DOLLAR RETURNS TO FAVOUR
Renewed nervousness about financial institutions sparks another flight to safety. Failed gilt auction trips sterling. UK inflation refuses to die.
Having failed twice in the previous couple of days sterling eventually managed to break above $1.46 on Tuesday. It made it as far at $1.4750 before heading lower again. By the end of Friday it was down to $1.43 and it lost further ground this morning. When London opened it was trading at $1.4150.
Much as they had done during the previous couple of weeks, investors paid far more attention to politico-economic events and developments than they did to the boring old economic data – even when they were not so boring. There was one exception on Tuesday with the UK inflation numbers. Analysts and the media had confidently predicted that Retail Price Index inflation would be a negative number for the first time since 1960. In the event, editors had to tear up their pre-prepared deflation stories when RPI rose by 0.6% on the year. The Consumer Price Index was an even bigger surprise, rising by an annual 3.2% that left it still above its target range.
The CBI’s Distributive Trades Survey on Wednesday prepared investors for a dismal showing by the official Retail Sales figures. It was just as well; sales fell by 1.9% in February, four times as much as expected. Friday’s final revision to fourth quarter GDP was less of a disappointment. The 1.6% quarterly decline was very close to the earlier estimate of -1.5% and therefore not something to agitate the market.
What did get investors ticking was the “failure” of a 40-year government bond auction. With £1.75 billion of gilts on offer there were bids for only £1.63 billion. Various excuses were offered, principle among which was the fact that the 40-year issue would not be eligible for the Bank of England’s buy-back programme. Commentators were dubious at the time but a successful auction of 13-year index-linked gilts the following day helped the market to relax a little.
The US economic statistics had no more impact than the UK numbers, even though several of them pointed to greater optimism in the residential property market. Existing Home Sales (+5%), the Housing Price Index (+2%), weekly mortgage applications (+32%) and New Home Sales (+5%) all registered improvements. There is a sensation that analysts would love to call a turn to the US property market’s long downward trend but they dare not do so on the back of just one month’s data.
There was similar nervousness about the latest rescue package, the Public-Private Partnership Investment Programme. The aim of the scheme is to encourage private investors to buy the “toxic assets” that have been giving the banks a headache. If they do, the government will subsidise a significant chunk of the purchase price in return for a modest share of any profits. Bond and equity markets took a shine to the plan but it made the FX market nervous about potentially negative effects on the US dollar.
The dollar started to come back into its own after Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman offered his opinion that the government will eventually have to “seize” big banks as the economic and financial crisis deepens. “In the end we’ll come to it,” he said. Although investors had earlier seemed to desert the dollar as a safe-haven currency they suddenly decided they could not do without it after all. There was more of the same after Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said in a TV interview on Sunday that “some banks are going to need some large amounts of assistance.” His comments sounded suspiciously similar to those of Professor Krugman and sparked another rush for cover.
The focus this week will be on the G20 meeting and what it might achieve. Most observers are not unduly optimistic about the outcome. They are more interested in guessing what new stumbling blocks the meeting might throw up. Already on the unofficial agenda is the status of the US dollar as de facto global reserve currency. China would like to see greater use of the International Monetary Fund’s Special Drawing Rights – a suggestion to which Secretary Geithner apparently does not object – and Russia would like to see a partial return to the Gold Standard. There will doubtless be more off-the-wall proposals as the week progresses.
The dollar’s return to favour has been quite swift, taking it 4% higher against the pound and adding 4.5% to its value against the euro since the early part of last week. Although it could go further, the market’s readiness to change direction at the drop of a hat has become very obvious in the last couple of weeks. Buyers of the dollar should therefore hedge their exposure, fixing a price for half of whatever they need. If price certainty is essential there is no alternative but to cover the whole amount. Otherwise use a stop order to protect the uncovered portion in case another disaster strikes the pound.
For more information and expert guidance on the currency markets, call Moneycorp today.
Laura McLoughlin – Laura.McLoughlin@moneycorp.com
Regional Manager – Florida
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