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Euro threatened with mounting deflation risk, US bond auction

The Euro looks vulnerable in the week ahead as headline inflation figures point to the increasing likelihood of deflation while a the US Treasury holds a record-setting bond auction that stands to boost the Dollar at the expense of the single currency. Germany’s Consumer Price Index is set to show the annual pace of inflation turned negative for the first time in 23 years in July after holding at a standstill in the previous two months. The broader Euro Zone measure of consumer prices has already turned negative, shedding -0.1% in June and likely to slip another -0.4% in July. If expectations of falling prices become entrenched, the currency bloc could be facing a long-term period of stagnation as consumers and businesses are encouraged to wait for the best possible bargain and perpetually delay spending and investment.

For their part, the European Central Bank has seemingly struggled to formulate an effective policy response to the deflationary threat thus far. Jean-Claude Trichet and company have focused on banks as the vehicle through which to make money cheaper and put a floor under falling prices, promising unlimited lending to the region’s financial institutions including an unprecedented 442 billion euro in 12-month bank loans. The ECB will also implement a 60 billion bond-buying scheme. To the central bank’s credit, borrowing costs have indeed moved lower: although the ECB publicly maintains target interest rates at 1%, it has allowed the average cost of overnight lending (referred to as EONIA) to drift far below that. Indeed, borrowing in Euros has been consistently cheaper than doing so in British Pounds since late June, even though the Bank of England’s stated interest rates are substantially lower at 0.5%. However, the lower cost of credit between banks has not translated into lending, and so has offered little stimulus to the overall economy. Indeed, loans to Euro Zone businesses and households grew just 1.8% in May, the lowest since records began in 1991. Banks may be choosing to hang on to cash as a buffer against $1.1 trillion in as yet unrealized losses linked to the subprime mess, according to the IMF, as well as the fallout from looming defaults and/or devaluations among the EU’s newly-minted central European members. In any case, the door is open for traders to punish the Euro as the ECB’s inability to ensure that looser monetary conditions translate beyond the interbank market make deflation all but certain.

An unprecedented bond auction in the United States may also weigh on the single currency. The US Treasury’s announced last week that it will sell a record $115 billion in bonds next week in a bid to help finance the rapidly growing public deficit, pushing 10-year notes to register the largest daily loss in nearly seven weeks and sending yields to the highest level in a month. We have argued for some time that the US Dollar will benefit as the government floods the market with new debt: Treasury prices will head sharply lower, putting tremendous upward pressure on the long-term interest rates. This will make USD-denominated assets attractive to yield-seeking investors, driving demand for the greenback. Because the Euro is the second-most traded currency after the greenback, it often serves as the de-facto anti-Dollar, with short term studies showing a hefty -85.8% correlation between average indexes of the two units’ values. This means that any meaningful turn in sentiment in favor of the US Dollar will weigh heavily on the Euro, not just in the pairing against the greenback but across the board.


Publication date: 7/27/2009


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