Market Insider

Dollar hits new high for the year, and this chart says the rally could keep going

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images
Key Points
  • The dollar, which has been on a tear lately, reversed early losses Wednesday and edged higher to a new high for the year.
  • The dollar index has gained momentum as U.S. interest rates look set to continue rising and the U.S. economy remains on solid footing.
  • Strategists say technical moves by the dollar and other currencies set it up for more gains.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

The dollar's breakout is gaining steam, driving it to fresh highs for the year, amid signs its rally will keep on going.

"It's all about momentum at this point," Mark McCormick, head of foreign exchange strategy at TD Securities, said before the Fed statement. Strategists say the dollar has been boosted by the fact U.S. data have been positive, the Fed is in a hiking cycle and President Donald Trump has been more tempered in his comments on trade, as the administration attempts to negotiate with China. Plus upcoming talks with North Korea signal an easing of some global tensions.

The dollar index rose to its highest level since December, on Wednesday, a day after it broke and closed above its 200-day moving average, setting it up for a further advance. According to Bespoke, the dollar on average has continued to make gains in the one month and three month periods after it closes above the 200-day, if it has been trading below that level for an extended time. The 200-day is a price momentum index and is basically created by averaging the closes of the last 200 trading days.

"It's like a bear coming out of a deep slumber that's been in hibernation for a year. People are waking up to the idea that the U.S. [central bank] is the only rate hiker in the world," said Boris Schlossberg, managing director, foreign exchange strategy with BK Asset Management. He said it's possible dollar/yen, now around 110, could hit 120 by year-end, or that the euro could slide down to $1.10.

The dollar is up more than 3.5 percent in just two weeks.

"Over the last two weeks, you saw major, major longer-term areas of congestion give way and as long as you don't have a rapid change of turn in economic growth, I think the continuation trade in the dollar really starts to take off as long as the U.S. economy muddles along," said Schlossberg. "Nobody [major economy] is running hot, and we're the only one running moderately OK. We're the only one that has a major hawkishly minded central bank."

The dollar index hit a new high for the year Wednesday before giving back its gains after the Fed released its 2 p.m. ET statement. But it then reversed course again and was trading at new highs in later afternoon trading.

"They really didn't change what they're saying. They are still hiking," said Win Thin, senior currency strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman. The market, positioned for a hawkish sounding Fed, viewed the statement as slightly dovish but still on track to raise interest rates.

McCormick said the fact other currencies have also made significant technical moves is driving the action in the greenback. For instance, the euro broke the key $1.20 level this week, and U.K. sterling sank below the 1.40 level and was at 1.36.

Longest streaks below 200-day moving average 1971-2018

Source: Bespoke

"It's really now a momentum trade because the macro guys who try to trade themes are now pushing this move because you have technical momentum and you have the fear of missing out," he said.

Bespoke's study also makes a case for more dollar gains. The research firm studied the longest periods the dollar index spent time below the 200-day moving average, going back to 1971. It found on average, that the dollar gained 1.5 percent in the month after breaking the 200-day, and was up 77.8 percent of the time.

In three months, the dollar gained 1.6 percent and was up nearly 56 percent of the time. In six months, however, the dollar reversed and was about an average 0.9 percent. But it was higher again after a year, up 1 percent, gaining more than two-thirds of the time.

"To me, the fundamentals since February have lined up for the dollar to rally," McCormick said. "Now what you're starting to get is you don't have as much negative news from Trump. You're also getting hard data coming out of Europe that shows data momentum has faltered."

He said the U.K. is showing signs of weakness, too, and its central bank has stepped back. On an interest rate differential basis, the U.S. looks more attractive globally.

"It's good U.S. and bad the rest of G-10. Canada, Australia, New Zealand all had very negative data momentum. The U.S. isn't great. It's just that it's neutral and the rest of G-10 is decelerating. The other side of the story is central banks have reacted to the weakness in hard data," McCormick said.