Dollar’s surge raises fears of global ‘liquidity shock’

Coronavirus disruption is adding to alarm at the state of the dollar market. (AFP)
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Updated 01 April 2020

Dollar’s surge raises fears of global ‘liquidity shock’

  • Spike in greenback narrows central banks’ options amid coronavirus fallout

LONDON: If the 2008 financial crisis is any guide, world markets — which have barely had time to recover from the dollar’s 9 percent surge in mid-March — may be set for another damaging bout of strength in the greenback.

In the 10 days from March 9, the dollar leapt against almost every other currency as companies and banks bought it to pay their creditors, trade partners and suppliers. Money market funding rates jumped and share prices plunged as those desperate for the US currency liquidated investments.

Such a spike in the dollar — the currency of choice in global commerce and investment, used in up to 90 percent of all FX transactions — is bad news, as it rapidly tightens financial conditions, exacerbating the very problems that policymakers are striving to prevent.

Since March 23, the surge has faded, as the US Federal Reserve cut interest rates again, injected trillions of dollars into the financial system and opened swap lines with other central banks to ease dollar strains overseas. Currency swap rates have calmed down and equities are rallying again.

But what if this is just a pause rather than a halt to the dollar’s upward path?

Brown Brothers Harriman strategist Ilan Solot, who worked at the Fed in 2008 as a currency trader, is among those expecting another bout of dollar strength.

“Policymakers understand the funding shortage problem well from the previous crisis and they have rushed to solve that, but this crisis could very well see a real economy shock,” he said.

Central bankers have repeated the stimulus playbook of 2008, but “this is a liquidity shock to the real economy, and we don’t know how that will play out,” Solot added.

Like many analysts, he suggests looking at the 2008 crisis.

Through all of 2007 and well into 2008, the dollar index fell steadily as hedge funds ramped up short positions despite growing unease over US subprime mortgages and the collapse of Bear Sterns. But from March to November 2008, the dollar rocketed 24 percent thanks to overseas demand.

And much like recently, money market rates soared.

Then Federal Reserve rate cuts and Washington’s $700 billion bank bailout bill kicked in; as the money market logjam eased, the dollar retreated and troughed on Dec. 18, 2008.

The respite was brief, however. The currency took off again, and rose another 15 percent before peaking in March 2009. That allowed equities and emerging markets to bottom out.

The uncertainty this time is that the twin demand and supply shocks caused by the virus could last indefinitely as millions more are sickened across the world. Companies and individuals trying to stay afloat are likely to hoard cash dollars.

A move higher now would also fit with the so-called Dollar Smile theory. Put forward by former Morgan Stanley strategist Stephen Jen, it holds that the greenback strengthens in tough times as investors rush for safe, liquid assets.

It then falls as US growth flags, forcing Fed rate cuts — the bottom of the smile — before rising again as the US economy leads the global growth rebound.

Jen, who now runs hedge fund and advisory firm Eurizon SLJ Capital, expects the US economy to stage a full recovery by the end of the year, while Europe will reclaim end-2019 levels only toward the end of next year.

“We were on the left side of the dollar smile, but for much of the second half of 2020 and in 2021,
I expect us to move to the right of the dollar smile,” he added.

And even after large rate cuts, dollar assets offer higher yields — the interest rate gap between three-month US and German bills offers a 1 percent return on an annualized basis.

Meanwhile, despite its retreat, the dollar is near the highest since 2002 against trade partners’ currencies, reviving speculation of Treasury intervention to rein it in. But the turbulent times make that unlikely.

“The historic rally is not quite over,” Goldman Sachs said, adding that in a further equity drawdown, there could be another 3 percent-
5 percent upside to the trade-weighted dollar from recent highs.

The coronavirus disruption also comes amid an increasingly fragile demand/supply balance in dollar markets.

For years tighter regulations have constrained US banks’ ability to lend dollars. But the currency’s role in international transactions hasn’t lessened, and that has led to a dollar funding gap — the difference between non-US banks’ dollar assets and their liabilities.

This imbalance may amount to $1.5 trillion a year, according to International Monetary Fund estimates.

Parts of the swap market reflect the unease — three-month dollar-yen swaps are at an elevated 44 bps versus an average 20 bps in 2019.

The FRA-OIS gauge of bank funding costs is at levels not seen since the financial crisis. Market players say that rather than interbank problems, its surge suggests unprecedented demand from companies that are drawing down credit lines and seeking to borrow more from banks.

Ariel Bezalel and Harry Richards, fund managers at Jupiter Asset Management, reckon the global economy is about to enter a period of persistent dollar shortages.

“There are simply not enough dollars going to the outside world at this critical juncture,” they wrote.

Sure, the Fed’s asset-buying, multi-trillion dollar cash injections and swaplines with foreign central banks will help. But it may be running to standstill.

The dollar was involved in
90 percent of currency transactions globally in a $6.6 trillion daily market, BofA noted, adding: “The reality is that the Fed is incapable of equilibrating supply/demand mismatches ... if there is a rush to hold US dollars.”

They predict the dollar index will rise eventually to 120 from the current 102, although they gave no time frame.


Crude prices surge as OPEC+ agrees to extend cuts

Updated 06 June 2020

Crude prices surge as OPEC+ agrees to extend cuts

  • The eagerly awaited gathering comes as oil exporters globally are hurt by low prices

DUBAI: Crude oil prices on Friday surged on international markets after the OPEC+ alliance, led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, reached a deal to continue supply limits at their present historic level.

After a week of negotiation, a virtual meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was expected to take place on Saturday to formally seal the agreement to keep combined cuts at 9.7 million barrels per day (bpd) for at least another month.

Last-minute worries about Iraq, which had held out over committing to its share of the cuts, were overcome with a pledge by Baghdad to stick to the agreed limits and to make up any shortfall in the coming months, according to an official from one of the OPEC delegate countries.

In a speech in Washington, D.C., US President Donald Trump praised the work of OPEC+ in rebalancing the oil market. “We saved that industry (US oil) in a short period of time, and you know who helped us? Saudi Arabia and Russia and others. We got them to cut back substantially,” he said.

The deal struck in April to cut an unprecedented 9.7 million bpd, reinforced by an extra 1 million bpd voluntary cut by Saudi Arabia and smaller amounts by the UAE and Kuwait, has been credited with pulling global oil markets back from the brink of collapse.

Brent crude, the global benchmark, jumped nearly 6 percent in European trading, to stand above $42 per barrel. Oil prices have more than doubled since “Black Monday” on April 20, when West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the American benchmark, fell briefly into negative territory largely because of trading technicalities.

WTI was trading at more than $39 on Friday, raising the possibility that some of the US production lost due to well shut-ins and corporate failures might come back onto the market.

Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman was due to address the OPEC+ meeting in his capacity as co-chairman of the joint ministerial monitoring committee (JMMC).

“The conditions right now warrant hopefully successful meetings. Coordination is under way to hold OPEC and OPEC+ meetings tomorrow afternoon,” Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman was quoted as saying by Reuters.

According to an official, the prince was expected to stress the need for vigilant monitoring by OPEC+ of supply limits.

UAE Energy Minister Suhail Al-Mazrouei, urged producers to improve their compliance with agreed cuts.

“As a representative of the UAE, I find it disappointing and unacceptable that some of the largest producers with capacity like (Saudi Arabia) and Russia comply 100 percent or more while other major producers do less than 50 percent,” he wrote in the letter seen by Reuters.

Iraq and Nigeria have been regarded as the biggest laggards on compliance in the OPEC+ partnership, both arguing that their financial needs required them to sell as much oil as possible. Last week Nigeria indicated its willingness to adhere to the limits.

Wrangling with Iraq continued into Friday until a breakthrough was finally reached, and Baghdad promised to abide by the terms of the original deal and stick to compliance agreements.

Monthly meetings of OPEC’s JMMC will take place until the end of the year to monitor compliance levels among OPEC+ countries, and to assess the overall state of the market.

There has been no decision as yet on whether Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries will continue the extra 1 million bpd cuts, which could expire at the end of this month.

Oil-market sentiment was also lifted by a surprise fall in American unemployment, taken as a sign that the US economy could recover more strongly than expected.

Global oil exporters have come under intense pressure this year as the pandemic stifles the beginning of a recovery in energy investment that had started to materialize.

At the start of the year, global energy investment was expected to rise 2 percent in 2020, its biggest growth in six years, the International Energy Agency (IEA) had predicted. Instead, the Paris-based organization now expects global investment in energy to plunge by 20 percent this year — the equivalent of $400 billion.

 

(With Reuters)