Wall Street’s top currency strategists had the right idea when it came to the euro - they just weren’t right enough.
Foreign-exchange forecasters are headed back to the drawing board less than six weeks into the new year after the euro blew straight past most of their predictions for 2018. Europe’s common currency has already advanced more than 3 per cent since December 31, easily topping the median survey forecast of $1.22 from back then. It’s currently trading closer to $1.24, even after a pullback over recent days, and its advance has prompted a swath of analysts to lift their projections.
The euro’s rally comes as the region’s economy picks up steam and the European Central Bank plans its stimulus-exit strategy. Meanwhile, the market is already pricing in several more interest-rate increases this year by the Federal Reserve, and the dollar may face headwinds as America embarks on a debt-financed fiscal expansion and protectionist rhetoric increases.
“We were prepared for some euro appreciation, but not the aggressiveness of the move,” said Valentin Marinov, global head of G-10 FX research at Credit Agricole. “The common denominator in the case of euro-dollar and also cable is really dollar weakness.”
Marinov is far from alone. Goldman Sachs Group, JP Morgan, HSBC, ING and UniCredit have all raised their euro-dollar forecasts this year. Credit Agricole is now expecting the pair to reach $1.26 by year-end, while JPMorgan is targeting $1.29 and Goldman and ING are forecasting the common currency to finish 2018 at $1.30.
Only two firms who contribute to Bloomberg currency forecast data had fourth-quarter euro-dollar projections at or above $1.28 at the beginning of the year. Now, that number has ballooned to 18. And comparing the same periods, the median forecast for end-year has risen from $1.22 to $1.25, already near where the common currency is currently trading. The euro was at $1.2377 as of 5pm in New York.
The 19-nation currency is likely to remain bid for at least the first half of the year, according to Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce North American head of foreign-exchange strategy Bipan Rai.
While ECB bond-buying is scheduled to last until at least September and President Mario Draghi has said rates will remain on hold “well past” the end of asset purchases, some policymakers are saying the central bank needs to be more specific in how long it will stand pat. Tightening the language on rates would be welcomed by more hawkish officials, who want to set a definite end-date for asset purchases.
“A lot of what we’ve seen in euro-dollar price action has caught us a bit off-guard,” Mr Rai said. “It’s been a lot swifter than we expected. We didn’t envision the hawks on the ECB board would be this vocal and there’d be growing signs of schisms within the governing body of the ECB.”
While the Federal Reserve’s policy normalisation efforts are significantly ahead of the ECB’s as US unemployment hovers at the lowest since 2000 and rising wages signal a potential rebound in inflation, strategists say those would-be dollar positives are largely priced in. Brightening economic outlooks abroad along with prospects for scaled-back stimulus are overshadowing US rate hikes and the Fed’s asset-purchase wind-down.
“Given the return of US protectionism, the persistent flatness of the US Treasury yield curve, plus the fact people are now speculating about reserve diversification out of the dollar, a more cautious view of the dollar may be warranted,” Mr Marinov said.
Even as strategists expect the euro to continue strengthening, the move will likely be a slower grind in the second half as net-long wagers appear elevated and expectations for the ECB might be overly optimistic. Euro positioning among hedge funds and other large speculators is the most bullish on record in Commodity Futures Trading Commission data that goes back to 1999, according to figures for the week through January 30.
“We’re in a structural bear trend for the dollar and our gauge shows that the dollar is around 8 to 10 percent overvalued still," Mr Rai said. “Even if the Fed is raising rates, that’s something that needs to be corrected.”