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June 27, 2013

Canadian Dollar and Parity: Lots of Support and Resistance at 1:1.

Filed under: Canadian Dollar — Tags: , , , , , — admin @ 4:17 pm

The Canadian Dollar’s performance of late has been eerily redolent of its sudden rise in 2007, when propelled by nothing more than sheer momentum, it rose 20% against the Dollar and breached the parity mark (1:1) en route to a 30-year high. [Of course, we all remember what happened next: the credit crisis struck, and the Loonie plummeted even faster than it had risen].

CAD USD 5 year chart

Last week, the Canadian Dollar breached parity again, and after a brief retreat, it touched parity again today. On the one hand, this latest rise was simply a matter of making up for the ground lost in 2008, when risk-averse investors shifted capital en masse to the US. On the other hand, Canadian fundamentals are fairly strong, and that the Loonie is once again at parity is deservedly so.

Last week’s jobs report was pretty solid, but the Canadian unemployment rate is still high, at 8.2%, mirroring the “jobless recovery” phenomenon in the US. According to the Bank of Canada’s own estimates, GDP growth is projected at a healthy 3.7% for 2010, thanks to a strong recovery in oil and commodity prices. As a result, the Bank of Canada has finally given the indication that it is ready to hike interest rates, perhaps as soon as July.  After concluding its monthly meeting yesterday, it noted, “With recent improvements in the economic outlook, the need for such extraordinary policy is now passing, and it is appropriate to begin to lessen the degree of monetary stimulus.”

On the other hand, one has to wonder how long the momentum in the Canadian Dollar can continue. While Canada’s economic recovery has indeed been strong, it is no more impressive than the recovery in the US. (In fact, it should be noted that the two economies remain deeply intertwined). In addition, the (Canadian) economy is already expected to slow down slightly in 2011 (3.1%), and slow further in 2012 (1.7%), which makes me wonder whether the Bank of Canada will have to tighten slightly in order to achieve its inflation objectives. Moreover, while the BOC will probably hike rates slightly before the Fed, the arc of monetary policy followed by the two Central Banks will probably be pretty similar for the next few years, regardless of what happens.  This means that interest rate differentials between the two economies should remain pretty close to the current level (near 0%), and won’t expand enough to make a CAD/USD carry trading strategy viable.

It seems the futures markets concur, as the Canadian Dollar is projected to hover around parity with the USD for the bulk of the next 12 months. Granted, futures prices have pretty closely mirrored the Canadian Dollar’s performance in the spot market, but the point is that investors seem to expect the CAD/USD exchange rate to settle down for a while.

CAD-USD March 2011 Futures

Remarked one analyst, “The Canadian dollar parity party is in full swing, however further Canadian gains will be at a much slower pace as the existing long Canadian positions get trimmed on profit taking in the absence of new bullish Canadian catalysts.” Incidentally, this is exactly what the Bank of Canada wants, and spent the better part of 2009 trying to convey to forex markets. If the Loonie were to rise further, it could threaten the economic recovery, and at the very least, the BOC would proba1bly hold off on hiking rates.

In the end, 1:1 does seem like a reasonable exchange rate. I haven’t seen any economic models that argue one way or the other, but it certainly makes sense from the standpoint of convenience and market psychology. Barring any unforeseen developments, I don’t see it fluctuating very much in the short-term, one way or the other.

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Markets Confused about Canadian Dollar. Is Parity Still in the Cards?

Filed under: Canadian Dollar — Tags: , , , , , , , — admin @ 3:26 pm

On a trade-weighted basis, the Canadian Dollar (aka Loonie) has appreciated nearly 10% in 2010. At the same time, it has fallen 8% against the Dollar since the beginning of May. This contradiction is reflected in an explosion in volatility: “CAD has been very volatile – the average intraday spread between the high and low in CAD over the last 21-years has been 83 points; over the last month it has been 182 points.” How can we make sense of this uncertainty, and which trend is ultimately more representative?

CAD USD 1yr

On the one hand, the Loonie continues to be thought of as a commodity currency whose rise and fall is closely linked to fluctuations in the prices of certain raw materials. “It’s not just about oil any more, but also natural gas – whose price has carved out a bottom – and precious metals, which command a 13-per-cent share of the TSX’s market cap versus less than 1 per cent for the S&P 500,” observed one analyst. From this standpoint, it’s perhaps not surprising that a 7.2% drop in the Raw Materials Index was matched by a proportional drop in the value of the Loonie.

On the other hand, the Loonie is being punished by the Eurozone debt crisis and the consequent flight to safe haven currencies: “The Canadian dollar is following the risk aversion tones of the market.” While the Loonie might have otherwise been “been closer to parity” then, it’s understandable that the so-called “panic trade” is holding it down.

In light of the Eurozone debt crisis, however, one might have predicted that commodity currencies would rally, since they are perceived as being backed by something more tangible than government fiat. In fact, some analysts believe that the comparatively modest decline in the Loonie implies that this is indeed the case: “It was fascinating to see the Canadian dollar only correct down to 92 cents during this most recent round of global financial turbulence and flight-to-safety. That is a far cry from the correction down to 78 cents following the Lehman aftershock, not to mention the move down to 62 cents after the tech wreck a decade ago.”

The same analyst pointed out that the notion of the Canadian Dollar as a safe-haven currency is further justified by Canada’s strong fiscal condition. It is trimming its spending, cutting taxes, and may even reduce its national debt. Meanwhile, it’s financial system remains robust, as evidenced by the fact that none of its banks have required government bailouts. Thus, Canadian sovereign debt has continued to appreciate in spite of the crisis across the Atlantic. In short, “The federal government actually deserves the triple-A credit rating that it receives on its debt.”

Going forward then, the near-term performance of the Loonie will depend both on the EU sovereign debt crisis and commodities prices, which in turn are high sensitive to (perceptions of) the global economy. In this latter aspect, there is tremendous uncertainty. The Canadian economy did grow at 6% last quarter. However, “The fear is that weaker U.S. data is posing a risk to the Canadian economy. And the G-20 is really focused on fiscal restraint as opposed to supporting growth. That probably isn’t good for the growth currencies.”

Furthermore, there are implications for the Bank of Canada, which has already embarked on a tightening of monetary policy. It raised its benchmark interest rate – becoming the first industrialized economy Central Bank to do so – to .5% in June, and there is a 45% chance that it will do so again in July. The futures markets are currently pricing in a benchmark rate of 1.25% by year end. Ultimately, “The extent and timing of any additional withdrawal of monetary stimulus would depend on how the outlook for economic activity and inflation evolves.”

For now, interest rate hikes are largely beside the point as investors remain firmly focused on the EU fiscal crisis: “People are taking risk off heading into the summer, to reassess,” summarized one trader. A resolution of the crisis, would surely send the Loonie back towards parity. In the interim, Canada’s strong fundamentals will ensure that it won’t fall much further, poised to strike when the time comes.

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CAD: Steady as She Goes. The Loonie has Decoupled from Oil and is Hovering around Parity with the Dollar.

Filed under: Canadian Dollar — Tags: , , , , , , , , — admin @ 3:18 pm

The Canadian Dollar was supposed to be one of the “hot” currencies of 2010. Given that it’s now exactly where it started the year, I think it’s safe to say that this isn’t the case. On the one hand, it would seem that the markets are still confused about how much the CAD should be worth, as Adam recently pointed out. An alternative interpretation is that investors believe the Loonie should trade near parity with the US Dollar; it has hovered just above that mark since breaching it in April.

CAD USD 1 Year
The Canadian Dollar has benefited from strong fundamentals, especially compared to the US. Inflation is low and the economy is stable. “The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently said that Canada is likely to be the first of the seven major industrialized democracies to return to a budgetary surplus status by 2015.” 2010 GDP growth is projected at 3.3%, compared to around 2.5% in the US.

Canada-GDP-Growth-Rate-Chart-2006-2010

For this reason, “Pacific Investment Management Co. founder Bill Gross said he favors Canada…he’s ‘in awe’ of countries such as Canada that have a low debt-to-gross-domestic- product ratio and solvent financial institutions. ‘North of the border’ has become a ‘preferable destination’ to what he sees in the U.S.” As a result, analysts have started to look beyond commodities, historically seen as the cornerstone of Canada’s economy. When the price of oil collapsed in May, the Loonie hardly budged. Given that Canada’s balance of trade is negative in spite of its commodity exports, maybe in focus is justified.

CAD Versus Oil Prices 2010
The Loonie is also benefiting from a positive interest rate differential with the US. Thanks to two consecutive rate hikes by the Bank of Canada (BOC) – which was the first G7 Central bank to tighten – Canada’s benchmark rate now exceeds the Federal Funds Rate by .5%. If the BOC fulfills expectations and hikes rates again at its meeting on September 8, this differential will widen further. In fact, it could continue expanding well into 2011, since the BOC is well ahead of the Fed in its monetary policy cycle. Here, again, the contrast with the US is self-evident: “The Canadian central bank has been raising interest rates, and has signaled that it will continue to raise interest rates. And with the Fed’s decision today reaffirming its dovish position, the interest rate differential will continue to favor increasingly Canada, and higher interest rates in Canada will continue to favor Canadian dollar strength.”

Bank of Canada 2000-2010 Interest Rate Hike Forecast

Throughout the rest of the summer, the Loonie will likely remain rangebound. Most traders are on vacation and trading volume is low. Besides, risk appetite is currently weak. When the markets return to full swing in September, I expect the Loonie will experience in a surge in volatility. In fact, investors are already starting to adjust their positions, with the most recent Commitment of Traders report showing an increase in Net Longs, bringing the total to $4.2 Billion.

There is certainly a basis for predicting continued strength, but I think much depends on how commodity prices perform. As I pointed out above, the Loonie remains somewhat decoupled from commodities. That it nonetheless got a boost from strong wheat prices and the $40 Billion takeover bid for Potash Corp by mining giant BHP Biliton shows that investors still view Canada as a resource economy. If the global economy avoids a double-dip recession, commodities prices will probably recover and the Loonie will probably rise slowly towards parity. On the flip-side, the Loonie would be one of the big losers of a global slide back into recession.

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Canadian Dollar: Parity Vs Reality. Canadian Dollar May Fall from Parity in 2011.

Filed under: Canadian Dollar — Tags: , , , , , , — admin @ 2:22 pm

After a stellar 2009, the Canadian Dollar (“Loonie”) has had a relatively lackluster 2010 against the Dollar, rising by only 3-4%. As the Loonie has inched (back) towards parity, it has encountered significant resistance. I think there is reason to believe that the currency has reached its limit, and that there are little prospects for further appreciation for at least the first half of 2011.

Canadian Dollar  Oil   Commodity Price Chart 2010
Everyone likes to think of the Canadian Dollar as a commodity currency, but I don’t think this is an accurate representation. Net energy exports account for only a small portion (2.9%) of Canadian GDP, a fraction which is dwarfed by the export of automobiles, for example. In fact, eastern Canada, which is comparatively poor in natural resources, is actually a net energy importer. I think that investors have largely come to the same conclusion, and significant rallies in oil and other commodity prices in the second half of 2010 spurred only a modest appreciation in the Loonie.

The currency has risen so fast over the last couple years that Canada has run a trade deficit for six consecutive months, including a record $2.5 Billion in July. (In some ways, doesn’t this prove that economic imbalances will ultimately self-correct?!). In addition, to say that Canadian export sector is heavily reliant on the US would be an understatement: “The U.S. bought 70 percent of Canada’s exports in October, down from 75 percent in June, and a record of about 85 percent in 2001.” It’s no wonder that Canadian economic officials have defended the Fed’s QE2 monetary easing program; they know that Canada’s economic health is contingent on a strong US economy.

As for how fluctuations in risk affect the Loonie, it’s not clear. On two separate occasions, the WSJ reported first that “With investors more willing to take on riskier assets than they were the day before, the Canadian dollar was able to move sharply higher,” and then that “Canada’s relatively strong fiscal and economic fundamentals attract safe-haven flows when investors are fleeing from risk.” What a blatant contradiction if there ever was one! Personally, I think that Canada’s economic structure and relatively high debt levels disqualify the Loonie from consideration as a safe-haven currency. That being said, it has notched some impressive gains against other non-safe haven currencies.

Canadian Dollar Versus Other Currencies November 2010

If not for its low interest rates, nobody would even mention it in the same breath as the US Dollar or Japanese Yen. Speaking of low rates, the Bank of Canada voted last week to keep its benchmark interest rate on hold at 1% and indicated that it won’t consider raising them for quite some time. Said Central Bank Governor Mark Carney, “There are limits to the divergence that there can be between Canada and the United States.” In other words, the BOC probably won’t hike rates until the Fed does, at which point there will be very little basis for buying the Loonie over the US Dollar.

Analysts tend to agree with this assessment: “The loonie will trade at parity by the end of March and weaken to C$1.01 per dollar through the end of third-quarter 2011, according to…a Bloomberg survey: ‘We still think the Canadian dollar will continue to hover around here and test parity; we don’t think the Canadian dollar is going to back up against the U.S. dollar until the new year.’ Interestingly enough, Canadian investment advisers echo this sentiment: “We’re saying to clients that the Canadian dollar is strong right now, so buying U.S. assets is cheaper than it would be if the dollar were weak.”

It’s a bad sign for the Loonie when even Canadians think it’s overvalued.

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Varied Forecasts for Canadian Dollar in 2011. Loonie will Hug Parity, but It’s Too Hard to Say Whether it will Rise or Fall.

Filed under: Canadian Dollar — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — admin @ 2:17 pm

The Canadian Dollar (“Loonie”) recorded a fairly strong 2010. It appreciated 5.5% against the US Dollar, as an encore to a 16% gain in 2009. Moreover, its rise occurred with remarkably little volatility, fluctuating within a tight range of $0.99 – $1.08 (CAD/USD. It total, it rose against “seven of its major peers,” and “gained 4.4 percent over the past year in a measure of 10 developed-nation currencies, Bloomberg Correlation-Weighted Currency Indexes showed.” As for 2011, it is expected to continue trading close to 1:1 against the USD, though analysts differ over which side of parity it will tend towards.

At the moment, there are a few key fundamental trends driving the Loonie. As the WSJ encapsulated, the first factor is investor risk tolerance: “The fortunes of the risk-sensitive Canadian dollar in 2011 will be determined in large part by the issues driving global market fluctuations.”  Due primarily to the EU sovereign debt crisis, risk appetite continues to experience dramatic ebbs and flows. Based on conventional wisdom, risk averse investors should incline towards shunning the Loonie in favor of the US Dollar and other safe haven currencies. However, if you track the Loonie’s actual performance, you can see that concerns over global financial instability have hardly impacted it. Thus, bulls see this uncertainty as a force that “pushes investors to diversify their foreign exchange holdings by picking up some Canadian dollars.”

The second set of factors are macroeconomic. While slowing slightly in the second half of the year, the Canadian economy nonetheless exhibited a solid performance, which is expected to continue into 2011. Goldman Sachs, for example, “now sees growth accelerating to 3.3 per cent in the second quarter of this year, and 3.5 per cent in both the third and fourth quarters amid improving domestic demand.” However, the strong performance by natural resources and Canadian export strength that drove growth in 2010 could also be interpreted as a wild card in 2011, as the trade surplus narrows from a moderation in commodities prices and an expensive Canadian Dollar.

Finally, there is the continuing search for “value currencies” that is driving investors towards the Loonie. According to Bill Gross, manager of the world’s biggest bond fund, “It’s a critical strategy going forward to get…into some currency that holds its value…I’d suggest Mexico, Brazil or Canada as three examples of countries with good fiscal balance sheets.” It doesn’t hurt that the Bank of Canada was the first G7 central bank to raise interest rates, and that its benchmark interest rate compares favorably with the US Dollar, Yen, etc. Moreover, it is forecast to hike rates by an additional 50 basis points in 2011, beginning in the third quarter. On the other hand, it will still be a couple years before rates are high enough to make carry trading viable. Besides, long-term interest rates are currently higher in the US, which means that investors hungry for yield will ultimately have to find other reasons for shifting funds to Canada.

Forecasts for the Canadian Dollar in 2011 are extremely varied. If there’s any consensus, it is that barring any unforeseen developments, the Loonie will spend the year close to parity with the US Dollar. A couple analysts expect a big (downside) move, but the majority expects that regardless of which way the Loonie ultimately trends, it probably won’t be far removed from current levels. “The Bloomberg composite of 32 forecasts has the loonie spending most of the year at parity, then dipping slightly by the fourth quarter.” A similar WSJ survey shows a median forecast of 1:1 throughout the entire year.

Some analysts expect more movement in the currency crosses (i.e. against currencies besides the US Dollar). Given that the Canadian Dollar accounts for such a small portion of overall forex trading volume, however, it seems more likely that CAD cross rates will take their cues entirely from the USD and the rule of triangular arbitrage. (For example, if the Dollar rises against the Loonie but falls against the Aussie in 2011, the Loonie will necessarily also fall against the Aussie, regardless of whether fundamentals dictate such a movie).

I’m personally inclined to agree with the majority. There are many good reasons to buy the Loonie, but most of these were already priced in during the Loonie’s steady climb over the last two years. Going forward, I think that the US economy represents a double-edged sword that will prevent the Loonie from rising further. In short, if the US economy falters, so will the Canadian economy. If the US economic recovery gathers momentum, however, there will be good reason to buy the US Dollar in lieu of its counterpart to the north.

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Economic Theory Implies Canadian Dollar will Fall. Commodities Prices might be Rising, but All Other Signs Point Downward.

Filed under: Canadian Dollar — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — admin @ 1:19 pm

Sometimes I wonder if I’m living in the clouds. All of my recent reports on the Canadian dollar were twinged with pessimism, and I argued that it would only be a matter of time before reality caught up with theory. While the continued surge in commodities prices has confounded everyone’s expectations, other economic trends continue to work against Canada. In other words, I think that there is still a strong argument to be made for shorting the loonie.

To be sure, the rally in commodities prices has been incredible- nearly 50% in less than a year! Oil prices are surging, gold prices just touched a record high, and a string of natural disasters have driven prices for agricultural staples to stratospheric levels. Given the perception of the Canadian dollar as a commodity currency, then, it’s no wonder that rising commodity prices have translated into a stronger currency.

As I’ve argued previously, rising commodities prices are basically an irrelevant – or even distracting – factor when it comes to analyzing the loonie. That’s because, contrary to popular belief, commodities represent an almost negligible component of Canada’s economy. Canadian exports, of which commodities probably account for half, have recovered from the recession lows of 2009. On the other hand, the value of Canadian exports is basically the same as it was 10 years ago, when one US dollar could be exchanged for 1.5 Canadian dollars.

Consider also that Canada now imports more than it exports, and that the Canadian balance of trade recently dipped into deficit for the first time since records started being kept 40 years ago. Its current account has similarly plunged, as Canadians have had to finance this through loans and investment capital from abroad. Based on the expenditure approach to GDP, trade actually detracts from Canadian GDP. Any way you perform the calculations, commodities are hardly the backbone of its economy, account for about 15% at most.

As if that weren’t enough, the press is full of stories of Canadians that think their own currency is overvalued. Businesses complain that they can’t compete, and that banks won’t lend them the money they need to upgrade their facilities and become more efficient. Meanwhile consumers whine about higher prices in Canada, compared to the US. I think it’s very telling that there is now a 2-hour wait to cross the border from Vancouver, and shopping malls on the American side have reported a huge jump in business. Even the famous Big Mac Index shows that the price of a hamburger was already 12% higher in Canada back when the loonie was still hovering around parity with the US Dollar.

One area that higher commodities prices will be felt is inflation, which is nearing a two-year high and rising. At 3.3%, Canada’s CPI rate is now higher than in the EU. Given that the European Central Bank hiked rates earlier this month, it probably won’t be long before the Bank of Canada follows suit. In fact, forecasters expect the benchmark rate to rise by 50-75 basis points by the end of the year, from the current 1%.

This might excite carry traders, but probably few others. Besides, given that other central banks will probably raise rates concurrently, it can’t be assumed that carry traders will automatically gravitate towards the Canadian dollar. Not to mention that as I pointed out in my previous post, the carry trade is hardly a risk-free proposition. In this case, an interest rate differential of only 1-2% probably isn’t enough to compensate for the risk of a correction in the USD/CAD.

And that is exactly what I expect will happen. The fact that the loonie has shattered even the most optimistic forecasts is not cause for bullishness, but rather for concern. According to the most recent Commitment of Traders report, net long positions are reaching extreme levels, and it’s probably only a matter of time before the loonie returns to earth.

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June 30, 2011

Loonie and Aussie Share Downward Bond

Filed under: Canadian Dollar — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 3:17 pm

In yesterday’s post (Tide is Turning for the Aussie), I explained how a prevailing sense of uncertainty in the markets has manifested itself in the form of a declining Australian Dollar. With today’s post, I’d like to carry that argument forward to the Canadian Dollar.


As it turns out, the forex markets are currently treating the Loonie and the Aussie as inseparable. According to Mataf.net, the AUD/USD and CAD/USD are trading with a 92.5% correlation, the second highest in forex (behind only the CHFUSD and AUDUSD). The fact that the two have been numerically correlated (see chart below) for the better part of 2011 can also be discerned with a cursory glance at the charts above.


Why is this the case? As it turns out, there are a handful of reasons. First of all, both have earned the dubious characterization of “commodity currency,” which basically means that a rise in commodity prices is matched by a proportionate appreciation in the Aussie and Loonie, relative to the US dollar. You can see from the chart above that the year-long commodities boom and sudden drop corresponded with similar movement in commodity currencies. Likewise, yesterday’s rally coincided with the biggest one-day rise in the Canadian Dollar in the year-to-date.

Beyond this, both currencies are seen as attractive proxies for risk. Even though the chaos in the eurozone has very little actual connection to the Loonie and Aussie (which are fiscally sound, geographically distinct, and economically insulated from the crisis), the two currencies have recently taken their cues from political developments in Greece, of all things. Given the heightened sensitivity to risk that has arisen both from the sovereign debt crisis and global economic slowdown, it’s no surprise that investors have responded cautiously by unwinding bets on the Canadian dollar.


Finally, the Bank of Canada is in a very similar position to the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA). Both central banks embarked on a cycle of monetary tightening in 2010, only to suspend rate hikes in 2011, due to uncertainty over near-term growth prospects. While GDP growth has indeed moderated in both countries, price inflation has not. In fact, the most recent reading of Canadian CPI was 3.7%, which is well above the BOC’s comfort zone. Further complicating the picture is the fact that the Loonie is near a record high, and the BOC remains wary of further stoking the fires of appreciation by making it more attractive to carry traders.

In the near-term, then, the prospects for further appreciation are not good. The currency’s rise was so solid in 2009-2010 that it now seems the forex markets may have gotten ahead of themselves. A pullback towards parity – and beyond – seems like the only realistic possibility. If/when the global economy stabilizes, central banks resume heightening, and risk appetite increases, you can be sure that the Loonie (and the Aussie) will pick up where they left off.

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June 8, 2011

Currency Correlations, Part II: Canadian Dollar Begins its Decline

Filed under: Canadian Dollar — Tags: , , , , , , — admin @ 3:26 pm

In April, I wrote a post entitled, “Economic Theory Implies Canadian Dollar will Fall,” in which I argued that the currency’s impressive rise was belied by fundamentals. It seems the gods of forex read that post; since then, the Loonie has fallen 3% against the US dollar alone. Based on my reading of the tea leaves, the loonie will fall further over the coming months, and finish the year below parity.


My contention is basically that investors are falsely treating the Loonie is a high-yield growth currency, and hence, bidding up its value. There are a few reasons why I believe this viewpoint is completely erroneous. First of all, Canada’s economy is both plain and mature. While it is indeed rich in natural resources would seem to make it stand-out, commodities exports account for only a small portion of GDP. Given that the US absorbs 75% of its exports, it’s no accident that Canada’s economic fortunes are tied closely to the US. Finally, Canadian interest rates are pretty mediocre, which means there is neither a strong monetary nor an economic impetus for buying the Loonie against the dollar.

While Canadian GDP and inflation have exceeded analysts’ predictions, the consensus expectation is still for the Bank of Canada to hold off on tightening until September or so. Even the most bullish forecasts show a benchmark interest rate of only 1.75% by the end of 2011 and perhaps 3% at the end of 2012. In other words, it will be a long time before the Loonie becomes a viable target currency for the carry trade.

According to OECD models, the Canadian dollar is overvalued by 17% against the Dollar on a purchasing power parity (ppp). While it is generally dubious to apply this concept to currency markets, I think it’s reasonable to invoke it when analyzing the USD/CAD. The two economies share more than just a border. As I said, their economies are closely intertwined, and goods, services (and people!) move freely between the two. Thus, you would expect that large discrepancies in prices should disappear over the medium-term. In fact, the Canadian trade balance recently slipped into deficit for the first time in 40 years (corresponding with the Loonie’s record high level), which shows just how quickly consumers can shift their attention south of the border. That means that either Canadian prices have to decline (something which retailers are always reluctant to effect) or the Loonie must drop further against the Dollar.

Of course, there is a mitigating factor: the US dollar may fall even faster than the loonie. While it would seem impossible to tease apart the loonie’s rise from the dollar’s fall (since a rise in CADUSD inherently reflects both), we can still make an educated guess. For example, consider that the Canadian dollar is strongly correlated (i.e. greater than 80 or less than -80 in the chart above) with almost every other major currency, relative to the US dollar. If the correlation was low, than it would imply that the Canadian dollar is fluctuating (in this case falling) for endemic reasons. In this case, however, the almost perfect correlation with the majors shows that it is almost definitely a US dollar spike rather than a Canadian dollar correction.

Whether this trend continues then, depends more on the health of the US dollar and less on what investors think about the loonie.

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April 25, 2011

Economic Theory Implies Canadian Dollar will Fall

Filed under: Canadian Dollar — Tags: , , , , , — admin @ 9:19 pm

Sometimes I wonder if I’m living in the clouds. All of my recent reports on the Canadian dollar were twinged with pessimism, and I argued that it would only be a matter of time before reality caught up with theory. While the continued surge in commodities prices has confounded everyone’s expectations, but other economic trends continue to work against Canada. In other words, I think that there is still a strong argument to be made for shorting the loonie.

To be sure, the rally in commodities prices has been incredible- nearly 50% in less than a year! Oil prices are surging, gold prices just touched a record high, and a string of natural disasters have driven prices for agricultural staples to stratospheric levels. Given the perception of the Canadian dollar as a commodity currency, then, it’s no wonder that rising commodity prices have translated into a stronger currency.

As I’ve argued previously, rising commodities prices are basically an irrelevant – or even distracting – factor when it comes to analyzing the loonie. That’s because, contrary to popular belief, commodities represent an almost negligible component of Canada’s economy. Canadian exports, of which commodities probably account for half, have recovered from the recession lows of 2009. On the other hand, the value of Canadian exports are basically the same as they were 10 years ago, when one US dollar could be exchanged for 1.5 Canadian dollars.

Consider also that Canada now imports more than it exports, and that the Canadian balance of trade recently dipped into deficit for the first time since records started being kept 40 years ago. Its current account has similarly plunged, as Canadians have had to finance this through loans and investment capital from abroad. Based on the expenditure approach to GDP, trade actually detracts from Canadian GDP. Any way you perform the calculations, commodities are hardly the backbone of its economy, account for about 15% at most.

As if that weren’t enough, the press is full of stories of Canadians that think their own currency is overvalued. Businesses complain that they can’t compete, and that banks won’t lend them the money they need to upgrade their facilities and become more efficient. Meanwhile consumers whine about higher prices in Canada, compared to the US. I think it’s very telling that their is now a 2-hour wait to cross the border from Vancouver, and shopping malls on the American side have reported a huge jump in business. Even the famous Big Mac Index shows that the price of a hamburger was already 12% higher in Canada back when the loonie was still hovering around parity with the US Dollar.

One area that higher commodities prices will be felt is inflation, which is nearing a two-year high and rising. At 3.3%, Canada’s CPI rate is now higher than in the EU. Given that the European Central Bank hiked rates earlier this month, it probably won’t be long before the Bank of Canada follows suit. In fact, forecasters expect the benchmark rate to rise by 50-75 basis points by the end of the year, from the current 1%.

This might excite carry traders, but probably few others. Besides, given that other central banks will probably raise rates concurrently, it can’t be assumed that carry traders will automatically gravitate towards the Canadian dollar. Not to mention that as I pointed out in my previous post, the carry trade is hardly a risk-free proposition. In this case, an interest rate differential of only 1-2% probably isn’t enough to compensate for the risk of a correction in the USD/CAD.

And that is exactly what I expect will happen. The fact that the loonie has shattered even the most optimistic forecasts is not cause for bullishness, but rather for concern. According to the most recent Commitment of Traders report, net long positions are reaching extreme levels, and it’s probably only a matter of time before the loonie returns to earth.

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January 8, 2011

Varied Forecasts for Canadian Dollar in 2011

Filed under: Canadian Dollar — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 10:20 am

The Canadian Dollar (“Loonie”) recorded a fairly strong 2010. It appreciated 5.5% against the US Dollar, as an encore to a 16% gain in 2009. Moreover, its rise occurred with remarkably little volatility, fluctuating within a tight range of $0.99 – $1.08 (CAD/USD. It total, it rose against “seven of its major peers,” and “gained 4.4 percent over the past year in a measure of 10 developed-nation currencies, Bloomberg Correlation-Weighted Currency Indexes showed.” As for 2011, it is expected to continue trading close to 1:1 against the USD, though analysts differ over which side of parity it will tend towards.

At the moment, there are a few key fundamental trends driving the Loonie. As the WSJ encapsulated, the first factor is investor risk tolerance: “The fortunes of the risk-sensitive Canadian dollar in 2011 will be determined in large part by the issues driving global market fluctuations.”  Due primarily to the EU sovereign debt crisis, risk appetite continues to experience dramatic ebbs and flows. Based on conventional wisdom, risk averse investors should incline towards shunning the Loonie in favor of the US Dollar and other safe haven currencies. However, if you track the Loonie’s actual performance, you can see that concerns over global financial instability have hardly impacted it. Thus, bulls see this uncertainty as a force that “pushes investors to diversify their foreign exchange holdings by picking up some Canadian dollars.”

The second set of factors are macroeconomic. While slowing slightly in the second half of the year, the Canadian economy nonetheless exhibited a solid performance, which is expected to continue into 2011. Goldman Sachs, for example, “now sees growth accelerating to 3.3 per cent in the second quarter of this year, and 3.5 per cent in both the third and fourth quarters amid improving domestic demand.” However, the strong performance by natural resources and Canadian export strength that drove growth in 2010 could also be interpreted as a wild card in 2011, as the trade surplus narrows from a moderation in commodities prices and an expensive Canadian Dollar.

Finally, there is the continuing search for “value currencies” that is driving investors towards the Loonie. According to Bill Gross, manager of the world’s biggest bond fund, “It’s a critical strategy going forward to get…into some currency that holds its value…I’d suggest Mexico, Brazil or Canada as three examples of countries with good fiscal balance sheets.” It doesn’t hurt that the Bank of Canada was the first G7 central bank to raise interest rates, and that its benchmark interest rate compares favorably with the US Dollar, Yen, etc. Moreover, it is forecast to hike rates by an additional 50 basis points in 2011, beginning in the third quarter. On the other hand, it will still be a couple years before rates are high enough to make carry trading viable. Besides, long-term interest rates are currently higher in the US, which means that investors hungry for yield will ultimately have to find other reasons for shifting funds to Canada.

Forecasts for the Canadian Dollar in 2011 are extremely varied. If there’s any consensus, it is that barring any unforeseen developments, the Loonie will spend the year close to parity with the US Dollar. A couple analysts expect a big (downside) move, but the majority expects that regardless of which way the Loonie ultimately trends, it probably won’t be far removed from current levels. “The Bloomberg composite of 32 forecasts has the loonie spending most of the year at parity, then dipping slightly by the fourth quarter.” A similar WSJ survey shows a median forecast of 1:1 throughout the entire year.

Some analysts expect more movement in the currency crosses (i.e. against currencies besides the US Dollar). Given that the Canadian Dollar accounts for such a small portion of overall forex trading volume, however, it seems more likely that CAD cross rates will take their cues entirely from the USD and the rule of triangular arbitrage. (For example, if the Dollar rises against the Loonie but falls against the Aussie in 2011, the Loonie will necessarily also fall against the Aussie, regardless of whether fundamentals dictate such a movie).

I’m personally inclined to agree with the majority. There are many good reasons to buy the Loonie, but most of these were already priced in during the Loonie’s steady climb over the last two years. Going forward, I think that the US economy represents a double-edged sword that will prevent the Loonie from rising further. In short, if the US economy falters, so will the Canadian economy. If the US economic recovery gathers momentum, however, there will be good reason to buy the US Dollar in lieu of its counterpart to the north.

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