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Dollar suffers as reflation trade transforms losers into winners

The US$5.3-trillion-a-day foreign-exchange market has a new buzzword: reflation.

[NEW YORK] The US$5.3-trillion-a-day foreign-exchange market has a new buzzword: reflation.

The threat of deflation weighed down the euro, along with the currencies of Norway, Sweden and Canada, for much of the last year. In the past month, those currencies have been among the top performers as the outlook for their nations brightened at the same time that the dollar - hurt by an uneven US expansion - tumbled to its biggest loss since 2011.

Investors are becoming more optimistic on some of last year's worst performers on signs that central-bank stimulus outside the US is finally helping to generate sustainable economic growth. As oil rebounds, too, traders are unwinding popular bets that had become known as the deflation trade - positions that had benefited the dollar as the US economy looked better than much of the world's.

"Reflation is a new theme that people are trying to understand now, because we have been fighting the opposite for years," said Yvette Klevan, a fixed-income manager in New York at Lazard Asset Management, which oversees US$199 billion. "This could bode for a weaker US dollar across the board."

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Hedge funds and other large speculators who were betting on a stronger dollar are now rushing for the exit. Net-long positions on further dollar gains were trimmed for a six consecutive week, Commodity Futures Trading Commission data show. Net longs reached a record high in January.

While inflation rates across major economies remain well below central bank targets, prices have stopped dropping for all the Group-of-10 nations, except for the US and Switzerland. The currencies of both had previously served as refuges.

Currencies in the euro zone got a boost from April 29 data showing the broadest measure of money supply in the region expanded the most in five years, suggesting inflation will rise. Oil has also climbed 45 percent to US$59.47 a barrel from its low in March, boosting expectations for price increases and improving trade balances for commodities-producing nations such as Norway and Canada.

The krone rallied 8 percent against the dollar in the past month, the most among the 31 major currencies. The top-10 performers, including the euro, Canadian dollar, Colombian peso and Swedish krona, have all locked in at least 4 percent gains.

Policy makers worldwide share investors' optimism. Norway's central bank refrained from cutting rates on May 7, walking back from its previous prediction of a severe slowdown. European Central Bank Executive Board member Yves Mersch said the region has left behind the risk of deflation, while Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz said inflation will meet his target sooner than expected.

"It's a powerful reversal in a short space of time," Mike Moran, a senior strategist in New York at Standard Chartered Plc, said by phone.

Global bond markets have lost about US$400 billion in the past two weeks as investors ponder the end of a six-year rally that sent yields to record lows.

Traders now anticipate average annual inflation of 1.78 per cent for the next five years in the euro zone, up from 1.48 per cent in January, according to the ECB's preferred measure of investors' outlook for long-term price increases, the five-year, five-year inflation swap rate.

Even though the outlook for inflation in the US is picking up, too, the dollar has been suffering, falling 3 per cent in April and snapping nine consecutive months of gains. A similar bond-market gauge the Federal Reserve follows has also climbed to 2.1 per cent from 1.8 per cent in January.

While the dollar may become the ultimate beneficiary of reflation - when the American economy eventually regains momentum and the Fed lifts borrowing costs - the best bets right now are some emerging-market countries, particularly in Asia, according to Paresh Upadhyaya, director of currency strategy at Pioneer Investment Inc in Boston.

"There are clear signs of deflation diminishing quite a bit, you can start to see different trades coming around," Mr Upadhyaya said. Buying the Indian rupee and Mexico's peso against the yen are good alternatives, he said.