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FX Daily: U.S. Banking Stress Sends Ripples Across FX Markets

Published 03/10/2023, 08:39 PM

The S&P 500 closed down 1.8% yesterday led by financials (-4%). Heavy losses for SVB Financial (NASDAQ:SIVB), a California-based lender to the venture capital industry, are raising questions over the unrealized losses on bond portfolios amongst US banks. This is creating dangerous cross-currents for FX markets

USD: Making sense of overnight moves

Making headlines over the last 24 hours have been developments in the US banking system, where Californian lender SVB Financial has come under stress after realizing losses on its bond portfolio. Driving it to realize those losses, apparently, was pressure on its deposit base as higher rates across the system have encouraged depositors to switch and forced banks to compete harder for deposits.

Developments at SVB Financial have raised questions on the subject of unrealized losses on bond portfolios and what it means for bank capitalization levels. Financials led the S&P 500 index lower yesterday. Earlier this week the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) Chairman, Martin Gruenberg, said that US banks had around $620 billion of unrealized losses on securities that were held to maturity or available for sale accounts. This seems like a big number, but as the Financial Times reports today, equity capital amongst US banks stood at $2.2 trillion at the end of 2022. It is hard to say how far this story will run, but we can try to make sense of what it means for FX markets.

The first impact seems quite clear – the news has encouraged deleveraging of open FX positions. Hence the two darlings among the FX investment community this year – the Mexican peso and the Hungarian forint – have led losses in the EMFX space at -2.2% and -0.8% respectively. This theme could continue should the story run.

The G10 FX performance has been more mixed but makes some sense too. Modest losses have been seen among the higher-beta currencies, such as the Canadian dollar and Norwegian krone (down 0.3% versus the dollar). The outperformer has been the Swiss franc (+1.1%) against the dollar. In addition to its traditional role as a safe haven currency, we have been highlighting recently that the Swiss National Bank has the Swiss franc's back – i.e. is prepared to sell FX reserves to prevent weakness in the franc as it uses the exchange rate as part of its monetary policy regime.

The dollar story is a lot more mixed and complicated today. Pressure on the US banking system is questioning whether the Fed can push ahead with such an aggressive tightening cycle. This has seen US 2-year Treasury yields drop 25bp over the last two days alone. This is dollar bearish. Yet one would normally think that a sell-off in equities is dollar bullish, perhaps not, however, if the epicenter for current stress is the US banking system.

Clearly a day then of many cross-currents. Given the stress in financials, we would probably prefer to be overweight the Swiss franc and Japanese yen (despite the Bank of Japan not adjusting policy overnight), and slightly underweight the dollar. DXY could head back towards where it started the week at 104.10/20.

EUR: Caught in the cross-fire

The SVB Financial-inspired repricing of the Fed curve has seen the two-year EUR:USD swap differential narrow by 20bp in favor of the euro over the last two days. This is providing some support to EUR/USD.

We have highlighted above the pressure of deleveraging on the forint. The Czech koruna – also a favorite of the market – has held up slightly better. Look out for February Czech CPI today. We see upside risks, though doubt this will have much bearing on Czech National Bank policy settings.

GBP: Vulnerable to financial sector stress

The UK has just released a marginally better-than-expected January GDP release. But the numbers are very volatile and a better read comes from the 3m/3m release at 0.0%. Our UK economist James Smith thinks "today's figures suggest that first quarter GDP could come in flat or only a touch negative, raising the possibility of the UK avoiding a recession in the first half (a rather moot point given that we are talking very small quarterly decreases in output if it does happen)." In short, not a big driver of the sterling.

Sterling has been performing a little better over the last 24 hours. However, if the banking stress story has a little further to run we can expect a little sterling under-performance, given the relatively large size of financial services in the UK economy. EUR/GBP can turn big again above 0.8900, while GBP/CHF should make a run at 1.10.

Disclaimer: This publication has been prepared by ING solely for information purposes irrespective of a particular user's means, financial situation or investment objectives. The information does not constitute investment recommendation, and nor is it investment, legal or tax advice or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any financial instrument. Read more

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