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Analyst Interview: Christopher Vecchio on the Fed, Canadian Dollar Strength

Analyst Interview: Christopher Vecchio on the Fed, Canadian Dollar Strength

Christopher Vecchio, CFA, Senior Strategist

The big question of the week is if the Fed will launch QE3. What do you think? If the Fed will indeed act, how could they explain their actions? Yields are already very low.

Moving beyond the headlines you see from the media, we need to consider what Chairman Bernanke said at the Jackson Hole Economic Policy Symposium: that nontraditional monetary tools have worked in the past, and the Fed is still open to using them, but there is growing concern among policymakers that implementation of programs previously used might have diminishing returns. That last part is key for the narrative right now, with US equity markets at multi-year highs and Treasury yields hanging around near all-time lows: what more will unsterilized bond purchases do?

There’s additionally been talk about the Fed implementing some sort of open-ended bond-buying program that keeps the pedal on balance sheet expansion until certain benchmarks in key economic indicators (growth, inflation, labor market) meet predefined levels. Perhaps this is an option; given Chairman Bernanke’s modus operandi in recent years – limited balance sheet expansion and definitive targets for maturity extension programs (QE-Twist) – this would represent a new form of quantitative easing that the Fed hinted at in the July 31 to August 1 meeting Minutes.

I’d like to think that the Fed would implement an entirely different type of program, aimed more specifically at helping the housing sector and the labor market. This would have to fit in the scope of the United States’ consumer-based economy. Anything that would boost disposable income – especially in the face of tax hikes should the fiscal cliff come at the beginning of the near year – would be most beneficial. Although it’s a bit of a counterfactual argument, I tend to think that previous large scale asset purchases (LSAPs) (QE1) and unsterilized bond purchases (QE2) have had little influence over labor market conditions. Many tend to think this is the case as well; that’s part of the reason Chairman Bernanke had to defend nontraditional policy responses at Jackson Hole.

Spain is taking its time with asking for aid, perhaps it is wary of having to undertake more austerity measures. Do you see a possibility that Spain will receive a "soft bailout" or "precautionary program" as the ECB mentioned?

I think that the German ratification of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) leaves void any risk-positive catalysts out of the Euro-zone over the coming weeks. The idea that Spain will receive some ‘white glove’ sort of treatment beyond the already agreed upon framework is asking a bit much from a reluctant core (still) at this point (though we do note that tones have softened in Germany and in Holland). This concept of conditionality is obviously a big concern because it means that any bond-buying the European Central Bank wants to undertake will not come without international budgetary oversight – just like in Greece. If Spain doesn’t agree to new measures, then it won’t receive bailout funds, and the ECB will stay on the sidelines, pushing borrowing costs back up. It remains to be seen how long the market buys cheap talk from Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy that Spain will seek help if yields rise, but I doubt it will be more than a few weeks maximum.

Japan has published more disappointing figures, including lower growth and a lower than expected current account. Do you see the yen suffering from weak figures? Or will its moves remain prone to risk on / risk off moves?

While the Japanese Yen is under pressure in its own right given weak economic data, the big picture is that of the big three safe havens (alongside the Swiss Franc and the US Dollar), the Japanese Yen is the best option available. This keeps the focus on the Yen as a proxy to ‘risk-on’ or ‘risk-off’ news. Keeping it short and simple, if the Fed doesn’t undertake a massive bond-buying program that diminishes yields on the Treasuries underpinning the US Dollar, the Bank of Japan will relieve a massive sigh of relief. If the Fed does a QE3-type program (see prior comments), I’d expect the BoJ to be very vocal and active in the markets with its own currency dilution response.

EUR/CHF woke up from the dead and began moving. Is it a result of the euro's rise? Or could the SNB also be behind this move? Do you see the Swiss franc returning to trading independently of the euro?

Rumors were floating around late last week that the Swiss National Bank was readying to raise its floor to 1.2200 in response to the ECB’s new debt monetization scheme (using sterilized bond purchases to lower borrowing costs in Italy and Spain), as the perceived uptake of peripheral debt would pressure the Euro and boost demand for the Swiss Franc. Although the EURCHF has traded lower in the past few days since the initial spike up towards 1.2200, the SNB’s decision will force a decisive move in either direction: the EURCHF, in my opinion, will be sitting comfortably above 1.2200 or back riding 1.2000 by the end of the day Thursday. A removal of the floor seems unlikely at present time, but it is not something to be ruled out in the future if the crisis eases; the SNB’s foreign currency reserves are heavily weighted towards the Euro and some diversification would do the bank some good.

The Canadian dollar enjoyed rising oil prices, strong employment figures and also hopes of QE3. What could risk the strength of the loonie?At present time…nothing. The Canadian Dollar is a fundamentally strong currency, with both fiscal and monetary policymakers offering prudent guidance that has kept the country well-insulated from financial shocks in the US, Europe, and China over the past four-years. With recent housing data coming in better than expected amid slowing inflation rates, there’s clearly scope for further strength in the Canadian housing sector that could in return buoy the labor market. Right now, the only thing far enough out in the future to consider would be a dramatic ending to the US fiscal cliff situation, as the US as Canada’s largest trading partner would likely slow imports, damaging the Canadian economy. Fiscal cliff aside, there are few things standing in the way for a strong finish to the year by the Canadian Dollar.

This interview was originally published on Forex Crunch with Yohay Elam.

--- Written by Christopher Vecchio, Currency Analyst for DailyFX

To contact Christopher Vecchio, e-mail

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