Business Maverick

Dollar Bears and Trump Both Dealt Blows by Fed’s Hawkish Cut

By Bloomberg 1 August 2019
Caption
US Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell holds a news conference after a Federal Open Market Committee meeting in Washington, DC, USA, 20 March 2019. The Federal Reserve is leaving interest rates unchanged. The federal funds rate has already been raised nine times since 2015. EPA-EFE/MICHAEL REYNOLDS

With Jerome Powell downplaying the size and scope of future Federal Reserve rate cuts, the U.S. dollar looks poised to extend its 2019 rally. It’s yet another setback for bears and a move that’s certain to attract Donald Trump’s ire.

The central bank trimmed interest rates on Wednesday, but disappointed many — including the U.S. president — as Powell said this wasn’t the start of a prolonged series of reductions. Before the announcement, many had wagered the Fed would be more dovish to match other major central banks concerned about a slowdown in global growth.

The greenback surged in the aftermath, with the Bloomberg dollar index jumping to a two-month high. Another benchmark from Intercontinental Exchange Inc. got to a level last seen in 2017. Hedge funds and speculators weren’t positioned for this, having gotten the least bullish on the dollar since June 2018 as of a week ago, the date of the most-recent government tally.

Trump — who has complained about the strength of the dollar — didn’t seem pleased either. “As usual, Powell let us down,” he tweeted. Before the Fed’s decision, he’d called for a “large” rate cut. Instead, the central bank delivered a standard 25-basis-point reduction.

Traders in Asia are buying the greenback on expectations that a less-dovish Fed will keep the dollar a higher-yielding currency, said Rajeev De Mello, chief investment officer at Bank of Singapore Ltd. The stronger dollar will be “difficult” for emerging-market assets in the short-term, although central banks are still likely to cut rates if global growth slows, he said.

The greenback has outperformed most Group-of-10 currencies this year, except for the Canadian dollar and the yen. The Bloomberg index surged 1.9% in July, the biggest monthly gain since October.

Many observers see more dollar gains ahead, given that the Fed’s peers are even more dovish.

Economic weakness is compelling central banks to take “more aggressive steps to weaken their currencies,” said Greg Anderson, New York-based global head of currency strategy at the Bank of Montreal. “If the Fed’s not going to play that game, the dollar is going to take off.”

Money markets are pricing in more rate cuts by central banks in Australia and New Zealand, while the euro has been sapped by expectations that the European Central Bank will restart quantitative easing given a spate of weak economic data.

“It’s hard to see an argument for the dollar to be weaker from here over the next month,” said Eimear Daly, currency strategist at Macquarie Bank. “In an environment where other central banks are advocating a trajectory of policy easing, a one-and-done Fed rate cut won’t be enough to temper strength. Being the least dovish central bank in the pack means currency strength.”

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