Dollar set for a fall?

Checking the early futures action, I see some strength has been building in several currencies vs the dollar over the past few days, despite their longer-term weakness. The dollar enjoyed a small rally against the european set late last week, putting the CHF, EUR and GPB in attractive positions for long trades. With sentiment entering its 5th month of extreme negativity, it may pay to be alert for signs of a rally (that is to say a dollar decline, and further yen decline too against the dollar).

Here are a few charts (1-hour bar), noting the RSI uptrends that have developed:

GBP:

Euro:

CHF:

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To wrap it up, here is the dollar index futures contract:

Do we have a bottom?

It would be nice and tidy if this morning’s 1036 print on ES turned out to be the low for a couple of weeks or even a month or two. Stock indexes made a price extreme unaccompanied by new highs in the VIX or yen or new lows in the euro, pound, copper, silver, gold and many bellweather stocks. The later rally was fast, furious and broad.

Here’s how this week in ES looks to me in the scheme of things. A right shoulder would be beautiful here:

TD Ameritrade

To re-iterate, I’m a huge bear for the 6-18 month horizon (my SPX target is an indecent number well under last year’s lows). I’m bullish for the 1-6 week horizon — I anticipate scaling back into a heavy short position in stocks, copper and oil on any rally here.

Swiss franc oversold and overbearish vs. USD

The franc has taken a beating against the dollar, since it pretty much behaves like a slightly harder euro. Here is an hourly chart (click to enlarge):

TD Ameritrade

Sentiment readings have been super bearish here for a couple of weeks now, so we’re set for a reversal. At the least, going long the franc is not a bad way to hedge a portfolio that is long-term short risk (stocks, junk bonds, commodities).

Is the Yen making a giant top?

Deflation has kept a bid under the Yen for 20 years, since the huge load of bad debt denominated in that currency creates demand. The Japanese government took advantage of that bid and ridiculously low long-term rates and has issued unpayable quantities of debt, squandering the nation’s current and future wealth on government jobs and bridges to nowhere, when all they had to do instead was turn their backs on the banks that enabled the 1980s Rising Sun bubble.

Now that sovereign defaults are finally looming on the public consciousness, export markets are shrinking, and the ratio of workers to retirees is still shrinking, it would make perfect sense if the market started to tack a risk premium on all things Yen.

Technically, you can see the weakness of each advance against the USD for the last two years:

Prophet.net

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USD and US T-bond bears take note: the Japanese are a generation ahead of us in the Kondratieff / credit cycle, and theirs may foreshadow our own experience in winter.

Loaded for bear

Graphite here.

Although it’s easy for this kind of contrarianism to turn into unhelpful navel gazing, on Friday the level of despondency seemed to hit a new high (or is it low?) on the bear blogs. Posts and message boards are chock full of buzz about perpetual asset inflation powered by the Fed’s magical money machine and an ample supply of that tricky thing called “liquidity.” Visions of the 1990s and 2000s are offered as proof that the market can disconnect itself from any fundamental or technical backdrop and power to endless new highs. The January highs are trotted out as “points of no return” for the bears, as though the market is guaranteed to launch higher if it manages to cross that threshold. And with the market seeming to shrug off every negative news item from sovereign defaults to bank failures to continued hemorrhaging of jobs in the U.S., traders are unable to conceive of a “trigger” that could send stocks lower.

Meanwhile, take a step back and look at the technical picture the market is presenting at the moment. After a several-week buying frenzy in stocks, we have new highs in the high-beta Nasdaq and Russell indices, unconfirmed (so far) by the Dow and S&P. Friday’s 5:1 NYSE a/d ratio was cause for concern, but hardly a match for the 35:1 down day seen in the February selloff. The 17 handle on the VIX shows complacency in the option market. Bonds and the dollar remain very well bid, despite the imminent end to Fed purchases and the best efforts of politicians to dismiss the euro’s and pound’s woes as the unnecessary manipulation of nefarious speculators. After a period of sideways movement the currency DSI sentiment has backed off somewhat from its recent extremes. Sterling in particular seems to have taken over whipping boy duties from the euro for the moment, and may have just finished a failed breakout from a channel on the 1-month chart. I have entered a short position with a stop above the upper channel line:

Interactive Brokers

Source: Interactive Brokers

If it tops here, crude oil will have put in a right shoulder on a ponderous 6-month H&S formation. A close today below 81.79 in the April contract would also create a bearish outside reversal bar (not shown):

Interactive Brokers

Source: Interactive Brokers

Over the weekend Marketwatch ran a segment prominently touting “The Year of the Bull,” complete with an upward sloping line starting from March 1, 2009.

If immediate new highs are in store for the major indices I would expect them to be muted at best, following Friday’s buying frenzy and the outpouring of bullish sentiment and resignation from the bears. If all the indices turn and fail right here I would think we will put in a stronger, swifter leg to the downside than we saw in January. And with entries in various markets offering tight, well-defined stops at multi-week highs, risk/reward favors the battered bears for now.

Yen to test the highs?

Don’t sell short the Yen just yet. It is wedging up to the highs and still seems to find a bid when stocks fall. I noticed this large wedge on the USD.JPY 5-year:

Interactive Brokers

A breakout of that wedge will be bearish for Yen, and a nice spot to think about shorting. For now, I’m letting it run, since the Yen is still the only thing stronger than the dollar in deflation. Note, however, that each subsequent move down in dollar/yen is shallower and choppier than the last, hinting at a pending reversal.

Here’s another way to look at it. There’s still an unbroken longstanding support line in Yen/Dollar, but the rise in 2009 was choppier and at a shallower angle than previous rallies. You can also see in weekly RSI that the trend is tiring:

Sympathy for the euro

Sentiment is still really lousy and downside momentum is waning. This is the same condition that persisted in the dollar from August through November before violently clearing. No telling how long this holds up, but I would not want to get caught short without a stop here — one day you could wake up and find out that it’s spiked 3 cents overnight.

Interactive Brokers

Of course, I am bearish on the commodity currencies CAD, AUD, NZD and ZAR (and actually also JPY as of this evening’s spike), and if these fall the euro is likely to make new lows. Conversely, a euro spike would likely coincide with a general dollar sell-off.

Some kind of news about Greece or other GIPSIs could be a nice catalyst for a rally — it doesn’t quite matter what the news is, just that there is something to get people trading. The crowd’s reaction often makes very little sense and can’t be predicted by news alone.

Gold

Look at the similarity between the March 2008 peak and immediate aftermath and what we’ve seen since the December high in gold:

Prophet.net

Sure, there could be a little more oomph here for a push like that close second peak in ’08, but just because gold hasn’t dropped like a stone doesn’t mean the mania will go on without a hiccup. Each high was accompanied by extremely high and sustained bullishness, which tends to exhaust the upside for at least a few months, since after such an event everyone has already bought all the gold they want for the time being.

Also, if the euro’s run is over, why not gold’s? For all its timelessness, the markets still treat it like another currency, a highly-speculative one at that. Here is a euro chart where I’ve highlighted the same periods as above:

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I am going to view any near-term upside with an eye towards taking a short position in each of these, though of course I own physical gold for safety’s sake.

Discount window warfare

I glanced at the markets at 4:30 just in time to see every “risk” market spike down hard together. That kind of instant, coordinated movement only happens on announcements, usually something out of Washington. Turns out the Fed spooked traders with news of a 0.25% hike in the discount rate, the rate at which distressed banks borrow from the central bank.

For release at 4:30 p.m. EDT

The Federal Reserve Board on Thursday announced that in light of continued improvement in financial market conditions it had unanimously approved several modifications to the terms of its discount window lending programs.

Like the closure of a number of extraordinary credit programs earlier this month, these changes are intended as a further normalization of the Federal Reserve’s lending facilities. The modifications are not expected to lead to tighter financial conditions for households and businesses and do not signal any change in the outlook for the economy or for monetary policy, which remains about as it was at the January meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC). At that meeting, the Committee left its target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and said it anticipates that economic conditions are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for an extended period.

The changes to the discount window facilities include Board approval of requests by the boards of directors of the 12 Federal Reserve Banks to increase the primary credit rate (generally referred to as the discount rate) from 1/2 percent to 3/4 percent. This action is effective on February 19.

In addition, the Board announced that, effective on March 18, the typical maximum maturity for primary credit loans will be shortened to overnight. Primary credit is provided by Reserve Banks on a fully secured basis to depository institutions that are in generally sound condition as a backup source of funds. Finally, the Board announced that it had raised the minimum bid rate for the Term Auction Facility (TAF) by 1/4 percentage point to 1/2 percent. The final TAF auction will be on March 8, 2010.

Easing the terms of primary credit was one of the Federal Reserve’s first responses to the financial crisis. On August 17, 2007, the Federal Reserve reduced the spread of the primary credit rate over the FOMC’s target for the federal funds rate to 1/2 percentage point, from 1 percentage point, and lengthened the typical maximum maturity from overnight to 30 days. On December 12, 2007, the Federal Reserve created the TAF to further improve the access of depository institutions to term funding. On March 16, 2008, the Federal Reserve lowered the spread of the primary credit rate over the target federal funds rate to 1/4 percentage point and extended the maximum maturity of primary credit loans to 90 days.

Subsequently, in response to improving conditions in wholesale funding markets, on June 25, 2009, the Federal Reserve initiated a gradual reduction in TAF auction sizes. As announced on November 17, 2009, and implemented on January 14, 2010, the Federal Reserve began the process of normalizing the terms on primary credit by reducing the typical maximum maturity to 28 days.

The increase in the discount rate announced Thursday widens the spread between the primary credit rate and the top of the FOMC’s 0 to 1/4 percent target range for the federal funds rate to 1/2 percentage point. The increase in the spread and reduction in maximum maturity will encourage depository institutions to rely on private funding markets for short-term credit and to use the Federal Reserve’s primary credit facility only as a backup source of funds. The Federal Reserve will assess over time whether further increases in the spread are appropriate in view of experience with the 1/2 percentage point spread.

Ok, so they are finally going to tighten up a bit, just in time for the next wave of home mortgage and commercial real estate defaults. This is a deflationary action, and it fits right into the psychology of a top, where Fed officials would be expected to conclude that the storm had passed.

When thinking about Fed decisions, I assume that it is not actually foolish economists like Bernanke and crew who make them, but their cunning and wealthy bosses — Blankfein, Dimon and company. Why would bank execs want tighter credit at the Fed? JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs likely don’t give a hoot about 0.25%, but this could push smaller banks over the edge and into the FDIC’s Friday lottery, whereby their deposits are gifted to other lucky banks.

As for the significance of this for the markets, it sends a signal that I believe will often be repeated in the coming months and years: bankers do not want to destroy the dollar any faster than they can help it. Hyperinflation is game over for the banking cartel, since the value of debt (and therefore bank assets) goes to zero.

The Fed is likely to look tougher from here on out (and actually they have not created new base money for about 12 months), especially in comparison to their European, Australian and Canadian counterparts. The Aussies and Canadians still have to liquidate their housing bubbles, and it is a very safe bet that the high rates that have made for such a lucrative carry trade are going to fall hard, along with their currencies.

Don’t be surprised if the dollar climbs all the way back to its 2000 peak.