Fitch Downgrades Japan

Good day. My beloved Cardinals are having a rough go of it lately. The injuries are piling up, and some sloppy play, which drives me crazy, has contributed. They finally got back to Busch Stadium last night, after an awful road trip, and found a way to win. So get that ship back on the right course!

Maybe the currency traders can also find their way back on to the right course, but I doubt it. I told quite a few people last week that I truly believe that this dollar strength that we’re seeing could last for most of the summer. But you know what happens at the end of summer, don’t you?

Ahhh, grasshopper, with the way we’re spending money that we don’t have, the U.S. government will be bumping up against the debt ceiling by the end of summer. And with this being an election year, don’t you think that the raising the debt ceiling negotiations are going to get even uglier than last year? I do, and if you recall last year, the dollar was teetering on the cliff during those negotiations.

For now, the dollar still holds the mighty hammer. Of course, I also told quite a few people last year that while the Australian dollar (AUD) has fallen from the lofty levels above $1, it’s still strong. Yes, that’s right, the A$ is still strong compared with where it was 10 years ago! Fifty-five cents — do you recall that?

Anyway, last week, I sent Chris a note to include in the Pfennig that talked about the A$ falling through oversold levels on the RSI charts, and how it had done that four times since 2010, and each time previously, the A$ bounced higher. Now there’s some more data that lead us to that same conclusion.

The IMM positioning last week showed A$ longs at their lowest level since the crisis. The last two times that the A$ saw positioning like this (oversold) was in July 2010, and in September 2011, the A$ experienced pretty significant moves higher in a relatively short period of time.

Now, after I’ve said all that, the A$ is down about half a cent this morning!

When I came in this morning, the currencies were holding their own, but they have slipped while I was preparing to write the letter. And gold is off $16 this morning. So I’ve got to find out what happened while I was preparing to write — inquiring minds want to know!

Well, the ratings agencies don’t seem to mind being late to the party, and Fitch is the latest to be late to the party in Japan. Fitch downgraded Japan’s credit rating and placed the country on negative outlook. Really? So what you’re saying is that you believe Japan has a problem? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I can’t stop laughing!

Japan has had a problem for over two decades! But here’s my serious thought on this: The yen (JPY) might have weakened by 0.5% on the announcement, but I don’t think the selling of the yen has any legs, and it will stop soon enough. There’s just too much going on in the world right now, and as perverse as it might seem, Japanese yen is a safe haven.

Yesterday, I told you about how Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, announced that China’s economy would receive stimulus. This news helped the emerging markets get their heads above water yesterday, along with the fact that oil gained back a buck on the day, which really helped the Russian ruble (RUB) gain back some lost ground.

The Chinese announcement also helped the Aussie and New Zealand dollars (NZD). I think, though, that today is going to be a tough row to hoe for the currencies, as the European Union summit begins tomorrow, and everyone believes that there is going to be a showdown between Germany and France, and this has got the markets scared right now, which is leading to the selling I’m seeing this morning.

France’s new Socialist leader wants to promote growth with spending. Germany had just about gotten every EU member to sign on to the “austerity is the best program” until France threw a spanner in the works by electing Francois Hollande. And now we’re going to have to be witness to all this drama.

But as I’ve said before, history tells us that, eventually, the German leaders can persuade the French leaders to see things the German way. But Hollande has to grandstand now, as he was just elected, although, in my opinion, it’s better to let your constituents down early in your term, so they have time to forget that you dumped on them! HA!

Yesterday, I told you about how I felt regarding Norway and Sweden getting tarred with the same brush as the euro (EUR), and that one day, traders would get it through their thick skulls that Norway and Sweden are not Greece! Norway tried to pound that thought in traders’ heads this morning by printing a stronger-than-expected GDP for the first quarter — 1.1% first-quarter growth is very good for Norway, given how the rest of the world has slowed. Oh, by the way, the consensus forecast was 0.9%.

I guess the Brazilian government and central bank win. They set out two years ago to weaken the real (BRL), and after multiple rate cuts, taxes and interventions, they have finally gotten what they wanted: a weak real. I told you about a month ago that it appeared to me that the traders had left town, and didn’t want to play this game with the Brazilian central bank any longer. That took away the support for the real, and the free fall has been quick. This is exactly why I always talked about buying the real only with the speculative money that you allocate in your investment portfolio. Crazy wild swings, and now this.

The unintended consequences… they are everywhere and in everything we do. Brazil’s leaders are going to soon find that the unintended consequences of their bashing the real into a weakling that gets sand kicked in its face is soaring inflation. And when the tourists begin to arrive for the World Cup and then the Olympics… oh, my!

Speaking of the Olympics, going back to the ’90s. We have always seen the host country get a bump in the currency as the Olympics draw near and during them. Spain was the first we tracked, and so on. So keeping that in mind, could there be a bump in store for the British pound sterling? That’s going to be a tough row to hoe, given all this dollar strength. But it will at least be interesting to watch, eh?

Yesterday, I made fun of the G-8 meeting and their silly attempts to make people think they actually accomplished something. I saw that Russian leader Putin said that the meeting wasn’t worth coming to. Did you know that there was only one truly trained economist among the G-8 leaders? Mario Monti of Italy. Now, that alone should tell you something about the meeting. The leaders were all throwing in uneducated ideas of what would work. Oh, boy, sign me up for the next meeting, eh?

I was asked by quite a few people last week about the Swiss franc (CHF). The franc is still hovering just above the 1.20 floor that the Swiss National Bank (SNB) put on the currency’s cross to the euro last September. It’s currently at 1.2011. The overtures from the SNB continue to ring out a song about how they want that cross’s level to go to 1.35 or 1.40. That would knock the stuffing out of the franc, folks. And with the euro getting weaker by the day, the SNB’s resolve will be tested soon enough.

I had a chance to talk briefly with James Rickards, author of Currency Wars, while in south Florida a couple of weeks ago. Mr. Rickards is convinced that all countries are in a war to reduce the value of their currency below their neighbor’s or trading partner’s currency.

I told him I hoped that wasn’t true, but at this point, how can you argue with him? But here’s what I took from the conversation and the book. That the U.S. dollar is going to lead the currencies down, which means the dollar will always be weaker than the other currencies. Maybe that’s taking a simplistic view of the whole situation.

Then I had a couple of readers send me this story, so it obviously is worthy! Did you know that the U.S. allows China to bid directly in U.S. debt auctions without going through Wall Street banks? Yes, it’s true! And China has the only central bank that’s allowed to do this. Reuters broke the story on this. I say good for both parties! And I would ask why are the other central banks of the world not allowed to do this? Why should Wall Street primary dealers get to make truckloads of markups on debt auctions to central banks? We should be rolling out the red carpet and meeting them with an adult beverage with an umbrella in the glass, when these central banks show up to buy our debt.

To recap: The currencies held their own yesterday and overnight, but the announcement by Fitch that they were downgrading Japan’s credit rating put the currencies on the selling block again early this morning. Gold is off by $16 this morning. The A$ has reached oversold levels on two different measures now. Chuck is looking for a bump here, along with one in pound sterling, should the “Olympic host country bump” for the currency hold true.

Chuck Butler
for The Daily Reckoning

The Daily Reckoning