The Value of the U.S. Dollar
The Federal Reserve Board is printing money at an unprecedented rate. The ECB is following suit. The Bank of England and China are both cutting rates to spur their economies and global sovereign debt is piling up like manure behind the elephant pen. Clearly, our currency is being devalued by the day. Some would argue that there’s a race to devalue among the major global currencies as the G7 nations attempt to boost exports and spur their respective domestic economies. Tangible assets like gold and silver or soybeans and crude oil may be the only true stores of value left in an increasingly wayward world. We read this every day. The truth is far less dramatic. In an ugly world, the U.S. Dollar is the prettiest of the ugly sisters at the ball.
The U.S. Dollar Index is exactly where it was four years ago. This is interesting considering that the aggregate money supply in the U.S. as a result of the quantitative easing programs has nearly doubled since the housing market collapsed. Theoretically, doubling the supply of U.S. Dollars should mean that each new dollar is worth half as much. Take this one step further and it’s logical to assume that if each new dollar is worth half as much then it should take twice as many dollars to make the same purchases that were made in 2008 yet, the Consumer Price Index is only 4.5% higher than it was then. Finally, I would suggest that considering the growth of the money supply and its characteristic devaluation, we should see an influx of foreign direct investment picking up U.S. assets at bargain basement prices. While logical, this is also incorrect as the U.S. Department of Commerce shows that foreign direct investment only exceeded U.S. investment abroad in 6 out of the last 20 years with 2005 as the most recent.
What has happened through the artificial manipulation of interest rates in the world’s largest market is that the U.S. Dollar has begun attracting large amounts of money as U.S. and global investors park their cash while waiting for clarification on the world’s major financial and political issues. Real interest rates in the U.S. are negative at least 10 years out. The Euro Zone is no closer to resolution. China is in the midst of changing leadership in a softening economy. Finally, what was an assured re-election of President Obama is now a legitimate race.
The inflows to the U.S. Dollar are easily tracked through the commercial trader positions published weekly by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The U.S. Dollar Index contract has a face value of $100,000 dollars. Commercial traders have purchased more than 25,000 contracts in the last few weeks, now parking an additional $25 billion dollars. The build in this position can also be seen in their selling of the Euro, Japanese Yen and Canadian Dollars. The Dollar Index is made up of these currencies by 57%, 13% and 9%, respectively. Collectively, commercial selling in these markets adds another $5 billion to their long U.S. Dollar total. The magnitude of these moves makes commercial traders the most bullish they’ve been on the U.S. Dollar since August of last year which immediately led to a 7.5% rally in the U.S. Dollar in September.
The degree of bullishness by the commercial traders in the U.S. Dollar forces us to examine the markets most closely related to it in order to monitor the spillover effect a rally in the Dollar might create. The stock market has traded opposite the Dollar for all but four weeks in the last two years. The last time these markets traded in the same direction on a monthly basis is August of 2008. The current correlation values of - .29 weekly and -.43 monthly suggest that for every 1% higher the Dollar moves, the S&P500 should fall by .29% and .43%, respectively. Therefore, a bullish Dollar outlook must be coupled with a bearish equity market forecast.
Finally, we see the same type of relationship building in the Treasury markets. The U.S. Dollar is positively correlated to the U.S. Treasury market. This makes all the sense in the world considering foreign holdings of U.S. debt have increased over 5% through the first seven months of 2012 (Fed’s most recent data). The bulk of these foreign purchases of U.S. debt are repatriated immediately to eliminate currency exchange risk. This process of sterilization forces interest rates and the Dollar to trade in roughly the same direction. This relationship turned briefly negative between April and June of this year on a weekly basis while one has to go back to March of 2010 to find a negative correlation at the monthly level.
Obviously, the trade here is to buy the U.S. Dollar. The negative speculative sentiment coupled with the bullish and growing position of the commercial traders could fuel a forceful rally. Small speculators typically accumulate their largest positions and are the most wrong at the major turning points. A recent study in the Wall Street Journal discussing individual traders’ biggest mistakes puts it succinctly. Small traders’ biggest mistakes, accounting for 60% of the total responses are being too late to get in and too cautious to take the next trade. Once burnt from exiting the last trade too late, the small investor is too scared jump in the next trade which reinforces the negative feedback loop they typically end up stuck in. Take advantage of this analysis and at least, prepare yourself with an alternate game plan.
This blog is published by Andy Waldock. Andy Waldock is a trader, analyst, broker and asset manager. Therefore, Andy Waldock may have positions for himself, his family, or, his clients in any market discussed. The blog is meant for educational purposes and to develop a dialogue among those with an interest in the commodity markets. The commodity markets employ a high degree of leverage and may not be suitable for all investors. There is substantial risk of loss in investing in futures.