We came across an interesting piece on the relationship between the USD and commercial credit activity outside the U.S., as shown in the chart below. The implication, based on a quick and dirty visual analysis, is that if USD strengthening continues (the red line, which is plotted inversely), then foreign commercial paper (the blue line) is likely to contract. In other words, a dearer dollar could spell trouble for foreign economies, and that would have negative implications for economic activity, commodities, and risky assets abroad, all else equal.
This piece of evidence, combined with our strong dollar call yesterday, raises some fascinating possibilities. A rush to the USD was not on many strategists’ radar in 2009, or even to this point in 2010. Judging by markets’ performance today and yesterday, we could be seeing a significant break from those views. Then again, we might just be seeing the first notable stock market correction since last year; a USD squeeze might also be a short lived phenomenon.
We see too many moving parts to make a firm call either way. The markets continue to face the spectre of tightening federal purse strings and a ‘less easy’ Federal Reserve in 2010, and as of this week, they are now sitting in the middle of the open conflict that has broken out between the administration and the financial industry.
We also see complexities in that battle that make it hard to come down on either side. We offered criticism of Obama’s initial remarks on the financial assets tax, though we later qualified it, and some of his remarks today were spot on. And while government policies and institutions certainly set up incentives to greed and stupidity, the actions embodying greed and stupidity (and the massive trading of rents that did little or nothing — arguably less – for economic welfare) were taken by individuals and organizations in the financial industry. And yet the overall tone of hawkishness from policymakers has negative implications for everyone, regardless of what street they make a living on.
There’s also a little noted irony in the apparent desire of some Democrats to constrain the size and activities of the financial sector. If Ajay Kapur’s research is on the mark, the sector is going to be shrinking in the years ahead regardless of regulatory changes, due to the shrinking ratio of middle aged adults. A more interesting thing to speculate on, given the continuing centrality of the USD in the global economy, is how well those faster growing regions of the world will cope with tigher global liquidity.
[UPDATE 1/21/2010 - In a CNBC interview moments ago, House Financial Services Commitee chairman Barney Frank put a far kinder and gentler spin on the recent presidential bluster, saying that a regulatory regime shift would have to be drawn out over several years and do a minimal amount of harm. This appears to have calmed frayed nerves in the market, and is a nifty scoop for Burnett and Cramer. Cramer's inferring that Paul Volcker (a man with a history of bull-in-a-china-shop approaches to policy) has the President's ear, while Frank comes down with the more nuanced regulatory views of Fed and Treasury, which could make for some political drama in the year ahead. It could even be a high stakes game of good cop, bad cop -- time will tell.]