Washington Insider -- Wednesday

Currency Market Interventions

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

USDA’s Northey Talks MFP, Disaster Aid

USDA Undersecretary Bill Northey appeared at a sweetener meeting in Ashville, North Carolina, on Monday, providing some updates on the Market Facilitation Program 2 (MFP 2) payments and the coming supplemental disaster program, noting payouts for MFP 2 would come and the end of August and in September for disaster aid.

He said some disaster aid provisions still have to be approved by the Office of Management and Budget. Northey noted there would be a “top up” of small support for prevent plant acres in the coming disaster aid provisions, including some aid for stored grain damaged by floods.

Northey said this year could be characterized by being a challenging production year and a challenging marketing year. On trade policy matters, he said “we are around the corner from good news” on a trade deal with Japan, listing the country as “a very good market without drama.”

He said President Trump and USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue know that farmers have “chewed a lot of equity up” and that both are determined to assist the ag sector.

Trump Again Says More Farmer Aid Will Come for 2020 If Needed

President Donald Trump Friday indicated as he signed a deal to expand US beef exports to the European Union that he could deploy more farmer aid.

On Twitter this morning, Trump said even more specifically that the aid could come again in 2020, tweeting, “As they have learned in the last two years, our great American Farmers know that China will not be able to hurt them in that their President has stood with them and done what no other president would do - And I’ll do it again next year if necessary!”

Washington Insider: Currency Market Interventions

Bloomberg says this week that an array of “next steps” is being discussed following the administration’s “unexpected move to designate China as a currency manipulator.” It thinks that the risk of direct U.S. intervention in the foreign-exchange market is rising, “analysts agree” although it says it is less clear “how to drive up the yuan itself.”

Because the President’s team has a record of surprises on executive action, “it would be risky to rule out any option,” Bloomberg said. But it cites “foreign-exchange experts” who highlight the difficulty of a surgical operation targeted at China’s currency. The yuan isn’t as easily tradeable as the currencies of developed nations, which is one reason why foreign ownership of China’s bond market--the world’s second largest – is still only roughly 2%, Bloomberg says.

“It’s very improbable at this stage” that U.S. authorities would use their access to the onshore Chinese bond market to purchase government securities, said Mansoor Mohi-uddin, senior macro strategist at NatWest Markets in Singapore. “There’s more bang for the buck in euros, yen or Swiss francs or the pound – and buying those would send a signal to the CNY and CNH market that the dollar is weakening.”

“CNY” means China’s onshore yuan, while “CNH” is the offshore version, Bloomberg says. China allowed central banks and other institutional investors access to its domestic market several years ago as part of a broad effort at balancing capital-flow pressures after a messy yuan devaluation in 2015 saw an exodus of money abroad.

Buying Chinese government bonds could leave the Trump administration in the potentially awkward position of being open to criticism that it was effectively financing its rival. Offshore, the supply of yuan assets is limited – another consequence of China’s shift to a more conservative approach to internationalizing its currency in the wake of turmoil in 2015.

“There is the question of whether there are enough international renminbi assets available to purchase,” Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in New York wrote recently. The outstanding amount of CNH deposits globally is about 1.2 trillion yuan, according to JPMorgan. By comparison, that’s less than the stockpile of US Treasuries held by Hong Kong, or slightly more than that owned by Taiwan.

Any intervention in the yuan by the US “could provoke countermeasures from the Chinese that, in turn, increase the risk of unintended consequences,” JPMorgan’s Feroli wrote.

The administration’s continuing complaints about other nations’ weakening exchange rates had already stoked speculation about the potential for intervention before that drumbeat quickened Monday, when the Treasury Department officially designated China as a currency manipulator. China moved to ease pressures Tuesday with a stronger-than-expected daily fixing for the onshore yuan, a step that saw stocks recoup some recent losses.

Senior officials at the Chinese central bank also reassured foreign companies that the yuan won’t continue to weaken significantly. The central bank held a meeting with a number of foreign exporters in Beijing Tuesday, at which officials also said that companies’ ability to buy and sell dollars would remain normal, Bloomberg said.

The offshore yuan strengthened about 0.7% to 7.046 per dollar Tuesday, paring its drop this year to 2.5%.

“I do think that risk has increased very sharply,” NatWest’s Mohi-uddin, who’s been following currency markets for more than two decades, said even after trading calmed somewhat Tuesday. “Financial markets seem to underplay the risk that if intervention occurs it won’t be very successful.”

A famous turning point for the dollar was the 1985 Plaza Accord, when the U.S. and key industrial-nation peers agreed to drive the greenback lower and intervened in exchange markets to help make that happen. In 2000, the European Central Bank led rich countries in propping up the euro. While at the time the spot intervention was declared a failure, the euro did find a bottom not long after, Mohi-uddin said.

Taken together with US monetary easing and the twin budget and current-account deficits, intervention could reshape the market narrative against the dollar, according to Mohi-uddin.

Any U.S. intervention would presumably be unilateral this time around, as other nations haven’t expressed complaints about an excessively strong dollar. The Treasury is charged with setting dollar policy, while the Federal Reserve’s New York district bank executes intervention. Historically, the Fed has used its own assets alongside the Treasury in currency operations.

The Treasury has just under $95 billion in its Exchange Stabilization Fund, a special vehicle that dates back to the 1930s over which the Treasury Secretary has wide discretion. While that figure is small compared with the $5 trillion a day foreign-exchange market, its firepower would be enhanced with Fed backing and it could technically enlarge its arsenal through measures such as issuing bonds, analysts said.

The U.S. has only intervened three times since 1996: buying yen in 1998, euros in 2000 and selling yen in 2011 at Japan’s request. Before that, dating back to Plaza, it engaged in yen and deutsche mark operations, Treasury data show.

“The easiest intervention path is via euros and yen, hoping that other currencies strengthen via knock-on effects,” Steven Englander, global head of foreign-exchange research at Standard Chartered Bank in New York, concluded in a note to clients last month.

So, we will see. All eyes are on national and international equity and currency markets as traders look for signs of calm after this week’s shocks. The recent volatility, together with the mass murders in Texas and Ohio has added deep social anxiety in many areas of the country, trends that should be watched closely by producers as officials in the U.S. and China, especially, attempt to deal with the deep economic, social and political tensions, Washington Insider believes.

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