The Dollar Breaking Point

Lior Alkalay - Contributor - Forex

Last week, the Fed released its FOMC minutes, the protocol of the Fed's decision makers, and already it seems to have backfired. While the minutes thoroughly described how FOMC committee members have gradually shifted their projections on inflation and a lower Fed Funds Rate, comments that were supposed to gently assist in tilting the dollar lower have done the exact opposite.

FOMC Minutes Backfire

The Fed's statement contained two comments that were combined or written in such a way that investors immediately became wary of shorting the dollar. The first, was the remark on the fact that excess capacity and downward pressure in commodities was seen as winding down gradually thus keeping the Fed's long-term inflation target of 2% (or close to it) still intact. So far so good, yet the Fed also added a statement on what is holding back the possible rate hike and that is low energy prices and a strong dollar. In other words, the Fed outlined that a lower dollar would increase the chances of a rate hike. For investors, this meant shorting the dollar could turn more risky because with every instance of a lower dollar the likelihood of a rate hike from the Fed would rise which would create demand for the dollar and thus could hit dollar short sellers.

Once Again, Inflation

Market reaction was not too late in coming and investors were quick to crowd back into the dollar, pushing it higher vs most major currencies and especially the Euro. The question is why did investors chose to take the FOMC remark as a limited downside rather than a limited upside? Once again, this has to do with inflation. While headline inflation is currently 0%, Core inflation has held at 1.7%, fairly close to 2%. For investors, this is generally interpreted as US inflation is holding steady with a high dollar, thus any potential softness in the dollar could quickly push inflation higher. This is also reflected by the substantially higher yields of US treasuries as compared with similar debt instruments from the Eurozone. While US yields have been moving lower, Eurozone yields have similarly been moving lower.

What Could Break the Dollar?

The statement about the dollar's strength or weakness affecting the trajectory for inflation rates can be seen as a double-edged sword; it can limit downside potential for the dollar but can also limit to the upside if a stronger dollar is seen as curbing inflation. This means that while investors are now choosing to look at the Fed's statement as a limit to the dollar's downside they may, at any time, switch and view it as a limit to dollar gains which, of course, would propel the long-anticipated dollar correction. What could lead investors to switch sides and call a limit to dollar strength rather than the opposite? As you may have guessed, it is inflation. If inflation returns to slide, it will shift the consensus towards confirmation that a stronger dollar continues to curb US inflation and therefore, has reached its limit which could then break the dollar. Of course, as long as US inflation holds steady, and even if dollar holders become more uneasy, the dollar will not break, at least not yet.

Three Shades of Inflation

To really understand if, indeed, US inflation is heading lower, one most understand the various "shades" of inflation due to be released over the next week. First and foremost, it is CPI or the Consumer Price Index yet more specifically it is Core CPI which excludes energy and food components. At the moment, Core inflation has held steady at 1.7% after bouncing back from 1.6%, suggesting inflation is still here. Hence, Core CPI needs to hold or rise for investors to continue and maintain their near-term inflation outlook; with any fall in Core Inflation investors would tend to lower their inflation outlook. The second shade of inflation would be PPI or the Producer Price Index which measures the inflation gauge as experienced by manufacturers and producers. This index is indicative of the potential decline in prices. If the index continues to fall next week it will raise the risk of lower inflation in the mid-term. Yet for lower producer prices to be passed on to consumers and thus turn into lower inflation, one other thing needs to happen and that is that consumers need to spend less. And that brings us to the final shade of inflation that is due out next week and that is retail sales. I have continually pointed on weak retail sales as a risk factor for inflation and the dollar. If retail sales next week fall yet again, in combination with a fall in PPI, that could push investors to believe that manufacturers are about to lower prices which would lower inflation which could break the dollar. So is the dollar about to break? Thus far, truth be told, pricing action don't suggest it, but if the various inflation gauges next week begin to show that the strong dollar is weighing on inflation, the breaking point could quickly materialize.

Look for my post next week.

Lior Alkalay Contributor - Forex

Disclosure: This article is the opinion of the contributor themselves. The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. This contributor is not receiving compensation (other than from for their opinion.

3 thoughts on “The Dollar Breaking Point

  1. Do not understand, real inflation is very high. The author states that food/fuel is not included in the computation so the whole CPI is a misnomer. Although prices of food items have only gone up a small percentage in most cases, the packaging is deceptive. The number of items in packaged goods has been reduced while the packaging has remained the same. In other ways, items like Jellies, peanut butter have had the the bottoms of the jars concave rather than flat thus reducing the amount of content in the container. The Gov't methods, in not counting, food and fuel is just like not using U6 for unemployment numbers. They use U3 which is a joke. You can fool some people some of the time but will fail in fooling all people all the time. These false numbers are going to cause a coming crises the likes we have never seen before. The average person could care less about core CPI. They need to put food in their families mouths.

    1. A crisis in which direction? Astronomical inflation? Or a real and complete realization that despite the fitful flagrant fiat fiasco, the world is in a general and forever forward deflationary trend? That no matter what central banks do from here on out world spending has changed and economies will never again be able to fiat inflate there way out of economic doldrums again? (e.g. Japan)

  2. So, if inflation falls, the dollar rises which keeps the FED's rate hikes at bay.

    If the inflation rises, the dollar falls which triggers the FED's rate hike (higher dollar).

    Equally, if the dollar rises, inflation falls, no rate hike. The dollar falls, inflation rises, rate hike (higher dollar).

    So what, if anything, is going to deflate the dollar? Stronger yuan? Pound? Euro? Are we going to see those soon? Reviewing the historic path of the dollar we've seen it WAY over 100 on the DX. Time to buy that chateau in Provence or vineyard in Portugal. (Yeah, I wish!)

Comments are closed.