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Currency outlook: The trend is not your friend

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Investors betting on ‘trends’ have been disappointed over the last four years. After rallying by 30% between mid-July 2014 and December 2016, the US dollar has been range-bound. It weakened in 2017, but it rebounded strongly in 2018, consolidated in 2019 and after an initial rally in 2020, it is finishing the year on the weaker side.

Are we going to see the dollar rebounding in 2021 or is ‘trend-following’ going to work this time?

Three reasons for a weaker dollar

We believe that the dollar will remain weak into 2021, for these reasons.

First, monetary powerful policy easing by the US Federal Reserve has resulted in the dollar losing its interest-rate advantage. The implications are significant. Hedging costs defined simply as the interest-rate difference were quite large prior to 2020 – about 3% for European and Japanese investors. Hedging costs are currently almost non-existent. This is likely to lead to both European and Japanese investors further increasing hedge ratios for their dollar-denominated assets and put additional downward pressure on the dollar.

Second, further fiscal stimulus in response to COVID-19 will lead to rising budget and current account deficits in the US. This is likely to weigh on the dollar in the long term. The selection of Janet Yellen as the next secretary of the Treasury suggests even stronger cooperation with the Fed. Furthermore, remember that Yellen was one of the leading doves at the central bank.

Third, we believe the dollar is still overvalued. Exhibit 1 (see below) shows that dollar is at the late stage of the third bull market since the 1970s. It is only likely to shine in case of a significant equity market correction, triggered either by disappointment on the COVID vaccine front or a lack of US fiscal stimulus.

exhibit 1_ENG

Expect smaller moves

However, investors betting on large moves might be disappointed again. While we believe that the dollar will weaken in 2021, the magnitude of the move might be less aggressive than expected by many and sharp pullbacks remain likely.

A simple static dollar short strategy might be less profitable than expected. A short position established at the start of 2020 against an equally weighted basket of G10 currencies would have made about 3% by the end of November, but experienced a drawdown of about 12% or four times the return (see Exhibit 2).

exhibit 2_ENG

One direction in monetary policies

A significant dollar sell-off is only likely when other major central banks start raising interest rates and we experience a monetary policy divergence against the US dollar.

Such scenario is improbable: interest rates are likely to remain close to zero across developed markets for a prolonged period. Monetary policy convergence is the name of the game and choppy markets could persist for longer than expected.

We believe an active strategy remains necessary in the foreign exchange markets.

Any views expressed here are those of the author as of the date of publication, are based on available information, and are subject to change without notice. Individual portfolio management teams may hold different views and may take different investment decisions for different clients. This document does not constitute investment advice.

The value of investments and the income they generate may go down as well as up and it is possible that investors will not recover their initial outlay. Past performance is no guarantee for future returns.

Investing in emerging markets, or specialised or restricted sectors is likely to be subject to a higher-than-average volatility due to a high degree of concentration, greater uncertainty because less information is available, there is less liquidity or due to greater sensitivity to changes in market conditions (social, political and economic conditions).

Some emerging markets offer less security than the majority of international developed markets. For this reason, services for portfolio transactions, liquidation and conservation on behalf of funds invested in emerging markets may carry greater risk.

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