Focus on Currencies (Part 1 of 2)

By: Mike Shedlock | Tue, Feb 13, 2007
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What follows is part one of a focus on currencies including the US dollar index, the Yen, the Euro, the British Pound and the Canadian dollar. There is a special emphasis on the Yen.

This analysis covers five factors

  1. Technical Analysis
  2. Politics
  3. Commitment of Traders (speculation vs. hedging) of currency futures
  4. The Carry Trade
  5. Fundamentals

Let's kick off with the technicals.

Forex traders will note that charts marked with an "*" are inverse of normal trading pairs. This was done to put all the currency pairs in the same frame of reference (i.e. a weakening chart on a currency pair is bullish for the US dollar and US dollar index).

Click on any chart below for a better view.

Yen / US Dollar (Monthly) *

Euro / US Dollar (Weekly)

Canadian Dollar / US Dollar (Monthly) *

US Dollar Index (Weekly)

US Dollar Index (Monthly)

The charts show that we are at a significant inflection point on the US dollar index, the Yen, and the Euro. Let's look at additional factors to see if we can gather insights as to which way the charts may break. Following is the political perspective.

Congress Takes Aim Over Yen

The Financial Times is reporting US Congress takes aim at Tokyo over yen.

Powerful House Democrats are pressing the Bush administration to persuade Tokyo to strengthen the yen, claiming the currency's weakness is bolstering Japanese imports at the expense of US manufacturers. In a letter to Hank Paulson, US Treasury secretary, the House members alleged that Tokyo was pursuing a cheap currency to subsidize exporters and urged Mr Paulson "to press the Japanese government to reverse their weak yen policy".

The pressure from Democrats sets up a confrontation with the US Treasury secretary, who argues the yen's weakness reflects Japan's economic fundamentals rather than a deliberate policy of manipulation.

Michigan Representative Sander Levin, chairman of the House trade subcommittee, told the Financial Times: "Japan is clearly following policies to maintain a weak yen."

The yen's fall continued on Thursday, down 0.4 per cent to Y121.20 against the dollar and 0.6 per cent to Y157.90 against the euro. Japanese exports as a percentage of gross domestic product have - at 16 per cent - surpassed the levels of 1985 when Japan was forced to revalue under pressure from the US.

Takatoshi Ito, a member of the Japanese cabinet's council on fiscal and economic policy, said: "Japan has not intervened since March 2004 - not even oral intervention - so the ministry of finance is clean as market fundamentals push the yen weaker."

Tensions over the yen are set to be reflected in legislation drafted in the Senate on currency manipulation, analysts said. Representative Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said: "This is directly tied to the administration's efforts to get trade promotion authority renewed. It cannot be the case that we will let the status quo go on."

Comments on Taking Aim

Paulson Sides With Japan

Bloomberg is reporting Paulson, in Congress, Sides With Japan on Yen.

Henry Paulson's defense of Japan's currency policies over the last week is forcing traders to pay more attention to a U.S. Treasury secretary than they have in years.

Paulson caused fluctuations in the yen at least three times in the past week by responding to questions about whether it is undervalued, as alleged by some Democrats and European finance ministers. He sparked an hour-long slide yesterday when he told the House Ways and Means Committee that the currency is set in an open market and that Japan is still struggling with deflation.

Paulson first discussed the yen's slide against the dollar on Jan. 31. Answering a question during testimony at the Senate Banking Committee in Washington, Paulson said he's watching the yen "very, very carefully."

The testimony was only Paulson's second since Bush nominated the 60-year-old for the Treasury post in May. It took Paulson three months to even mention the dollar. When he did, he said he favors a "strong dollar," a script developed by fellow Goldman alumnus Robert Rubin, who was Treasury secretary from 1995 to 1999.

"He has a very hands-off approach to markets and doesn't seem to want to comment very much," said Sophia Drossos, a currency strategist at Morgan Stanley in New York. "He brings a high level of financial savvy. He is viewed as the Republicans' answer to Robert Rubin."

Paulson's remarks may also have had an impact because investors are growing wary about the magnitude of the yen's decline. The currency is near a 20-year low on a trade-weighted basis, and Commodity Futures Trading Commission figures on Feb. 2 showed a record 173,005 positions betting on a weaker yen.

"As soon as he mentioned that he was watching it very closely, that gave traders something to run with," said David Gilmore, a partner at Foreign Exchange Analytics in Essex, Connecticut. "It took literally a couple of days for the market to fully understand," he said.

Paulson "did an admirable job" in cogently laying out his view, Gilmore added. "The interesting thing is that he was so prepared to speak on the yen."

Comments on Paulson

Let's now turn our focus on speculation as defined by Commitment of Traders reports (COTs).

Commitment of Traders

For those unfamiliar with this frame of reference, commercial readers and noncommercial traders have to report their open interest in futures (in this case currency futures) once a week. Those results are summarized in COT reports. A quick glance at any of the following charts will show non-commercial, commercial, and non-reportable positions.

Think of commercial traders as either producers or hedgers. In the case of something like gold or corn, the commercials will be the miners or the farmers. But they could also be jewelry makers or cornflake makers like Kellogg's. In short the commercials represent someone wanting to hedge future costs from rising or producers wanting to lock in prices that they can profitably produce at. In the case of currencies, the commercials might be importers or exporters not wanting to take on currency risk. The commercials might also be big trading houses wanting to hedge exposure to various markets for one reason or another. Commercials are thus hedgers.

Think of the non-commercials as the big hedge funds speculating one way or another (long or short) in a commodity or currency. The nonreportable positions would be a small trader speculating one way or another on currencies or commodities. Trading size determines reportability .

Using The COT Report

Investopedia offers advice on Using the COT Report.

In using the COT report, commercial positioning is less relevant than noncommercial positioning because the majority of commercial currency trading is done in the spot currency market, so any commercial futures positions are highly unlikely to give an accurate representation of real market positioning.

Noncommercial data, on the other hand, is more reliable as it captures traders' positions in a specific market.

There are three primary premises on which to base trading with the COT data:

  • Flips in market positioning may be accurate trending indicators.
  • Extreme positioning in the currency futures market has historically been accurate in identifying important market reversals.
  • Changes in open interest can be used to determine strength of trend.

The COT reports come out on Friday as of the previous Tuesday. (This delay is nonsense in the current electronic age, but it is what it is).

If you are still with me, following are a few snapshots from the most recent Currency COT reports.


The above chart shows that the non-commercials (big speculators) are short 128,526 contracts in the Yen (betting it will fall lower or that if it rises they can make more elsewhere). This is part (but likely only a small part) of the infamous carry trade (shorting the Yen, and investing elsewhere, typically US Treasuries). Each contract represents 12,500,000 Yen (as of this writing $102,804 per contract). The total amount bet on interest rate differentials between the Yen and the US dollar as of the report date is $13,212,986,904.

The article on Paulson above made this statement "The currency is near a 20-year low on a trade-weighted basis, and Commodity Futures Trading Commission figures on Feb. 2 showed a record 173,005 positions betting on a weaker yen."

The COT charts in this blog were reported on Friday February 9th, so we can see some unwinding of positions since then. Or can we? Notice I said reported on February 9th. They reflect positions as of Tuesday February 6th. Just as with stock market short interest (reported only once a month) potentially useful information is kept from the small traders while others potentially know. This is not as bad as short interest in stocks, but there is no real excuse for it. We do not know the current position of the COTs.

At any rate the carry trade in the Yen will unwind at some point. It will not be to the benefit of the US dollar when it happens. For more thoughts on this idea please refer to Mr. Practical on the Yen, Carry Trade, and Credit Expansion.

One more point. An unwinding of the Yen position will be Yen supportive and dollar negative. That increases (but certainly does not negate) the likelihood that the trendline break in the Yen as shown on the first chart is a fake one.

British Pound

A quick look at what the non-commercials are doing shows a chart that is about as lopsided as it gets. There seems to be mammoth one sided speculation on the British Pound vs. the US dollar.

62,500 pounds is currently $121,950, and the big specs are long 92,728 contracts thus there is $11,308,179,600 bet on US dollar vs. British Pound currency differentials. This will get unwound at some point and in contrast to the Yen, an unwinding of these contracts should be US dollar supportive when it happens. Timing the reversal is of course the issue.

Canadian Dollar

For whatever reason, hedge funds are short 80,646 contracts on the Canadian dollar.

The unwinding of this trade would be supportive of the Canadian dollar and that similar to the Yen suggests a possibility that this is a potentially false breakdown.


Speculation on the Euro is not as massive nor is it as one sided as some of the others. However small speculators (nonreportable positions) are substantially long (relative to small spec positions), with commercials net short 65,632 contracts and the big speculators long 45,330 contracts. The unwinding of those contracts would likely be supportive of the US dollar. Each contracts represents 125,000 Euros (as of this writing $162,562 per contract or $7,368,935,460 in total on 45,330 contracts). On the surface, this might not seem like such a big deal (at least as compared to the Yen). But one must also look at the relative weighting of currencies within the US dollar index, and that is where the rubber meets the road.

Relative Weightings

What is the US Dollar Index®?

The following pie chart tells the story.


Yen 13.6%
British Pound 11.9%
Canadian Dollar 9.1%
Swedish Krona 4.2%
Swiss Frank 3.6%
Euro 57.6%

What the Swedish Krona is doing in the index I haven't a clue. But the key issue is that those expecting a huge rebound in the Yen to sink the US dollar index are likely barking up the wrong tree (at least from the standpoint of an unwinding of futures contracts). The Yen is only 13.6% of the index while Europe (the Euro and Pound) comprise 69.5% of the weighting, with the Euro a whopping 57.6%.

This concludes part one of Focus on Currencies. This is NOT a complete view. The carry trade in the currency markets (as opposed to the futures market) dwarfs the significance of the COT data according to some well respected economists. The message here is that it is easy (too easy) to focus on one or two aspects of a trade while missing the big picture. Tomorrow I will attempt to fill in some of the rest of the picture with a focus on the carry trade as well as a brief discussion on the fundamental factors that drive the relative valuations of currencies.



Mike Shedlock

Author: Mike Shedlock

Mike Shedlock / Mish
Mish Talk

Mike Shedlock

Michael "Mish" Shedlock is a registered investment advisor representative for SitkaPacific Capital Management. Visit to learn more about wealth management for investors seeking strong performance with low volatility.

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