Go long the US Dollar as a hedge against rising uncertainty

In the past few weeks, US equities have shown some signs of ‘fatigue’ amid rising uncertainty over US elections and the lack of stimulus from both the Fed and the government. Most of the rise in risky assets such as equities in the past few months has been mainly attributed to the massive liquidity injections from major institutions to avoid economies from falling into a deflationary depression.

It is interesting to see that in the past year, a cheaper US Dollar has been mainly associated with stronger US equities, especially since the pandemic (figure 1). Hence, the ‘close elections’ may certainly lead to a choppy equity market in the last quarter of 2020 and therefore should result in a strong demand for safe assets such as the USD. We think that going long the Dollar could offer a good hedge against a new round of equity selloff in the coming weeks.

Figure 1

Source: Eikon Reuters

In addition, long the USD remains a contrarian trade as the ‘short Dollar trade’ is still very crowded (figure 1). We are confident that the US Dollar will remain strong if price volatility rises in the near term, especially against risk-on currencies such as the British pound or the Australian Dollar.

Figure 2

Source: CFTC

Great Chart: Italy EPU Index vs. 10Y Bond Yield

The recent results in Italian’s election held on March 4th wasn’t really a surprise for market participants, with EURUSD barely moving (the pair is actually up 2.5 figures over the past week) and the 5Y CDS spread (vs. Germany) flat at around 92bps (here). According to the latest estimates, the populist Five-Star movement, created by comedian Beppe Grillo and led by its prime ministerial candidate Luigi di Maio, came in first individually capturing 32.7% of the votes. However, if we look at the coalitions results, the Center-Right coalition got 37% of the vote shares, with the alliance including the League with 17.4%, former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (14%) and the Brothers of Italy (4.4%) and US with Italy (1.3%) parties. The disappointment was for the Democratic Party, which has governed Italy since 2013, as the Center-Left coalition captured ‘only’ 23% of the vote shares (much lower than the 27+% estimates, here), prompting former PM Matteo Renzi to step down as party leader. The FT published an interesting graphic lately, showing the geography of the electoral vote: Italy, the politically divided country (here). As you can see it, the Five-Star movement made the largest gain in the South (including Sardinia), in regions with the lowest per capita income.

Hence, following the election results, an interesting chart to watch in the weeks to come is the 10Y Bond yield vs. the Italy EPU index. As a reminder, the Economic Policy Uncertainty (EPU) index was developed by Baker, Bloom and Davis (2016) as a measure of economic policy uncertainty based on newspaper coverage frequency. The authors studied the evolution of political uncertainty since 1985 across countries (12 including the US) using leading newspapers that contain a combination of three of the target terms: economy, uncertainty and one or more policy-relevant terms (For the European EPU index, the author used two leading newspapers per country). Since its inception, the index has gained popularity in practice, measuring another form of market’s volatility or uncertainty. Baker et al. found that elevated political uncertainty has negative economic effects, which can potentially impact market prices.

This chart plots the EPU index versus the Italy 10-year bond yield. We can observe an interesting correlation between the two series. Since the financial crisis, it looks like LT sovereign yields have been rising when the EPU index increased ahead of a political or economic uncertain event. For instance, during the European debt crisis of 2010 – 2012, the EPU Index for Italy rose from 75 to over 200, while the 10Y yield skyrocketed from 4% to 7%. The financial meltdown in the Euro area was then halted after ECB Draghi’s “Whatever it takes to preserve the Euro” famous words at a global investment conference in London on 26 July, 2012.

As we mentioned in our previous posts, we don’t see any imminent risk for Italy, however a potential threat to investors would be a prolonged period of political instability. The question now is: can a rise in Italian LT yields in the next few months lead to a contagion to other peripheral countries’ bond yields (i.e. Spain or Portugal, here)?

Chart: Italy EPU Index (lhs) vs. 10 bond yield 

(Source: Eikon Reuters, policyuncertainty.com)