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Yellen's exit would be good news for the dollar

  • The fact that Janet Yellen no longer appears to be a top contender to chair the Fed for another term is positive for the dollar.
  • The two leading candidates, Kevin Warsh and Fed Gov. Jerome Powell, are viewed as more hawkish than Yellen, and that could mean interest rates would rise, as would the dollar.
  • Exante CEO Jens Nordvig see the dollar rally continuing.

Janet Yellen, chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve, pauses while speaking during a news conference following a Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting in Washington, D.C.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Janet Yellen, chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve, pauses while speaking during a news conference following a Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting in Washington, D.C.

Just the idea that Janet Yellen is now more likely to be replaced by a more hawkish Fed chairman is bullish for the dollar.

Jens Nordvig, CEO of Exante Data, said the tide turned last week, when news emerged on who was interviewed by President Donald Trump for Fed chair. The two names were Kevin Warsh, a former Fed governor, and current Fed Governor Jerome Powell.

"The one thing to keep in mind, compared to Yellen, both of these candidates are more hawkish. She's been very cautious in what she's done. Both of these are names that would embrace higher rates a little quicker," said Nordvig. "The most important thing was Yellen's probability went down. We can't say if it's Powell or Warsh. Those two are the front-runners now." The two were interviewed by Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who Politico says favors Powell.

Nordvig said he called for a dollar bounce in early September, so the Fed chair expectations are part of a move that was already underway. In the PredictIt probability market, Warsh was leading with 42 percent odds Tuesday, while Powell was at 35 percent. Yellen trailed at 18 percent, and top White House economic advisor Gary Cohn was at 10 percent.

"It has been bouncing now, and I think it can bounce more. Dollar/yen can go higher. Euro/dollar I'm less sure. We've seen 3 or 4 percent moves on a lot of crosses. We're probably looking at a 5 to 6 percent move when this whole thing plays out," he said. "If we get the Warsh appointment, it could come very quickly. The question is how much of a say Mnuchin really has. He's clearly part of the interview process."

Besides the Fed factor, Nordvig said the tax reform process has also been a positive for the dollar, and the move higher in Treasury yields is also supportive. Some bond strategists say the Treasury market took a turn last week. They now say rates should be higher into year-end, both on the idea that tax reform is coming with potentially bigger deficits, and the Fed is also positioned to raise interest rates.

"There was a period where [foreign] central bank investors depressed the whole yield curve," said Nordvig. "That was a temporary thing and that's over now. They were just doing an asset allocation thing where they were buying Treasurys."

Nordvig said that was in the summer months. "We had a huge rally that was keeping yields down. That's not supportive for the dollar. We also had a period where the North Korea issue really pushed the dollar down."

Nordvig said the move in China's yuan was also a factor in the dollar's move higher. "Up until early September, China was actually going sharply lower, and then Chinese authorities stepped in and indicated they had enough of that. They implemented some controls. They turned dollar/China. It's such a big currency now, it drags other crosses with it."

But the Fed chair decision, which Trump said last week would be made in several weeks, could be a spark for the dollar. Nordvig said it would be positive for the greenback regardless of whether it's Warsh or Powell. The candidate Nordvig viewed as most extreme was Cohn, who is no longer believed to be in the running.

"The staff wants some degree of continuity obviously. There are certain candidates they would like better than others. I really thought they would want to avoid some wild card," he said. Cohn would be a wild card with "no central bank experience at all, no known policy views."

Warsh, Fed governor during the financial crisis, came out of the Fed critical of its quantitative easing program after he voted for it when it was created. He would be expected to be in favor of deregulating banks and possibly more aggressive on interest rates than Yellen.

"It depends on whether you like high interest rates. He's clearly a very different character than Yellen. We've been used to a cautious Fed chair under both Bernanke and Yellen," he said.

Nordvig does not see Warsh as the radical change agent that some Fed watchers say he could be. "If you think about what the Fed is there to achieve, it's to anchor inflation, anchor financial stability. You need a steady hand," said Nordvig, adding there would be ideological discussions of what frame-work there will be. "He's been there before. It would definitely move the market but I don't think he would necessarily upset the institution."

Nordvig noted that the market is now pricing a high chance of a rate hike for December, but for next year it's pricing odds of less than two hikes while the Fed forecasts three. He said market expectations would change with a more hawkish chair, and four hikes next year would not be out of the question.

Nordvig expects to see the dollar edge higher against other currencies, and then hold onto gains into year end. For dollar/yen, he expects to see 115, from its current level of 112.80.