New resolve for currency traders

The inauguration of Joe Biden as 46th President of the United States went off without a hitch. Equity and currency traders welcomed the new Administration with fresh records for the S&P 500 and NASDAQ. The peaceful transition allowed investors to turn their focus to President Biden’s 100 day agenda which includes aggressive promises for more stimulus and broader vaccine distribution – the two most important ingredients for a 2021 recovery. The greenback sold off against all of the major currencies with the exception of EUR and Swiss Franc because more spending and a larger fiscal deficit dampen USD outlook.

Worries that the European Central Bank (ECB) could jawbone the currency or talk of the need for more stimulus prevented EUR and the Swiss Franc from participating in the risk rally. No one expects the ECB to boost asset purchases, having just done so in December 2020. When they last met, the central bank increased asset purchases by US$500 billion and extended bond buying to March 2022. They also lowered 2021 growth forecasts.

Since then, new coronavirus strains and rising cases forced countries across their Eurozone to extend their lockdown. However data hasn’t been terrible with industrial production, ZEW and PMIs holding steady. Inflation on the other hand remains very low with HICP dropping to -0.3% on a YoY basis in December, far below their 2% forecast.  Consumers, businesses and investors are hopeful that with further vaccine distribution, they’ll round the corner.

The ECB will take all of this into consideration when they meet on Thursday. They are likely toleave interest rates and their asset purchase program unchanged. They’ll talk about a strong post COVID-19 recovery, while expressing concerns about the impact of restrictions on near term economic growth.

The big question is whether ECB President Lagarde will jawbone EUR. Last week she said, “We monitor very carefully the FX movements, don’t target it.” Some argue that Europe’s hope for better relations with the new Biden Administration will deter them from talking down the currency but we’re not sure if that impacts her decision. The strong EUR is a problem, but keeping the door open to more asset purchases if there’s further weakness could in many ways achieve the same goal of easing demand for the currency.

Like the ECB, the Bank of Japan is also expected to keep monetary policy unchanged but the difference here is that the BoJ could downgrade its economic assessment and economic projections. Ravaged by a second wave of coronavirus cases, the government expanded its state of emergency to cover to 7 more areas, encompassing more than half of the country’s GDP output. Although none of that seemed to matter for JPY traders who drove the currency higher versus EUR and USD.

Meanwhile, CAD was the day’s best performing currency. Although consumer price growth slowed in the month of December, the Bank of Canada looked past the economic impact of COVID-19 restrictions to the recovery. The central bank said the resurgence in cases are a serious setback that will cause Q1 growth to turn negative but “beyond the near term, the outlook for Canada is now stronger and more secure than in the October projection, thanks to earlier-than-expected availability of vaccines and significant ongoing policy stimulus.” This upbeat outlook drove CAD to its strongest level versus USD since February 2018.  The Australian and New Zealand currencies also powered higher ahead of Australia’s labor market report. GBP was boosted by stronger inflation.

 

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