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.


Brent crude back above $75 on US inventory draw, positive Fed outlook

Updated 29 July 2021

Brent crude back above $75 on US inventory draw, positive Fed outlook

  • US report showing falling oil supplies boosts market
  • Oil majors Royal Dutch Shell, Repsol post higher profits on oil gain

LONDON: Oil gained for a second day on Thursday as traders remained buoyed by yesterday’s data showing a bigger-than-expected drop in US inventories, while the Federal Reserve painted an optimistic picture of the American economy.

Brent crude gained 0.7 percent to $75.23 a barrel at 2:44 p.m. in London, set to close above the $75 mark for the first time in two weeks. US Benchmark WTI also added 0.7 percent, to $72.87.

Brent, the global benchmark, passed $75 a barrel in June for the first time in more than two years but has fallen below $69 on July 17 on concerns over the spread of the Delta coronavirus variant and an OPEC+ deal to increase production over the coming months.

Crude in storage fell to the lowest since January 2020, while distillate supplies posted the biggest decline since April, the US Energy Information Agency said in its weekly report on Wednesday. Fuel inventories fell by more than 2 million barrels.

The US economy is continuing to recover even as COVID-19 infections increase, the Federal Reserve said on Wednesday, sparking speculation as to when it will begin to taper its bond purchase program.

In a separate report from the US Commerce Department today, the economy was shown to have grown at a 6.5 percent annual pace in the second quarter, below the 8.5 percent predicted in a Reuters poll of economists, but still enough to bring the economy back to its pre-pandemic size.

“The (oil inventory) falls suggest the rise in cases of COVID-19’s Delta variant is having little impact on mobility,” ANZ analysts said in a note on Thursday.

Oil prices also benefited from a statement from Iran blaming the US for stalled progress in talks over its nuclear ambitions, potentially delaying the return of Persian crude to world markets.

Global oil companies, including Royal Dutch Shell and Spain’s Repsol reported blockbuster earnings today as higher oil prices boosted returns.

Shell boosted its dividend and launched a $2 billion share buyback program on Thursday as it reported the highest second quarter profits in more than two years.

Shell Chief Financial Officer Jessica Uhl said that global fuel demand was at 90 percent to 100 percent of its pre-pandemic levels, but consumption of aviation fuel remained weak.


Spanish energy giant Repsol booked a net profit of 587 million euros ($700 million) foer the second quarter, compared to a loss of 1.9 billion euros in the same period last year.

“Demand has also increased, thanks in large part to vaccination rollout,” it said.

Repsol said revenues at its petrol stations in Spain jumped by 63 percent in the second quarter when compared to the same period last year as travel picked up following the easing of lockdowns.


Cruise Saudi, MSC Group sign new five-year agreement at Jeddah port

Updated 29 July 2021

Cruise Saudi, MSC Group sign new five-year agreement at Jeddah port

  • MSC Bellissima will offer cruises to Safaga for Luxor, Egypt and Aqaba for Petra, Jordan

JEDDAH: Geneva-headquartered MSC Cruises announced on Thursday it had signed a five-year agreement with Cruise Saudi for preferential berthing rights at the port of Jeddah.

The announcement was made aboard the company’s liner MSC Bellissima at a celebration to mark the opening of Jeddah’s new passenger terminal. The ship will sail 21 voyages around the Red Sea starting from July until late October.

Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of MSC Cruises, said in a press statement: “This is a very special, historic day for all of us. The largest and most modern ship to operate in the Red Sea has set sail from Jeddah’s new terminal to mark a new beginning for cruising in Saudi Arabia and, more broadly, for its growing tourism industry.”

The MSC Bellissima, which came into service in 2019, will offer three-to-four-night cruises to Safaga for Luxor, Egypt and Aqaba for Petra, Jordan, before returning to the Saudi homeport in Jeddah.

The ship is equipped with a 975-seat main theater, an aquapark, a bowling alley, an F1 simulator, a kids club, a cinema and a shopping gallery with more than 200 brands.

The Public Investment Fund launched Cruise Saudi in January of this year to develop a cruise industry in the Kingdom. Mark Robinson, chief operations and commercial officer, Cruise Saudi, said in a statement on Thursday: “The creation of Cruise Saudi, tasked with launching the cruise industry in Saudi Arabia, happened just six months ago at [the Future Investment Initiative] in Riyadh."

"The remit of Cruise Saudi — to create 50,000 jobs by 2025, to facilitate the building of an additional five ports, with Jeddah as a homeport, and to welcome 1.5 million annual passenger visits by 2028 — is an ambitious one, which will play a major part in strengthening the tourism industry in Saudi Arabia,” said Robinson.


Mubadala invests $250m in US biosimulation company

Updated 29 July 2021

Mubadala invests $250m in US biosimulation company

  • Transaction to close on August 2
  • Mubadala is building a growing life sciences portfolio

RIYADH: Abu Dhabi sovereign investment fund Mubadala has made a $250 million investment in US biosimulation company Certara, WAM reported.

Certara uses biosimulation to and technology-enabled services to accelerate drug discovery and development. The investment aligns with Mubadala’s strategy of enabling innovation to address unmet clinical needs and drive cost efficiencies.

Mubadala and existing institutional shareholders of Certara, including a stakeholder affiliated with alternative investment company EQT, have signed an agreement through which a Mubadala affiliate will buy more than 9.61 million shares in Certara at $26 per share from the shareholders in a private transaction scheduled to close on August 2.

“We are pleased to welcome a significant new investment from Mubadala, a sovereign investor with deep expertise in life sciences that is focused on creating lasting value,” said William F. Feehery, CEO of Certara.

EQT will remain a significant shareholder in the company after the transaction.

Mubadala invested almost $500 million in European veterinary giant IVC Evidensia in nearly in May. It has an asset base of 894 billion Emirati dirhams ($243.4 billion).


Jared Kushner investment firm to open Middle East office — Reuters

Updated 29 July 2021

Jared Kushner investment firm to open Middle East office — Reuters

  • Kushner plans to open an investment office in the coming months, sources familiar with the plan said
  • Israel office will attempt to build ties with India, Gulf, North Africa

WASHINGTON: Jared Kushner, a top adviser to former President Donald Trump, plans to launch an investment firm in coming months, a move that will take him away from politics for the foreseeable future, sources familiar with the plan said on Wednesday.
Kushner, the former CEO of Kushner Companies, who served as the Republican president’s senior adviser in the White House, is in the final stages of launching an investment firm called Affinity Partners that will be headquartered in Miami.
Kushner, who is married to Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, is also looking to open an office in Israel to pursue regional investments to connect Israel’s economy and India, North Africa and the Gulf, said two people briefed on the plan, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The sources had no details about potential investors and said the firm was still in the planning phase.
Kushner has spent the last six months with his family in Miami writing a book about his White House experiences that is expected to be published early next year.
Kushner helped broker deals between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco in a six-month flurry last year. He also helped negotiate a new US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement.
Kushner remains close with his father-in-law, the sources said, but by re-entering the private sector he is stepping away from politics for the foreseeable future.
The Republican Party has been divided over the deadly attacks on the US Capitol on Jan. 6 by Trump supporters, and Trump’s false claims that he beat Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.
Kushner and his family have been spending the summer as Trump’s next-door neighbor at Trump’s golf property in Bedminster, New Jersey.
People close to the former president say he is strongly considering another run for the Republican nomination in 2024.


BAE Systems raises dividend, launches new buyback on strong outlook

Updated 29 July 2021

BAE Systems raises dividend, launches new buyback on strong outlook

  • First-half underlying earnings per share up 25%
  • Share buyback worth £500m launched

LONDON: British defense company BAE Systems lifted annual guidance, raised its dividend and launched a new share buyback plan, after saying its programs to build submarines, fighter jets and other equipment were all running smoothly.
BAE, whose main customers are the United States, Britain and Saudi Arabia, said it would hike its dividend to 9.9 pence, 5 percent up on last year’s interim payout, and would start a 500 million pound ($697 million) share buyback over the next 12 months.

Saudi Arabian Military Industries acquired the Advanced Electronics Co. (AEC) in December 2020, buying out the 50 percent stake held by BAE Systems.
The plan to raise investor returns, which help lift the company’s shares by more than 2 percent in early business, stands out at a time when many companies have suspended dividends to conserve cash and ride out the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.
The stock is up 15 percent over the last three months.
Defense has been largely unaffected by the pandemic, with governments sticking to military and security commitments, and in some cases raising them.
For the full-year, BAE said it expected underlying earnings per share to grow by 3 percent to 5 percent over last year’s result, even if the pound continued to strengthen against the dollar, representing an improvement on previous forecasts.
BAE said action it took in 2020 to accelerate payments for its British pension deficit helped its finances, while its unit supplying commercial aviation started to recover in the period and its cybersecurity business also improved.
Agency Partners analyst Nick Cunningham said that the dividend payout was better than expected and noted the buyback was BAE’s first since 2014.
BAE Systems said its confidence had been boosted by progress in ongoing projects, as it delivered electronic warfare systems for the F-35 fighter jet program, made automation improvements to help ramp up production of combat vehicles and it approached full output of F-35 rear fuselages.
In its first-half to June 30, BAE’s underlying earnings per share rose 25 percent to 21.9 pence in the period, beating consensus forecasts of 20.0 pence.