60, its highest level since April 2003.

Regular readers will be aware that I have been pointing out that the US Dollar has been strong for some time. It has been rising since the dollar index dipped near 73 in April 2011 but the main move has come from just below 80 in June 2014. The Trump push has really only taken it back to where it started the year.

This poses a problem as of course we see something familiar which is the US Federal Reserve promising interest-rate rises which it was back then with the “3-5” of John Williams and now where a rise is expected by markets. We will never know if we might have been in the same place if Hillary had won.

The impact on the US economy

Most analysis concentrates on the effect elsewhere but let me open with the fact that in spite of the fact that it is still the world’s reserve currency there is an impact on the US economy from this. Just over a year ago ( November 9th) I used the numbers of Federal Reserve Vice-Chair Stanley Fischer.

The New York Fed trade model suggests that a 10 percent appreciation of the U.S. dollar is associated with a 2.6 percent drop in real export values over the year. Consequently, the net export contribution to GDP growth over the year is 0.5 percentage point lower than it would have been without the appreciation and a cumulative 0.7 percentage point lower after two years.

So there is an ongoing impact at these levels of the order of 1.5% of US economic output or GDP. If we add the impact of the currently higher bond yields we see why there are still doubts about a Federal Reserve interest-rate rise next month, although of course this is circular as these levels depend on it happening.

The rest of the world

Whilst the rest of the world in general should get a competitive advantage from a lower US Dollar it is not all one way. For example inflation will rise as so many commodities are prices in US Dollars and there is also the debt issue. From the 7th of December last year.

Dollar credit to non-banks outside the United States reached $9.8 trillion at end-Q2 2015. Borrowers resident in EMEs accounted for $3.3 trillion of this amount, or over a third. EME nationals resident outside their home countries (for instance, financing subsidiaries incorporated in offshore centres) owed a further $558 billion.

So the US Dollar is strong and yields are rising, what could go wrong? The BIS ( Bank for International Settlements) was on the case earlier this week.

A stronger 29 dollar is associated with wider CIP deviations and lower growth of cross-border bank lending denominated in dollars…….In particular, a strengthening of US dollar has adverse impacts on bank balance sheets, which, in turn, reduces banks’ risk bearing capacity.

It was also intriguing as to why the all the Ivory Towers miss this.

However, in textbooks, there are no banks.

So those places with US Dollar denominated debt have “trouble,trouble,trouble” right now and the obvious places to look would I guess be Mexico and Egypt in the way we looked at Ukraine and Russia in the past.

China

On the 10th of October I pointed out that the trend for the Yuan had been “down,down” in spite of its achievement of attaining reserve currency status at the IMF (International Monetary Fund).

The currency fell after the People’s Bank of China set the midpoint CNY=PBOCat 6.7008 yuan per dollar, its weakest fix since September 2010.

From the Financial Times.

China’s renminbi traded near at an eight-year low against the US dollar on Thursday, as the election of Donald Trump intensified longstanding depreciation pressure…The Chinese currency has weakened for seven of the eight trading days to Wednesday and is down 5.5 per cent in 2016 — on pace for its worst year since authorities depegged it from the dollar in 2005.

A type of stealth devaluation sees it at 6.88. Rather oddly the Wall Street Journal tells us it is not devaluing and then prints this.

The Chinese yuan has been steadily depreciating this year against a basket of 13 currencies that make up the underlying reference point for the currency.

Sweden

I thought I would throw this in as having been (correctly) critical of the FT  let me also say that it can also be good. From @M_C_Klein.

If I were going to hit a country for currency manipulation on day 1 it would definitely be Sweden.

Makes you think er well yes, doesn’t it?

Yen

There is no stealth devaluation here and the sound of cheering from the Bank of Japan in Tokyo at the recent fall echoes around the world. Governor Kuroda has been enjoying his sake and his favourite Karaoke song even more.

Get down deeper and down
Down down deeper and down
Down down deeper and down
Get down deeper and down

That of course would be the status quo if he had his way. Mind you his pleasure at an exchange rate of 109 to the US Dollar does have a fly in the ointment. After all it has happened after he did nothing as opposed to the currency rise following his “bold action” in January. I would suggest that Bank of Japan staff who want a career describe the recent phase as an example of the “masterly inaction” so beloved of the apochryphal civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby.

Euro

I pointed out on twitter yesterday that Mario Draghi would be celebrating as the Euro dipped into the 1.06s versus the US Dollar. He needed something like that as you see the effective or trade weighted exchange rate for the Euro has risen in 2016 in spite of the 80 billion Euros a month of QE bond purchases. There is still a way to go from the 94.7 of now to the 92.7 of then. A Baldrick style cunning plan might be for the Euro to leave the European Union….Oh hang on.

Comment

As you can see there is much going on and if we compare this to a possible 0.25% interest-rate rise in the US we see again a bazooka and a pea shooter. Although of course the two factors are correlated so we can never entirely split them. But much is in play as we remind ourselves that unless there is life on Mars it is a zero-sum game.

I did say I would look at the UK which recently has been reversing some of its depreciation. It has a case for a lower currency due to its current account deficit but whilst the economic numbers are good now the problem will be the inflation of 2017 and maybe beyond. Meanwhile having checked the booming UK Retail Sales numbers let me say thank you ladies,women and girls one more time and I am on the case.

Is the lack of lining on UK ladies coats this season another example of and has made a quality adjustment in its numbers?

Me on Tip TV Finance

Post-trump moves: Like old times, but not exceptional times – Shaun Richards

 

 

 

Monetary policy seems to have been delegated to the currency markets

Last night was simply superb at what might be called the battle of Stamford Bridge where at times an exciting football match broke out leading to a 2-2 scoreline which meant that previously lowly Leicester City are champions of the premier league. Well done to them and their fans and it was a shame that the sonic booms of the RAF Typhoons in the air were over another town beginning with a L namely Leeds. It makes me think how bad we are as humans at comparing events with perceived ultra low probability. From Hilary Evans.

Betting odds in August. Leicester to win Premier League 5000-1 Elvis to be found alive working in a chip shop in Macclesfield 2000-1

Oh and the 2000-1 bet was probably influenced by fans of this song from Kirsty MacColl.

There’s a guy works down the chip shop swears he’s elvis

However there is another event or two be precise two events taking place now that according to economic theory should not be happening and we find them in the currency markets.

The currency depreciators in fact appreciate

There has been a change in 2016 and what it represents is that the two main central banks which are trying to lower their currency have in fact seem them rally. This morning there were two clear notable sights in markets as the Euro pushed towards 1.16 versus the US Dollar and the Japanese Yen strengthened though 106 to 105.6. This will have Mario Draghi of the ECB spluttering on his morning espresso or cappuccino and perhaps ordering an extra glass of chianti with his lunch. Actually as Mario notes that around a third of the new bank rescue fund for Italy has already been used he may raise his chianti order to the whole bottle!

Meanwhile in Japan Governor Kuroda will not be in a mood to celebrate the 3 day Golden Week break and of course if anyone has had an anti-Midas touch it is him. As in essence the policy of Abenomics he was appointed to enforce involved a lower Yen there is an obvious problem with it rising. In fact even hard-core supporters must be struggling to name an arrow of Abenomics that is even partially working right now and I wait to see how the many in the media deal with this reality.

Let us analyse the scale of what has taken place here. It reminds me of quite a few instances in UK economic policy where the UK Pound £ has done exactly the reverse of both plans and hopes for it.

The Euro

As a backdrop we need to recall that the ECB has cut its deposit and current account interest-rate to -0.4% and raised its monthly amount of QE (Quantitative Easing) bond purchases to 80 billion Euros a month, or just shy of a trillion a year. What has it got for that?

If we look at the chart against the US Dollar we see that the falls were in 2014 and early 2015 and that over the past year the Euro is now up by over 3%. This fits with my theory that the main currency falls from a policy of QE happen in advance of it as expectations build and that the reality of it sees a situation where the boat often has already sailed. If we look at the effective or trade weighted exchange rate it fell from 104 to 89 in early April 2015 but has since rallied to 95.

A couple of years ago we did get a “Draghi Rule” for measuring the impact of all this.

Now, as a rule of thumb, each 10% permanent effective exchange rate appreciation lowers inflation by around 40 to 50 basis points.

So the same inflation which he is trying to raise will in fact be reduced by around 0.3% by the Euro strength.

Oh and the ECB is also pot-shotting at the behaviour of other central banks. Whilst I welcome that it is catching up a little with my “early-wire” theme it seems to have forgotten that it used to give private-briefings to hedge funds.

Eleven out of these 21 announcements exhibit some pre-announcement price drift in the “correct” direction, i.e., in the direction of the price change consistent with the announcement surprise. For seven of these announcements the drift is substantial.

 

The Yen

Whilst the Yen has been something of a currency twin with the Euro it has been in the worst place as you see it has rallied against it as well. Cue more pictures of Governor Kuroda with his face in his hands. Back in late 2014 it just failed to make 150 Yen per Euro compared to the 122.5 now. Thus the Yen has surged and with apologies for it being tardy with updates but the trade weighted Yen courtesy of the Bank of England has risen from 127 to 141 over the past year.

Sadly the Bank of Japan has not published any form of the Draghi Rule as I suppose it is anti their culture. But of the rules we do have I think it applies the most so we see that inflation will be some 0.6% lower due to the appreciation over the past year. The calculation assumes we remain here as do the ones above and they give plenty of food for thought.

Another way of looking at the situation is that Abenomics has jumped into the TARDIS of Doctor Who and travelled back to November 2013.

The UK

There has been a reversal here too as the falls of early 2016 have been followed by a recovery to US $1.47. The trade weighted index has recouped about half of its earlier losses with in essence the 2016 falls being against the two currencies discussed above. Of course so much is in flux but with UK manufacturing weak and the Pound stronger we could easily see someone at the Bank of England vote for a Bank Rate cut. At which point we see yet another reversal for Forward Guidance.

Australia

If we look to the land “down under” we see that the Reserve Bank of Australia cut interest-rates by 0.25% to 1.75% this morning. This did seem to be aimed at one particular target.

though an appreciating exchange rate could complicate this.

As the “Aussie” has fallen I guess they will be happy. Those familiar with the UK experience will feel a chill down their spines as the note the use of “rebalancing” in a situation proving central banks all borrow from each other.

The US Dollar

Here we get the most awkward situation for economic theory as it is raising interest-rates and therefore should have a strong dollar. Reality by contrast fits much more nicely with my anticipation and expectation theme especially as the Federal Reserve seems to have forgotten and redacted its own Forward Guidance. The Dollar Index had a couple of goes at passing 100 but now is at 92. According to US Federal Reserve vice-Chair Fischer that will raise GDP by between 0.8% and 1.2%

So we have the country which was tightening monetary policy via interest-rate rises ( although in reality we do not need the plural as only one has happened so far) and a higher currency is now seeing easing via currency falls. Oh what a tangled web and all that..

Comment

I have left one elephant in the room until now which is the supposed existence of a Shanghai Accord. Some elements of it do seem to be in play but I am cautious about conspiracy theories especially in currency markets. Maybe that is because I am British as the UK Pound £ has spent so much time at the “wrong” level meaning that we have not been able to control it! Maybe just the existence of the theory has contributed to what we have seen especially as we note that the moves were already in play well before the accord.

But as the moment most currencies seem to be getting what their central banks do not want! Still according to the Rolling Stones that may not be all bad.

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime you find
You get what you need

 

 

 

 

Has monetary policy now reached its limits?

The credit crunch era has been one where monetary policy has been bent twisted and expanded all at once. The opening move in the game of chess was to reduce interest-rates to what were considered to be extraordinary low levels back then. The next was to buy bonds mostly government bonds in what was called unconventional policy back then as Quantitative Easing looked to reduce bond yields. However as time went on and advocates QE sang along to this bit in The Sound of Silence “silence like a cancer grows” then it became well conventional. There were also lending support policies which of course were a critique of ultra-low interest-rates and QE as of course if those two had worked then other polices would not be needed! Obviously official communiques turned their blind eye to such thoughts and logic. We have more recently seen a new phase of interest-rate cuts as more and more central banks have moved interest-rates lower again into negative territory taking many bond yield with them. On that front the chart below is rather eloquent I think.

A negative yield for an oil company. What could go wrong?

As well as actual moves and action central bankers have increasingly deployed what I call Open Mouth Operations where they promise to do things. In spite of the long list of broken promises and failed forecasts they publicly continue with making Forward Guidance which in the UK is at around Mark fifteen as thresholds and dates come and go. In some ways the peak for this sort of thing was this from Mario Draghi of the ECB on the 21st of January.

There are no limits to how far we are willing to deploy our instruments within our mandate

Perhaps he was bopping away to the band 2 Unlimited in the 90s and their biggest hit is stuck in his mind.

The Yen and the Nikkei 225 

This morning has seen this in Japanese markets. From the Financial Times.

The yen surged 2 per cent and equities slumped……..Futures on the broad Topix stock index were trading down 42 points at 1,339. The yen surged 2 per cent to Y109.3 against the dollar.

Actually things went further than that as the Yen continued it surge and has risen through at 108 versus the US Dollar as I type this. Lots of countries and currencies have had an involuntary devaluation as for example the UK Pound £ now buys 158 rather than 162 Yen. If we look for some perspective the FT adds this.

The yen has risen from about Y120 against the dollar this year, despite a shock BoJ move to interest-rates of minus 0.1 per cent in January, hurting Japanese exporters and setting back the central bank’s effort to escape from two decades of on-and-off deflation.

There is obvious FT speak there via the use of “despite” rather than “because of” and the assumption against the evidence that Abenomics will work. That was true even before it became Japanese owned. But let us mark that and move onto equity markets which also continued their move with the Nikkei 225 closing some 3.6% lower at 16,666.

Now with such moves one might conclude that the Bank of Japan had acted and that the half-life of the subsequent equity market rally is now so short that it had fallen by the end of the day. But in fact the announcement was as below.

The Bank of Japan will conduct money market operations so that the monetary base will increase at an annual pace of about 80 trillion yen……The Bank decided, by a 7-2 majority vote, to continue applying a negative interest rate of minus 0.1 percent to the Policy-Rate Balances in current accounts held by financial institutions at the Bank

That was what the apochryphal civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby would describe as “masterly inaction” as it was unchanged policy. So we note that if the Bank of Japan acts the Yen rises and the equity market falls and if it does not the same happens! The only difference is that acting gives a one day rally for the equity market. We get some perspective on today’s move from Reuters Jamie.

USD/JPY -3%. It’s lost more than 3% on only 5 days since 1998, and only 20 days since Bretton Woods collapse in 1971

There were reasons to act

The obvious one for an inflation targeting central bank was the inflation news this morning. From NHK.

Japan’s consumer price index for March was down 0.3 percent from a year earlier, for the first drop in five months…….Excluding all types of energy and food, the index was up 0.7 percent year-on-year, for a 30th straight month of growth.

As you can see not so good from the Abenomics point of view even if you can manage to live without energy and food. If you find someone like that please let me know! The Bank of Japan was downbeat in other areas.

Comparing the current projections through fiscal 2017 with the previous ones, GDP growth is somewhat lower, influenced mainly by weaker exports that reflect the slowdown in overseas economies. The projected rate of increase in the CPI for fiscal 2016 is lower, mainly reflecting downward revisions in projections for GDP growth and wage developments.

As you can see it is all apparently the fault of Johnny Foreigner or Gaijin and you may note something crushing to Bloomberg which has regularly reported better wage growth is around the corner.

Let us move on from the Bank of Japan which resembles the Titanic and I will leave it to readers to decide whether it is before or after it hit the iceberg.

Other central banks

There was a joint outbreak of “masterly inaction” as the US Federal Reserve, the central bank of Brazil and the Reserve Bank of New Zealand did nothing except put Yes Minister on You Tube. Is that a fluke?

Anyway for the US Federal Reserve it is an utter failure for “Forward Guidance” as in election year the scope for “between 3 to 5 interest-rate” hikes has done a bit more than faded I think.

Venezuela

We are often assured that central banks cannot run out of money yet it would appear that this economic basket case has in fact managed it. From Bloomberg.

In a tale that highlights the chaos of unbridled inflation, Venezuela is scrambling to print new bills fast enough to keep up with the torrid pace of price increases…….Venezuela, in other words, is now so broke that it may not have enough money to pay for its money.

Now let me add a little dose of sanity as the central bank could create the money to pay for those although of course this might push the exchange-rate even lower. However this is a scenario which many “experts” such as Paul Krugman would tell us is “unpossible” as hyper-inflation only exists according to them in the world of “inflation-nutters”.

Venezuela’s inflation, the world’s highest, is expected to rise this year to close to 500 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund.

This is deflationary hyper-inflation and I guess you are all waiting for the Weimar style wheel-barrow quote.

“It’s a very bad sign to see people running around with wheelbarrows full of money to buy a hot dog,”

Ah a poor diet too?

Comment

For the seven years or so central bankers and their media acolytes have been singing along to Paul Simon.

These are the days of miracle and wonder
And don’t cry baby, don’t cry
Don’t cry

However these boys in the bubble are finding it increasingly tough going as their Forward Guidance of better days ahead keeps turning into a disappointing reality. I do not know yet what the GDP number will be for the United States today but it will not be great I do know that. This keeps happening although the US and UK are of course doing better than Japan in this regard. They kicked the can into the future but their own actions delayed and stopped the reforms required to make the future strong enough to pick the can up. Still some have enjoyed it.

A loose affiliation of millionaires
And billionaires and baby

Video

Before the Bank of Japan meeting I broadcast my thoughts on TipTV.

 

 

The Yen for Yen is a big problem for both Japan and Abenomics

This morning the main economic developments are taking place in the Far East and UK markets have opened with this being reported. From @RANsquawk.

sub-111.00, paves way for retest of the March low of 110.67 which would be the lowest since Oct 2014, when BoJ last expanded QQE (Quantitative and Qualitative Easing).

There was talk that an option barrier at 110.50 might hold the rise of the Japanese Yen against the US Dollar but in fact in rose to 110.30 and is now at 110.44 as I type this. The reason for the slight dip back was a familiar one.

BRIEF-Bank of Japan checking USD/JPY rate – Nikkei

As you can see hints of intervention do not seem to be achieving much anymore along the lines of the story of the boy who cried wolf. Indeed overnight we saw one of the weapons of modern central banking deployed as Bank of Japan Governor Kuroda indulged in some Open Mouth Operations. From Marketwatch.

Speaking in parliament, Kuroda reiterated his stance to “undertake additional monetary easing without hesitation” if necessary, either by increasing the central bank’s asset purchases or by lowering its deposit rate further below zero, or both.

According to Bloomberg news he went on to say that he is “monitoring” foreign exchange markets which in Kuroda speak is the equivalent of “closely watching from the Ministry of Finance. The problem is summed up by Bloomberg below.

The yen’s 8.7 percent surge this year makes it the best performing Group-of-10 currency.

The rise is exactly the opposite of the plan under the Abenomics policy of Shinzo Abe under which it is supposed to keep falling. It is now 7% stronger than a year ago. These days QQE or QE do not guarantee a currency fall as I discussed only yesterday in reference to the Euro well those in Tokyo will have spotted that since last summer when it nudged over 140 the Yen has been strengthening against the Euro as well as finds itself at 125. 4 .

Of course Japan has its concerns about currencies much closer to home so if we switch to the effective or trade weighted Yen it has risen from 128 to 137 in 2016 so far.

The many faces of Governor Kuroda

An increasing problem for Governor Kuroda is that he is contradicting himself more and more. From The Times of India a month ago.

TOKYO: Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said on Monday he is not currently thinking of taking additional steps to ease monetary policy.

So either he was not telling the truth or he has undertaken another U-Turn in the way that he introduced negative interest-rates only 8 days after publicly rejecting the idea. Speaking of India I guess Governor Kuroda would love to be cutting from 6.75% to 6.5% as the Reserve Bank of India did this morning.

Where next for monetary policy?

There are problems here for Governor Kuroda. In terms of currency intervention he must be singing along to the Alan Parsons Project.

I just can’t seem to get it right
Damned if I do
I’m damned if I don’t

If he intervenes here again he faces the prospect of the Bank of Japan morphing into an international hedge fund in the way that its “currency twin” the Swiss National Bank has. If you build up foreign currency assets you then need to put them somewhere and the old stand-by of short-dated bonds increasingly brings a guaranteed loss in terms of negative interest-rates. So they increasingly choose equities which mostly means hoping the price of Apple does not fall and the occasional embarrassment as they get caught holding a lemon such as Valeant.

If he does not then if the technical analysts are any guide the Yen is on its way to 107 or maybe 106 when Kuroda will be singing along to Hard-Fi.

Can you feel it?
Feel the pressure rising
Pushing down on me, oh Lord

Of his other options he could do more QQE but it is increasingly damaging the underlying Japanese bond market. From @moved_average

CURRENT 30-YR JGBS HAVE NO TRADE FOR FIRST TIME IN SIX MONTHS

I have been arguing this from the early days but they have ploughed on and pretty much broken the market by buying so many. This is more of a flow problem or the speed of purchases than a stock one but if they keep this up then that will be along eventually as well. It speaks for itself that the Bank of Japan rounds its announcements to 100 million Yen! Oh and one thing it does do which as far as I am aware is unique is that it buys inflation or index-linked bonds as well. Any port in a storm I suppose.

Promises of further steps into negative interest-rate territory have the problem that the first one saw the Yen strengthen substantially afterwards. What if that happened again?

Both the Bank of Japan and the ECB seem to have entered a zone where further monetary easing strengthens the respective currencies. We find ourselves tearing yet another page out of the economics textbooks and soon we will be left only holding a spine.

Helicopter Money

There are louder and louder calls for this with for example Lord Turner regularly suggesting it in the UK. I do still enjoy the description of him having had a “talentless ascent” in a comment to this blog. Actually Japan gave it a go a decade or more ago giving everyone the equivalent of £142 if I recall correctly which they promptly saved! Please remember that as I see some many articles claiming that this is not only new but in fact has guaranteed success.

Also we find ourselves here on a path where monetary policy is also fiscal policy.

What about fiscal policy?

The Japan Times suggests this is also on the cards.

At a meeting of the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy on Monday, the prime minister instructed ministers to formulate “bold and convincing measures” to be included in a fiscal and economic blueprint to be compiled in or around June.

Japan is going to press for such moves to be international when it hosts the next G-7 meeting. Presumably this is part of this promise by Shinzo Abe that looks very much like tilting at windmills only a short time after.

Abe has pledged to lift GDP by around 20 percent from the current level, to ¥600 trillion by around 2020.

This poses yet another problem for Abenomics as the initial fiscal boost was supposed to trigger economic growth which would allow Japan to cut its fiscal deficit and thereby get some control over its national debt to economic output (GDP) ratio. According to the Ministry of Finance the fiscal deficit was 6% of GDP in 2015 and the national debt was 229.2% of it. The IMF has it nearing 250% and the Bank of Japan if it throws in all its assets has a net reading of 130%. Take your pick or note the 1.075 quadrillion Yen it has become or 1,075,217,800,000,000.

Comment

If we step back for a moment we see three major themes at play. Firstly the economy of Japan has had every form of economic stimulus thrown at it. A continuing fiscal stimulus has seen ever more monetary stimulus and a lower exchange rate added to it. Each time we have been assured of success by the government and mainstream media but if that was true we would not be seeing Agent Smith continually crying “More! More!” would we? In addition the latest phase is that monetary easing is having an inverse and perverse effect on the Yen and the Euro as both rally in response to ever lower interest-rates and yields. Oh what a tangled web and all that. Also please remember that this is happening when lower energy prices should be giving Japan an enormous boost.

One irony is that today has seen a rare outbreak of a real wage rises in Japan but I guess whilst 0.4% is welcome it is not that material. Oh and as to the promised third arrow of reform. From Reuters.

Japan is witnessing a record number of compensation claims related to death from overwork, or “karoshi”, a phenomenon previously associated with the long-suffering “salary man” that is increasingly afflicting young and female employees.

That is neither the reform nor the type of equality required.