Which currency is best for calm waters?


My business partner, Paul Gambles, was chatting again recently with John Noonan, Senior FX Analyst at Thomson Reuters. Like us, John sees the Swiss Franc as overvalued, although I do not share his faith in Europe’s ability to move towards fiscal consolidation as an immediate factor in generating an Euro-Swiss Franc cross rally.

John even broached the recent rumours of the SNB setting a peg against the Euro for the Swiss Franc at 110 even though this brought to mind the disastrous Sterling peg against the Euro’s predecessor, the ECU, which fell apart dramatically and saw George Soros famously make billions on the trade as desperate attempts to raise UK interest rates to the best part of 20% during a single dramatic day failed ignominiously. Goldman Sachs apparently claimed that the CHF is even more overvalued than the Brazilian Real, by one reckoning more than 70% over. But if a peg is nonsense then what is the alternative for an economy reliant on both currency stability and exports?

Equally trapped is the Yen – although the Japanese central bank’s strategy of stepping in and out of the markets in ‘stealth mode’ seems to be doing little to weaken the Yen in any meaningful way, although John sees this as more pragmatic – “Rather than drawing a line in the sand which gives the market a target, I think what they’re doing now, which makes a lot more sense, is keeping the markets off balance. Working out when the markets are over-doing it and panicking and buying the Yen as a safe haven form of security and coming in at the right time when the markets are positioned would be far more effective, but we also know that any kind of interventional loan without the co-operation of other central banks is always going to be difficult; you’re fighting a losing battle, but certainly this would be more effective than just saying at 76.25 we’re not going to let the Yen strengthen any more. It makes sense that they’re doing it this way.”

John has yet to come round to our certainty of major weakness in the Australian Dollar, seeing a more benign economic outlook than my view. Also, it now appears to us that there is really only one currency trade right now – US Dollar versus everything else. Everything seems to have been inversely correlated to the Greenback and we have not yet seen significant breakdown in those correlations despite Japanese intervention and Swiss talk.

The level of equity correction has generally not seen the expected extent of US Dollar strength in all cross rates, with Sterling certainly holding up very well. The Australian Dollar seems to have been the most risk-on currency. Just as whenever US Dollar has weakened over the past couple of years it has been the Australian Dollar that has strengthened the most, the AUD was the biggest victim of recent USD strength. I still see AUD rivalling Real and Swiss Franc as the most inflated currency, supported by carry trade monies.

To my mind the Australian Dollar is a good candidate as perhaps being the single most vulnerable currency in the world to correction right now. Any economic weakness and consequent strengthening in the USD is terrible news for the Australian Dollar. We see carry trade contributing around 15 cents to the current value to Australian Dollar. In short, we see the AUD being susceptible to re-testing previous intermediate lows of USD 0.60 whereas John sees that as less likely than his base case of moderate weakness – “All those instruments for carry, playing the emerging market story and the good times, with the investor fright that we saw last week that would take it off. As far as the Australian Dollar is concerned, I would agree that if we had a major systemic event, a systemic failure somewhere around the world and investors were pricing that in, as we saw in 2008, the Australian Dollar would be targeted. Back then it went from 98.50 40% down to 60 cents. I don’t think it will go down that far. I’m more in the 10% camp, but I think we would need an event like that because not only is the Australian Dollar a beneficiary of the pure carry trade on yield, it’s also a way to play the China story, and the China story still looks strong. The numbers that we’re seeing coming out of Asia on the trade data is all suggesting that they’re coping quite well with this pronounced slowdown in the US and Europe. So I think there’s momentum in those economies, so while that’s the case and we don’t see a systemic event, the Australian Dollar will probably hold around these levels, but I agree that if we see the markets roil up again and they start fearing a Lehman-like event then the Australian Dollar will be extremely vulnerable.”

Basically, many of the world’s leading currencies are, potentially, vulnerable. If you want a safe haven then you will not do a lot worse than the Singapore Dollar.

The above data and research was compiled from sources believed to be reliable. However, neither MBMG International Ltd nor its officers can accept any liability for any errors or omissions in the above article nor bear any responsibility for any losses achieved as a result of any actions taken or not taken as a consequence of reading the above article. For more information please contact Graham Macdonald on [email protected]