The U.S. dollar traded lower across the board this past week. The best performers were the Australian dollar and British pound but outside of the euro, nearly all of the major currencies appreciated more than 1% against the greenback.
Who would have thought that when the Federal Reserve raised interest rates by 25bp, the U.S. dollar would tank? But that was exactly what happened this past week as the greenback tumbled against all of the major currencies. Investors began unwinding their long dollar positions ahead of the rate decision on the view that Fed Chair Janet Yellen would not be hawkish enough and they were right. She did not suggest that the next hike would be in June and the dot plot forecast showed U.S. policymakers looking for 2 and not 3 more rounds of tightening this year. Additionally it was not a majority decision as Fed President Kashkari voted to keep interest rates steady. The market expressed their disappointment at the lack of overwhelming hawkishness by selling U.S. dollars and buying bonds, sending 10 year Treasury yields back down to 2.5%.
The Fed is still the only major central bank planning to raise interest rates but it’s going to be a few weeks and maybe a few more months before there’s enough data to convince them that June is the right time to tighten instead of September. For forex traders, the key question is whether the dollar is a buy on dip or sell on rallies in the coming weeks. We think that the downside in USD/JPY is limited to 112 because there are a number of Federal Reserve officials speaking this week and they will most likely take the opportunity to remind everyone that interest rates are still moving higher. Fed Chair Janet Yellen takes to the podium along with FOMC voters Evans, Dudley, Kaplan and Kashkari. There are no major U.S. economic reports on the calendar so Fed speak will be the primary driver of dollar flows. We don’t expect big moves and instead anticipate consolidative price action in USD/JPY.
The one currency that could breakout is sterling because the U.K. government could trigger Article 50 any day over the next 2 weeks. When that happens, we believe that sterling will fall quickly and aggressively as the inevitable becomes reality but the recovery could be just as swift because the country’s actual final exit from the European Union will be years from now. However the U.K. can’t expect the EU to play nice as evidenced by today’s comment that trade talks will not happen before Brexit payment deal. EU headlines could extend the losses for sterling but if Article 50 is triggered and there’s nothing more OR if the trigger is delayed another week, losses in sterling should be limited after the Bank of England’s unexpected hawkishness.
Although recent data has been weak and policymakers noted that there were few signs of growth slowdown and wages are softening, the talk in the central bank is not about easing but tightening. According to the minutes, a number of policymakers believe that a “rate hike could be needed sooner” with MPC policymaker Kristen Forbes voting for an immediate 25bp tightening. This dissent caught the market by complete surprise and sent sterling sharply higher. Forbes believes there is less justification to tolerate above target inflation and for this reason sees the need for tightening. While we don’t expect the Bank of England to raise interest rates any time soon, the level of dovishness within the policymaking ranks is diminishing. This week’s U.K. inflation and retail sales report should show some improvements in the economy but the focus should be Brexit headlines.
Unexpected hawkishness from the European Central Bank also supported the euro this past week. ECB member Nowotny said a rate hike could be needed soon. We knew from this month’s monetary policy announcement that Eurozone policymakers have grown less dovish but few expected the central bank to be considering tightening especially in light of the region’s political uncertainties. According to the latest polls on Friday, despite the far right’s failure in the Netherlands, Le Pen is closing the gap with Macron. Fundamentally however the Eurozone economy is improving and we expect this to be confirmed by this week’s PMI reports. Although we believe that the dollar could find some support against the yen in the near term, we are still looking for EUR/USD to test 1.08 as long as political headlines don’t stifle the rally. Of course this latter risk is a big one that could derail the currency’s rally at any point in time. The Swiss National Bank also left monetary policy unchanged this past week but the Franc caught a bid after SNB President Jordan said they need to remain vigilant in the current uncertain environment. He indicated that while they are not a currency manipulator, they have leeway to intervene and cut rates further.