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Firming Rate Expectations Push Dollar Higher

With investors increasingly convinced the Federal Reserve will follow through on its “higher for longer” mantra – at least through the latter half of the year – the dollar is kicking another week with solid gains. Firming expectations for a July hike – coupled with a removal of bets on late-year cuts – are tilting rate differentials in the greenback’s favour, with the two-year Treasury yield holding near 4.54 percent, up from 4.06percent at the end of April. The pound, euro, and yen are all on the defensive, failing to break higher as relative growth expectations erode. 

Friday’s non-farm payrolls report provided a confusing view of underlying labour market dynamics, but appeared, on balance, to suggest that US job creation isn’t yet slowing in a material way. Headline employment growth remained strong, with 339,000 positions generated in May while revisions to the prior two months added another 93,000. A separate survey of households appeared to show a contraction, but measurement differences interacted with shifts between formal jobs and self-employment categories to obscure the signal beneath the noise. Monthly growth in average hourly earnings slowed to 0.3 percent from 0.4 percent in April.

This comes as the typical signals of an incoming US recession – plunging equity markets, contracting consumer spending, falling personal income, weakness in industrial production, and rising unemployment in the construction sector – have simply not provided evidence of a meaningful deceleration. 

Oil prices are struggling to gain momentum even after Saudi Arabia said it would reduce output by 1 million barrels a day, cutting production from April’s 10.5 million barrel-a-day level to 9 million by the end of July. The unilateral move – which came after an acrimonious meeting saw the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its Russia-led allies agree to extend production cuts into 2024 – helped lay bare the divisions that exist within the producer cartel, and isn’t expected to decisively offset a steadily-worsening global demand outlook. The West Texas Intermediate and Brent benchmarks are up just 1.8 and 1.75 percent respectively, leaving both far below the $80 per-barrel threshold that many see as Saudi Arabia’s fiscal breakeven.

Still ahead today, S&P’s services sector purchasing manager index is seen holding at 51.1 through the end of May, unchanged relative to the early month reading. The Institute for Supply Management’s equivalent index might climb to 52.3 in May from 51.9 in the prior month. And factory orders are thought likely to rise 0.6 percent month-over-month in April.

The global economic calendar looks relatively sparse through the remainder of the week: An Australian rate decision will land tomorrow, with European retail sales, German factory orders, Japanese growth numbers, and US jobless claims data marking the only mid-tier volatility catalysts on the agenda. Members of the Federal Reserve’s rate-setting committee are now in a communications blackout period ahead of next week’s meeting, meaning that markets will be largely left to their own devices in interpreting the likely direction of monetary policy.

But the nuances embedded in Wednesday’s Bank of Canada decision could help shape the trajectory of North American currency markets throughout the summer months in two ways: by providing more insight into the Canadian central bank’s reaction function, and by helping foreshadow the Federal Reserve’s decision a week later.

We still think the central bank will opt to deliver a “hawkish hold” – avoiding a hike now, while using statement language to signal that a move will come in July if price pressures don’t resume softening. Canadian consumer spending remains vulnerable to rising borrowing costs, inflation looks likely to continue rolling over, and modern central bankers are schooled in the “long and variable lags” theory of monetary policy, in which tighter rates can take years to hit the real economy. But economists at several major banks are expecting a hike, and we admit that stronger-than-anticipated growth, employment, inflation, and housing market numbers have materially raised the odds on a move – and made the signalling effects more powerful.

This creates an interesting configuration of risks in the dollar-Canada exchange rate pair: because markets are likely to perceive a “hawkish hold” as equivalent to an actual rate hike, one would generally feel comfortable in assuming that the loonie should continue its recent move higher. But this isn’t necessarily true: if markets have already assumed a rate hike within the next two meetings (we think they have), the idiosyncratic exchange rate impact could be relatively minimal. And if the Bank’s language helps to anchor US expectations higher (we think it could), the the loonie’s gains might be offset by further strength in the greenback. Only a hike paired with a confidently hawkish outlook could top current market pricing and send the loonie on to bigger and stronger gains.

As always in currency markets, it’s important to remember that everything is relative, and that low expectations are the key to outsized gains.

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Twists & turns

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