Investors have so far this week taken an uncharacteristically nervous peak in the rear view mirror and decided that they suddenly don’t like what they see. The prospects for global exports and corporate earnings suddenly cast a large, grey cloud over risk appetite. Asian stocks fell overnight with the Nikkei off 2.7% in Japan while South Korea’s Kospi index had its first April decline, dropping by 2.9%. The slump in global exports once again resurfaced as a poignant reminder that copious amounts of monetary, fiscal and quantitative easing aren’t the immediate panacea that investors have hankered after. Thus risk aversion roadblocks were littered all over the map increasing the appeal of the dollar and the yen, especially against its Asian bedfellows.
Investors in the first quarter placed undue emphasis on both rallying prices for commodities along with a rebound from silly lows in the Baltic Dry Index, a key shipping cost indicator, as a signal that natural recovery was underway. The BDI has now declined for almost one month straight and all nations are reporting record export declines. Today Germany noted a fifth consecutive monthly drop in export volumes. Overnight the Japanese trade surplus shrank by 55% compared to one year ago. This after the nation recorded its first trade deficit in 13 years last month. Exports in February dropped 50% for the sharpest decline since 1985.
The Japanese yen gained across the board against other Asian units as heavy stock prices weighed on the recent ill-thought rally in stocks lacking in support by corporate fundamentals. Against the euro the yen rose to ¥132.50, while it’s also slightly healthier against the dollar ¥100.13.
Elsewhere in the Pacific, Australian consumer sentiment as measured by Westpac Banking Corp. and the Melbourne Institute rose by 8.3% to 92.7. However, the line in the sand at 100 indicates an equal weight of pessimists and optimists. So once again the data shows a reduction in pessimism. The Aussie dollar has shrugged off earlier gains against the U.S. unit and stands at 70.81 cents after mortgage approvals failed to live up to the 2% expected reading, increasing at just 0.4%.
In Canada, housing starts rose by a larger than expected amount recording an annualized 154,700 homes. This report seemed to jolt the Canadian dollar to life as dealers appeared willing to postpone the prospects for quantitative easing until later in the year. However, that optimism faded and the local dollar today buys 80.66 U.S. cents. We have to point out that no single piece of data is likely to dissuade authorities from their likely plans. Tomorrow sees the release of unemployment data for the country, which is expected to rise from 7.7% to 8%.
The euro took a two-sided bashing today. First, the broad appeal of the dollar outweighed that of the euro from the overall dimmer economic view. Second, an article appearing in the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph sought to highlight the dire fiscal plight of the Irish government already in the firing line for breaching the Maastricht Treaty. Debt limits relative to national output are too high. The story asserts that the government is cutting back on allowances for both child support and job-seekers and raising some taxes. The desperate story is no scare-story, but a harsh “tell ‘em the way it is” reminder of the sorry state of the wrong side of boom and bust. An Ireland outside of the single European currency facing shrinkage of 8% in its GDP, would not be pleading for competitive currency devaluation: The market would already have beaten the nation’s former Irish punt to Icelandic krona proportions. Dublin has Frankfurt to thank for not having to worry about the prospects for a currency crisis too!