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Dollar On Course For Worst Month In Almost A Decade (#GotBitcoin?)

Investors bet that the Fed will be forced to keep rates lower for longer, lowering real yields in U.S. Dollar On Course For Worst Month In Almost A Decade (#GotBitcoin?)

The dollar is on track to close out its worst month since April 2011 as a rise in coronavirus infections across the U.S. threatens to damp the economic recovery and keep low interest rates in place for longer.

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The ICE U.S. Dollar Index, which measures the greenback against a basket of other currencies, weakened 0.8% Monday to its lowest level since June 2018, according to FactSet.

Investors have sold the dollar and bought currencies of countries with lower infection levels in recent weeks. That has erased 3.8% of the currency’s value in July, putting it on track for its worst one-month performance in over nine years.

The recent surge in cases in parts of the U.S. has prompted local authorities to halt or rewind plans to let business activity resume, raising doubts about the prospects for the economy. California, Texas and Florida, which are among the hardest-hit states, together account for more than a quarter of U.S. gross domestic product.

New claims for unemployment benefits, which offer a view on the health of the labor market, last week climbed for the first time in four months, suggesting that the recovery may be faltering.

Weekly applications, which surpassed six million in the last week of March, had previously fallen as government-support programs and the gradual reopening of economies allowed employers to keep staff on payrolls and bring workers back.

Investors are betting that the Federal Reserve will offer a gloomier outlook for the economy following a two-day meeting that ends Wednesday. Fed officials have already warned this month that the economy faces a deeper downturn and more difficult recovery if the country doesn’t take more effective action to slow the spread of the virus.

The economic signals are “telling you that the V-shaped recovery has basically stopped. It’s not V anymore. It’s plateauing,” said Derek Halpenny, head of research for global markets in the European region at MUFG Bank. “The optimism that was there in June will be gone and the message is going to be the Fed needs to do more.”

Monday’s selloff put the ICE dollar index on track for its sharpest one-day decline since May 26. The recent move has been accelerated by the Fed’s decision to slash interest rates to near zero, removing much of the differential between the U.S. and other developed countries where rates have been negative for some time.

The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note dropped to 0.584% on Monday, from 1.910% at the end of last year, according to Tradeweb.

Real yields, which reflect the value of bond yields after adjusting for inflation expectations, have plunged for Treasurys, contributing to the dollar weakness. That is also pushing up demand for assets that don’t offer a yield, such as gold, by making them more attractive.

“The real-yield attraction of the dollar is less than it has ever been,” said Kit Juckes, a strategist at Société Générale.

The central bank is likely to remain cautious in its comments this week, Mr. Juckes said. “This Fed is a Fed that is working hand in glove with the U.S. government to lessen the blow to the U.S. economy.”

In contrast with the dollar’s decline, U.S. stocks have rallied since March, erasing almost all of the S&P 500 index’s losses for this year and pushing the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite to records. Last week, both benchmarks gave up some of those gains as investors’ optimism waned.

The dollar selloff could stabilize or even reverse as the currency still retains its appeal as a haven asset, said Jane Foley, head of foreign-exchange strategy at Rabobank. Investors are already pricing in a weaker outlook from the Fed and lackluster economic data, likely limiting dollar weakness going further.

“There’s been a big flow out of the U.S. dollar, but we have seen stock markets not so eager to shift higher from current levels in recent weeks,” Ms. Foley said. “I’m wondering if the momentum behind the sell dollar trade has gone a little bit too far.”

Fed Outlook Turns Gloomier As Recession Deepens

Central bank leaders warn of hits to confidence, higher joblessness and more business bankruptcies.

Federal Reserve officials meet Tuesday and Wednesday facing growing doubts about the prospect for a sustained economic rebound due to the nation’s uneven public-health response to the coronavirus.

Officials have warned this month in speeches and interviews that the economy faces a deeper downturn and more difficult recovery if the country doesn’t take more effective action to slow the spread of infection.

Since the Fed’s mid-June policy meeting, virus infection rates have accelerated in many states that were among the first to encourage businesses to reopen. Business leaders and economists have warned that hard-hit industries such as travel, entertainment and hospitality will face a more difficult recovery if consumers don’t feel confident spending money indoors and gathering in large groups.

The Fed isn’t likely to roll out new stimulus measures this week but is debating how to provide more support to the economy once the economic outlook becomes clearer. They could do this by adjusting their purchases of Treasury and mortgage securities and by providing more detail about what conditions would lead them to consider withdrawing stimulus.

Fed officials have focused their recent comments on the imperative of suppressing the virus by more aggressively adopting social-distancing measures, including wearing masks, and by boosting the capacity to test, trace and isolate known infection cases.

“How well we follow the health-care protocols from here is going to be the primary economic tool we have,” said Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan in a July 16 interview.

After the pandemic triggered widespread shutdowns in March, Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren said he had expected infections to recede by the summer much as it has in Europe. “Unfortunately, that is not the case,” he said in a July 8 interview. “We have not been nearly as successful.”

The longer that infection rates flare up, the harder it will be for a range of industries that employ millions of Americans to recover. That, in turn, could lead to higher spells of extended joblessness, business failure and stress on the banking system.

The economy will face “severe economic consequences” if the public health response doesn’t improve, Mr. Rosengren said. The Fed’s policy response is “not going to be able to offset all the losses if we continue to make serious public health mistakes.”

He said he is particularly troubled about what could happen in the fall, as college students return to campus from around the country, younger students go back to school, and cold weather makes it harder for restaurants to operate outdoor dining.

Regional data from the online reservations site OpenTable shows the Northeast is the only part of the U.S. that saw an increase in restaurant dining through mid-July on a weekly basis, suggesting that consumers are more willing to dine at restaurants in areas where the virus is under control.

The economy added 7.5 million jobs in May and June but still has 14.7 million fewer jobs than before the pandemic.

Coronavirus infections have accelerated in several large states since mid-June, when the Labor Department conducted its most recent survey of payroll growth.

Real-time data tracked by Fed economists suggested that strong gains in hiring in May and June may not be sustained, said Fed governor Lael Brainard in a speech July 14.

“Business leaders are getting worried. Consumers are getting worried,” Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic said July 7 in a discussion hosted by the Tennessee Business Roundtable. “There is a real sense that this might go on longer than we had hoped and we had expected and we had planned for.”

One risk for the Fed is that markets and the public expect it will fix problems its tools aren’t suited for, said former Fed governor Randall Kroszner.

“There is nothing the Fed can do to bring back the airline industry, to replace broken supply chains, to make people feel comfortable going out to shopping malls,” said Mr. Kroszner, who now teaches at the University of Chicago. “People have the view the Fed is so powerful that it can do anything, and it can’t.”

Government policy since March has focused on preserving income for unemployed workers and businesses after the economy was put into the equivalent of a medically induced coma to stop the pandemic’s spread.

Fed officials have broadly supported efforts to offset declines in income for unemployed workers and a drop in revenues for state and local governments.

The Fed has launched emergency-lending programs designed to support market functioning and to lower lending costs for a range of household, government and business borrowers.

Fed Vice Chairman Richard Clarida last month warned the improvements in financial markets may not last due to the path of the virus. At a minimum, the Fed’s lending programs had bought some time for businesses to hang on until an economic recovery spreads, he said.

Officials have expressed alarm that businesses receiving relief from the $510 billion Paycheck Protection Program won’t be able to withstand further declines in demand due to virus fears.

Mr. Kaplan said he has spoken to a range of companies that used those funds to bring back their employees and reopen. Their initial optimism has faded amid renewed slowdowns in business as virus infection rates flare up, and some businesses are seeing a substantial slowdown in foot traffic.

“The jury is now very much out … because they’re not well equipped for another slowdown,” Mr. Kaplan said.

Next Economic Crisis: Developing-Nation Debt

Emerging economies like Zambia’s were ill-prepared for the global recession’s financial pain.

Zambia was once a model in Wall Street’s rush to issue debt for the world’s poorest nations, attracting bigger orders and lower interest rates than some more-developed countries.

Less than a decade later, the Southern African nation is straining to pay back more than $11 billion in loans.

The world is gearing up for a battle over developing-country debt like few it has seen before. Rich and poor countries are at loggerheads with private investors that, over the past decade, replaced governments as the biggest creditors to emerging markets.

Zambia looks set to become a case study in the clash over how to ease the debt load of developing countries that were ill-prepared for the financial pain inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Zambian government debt is on course to surpass 100% of gross domestic product this year, as the International Monetary Fund forecasts the economy will contract 5% —the prediction from October was for 1.7% growth. Without relief, it would need to spend more than a third of its revenue to service debt, and much more in coming years.

In late May, the government appointed Lazard Ltd. as financial adviser, the first step toward a wholesale debt restructuring.

Two months later, talks with creditors are yet to begin, according to people involved in the negotiations.

Commodity prices sent tumbling by the global economic slowdown and a crash in local currencies have left many poor nations like Zambia unable to pay off the legacy of more than a decade of foreign borrowing. The debt—much of it held by banks and fund managers in London, New York and Frankfurt—was supposed to pay for building infrastructure, fighting disease and teaching children.

Instead, governments are struggling to find the cash to fortify their health systems for a wave of Covid-19 cases as debt service eats up large chunks of their revenue.

“Even before the crisis, a lot of countries were facing a lot of debt pressures,” said Abebe Aemro Selassie, director of the IMF’s African Department, “And you now have this really massive and all-encompassing shock.”

The prices of commodities like copper and oil, crucial exports for many emerging-markets, have rebounded somewhat since March. But the slowdown in global growth and trade is still cutting into government finances.

Of the 24 low-income countries that have issued foreign-currency bonds since the turn of the millennium, raising a total $135 billion, at least half —including Ghana and Zambia—are now at high risk of debt distress or already in distress, according to the IMF.

Negotiations taking place on conference calls to provide debt relief have gotten bogged down. Unable to meet face-to-face due to travel restrictions, investors say, it can be difficult to build trust with government officials—and each other—from behind a screen, where body language can be hard to read and concerns about privacy can limit talks.

Different groups of creditors blame each other. Asset managers and hedge funds—a fragmented group that can be slow to reach consensus—point fingers at China, which has also lent heavily to many poor countries.

Western governments, which wrote off debt in previous crises, have said they don’t want to bail out Beijing or private investors. Because much of Chinese debt came from state companies and banks, bondholders say it is unclear whether they would participate in relief measures provided by governments.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Failure to resolve this accelerating crisis, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned this month, could result in “a situation in which a series of countries in insolvency might trigger a global depression.”

The number of countries looking to multilateral agencies for support and running into legal disputes with creditors could make this the worst emerging-market debt crisis since the 1930s at least, said Kenneth Rogoff, chief economist of the IMF from 2001 to 2003 and now a Harvard University professor.

“They can’t handle that—the New York and London courts can’t, the IMF can’t,” he said. “It is a case of too many patients coming to the hospital at once.”

The IMF says more than 100 countries have come to it for help to fund their coronavirus battle since March. Of the total $250 billion of financing the IMF has committed, about one-third was approved in just the past four months.

The financial crisis is exacerbating humanitarian disasters in many nations, threatening to set back decades of gains in health care, nutrition and education, aid agencies say. Debt-relief advocacy groups like the Jubilee Debt Campaign say they worry that emergency funding meant to bolster governments’ coronavirus responses is instead paying off foreign debts.

At least 6.9 million of Zambia’s 17.4 million citizens don’t have sufficient food, up 290,000 from three months ago, according to the World Food Programme. The country, which had recorded 4,481 cases of Covid-19 as of July 26, has just six laboratories that can test for the disease.

‘Debt Trap’

The lack of preparedness for the pandemic’s financial impact traces to First World efforts 15 years ago to help wipe out the developing world’s debt. With proponents ranging from then-President George W. Bush to rock band U2’s star Bono, rich nations and multilateral lenders like the World Bank forgave $125 billion in the early 2000s to end what was called a “debt trap”—in which nations spend more on interest than health, infrastructure and education.

The programs—the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative and the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative—aimed to wean poor nations off the IMF, World Bank and Western governments.

Those institutions, the argument went, would teach developing countries how to borrow directly from financial markets; international investors would supply more funds than multilateral agencies could and force financial discipline.

Donor countries and organizations fanned out to give technical assistance on bond markets. The U.S. paid for countries to secure credit ratings. Wall Street banks saw an opening to new markets offering better returns than the ultralow interest rates in the West.

Many countries that borrowed had weak institutions and little record in implementing economic reforms. But competition to underwrite the bonds was so fierce that some of the poorest countries paid negligible fees, according to investment bankers in the region.

Caleb Fundanga, a retired Zambian central-bank governor who left in 2011, recalls bankers swarming him at annual meetings the IMF organized in Washington, D.C. “We were telling them that we were not ready to go into the market,” he said.

But, bolstered by a booming economy, Zambia decided to go all-in. The price of its main resource, copper, was soaring, thanks to Chinese demand. To fund a revamp of its railway to better ship the landlocked nation’s metal to ports, and other infrastructure projects, Zambia offered its first-ever foreign-currency bond in 2012.

Donor funding helped it secure a bond rating several notches below investment grade. Demand for the bond—underwritten by Barclays PLC and Deutsche Bank AG —was so strong the yield came in below the target at 5.625%, less than what Spain paid at the time.

As orders piled up on the day of the offering, Zambia’s then-finance minister, Alexander Chikwanda, said the president, his late nephew Michael Sata, urged him to increase the offering’s size. “I explained to him that the debt servicing would be a problem,” Mr. Chikwanda said, but he increased the deal to $750 million from $500 million.

The country issued two more dollar bonds in the next three years, raising a total of $3 billion supposed to finance roads, power grids and other infrastructure at much higher interest rates.

“There was a lot of money from the West that could be accessed with very little conditionality,” said Shebo Nalishebo, who was an analyst for a government-funded think tank advising the finance ministry at the time.

Charles Russon, chief executive for corporate and investment banking at ABSA Group Ltd., which owns Barclays’ former African operations, said the Zambian bonds were assessed to be in the best interest of the country when they were issued, but that “in hindsight now it looks a little more challenging.”

Deutsche Bank declined to comment.

Zambia also started borrowing heavily from China as part of Beijing’s Belt and Road program, plowing billions of dollars into roads, power plants and airports and signing loan agreements for many years to come. Zambia doesn’t disclose how much it owes to Beijing, but President Edgar Lungu this month asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to cancel some of the debt, according to a statement issued by his office.

Deteriorating Fortunes

Soon the country’s fortunes deteriorated. An economic slowdown in China mid-decade halved the price of copper, shrinking dollar revenue needed to help support bond payments.

Zambia’s currency, the kwacha, has dropped from around five to the dollar in 2012 to around 18 today, so the country would now have to pay back more than three times what it borrowed in local currency terms, leaving aside interest. The government says its total external debt stood at $11.2 billion at the end of 2019.

Disagreements over the size of this debt, which the IMF has said was already at $11.3 billion at the end of 2018, have stopped the fund from coming to its help. The IMF said this month that it is continuing talks with Zambian officials on how to ensure debt sustainability.

Similar patterns were emerging elsewhere in Africa. By the third quarter of last year, debt levels in sub-Saharan Africa’s poorest countries had jumped to over 60% of GDP on average, from 38% a decade earlier, according to the Institute of International Finance, or IIF, a financial-industry lobbying group.

Beijing keeps the terms of its programs under wraps. But estimates from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies suggest African governments and their state-owned enterprises accumulated around $143 billion in loans from China between 2000 and 2017.

Some of those countries were left not only with heavy debt but also without some of the development gains borrowing was supposed to bring.

Zambia’s neighbor Angola raised $8 billion over the years after a debut bond in 2015 to fund upgrades to water, electricity and road networks. An advisory firm hired by the government to monitor 26 of those projects said only four were ever initiated.

With oil prices low, Angolan government revenues are now less than what is needed for debt payments. A spokesman for Angola’s finance ministry, which has pledged to repay private investors, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

As the virus spread, the Group of 20 major economies in April called on private investors to join governments in halting debt payments for some of the world’s poorest countries until the end of year.

The plan has since been paralyzed. Credit-rating firms have made clear that restructuring private-sector borrowing could count as a default. During investor calls organized by Rothschild & Co. following the G-20 announcement, some governments were eager to reassure lenders that they don’t need debt forgiveness, worried they would be cut off from future borrowing.

As yet, no eligible country has requested private-sector support, according to the IIF.

World Bank Group President David Malpass said the scale of government borrowing from new sources, like China and commercial creditors, places poor countries in new territory, adding: “It’s vitally important that all creditors participate and don’t create excuses to free ride on the others.”

Without a plan in sight, investors and governments are looking to what happens with Zambia, whose 2012 bond falls due in 2022, to chart a way for countries squeezed by debt held by private creditors and China.

“Zambia might end up being a template,” said Hans Humes, founder of New York-based Greylock Capital Management, which owns Zambian bonds.

Updated: 7-30-2020

Dollar Falls To Lowest Level In Over 2 Years While Gold, Silver, Bitcoin Continue To Shine

The dollar on Thursday dropped to its lowest level since May 2018 as the Federal Reserve said it plans to keep interest rates close to zero, and inflation hedges continue to show strength.

* The dollar’s trade-weighted index – a measure of its value relative to a basket of other dominant currencies – dropped to $93.04 Thursday afternoon.

* The last time the index traded this low was on May 15, 2018, according to TradingView.

* As the dollar weakens, gold continues to trade near its new all-time highs, reaching $1,980 on Tuesday.

* The yellow metal has gained more than 10% in July.

* Silver has rallied nearly 30% in July, trading at $23.26 at last check.

* Bitcoin, previously stuck trading in a tight range between $9,000 and $10,000 for nearly two months, followed the rallies in precious metals when it broke above $11,400 on Tuesday.

* Bitcoin has soared 53% in 2020, according to Messari.

“In the coming weeks you’ll see the dollar weakening further,” Qi Gao, a currency strategist at Scotiabank, told the Financial Times.

Updated: 8-31-2020

China’s Yuan Strengthens as Trade and Economic Concerns Fade

Relatively high interest rates, plus a broader selloff in the dollar, also buoy China’s currency.

China’s yuan has rallied to its strongest levels in more than a year, as the country’s economy continues to recover and investors grow less concerned about fresh U.S. tariffs.

On Monday, the currency traded at around 6.85 to the dollar in both the tightly controlled onshore market and freer offshore markets in Hong Kong and elsewhere, building on gains registered in the previous trading session.

“The clear outperformance by the Chinese economy versus the developed economies is favoring the yuan,” said Mansoor Mohi-uddin, chief economist at the Bank of Singapore.

Surveys released Monday showed Chinese business activity continued to expand for a sixth straight month in August.

Prospects of a calmer relationship between the U.S. and China were also boosting the yuan, Mr. Mohi-uddin said. “The markets seem to be favoring a potential change in leadership in the U.S., and they are looking through the current tensions.”

Last week senior U.S. and Chinese officials affirmed their commitment to the two countries’ phase-one trade deal.

“In August, the market has gotten a lot more comfortable with the idea that neither the U.S. nor the Chinese side has the inclinations nor the appetite to walk back on the trade deal,” said Sameer Goel, chief Asia macro strategist at Deutsche Bank.

Mr. Goel said the yuan was now in the middle of its two-year trading range against a basket of currencies. He said that meant Chinese policy makers were likely more comfortable letting the currency join a broader rally against the dollar, especially with less risk of the trade deal collapsing.

On Friday, the offshore yuan closed below 6.86 to the dollar for the first time since May 2019, according to Tullett Prebon data. As of Monday afternoon in Hong Kong, the onshore yuan had strengthened slightly further to about 6.849 per dollar, while the offshore yuan was at 6.848.

A widening gap between interest rates in the U.S. and higher rates available in China is also boosting the yuan, as investors seek higher-yielding assets. Foreign purchases of Chinese bonds hit a record in the second quarter.

The Federal Reserve’s shift in how it sets interest rates indicates the U.S. central bank has a tolerance for policy easing, said Chi Lo, senior economist for greater China at BNP Paribas Asset Management, implying a weaker dollar.

But he said China has much less need for lower interest rates. That will support the yuan, Mr. Lo said, as will a likely recovery in annual economic growth to a range of 6 to 6.5% in 2021.

Iris Pang, chief economist for Greater China at ING Bank NV in Hong Kong, said a tumbling dollar in recent weeks had helped boost the yuan.

She said China’s move on Friday to restrict artificial intelligence-related exports, in retaliation against U.S. pressure on Chinese technology companies, had fueled further gains in the currency on Monday.

“This shows that China has the room to fight back and there’s some resilience in the economy to buffer this pressure,” Ms. Pang said.

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SEC Hack Proves Bitcoin Has Better Data Security (#GotBitcoin?)

Hackers Prove The Insecurity Of Trump’s Border Security By Stealing Photos Of Travelers’ Faces (#GotBitcoin?)

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