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Saturday May 22, 2004 - 14:14:30 GMT
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Dollar discounts gradual tightening

The interest rate trends will remain a vital short-term influence on the markets in general and the dollar in particular. The evidence of the last week suggests that the dollar is unlikely to gain significantly on expectations of a gradual increase in interest rates. There is the possibility of a more aggressive tightening, especially if the next employment report is strong, but it is also doubtful whether a faster tightening would provide sustained dollar support, especially as there would be the risk of capital account stresses. A sustained increase in risk aversion would also tend to underpin the Euro rather than the dollar. The overall risks suggest that the dollar will depreciate on a medium-term view.


Data releases

US:
Philadelphia Fed index 23.8 May (32.5 Apr)
Jobless claims 345,000 week ending May 15 (333,000 prev)

Market analysis

The dollar and Euro fluctuated within established ranges for most of the week with neither currency able to make a convincing break. After a dollar rally to 1.1880, the Euro ended the week in the ascendancy with a fresh rally attempt, but failed to push above the 1.2050 level and it retreated back towards 1.20.

The US economic data has been limited during the week and failed to have a major influence. Jobless claims rose by more than expected to 345,000 and the headline Philadelphia index figure was weaker than expected with a decline to 23.8 from 32.5, but the employment component strengthened to the highest level since 1973.

Fed officials have not discouraged the market speculation over an increase and, with the Fed very wary of surprising the markets, the official comments will be important. These comments suggest that the Fed is planning a gradual tightening potentially starting at the end of June. This tightening has, however, been priced into the dollar and the US currency will find it difficult to gain further advantage unless there is evidence that a more aggressive tightening will be required. It is also doubtful whether the dollar will be able to take advantage of an aggressive tightening due to fundamental weaknesses.

In the absence of major data, positioning activity and geo-political factors had a major impact and these trends will remain important. There was further aggressive selling of high-yield and commodity currencies over the first half of the week, but there was some recovery later in the week as confidence over Asian growth recovered. The net influences of risk aversion trades on the dollar will be mixed. If there is a selling of high-yield currencies on expectations of an aggressive Fed tightening this trend will tend to support the dollar. If, however, there is selling due to risk aversion then the dollar will find it difficult to make progress as there will be greater buying of safe European currencies.

The latest figures on US capital flows reported inflows of US$78.6bn in March from US$83.3bn in February. The longer-term implications were, however, less favourable for the US currency. Bank of Japan intervention accounted for over US$30bn of the inflows and this source of buying has ended with the Bank of Japan out of the market. There were also net outflows from the equity market and the fragile Wall Street performance suggests there has not been any increase in inflows.

 

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