Gold Wins by Default - February 23, 2016


The Japanese Yen was the biggest winner last week, surging despite negative fundamentals like the 0.4% decline in preliminary Japanese GDP for the fourth quarter. Despite all the gloom and doom, the Japanese yen has not only held its own against the strong US dollar, but posted a superb rally. How is this possible? Well, the Yen simply maximized its traditional safe-haven status, and global financial instability drove investors away from risk assets towards safer waters like the Japanese currency. The recent rush to safe assets will not last indefinitely however, and weak fundamentals will not fade away for this island country. Losers last week include, the Swiss Franc which experienced a retracement from the previous week's gains.


On of this week's major themes is the fact that an increasing number of central banks are employing negative rates – Europe, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland and now Japan. What does it mean? And who's next?

Well, negative rates signal slight desperation on the part of central banks. It suggests that traditional policy options were not effective and that new drastic measures are needed. Rates below zero also mean that there is minimal expectation of inflation and little to no anticipation of near-term economic rebound. How well negative interest rates have worked in the past is debatable, but most economists think they've had some success in Europe. Lowering rates has helped stem the appreciation of the Swedish and Swiss currencies and significantly pushed down the value of the Euro against the Dollar, which was a nice boost for exporters in the Euro Zone.

Well, negative rates signal slight desperation on the part of central banks. It suggests that traditional policy options were not effective and that new drastic measures are needed. Rates below zero also mean that there is minimal expectation of inflation and little to no anticipation of near-term economic rebound. How well negative interest rates have worked in the past is debatable, but most economists think they've had some success in Europe. Lowering rates has helped stem the appreciation of the Swedish and Swiss currencies and significantly pushed down the value of the Euro.

As for who is next, The Bank of Canada is the most likely of the major central banks to opt for negative rates this year, claims Marc Chandler, head of FX Markets Strategy at BBH. "I am not saying the Bank of Canada will, but that is the most likely candidate of those that are not there yet…" Canada's current overnight rate is already very low and the BOC has prepared markets for the possibility of negative rates by alluding to how they might work as a policy tool. Back in December, Stephen Poloz said the lower bound for the policy interest rate was around minus 0.5%. The bank will update its rate target on March 9.

In the US, it remains an open question whether the Fed will adopt negative rates in this environment. They seem to be enjoying a stronger economy than most, but everyone's eyes will be on the data in coming weeks to see if it will warrant a drastic policy shift at the FOMC meeting in March. A change in economic circumstances could put negative rates "on the table" in the U.S., but unless the economy weakens significantly many analysts expect Fed policymakers to slowly raise rates, and not cut them. "I do not see this as anything but very low risk in the U.S." states Chandler.

In theory, rates below zero should reduce borrowing costs for companies and households, driving demand for loans. In practice however, a bank charging customers to hold their money, may cause cash to go under the mattress, or perhaps somewhere shinier...

It seems that the threat of negative rates across the globe has made Gold one of this year's best investments. Negative rates, in simple terms, means that depositing cash will leave investors with less than when they started, making traditional assets such as gold more appealing. "Leave a million dollars with a bank, and in a year, you get only something like $990,000 back," said Marc Faber, publisher of the Gloom, Boom & Doom Report. "I would rather want to own some solid currency, in other words gold." All in all, when you have negative rates, something with a 0% yield becomes a high-yield asset and is therefore a nice place to park your money

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