The dollar slumped to a new 14-month low Wednesday, and it could continue floundering well into next year.
The green back was trading at $1.50 to the euro Wednesday, a key psychological milestone. It also fell to a level near 75 on the dollar index, well below its year high of 89.62 and another important round number. The dollar index represents a basket of currencies, but the majority weighting is the euro.
"The dollar is just in a funk, and nobody lifts a finger to help it," said Brian Dolan of Forex.com. "We had Euro zone meetings Monday and Tuesday. They voiced their concerns but showed no signs of any action to counter the euro strength. All the feed back loops are in perfect motion here. We got some oil inventory data that was oil positive and that added to the dollar's woes."
Currency strategists say there is little to stop the dollar decline until U.S. officials convince markets they have the fortitude to curb deficits, or the Fed makes a move on rates.
As the dollar wobbled Wednesday, stocks moved higher and commodities climbed in a tightly linked trade that has been dominant in the markets for months. Oil closed in on the $82 level, and gold also made gains, moving up to $1062.80 per ounce.
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"What I think is remarkable is just how little U.S. officials have said about the weakness in the dollar, and as long as it's orderly, they seem comfortable with it," said Deutsche Bank currency strategist Adam Boyton.
The weak dollar is a double-edged sword for the U.S. economy. A soft dollar gives U.S. companies a pricing edge in foreign markets, helping the balance of trade, but it also adds fuel to rising commodities prices, triggering fears of inflation.
"I think among U.S. officials, there is increasingly an acceptance that until the fiscal deficit gets reigned in, the dollar is going to stay weak. That doesn't mean it weakens forever. .. I think in the next year, the best we can hope for the dollar is euro dollar at $1.40," Boyton said. He said he expects the low range for the dollar to be $1.55 to $1.60. The dollar hit an all-time low against the euro of $1.6038 in July, 2008.
The euro at $1.50 doesn't necessarily mean it will reach $1.60 but it is certainly on its way. "Clearly, the Fed needs to provide a picture that it's still in control...They cannot be passive at this point," said Boris Schlossberg of GFT Forex. "If they don't want to face a runaway market, they need to get much firmer in their rhetoric and posture even if it means they have to shave five percent off the Dow."
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's comments earlier in the week but Schlossberg said he wasn't convincing enough when he warned about the growing federal budget deficit. "They need to to get a lot tougher with the markets. The markets will always take things to the extreme. The Fed cannot afford to be exploited at this point," said Schlossberg.
Economists, for the most part, do not expect the Fed to tighten before the second quarter of next year, and many see it holding off well after that.
Schlossberg agrees the Fed can't take action on rates right now, and it's in a tough spot. "They need to see unemployment rates level off," he said. "Bullish for the dollar would be (weekly jobless) claims below 500,000."
"If we continue to practice a policy of benign neglect, it's conceivable the euro could make new highs not because of any fundamental reasons in the Euro zone, but because of lack of confidence in the dollar," he said.
Boyton said the Fed will probably be ready to raise rates by the time the dollar reaches $1.60 per euro.
"If the ECB (European Central Bank) tightens before the Fed next year, I think we could see $1.60. If the Fed gets going in April or May, I think $1.55 could be the peak. At $1.57, the euro dollar is as overvalued as the dollar was in the pre-Plaza accord period in the mid 1980s," Boyton said.
Hot Trade, Easy Money
The dollar slid Wednesday ahead of Chinese GDP, retail sales and industrial production data, to be issued late Wednesday New York time. "There was a big boost today from rumors China's going to have good numbers tonight. We had a micro rally today and they want to see a confirmation of it when the official release is made tonight," said Schlossberg.
Dolan said Wednesday's trigger for dollar selling were the same factors that have been pushing it lower. "It's the same momentum basically. What we saw today from 8:30 a.m. on was concerted selling by a a lot of European names. We heard the Russians were buying the euro dollar too so basically it's the hot trade and easy money," he said.