Almost without exception, financial strategists expect the U.S. dollar will remain the world’s top currency in 2016, but the bull market that saw the dollar appreciate 10% against most major currencies in 2015 is expected to slow.
“The dollar had a pretty explosive move already, based on the Fed hiking this year,” says Robert Sinche, global strategist at Pierpont Securities. “There is not a lot of further upside in the dollar, now, maybe 5%.”
How much higher the dollar actually moves will depend in large part on how many more times the Federal Reserve hikes rates in 2016, says Sinche, noting that two more hikes are already priced into the dollar’s exchange rate. But Fed policymakers meeting in mid-December forecast a 1.375% federal funds rate for the end of 2016, implying four 0.25% rate increases next year – two more than what the market is expecting.
Underlying the strength in the dollar is the divergence of global monetary policies, which grew even wider when the Fed raised short-term interest rates on Dec. 17 for the first time in almost 10 years. While the U.S. is raising rates and has ended its asset purchase program, other central banks, including the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan, are lowering rates or holding them steady and are continuing their asset purchase programs or expanding them.
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“Full divergence is not priced into the market,” says Marc Chandler, global head of currency strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman. The fed funds futures market is currently pricing in 40% odds for another Fed hike in March, 20% odds for June, 11% odds for September and 10% odds for December.
In its 2016 market outlook, Goldman Sachs analysts write that “despite the strength we have seen so far, we believe the USD has more room to appreciate vs the EUR and JPY,” referring to the dollar, euro and Japanese yen. Its 12-month forecast has the euro trading below parity to the dollar at 0.95, which translates into 1 euro worth 95 U.S. cents, down from $1.08 currently.
Goldman’s forecast for dollar/yen is 130 – one dollar worth 130 yen – up from 121 currently. But Goldman notes these targets could be reached sooner, before year-end 2016. Its top recommended trade for 2016: “Go long USD against an equally weighted basket of EUR and JPY at 100, with a spot target of 110 and a stop loss of 95.”