By Kathy Lien, Managing Director of FX Strategy for BK Asset Management.
The November report posed no threat to the Federal Reserve’s plans to raise interest rates . At 228K job growth and 0.2% , the labor market is healthy enough for the central bank to move forward with 2017’s last round of tightening. Although NFPs was one of this week’s most anticipated economic releases, it had less of an impact on currencies than the Bank of Canada’s and the Brexit deal. The ended the week higher against all of the major currencies and the question now is whether it can extend its gains into year end. On a fundamental basis, there are a few reasons why the dollar could end 2018 on a strong note. First and foremost is tax reform. As the tax conference between the House and Senate heats up, the GOP’s motivation to get a deal done before the end of the year should translate into positive progress and gains for the dollar. The second is repatriation – many U.S. corporations are expected to repatriate their earnings before the year closes to lower current tax obligations. This process creates demand for the dollar but the exact amount is difficult to tell as some foreign earnings could already be denominated in dollars. Secondly, the Federal Reserve is widely expected to raise interest rates in the week ahead and even if limits her forward guidance, the Fed’s outlook for gradual rate rises may remain unchanged because they have long been supported by Mr. Jerome , who is poised to take over as Fed Chair in February.
Although are currently pricing in a 98% chance of a on December 13, 62% chance of another quarter-point move by March 2018 and an 80% chance by June 2018, investors are skeptical about Yellen’s optimism. They certainly have good reasons because even though was strong in November and increased, wage gains remain subdued, putting pressure on . is also low and there’s been a slowdown in and activity. The only bright spot is housing but changes in the tax bill and the prospect of a rate hike will weaken prices and future demand. So while we think the will rally into FOMC and year end, it could still fall on the rate announcement, giving investors the opportunity to buy at lower levels. Aside from the rate hike, there will be a by Janet Yellen and updated economic projections.
The breakthrough in Brexit talks was the biggest story this past last week. After weeks of negotiations and countless setbacks, a “historic deal” was reached on Friday that allows the EU and the UK to move to phase 2 of the talks. But instead of rising, dropped on the news as investors see key issues (Irish border) still unaddressed and the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said the next phase of Brexit talks could be tougher than the first as “Not everyone has yet well understood that there are points that are non-negotiable for the EU.” As investors see a long rocky road ahead, they are reluctant to buy into sterling’s rise. Up until the very last minute Prime Minister May struggled with separation issues ranging from the Irish border, the Brexit bill payment and the rights of EU and UK citizens. Both sides conceded a bit on citizen rights with UK allowing its courts to take the European Court of Justices’ case law into account during their rules. On the Brexit bill, the UK has offered to pay between 40 to 45 billion euros, which is less than the EU’s initial estimate of the costs, which is closer to 55-60 billion. The EC hasn’t said much on this and we suspect that it will be an area they will compromise on with Britain making the bigger concessions. The real issue though continues to be the border with Ireland, on which there was very little detail other than a pledge to provide specific solutions to address the unique situation of Ireland and a promise that in the absence of a Irish border deal, the UK will maintain full alignment with the single market and customs union.
The fell every day this past week despite generally healthy data. Although part of this could be attributed to the rise in the , the single currency is also pressured by Germany’s political troubles and a dovish central bank. There is a on the calendar and the last time the ECB met, it cut its asset-purchase program but said rates would remain at current levels well past the end of QE, which means October 2018. Despite improvements in the , – and -sector activity, we don’t expect the central bank to change its views and a reminder of its dovish stance could extend the slide in EUR/USD below 1.17 – or it could have little impact on the currency. Either way, we don’t expect the euro to rally on the back of the rate decision. In addition to the monetary policy announcement, the survey and Eurozone PMIs are also scheduled for release.
All 3 of the commodity currencies traded lower this week with the falling to a 6-month low against the U.S. dollar. Although and activity accelerated, an initial run to 0.7650 faded quickly on the back of weaker and . AUD selling pressure is intense and with AUD/USD ending the week below the 100-week SMA, 74 cents could be the next level challenged – if the upcoming falls short of expectations. While the also lost ground against the greenback, an uptick in helped to moderate the currency’s slide and pushed the cross below 1.10. Last but certainly not least, the worst-performing currency this past week was the , which was crushed by the Bank of Canada’s . To everyone’s surprise, the BoC chose to overlook all of the recent data improvements, focusing instead on moderating growth, considerable trade and geopolitical uncertainty and the ongoing slack in the labor market. BoC attributed any rise in inflation to temporary factors and said continued cautiousness is needed on rate moves. Having raised interest rates twice this year, the Bank of Canada wanted to make it clear that heading into the New Year, it has no immediate plans for tightening. Looking ahead, there are no major Canadian economic reports on the calendar but BoC Governor speaks on Thursday. If USD/CAD extends its gains, it should find formidable resistance near 1.2950.