To mark the release of our latest Asset Allocation Committee Outlook, Committee member and Head of Global Currency Ugo Lancioni offers today’s CIO Weekly Perspectives.

The star performers among the G10 currencies in 2017 were the big box-office draws of the euro and the U.S. dollar. At the beginning of the year, the U.S. currency was enjoying a post-Trump rally, while a wave of populist electoral successes appeared to be heading for the euro. It was soon clear that December 2016 had marked a long-term top for the greenback, however, and EURUSD ended the year up more than 13%. It was an impressive turnaround, like two famous actors playing spectacularly against type. Oscars all around!

Will they be in the limelight again? Can the euro storm higher still, or the dollar force a reversal of fortune? Or could the G10’s supporting actors provide the red-carpet performances of 2018?

The Euro Feeds Off of Renewed Confidence

It was really the euro that caught the eye last year. Multiple positive economic surprises in Europe had already triggered unhedged portfolio flows before Emmanuel Macron’s election as President of France opened the floodgates, renewing confidence in the euro project as a whole. Today, currency-futures data indicate that short-term speculators are extremely long the single currency.

That fundamental economic recovery is real. But capital flows have already pushed EURUSD above the fair value implied by relative monetary policies and close to what is implied by purchasing power parity. In our view, we need additional good news in Europe or bad news in the U.S. for EURUSD to rally much higher.

What might those catalysts be?

Euro and Dollar Forces Appear Balanced

There is political risk. We face coalition negotiations in Germany and an election in Italy. But trouble there seems no more likely than trouble from the special counsel investigation into the Trump administration or the U.S. mid-term elections.

Portfolio flows could continue to support the euro, despite higher interest rates for the U.S. dollar. This is what happened during the 2004 – 06 Federal Reserve rate-hike cycle. Economic recovery, and especially the gradual unwind of structural European shorts that U.S. investors have held since the euro zone crisis in 2012 – 13, have fed these flows. It is difficult to tell what more there is to come, however, and there may be offsetting factors.

First, euro-based investors may decide to stop paying the approximately 250 basis points of carry required to hedge their dollar exposures. Second, U.S. tax reform will likely incentivize repatriation of some of the non-dollar profits that U.S. companies have overseas. And third, the potentially deflationary effects of a stronger euro could, in themselves, prompt the ECB to pause policy normalization in pursuit of its inflation target.

Inflation and interest rate differentials are potentially more clear-cut catalysts, but they are likely to favor the dollar. Much of the unwinding of the ECB’s bond-purchase program is priced in, and while the ECB could change its monetary policy faster than expected, it is more likely that inflation will rise first in the U.S., prompting the Fed to respond more quickly, too. If there is one conspicuous missing catalyst for a stronger euro, we believe it is euro zone inflation.

The Yen, Swiss Franc and Nordics Catch Our Eye

In short, there are many similarities between where the dollar was a year ago and where the euro is today, but the result of that switch is something close to equilibrium, with catalysts for a change either way finely balanced. EURUSD may end 2018 close to where it started it.

Investors looking for drama might turn their attention to the G10’s supporting actors.

The Japanese yen remains very cheap, in our view: The Bank of Japan rocked bond markets last week by cutting its long-dated bond purchases, so further adjustments to its yield curve-control policy could be positive for the currency. By contrast, the negative-yielding Swiss franc still looks expensive to us despite an already meaningful decline as stale safe-haven positions unwind.

Finally, asking which central banks are likely to normalize monetary policy soonest leads us to Scandinavia. The Swedish krona seems to us the strongest candidate for appreciation, with the Norwegian krone close behind in the event of a sustained bull market in energy and global growth.

Time will tell which of these end 2018 as Best Supporting Actors. We believe, however, that their performances can potentially outshine those of the G10’s superstars, the euro and the dollar.

In Case You Missed It

  • China Consumer Price Index:  +1.8% in December year-over-year
  • China Producer Price Index:  +4.9% in December year-over-year
  • U.S. Producer Price Index:  -0.1% in December month-over-month and +2.6% year-over-year
  • U.S. Consumer Price Index:  +0.1% in December month-over-month and +2.1% year-over-year (core CPI increased 0.3% month-over-month and 1.8% year-over-year)
  • U.S. Retail Sales:  +0.4% in December

What to Watch For

  • Wednesday, 1/17:
    • NAHB Housing Market Index
    • Euro zone Consumer Price Index
    • China Q417 GDP
  • Thursday, 1/18:
    • U.S. Housing Starts and Building Permits

– Andrew White, Investment Strategy Group

Statistics on the Current State of the Market – as of January 12, 2018

Market Index WTD MTD YTD
Equity      
S&P 500 Index 1.6% 4.3% 4.3%
Russell 1000 Index 1.6% 4.2% 4.2%
Russell 1000 Growth Index 1.6% 5.0% 5.0%
Russell 1000 Value Index 1.6% 3.4% 3.4%
Russell 2000 Index 2.1% 3.7% 3.7%
MSCI World Index 1.4% 3.9% 3.9%
MSCI EAFE Index 1.2% 3.7% 3.7%
MSCI Emerging Markets Index 0.6% 4.3% 4.3%
STOXX Europe 600 1.2% 3.6% 3.6%
FTSE 100 Index 0.7% 1.2% 1.2%
TOPIX -0.2% 3.2% 3.2%
CSI 300 Index 2.1% 4.8% 4.8%
Fixed Income & Currency      
Citigroup 2-Year Treasury Index 0.0% -0.1% -0.1%
Citigroup 10-Year Treasury Index -0.6% -1.2% -1.2%
Bloomberg Barclays Municipal Bond Index -0.4% -0.5% -0.5%
Bloomberg Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index -0.2% -0.5% -0.5%
Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Index 0.3% 0.2% 0.2%
S&P/LSTA U.S. Leveraged Loan 100 Index 0.2% 0.5% 0.5%
ICE BofA Merrill Lynch U.S. High Yield Index -0.1% 0.7% 0.7%
ICE BofA Merrill Lynch Global High Yield Index -0.1% 0.7% 0.7%
JP Morgan EMBI Global Diversified Index -0.4% 0.2% 0.2%
JP Morgan GBI-EM Global Diversified Index 0.7% 2.5% 2.5%
U.S. Dollar per British Pounds 0.9% 1.2% 1.2%
U.S. Dollar per Euro 0.9% 1.2% 1.2%
U.S. Dollar per Japanese Yen 1.7% 1.2% 1.2%
Real & Alternative Assets      
Alerian MLP Index 4.6% 9.2% 9.2%
FTSE EPRA/NAREIT North America Index -2.9% -5.0% -5.0%
FTSE EPRA/NAREIT Global Index -1.1% -0.8% -0.8%
Bloomberg Commodity Index 1.0% 0.7% 0.7%
Gold (NYM $/ozt) Continuous Future 1.0% 2.0% 2.0%
Crude Oil (NYM $/bbl) Continuous Future 4.7% 6.4% 6.4%

Source: FactSet, Neuberger Berman.