Forex report: ECB challenges Fed

IB FX View: Trichet offers U.S. his sledgehammer

The ECB was the last of the three major central banks to leave its short term benchmark rate unchanged today. On Wednesday the Fed reiterated the same message it conveyed in September by stating that policy would remain accommodative. With official short term yields steady investors focused on the posturing and variety of tones apparent within each statement. After today’s ECB press conference its president, Jean Claude Trichet tossed the challenge of a vulnerable dollar back into the court of the U.S. Treasury when he stated that a strong dollar was in the interests of United States. Such sledgehammer diplomacy is unlikely to provoke the U.S. into intervention mode in what has been a rather orderly decline of the greenback.

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At the same time Mr. Trichet effortlessly bolstered the appeal of the euro when he addressed the mopping up and drying out of the abundant liquidity measures applied to Eurozone financial institutions. In true inflation-hating central bank style he said, “The Governing Council will make sure that the extraordinary liquidity measures taken are phased out in a timely and gradual fashion and that the liquidity provided is absorbed in order to counter effectively any threat to price stability over the medium to longer term.”

The euro popped its head up to $1.4919 as the hawkish banker created the impression that the next might be firmer monetary policy causing the yield difference to favor the euro. Still, the euro is weaker against the Japanese yen today at ¥134.64 after an Asian session saw modest equity price weakness. The impact was to lessen the appeal of the risk trade today.

The British pound is higher against both dollar and euro. While its benchmark remained unchanged, the Bank of England boosted its bond-buying spree by half of the amount predicted by analysts. The Bank announced that it would add a further £25 billion to the amount of previously purchased corporate and government bonds to stimulate lending. That will bring the grand total to £200 billion, and while it’s less than expected sterling bulls are quick to point to the fact that this lower amount is a sign that the economy needs less stimulus. In other words, the central bank is no longer trying to get the heavy ball in motion, it’s simply adding its bodyweight behind an object in motion.

The pound added to recent gains and rose to $1.6636 before a bout of mid-morning dollar strength reversed that direction and the pound now trades at $1.6552. The euro today buys 89.77 pennies. The Bank in announcing today’s policy changes tore a leaf from the Fed’s script when it said that current resource slack is likely to bear down on inflation for “some time to come.” The structure of U.S. and British forward curves is well out of line with this hint from the Bank of England, which implicitly states that official rates are not likely to move for some time to come.

The British recovery was further bolstered today by statistics released showing greater than anticipated growth in both manufacturing and industrial production today with the former showing the largest monthly gain in seven years with a 1.7% improvement. Both series beat expected data.

In recent days the Canadian dollar has found its footing after recent central bank inspired losses. Despite the threatening words from officials at the Bank of Canada underlying demand for minerals and raw materials is feeding a buying frenzy for the domestic dollar as the price of gold – which Canada has in abundance – goes through the roof. Today the Canadian dollar buys 93.88 U.S. cents.

The Aussie dollar can’t shake off its overnight hangover. The weaker Pacific and Asian session saw equity traders uninspired and the broad appetite for risk is today diminished. The Aussie has therefore fallen to 91.07 U.S. cents. The fact that the American equity markets are sharply higher is not seemingly harming the dollar at the same time.

Friday brings employment data and traders are braced for a rise in the rate of unemployment towards a double-digit rate from 9.8%. Whether this causes psychological changes at the consumer level remains to be seen, but with most analysts in agreement that the worst of the recession is over, the risk for the dollar appears to still be on the downside towards further weakness. A positive report or growth in hiring of temporary workers, which is a fortuitous sign for the labor market, could inspire a return of risk appetite elsewhere in the world. Given what the Fed says about the current rate of resource slack and therein the implications for inflation, it’s hard to see a positive report seriously boosting interest rate expectations that would favor the greenback.

Andrew Wilkinson

Senior Market Analyst ibanalyst@interactivebrokers.com

Note: The material presented in this commentary is provided for informational purposes only and is based upon information that is considered to be reliable. However, neither Interactive Brokers LLC nor its affiliates warrant its completeness, accuracy or adequacy and it should not be relied upon as such. Neither IB nor its affiliates are responsible for any errors or omissions or for results obtained from the use of this information. Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results.

About the Author
Andrew Wilkinson

Andrew is a seasoned trader and commentator of global financial markets. He worked for several London-based banks trading cash and derivatives before moving to the U.S. to attend graduate school. Andrew re-joins Interactive Brokers following a two-year stretch at a major Wall Street broker-dealer as their Chief Economic Strategist. His coverage of stocks, options, futures, forex and bonds regularly surfaces in global media, and over the last several years Andrew has made many TV appearances on Bloomberg, BBC, CNBC and BNN and Yahoo Finance.

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