GBR Market Wrap, March 18, 2011
In this Week’s Issue
• Japan’s benchmark Nikkei average fell 6.18% to close at 9,620.49 on Monday (Reuters)
• Japan’s Nikkei stock index nose-dived another 10.55% on Tuesday (AP)
• The Federal Reserve maintained its ultra-loose monetary policy on Tuesday (Reuters)
• Japanese stocks regained some losses. The Nikkei bounced back +5.7% on Wednesday (Reuters)
• Euro area annual inflation was 2.4% in February, up from 2.3% in January (Eurostat)
• The U.S. current account deficit decreased to $113.3Bn, or 3.1% of GDP in Q4 of 2010 (ESA)
• U.S. wholesale prices rise 1.6% due to biggest jump in food costs in more than 36 years (AP)
• Japanese Yen rises to all-time high against the U.S. Dollar on Wednesday (Reuters)
• The Bank of Japan was pumping 3 trillion Yen ($37.5 billion) into money markets on Friday (AP)
• Swiss Franc rises to all-time high against the U.S. Dollar at 0.8860 on Thursday (AP)
• Yen slides on Friday after G7 nations coordinate intervention in forex market (Reuters)
• The Libyan government announced a cease-fire after UN resolution on no-fly zone (AP)
Crude Oil prices have been on a bull run ever since the early part of 2009. The recent political crises in the Middle East only put more pressure on prices. Libya’s oil production, averaging about 1.3 millions barrels per day, essentially came to a stand-still through the escalation of conflicts. That put oil prices on a clear path towards levels of above $100 per barrel. After the UN security council issued a resolution for a non-fly zone in Libya, oil prices had a sharp drop on Friday. For now the price of oil is hovering just above $101 but it remains to be seen if this will keep a lid on prices.
Japan Needs a break
As if the human toll and suffering were not tragic enough, Japan also had to endure economic and financial strains unmatched in recent history. At the beginning of the week, Japanese stocks saw a decline of over 16 percent within two days. Counter-intuitive to that decline, the Japanese Yen rose to an all-time high against the U.S. Dollar on Wednesday. We examined the initial reaction in the currency markets right after the Japanese Earthquake hit last week. The rationale for the strength of the Japanese currency was seen in anticipation of massive repatriation of Japanese investment funds from overseas. On Wednesday, the U.S. Dollar dropped 300 points within a matter of 15 minutes, only to pull back to where it had started from. Clearly a speculative attack that prompted a fall below a major technical support level for the USD versus Yen. It may have been the ongoing strength or that hard-hitting speculative run on the Yen but Japan clearly needed a break. That break came courtesy of an emergency meeting when the central bankers of the G7 nations agreed on a coordinated intervention in the currency markets.
Currency interventions have a mixed record when it comes to pushing against market forces. As the Financial Times report, “The G7 and the Yen” notes:
“The history of currency interventions suggests that solitary action is not enough. In mid-September, for example, when the BoJ went it alone, the sale of ¥2,125bn($26bn) (the biggest-ever one-day intervention) reversed the Yen’s appreciation trend only briefly.”
Coordinated efforts by numerous central banks have a better chance of being successful in stemming against market forces and slowing down currency trends. However, reversing a trend through interventions even on a scale of some $20 billion may only put a dent in a market that has a combined turnover of several trillion dollars per day (counting all currency transactions). As in past interventions, typically trend-following hedge funds may play the role of the counter-part to Central banks’ efforts. This week, a long-standing support level at ¥79.75 has been broken. You have to go back all the way to 1995 when the Yen had its previous record against the U.S. Dollar. Incidentally, that record occurred a few months after the (in)famous Kobe Earthquake which happened on January 17, 1995.
U.S. Dollar versus Japanese Yen
History may or may not repeat itself. It looks as if some large speculators have been placing their bets on an ongoing Yen strength, despite the threat of currency intervention. For now the Yen strength has been put on temporary halt. The week-end may present some additional impetus in the form of official G7 support statements and/or additional efforts by the major central banks. I sure hope that Japan’s nuclear threat can be contained so that the healing and re-construction efforts can begin in the devastated regions. Japan really does need a break and so does its capital market.
A Quiet Currency Record
As the world’s attention was glued to Japan, another low-yielding currency has made a near identical movement against the U.S. Dollar recently. The Swiss Franc, also a traditional safe-haven currency, has quietly made its way to successive new records against the U.S. Dollar. On March 17, the Swissie reached an all-time record of 0.8860 against the greenback.
In view of this, the repatriation of funds as a rationale for the recent Yen strength may be just part of the explanation of the Yen’s appreciation. The sad events in Japan only accelerated a trend that has already been there for a long time. It does, however, raise another question: Is the Japanese Yen really that strong or is the U.S. Dollar showing continued signs of losing more of its safe-haven status?
Good luck and good investing!
Clemens Kownatzki, MBA is an adjunct professor of financial risk management at the Graziadio School of Business and Management, as well as the founder and CEO of FX Investment Strategies, a Registered Investment Advisor. In addition to running his investment advisory firm, he is a contributing author at SeekingAlpha.com and BusinessInsider.com. He also publishes the popular investment blog www.fxinvestmentstrategies.com along with a weekly news-letter.