Weekly Radar: Dollar building steam?

March 14, 2013


       The revved-up U.S. dollar – whose trade-weighted index is now up almost 5 percent in just six weeks – could well develop into one of the financial market stories of the year as the cyclical jump the United States has over the rest of G10 combines with growing attention being paid to the country’s potential “re-industrialisation”. As with all things FX, there’s a zillion ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ to the argument. Chief among them is many people’s assumption the Fed will be printing greenbacks well after this expansion takes hold as it targets a much lower jobless rate. Others doubt the much-vaunted return of the US Inc. back down the value chain into metal-bashing and manufacturing, while some feel the cheaper energy from the shale revolution and the lower structural trade deficits that promises will be short-lived as others catch up. However, with the dollar already super competitive (it’s down 30-40 percent on the Fed’s inflation-adjusted index over the past 10 years) the first set of arguments are more tempting. Even if you see the merits in both sides, the bull case clearly has not yet been discounted and may have further to go just to match the balance of risks.  With Fed printing presses still on full throttle, this has been a slow burner to date and it may be a while yet before it gets up a head of steam — many feel it’s still more of a 2nd half of 2013 story and the dollar index needs to get above last year’s highs to get people excited. But if it does keep motoring, it has a potentially dramatic impact on the investment landscape and not necessarily a benign one, even if shifting correlations and the broader macro landscape show this is not the ‘stress trade’ of the short-lived dollar bounces of the past five years.

Commodities priced in dollars could well feel the heat from a steady dollar uptrend. And if gold’s spiral higher over the past six years has been in part due to the “dollar debasement” trade, then its recent sharp retreat may be less puzzling . Emerging market currencies pegged to the dollar will also feel the pressure as well as countries and companies who’ve borrowed heavily in greenbacks. The prospect of a higher dollar also has a major impact on domestic US investors willingness to go overseas, casting questions on countries with big current account gaps. As the dominant world reserve currency, a rising dollar effectively tightens financial conditions for everyone else and we’ve been used to a weakening one for a very long time.

Back to moment, stock markets around the world have continued to nudge new highs over the past week, with the upbeat US employment data underlining a still broadly positive global growth tilt even if Chinese data was more equivocal and Europe still looks dour. That said, at least the euro FX rate is going in the right direction for a change to help address the regional funk.

To keep a tally, global stocks are up almost 6 percent as the first quarter enters its final fortnight.

Next week, it will be hard to get beyond the FOMC and a heavy US data slate, though flash global PMIs for March will be critical in seeing whether the wobble in world business sentiment last month was a blip or a trend. The Franco-German summit in Berlin on Monday will be interesting to parse any new direction in euro policy and cooperation, with German/French and Spanish debt auctions throughout the week. Otherwise, it’s big five days for the UK economy with the government’s 2013 budget as well as jobless/inflation/retail/govt borrowing reports and BoE minutes . An ICC hearing on Kenyan election victor Kenyatta in the Hague on Monday will also need watching, with the latest South African rate decision on Wednesday a big moment next week in regional markets there.


Events and data to watch next week:

China annual parliament meeting ends Sun

Merkel/Hollande summit Berlin Mon

ICC hearing on Kenya’s Kenyatta, The Hague Mon

EZ Jan trade Mon

UK Feb inflation Tues

German March ZEW Tues

US Feb housing starts/permits Tues

German 10-yr bund auction Weds

UK Feb jobless Weds

EZ March consumer confidence Weds

UK 2013 budget Weds

BoE minutes Weds

EU’s Rehn at EU Parliament Committe Weds

FOMC decision/presser Weds

Obama visits Israel Weds

SAfrica/Iceland rate decisions Weds

Japan Feb trade Thurs

Global flash March PMIs Thurs

UK Feb retail sales/govt borrowing Thurs

French/Spanish bond auctions Thurs

US/UK index-linked bond auctions Thurs

Egypt rate decision Thurs

US March Philly Fed index/Feb existing home sales Thursday

German March Ifo/French March biz climate Fri

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