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Currency volatility falls after US inflation fails to surprise

A flurry of action after yesterday’s release of the August consumer price report ultimately left currency and fixed-income markets largely unmoved. The dollar is flat and front-end yields are edging up. Measures of implied volatility in the equity and currency markets are plumbing seasonal lows.

Both the headline and core price indices accelerated somewhat as Saudi-led output cuts lifted oil prices and transportation services costs, but underlying inflation stayed at levels consistent with the Federal Reserve’s inflation target, keeping policy expectations essentially unchanged. The central bank is still seen staying on hold next week, tightening again in November, and beginning rate cuts by the middle of next year.

The Chinese yuan is strengthening in both onshore and offshore markets after the central bank cut reserve requirement ratios for the second time this year and told major foreign exchange institutions to avoid squaring their dollar positions. An announcement this morning from the People’s Bank of China said it would reduce the ratio of liquidity that banks are required to park at the central bank by 25 basis points, freeing up capacity for loans to the private sector and helping stabilize credit conditions in the broader economy. Earlier reports suggested that authorities had also asked banks to avoid buying dollars below critical threshold – essentially forcing them to take “naked” positions when onshore clients buy dollars – in a step that would amount to currency intervention by any conventional definition.

Mexico’s peso and the Canadian dollar are inching higher in line with falling volatility and rising oil prices, but both are nearing key resistance levels – at 17 and 1.35 respectively. We suspect that both currencies have room for upside if US economic data exhibits signs of slowing momentum in the coming weeks – even as vulnerabilities to the carry trade and global financial conditions act to limit gains over the longer term.

The European Central Bank is generally expected to raise benchmark interest rates for a tenth consecutive time this morning, but the reaction in markets could be relatively modest. An autumn move has been priced into the euro for months, and Tuesday’s leak from Reuters – which said policymakers now expect inflation to remain above 3 percent through 2023 – helped anchor expectations around today’s meeting. Downside risks are growing, and most investors see this as a final move before an economic slowdown renders additional hikes too painful and unnecessary.

US retail sales are seen increasing 0.1 percent in August from the prior month, but we think a negative print is possible as the cyclical parts of the economy continue slowing. With excess savings largely gone, wage gains cooling, and credit conditions worsening, we think a decline in durable goods purchases should lead other areas of consumption into contraction – if not in this report, then in the next.

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Twists & turns

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