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Getting Caught on the Backswing – Will US Sanctions Undermine the Dollar?

sanctions

Getting Caught on the Backswing – Will US Sanctions Undermine the Dollar?

Since the Bretton Woods Agreement in 1944 there has been one currency that eclipses all others for international trade: the U.S. dollar. The dollar dominates when it comes to reserves and the settlement of trades, a hegemony that affords U.S. foreign policy incredible strength on the world stage. However, the U.S. reliance on the strength of the dollar to pursue far-reaching sanctions is also beginning to cut at the roots of that strength, as allies and global trading partners simultaneously pursue their own economic agenda and react to perceived over-reach by U.S. policymaker. 

A View from the Top

In 2019, the dollar comprised over 60% of global debt, more than 60% of global reserves for foreign exchange, and was the medium used in 40% of international payments, according to the European Central Bank (ECB). Despite the economic output of the Eurozone roughly matching that of the U.S., the euro accounted for only 20% of foreign exchange reserves and just over 20% of international debt (1).

This allows U.S. foreign policy a potency lacking in other international currencies. The Trump administration has relied heavily on this dynamic, imposing coercive economic measures on a wide spectrum of targets from Venezuela to North Korea and exponentially increasing the number of sanctioned entities. In fact, the U.S. sanctioned around 1,500 Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDNs) in 2018 alone, almost 50 % greater than in any other single year. 

Growing trends have become noticeable in the financial streams flowing between borders; a rise in the use of the euro, RMB and ruble as forex currencies, development of routes around the conventional financial sector, and flurry of interest surrounding the nascent potential of cryptocurrencies. The major drivers of these changes are unrelated to sanction policy and are more tied to the politicization of U.S. monetary policy or the inherent economic interests of other nations and trading blocs, including turning their own currencies into global standards. Regardless of the drivers, these developments suggest an international system ill-at-ease with the power of the dollar.

Secondary Nature, Primary Threat

The unrivaled strength of the U.S. dollar affords U.S. policymakers a weapon unavailable to any other nation. This is built on by the ‘secondary’ nature of U.S. sanctions – extending the impact of sanctions to non-U.S. entities who do business with sanctioned entities or individuals – that leaves few avenues to evade the regime. 

As virtually all dollar-denominated transactions pass through the U.S. financial system, even if just momentarily when they are “cleared,” very few businesses are able to trade with the targets of primary sanctions without themselves falling under the secondary regime. Violators are potentially liable for sizeable fines or other punishments, including being locked out of the U.S. financial system themselves. 

While this is a useful tool for closing down avenues of terrorism, crime or other illicit activity, it also means countries that disagree with the targets of U.S. sanctions must either comply or place their own industry at risk. The EU-U.S. divergence on the Iranian Nuclear deal, or on U.S. sanctions towards Cuba, are good example of this. 

This increasing sanctions activity provides the seedlings that may undermine the dollar’s strength, as it prompts allies that disagree with sanctions regimes to develop alternatives to the dollar – such as the Euro, Chinese RMB or Russian ruble. Special Purpose Vehicles, such as the EU-Russian INSTEX, are created – albeit with difficulty – to provide routes around the conventional financial system. 

Alternatives

Against this politicization of the dollar, various countries are developing alternatives. The euro is staking its claim with the development of the INSTEX vehicle and a declaration by Jean Claude Juncker, then-president of the European Commission, “to do more to allow our single currency to play its full role on the international sector” (2).

Similar gauntlets are being thrown by the ruble – Russia has been developing its own payments system since the Crimean sanctions in 2014 – and the RMB, with the Chinese Cross-Border Interbank Payment System (CIPS) launched in 2015. Given the size of the Chinese market and its growing world position, the RMB could theoretically pose a challenge to the dollar. However, the politicization of the RMB’s value – witnessed most recently in its rapid devaluation targeted at injuring the U.S. as part of the trade war – undermines its use as a global currency in the near to medium term. 

Another potential pitfall for the dollar is the development of new financial technologies, including the much-discussed Blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Such systems allow for the circumvention of the U.S. financial system and enable payments in relation to sanctioned activities, and have already have been used to facilitate illicit payments in North Korea and Iran. 

Mobile payments are also on the rise, further reducing global exposure to the dollar. However, as with other examples above, the use of some of these alternatives are being driven in significant part by illicit activity, which may lay the seeds of its own demise or limited adoption. 

The dollar’s strength on the international stage is undeniable, affording U.S. foreign policy unparalleled reach and potency. However, increasing international attention is being given to the Trump Administration’s fondness for relying on coercive economic measures in foreign policy, including the imposition of sanctions, tariffs, export controls, and investment restrictions. 

Each time a trading partner or ally objects to the U.S. policy goals but is forced to accept a new sanctions regime because of the dollar’s dominance, that dominance is eroded. While the dollar remains by far the best safe-haven for investments, backed as it is by a resilient economy and a history of stability, the potential corrosive effect of sanctions cannot be ignored. The future use of sanctions should factor in this unintended consequence and overall sanctions policy designed to ensure the long-term dominance of the U.S. dollar. 

 

Matthew Oresman leads Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman’s International Public Policy practice, carrying out high-profile activities in many of the world’s capital cities. He principally advises governments, political leaders, businesses and NGOs on achieving their most important objectives. He regularly designs and implements legal and policy solutions, including managing integrated U.S. and Europe-based initiatives. He advises global businesses on entry into emerging markets and compliance with U.S. and international regulations.

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(1)https://www.ecb.europa.eu/press/key/date/2019/html/ecb.sp190215~15c89d887b.en.html

(2) See Juncker, J.C. (2018), “The Hour of European Sovereignty”, State of the Union Address 2018 – https://ec.europa.eu/commission/sites/beta-political/files/soteu2018-speech_en_0.pdf

forex

How to Analyze Data for More Profitable Forex Trading

Successful forex trading is the art of being able to predict when currencies are going to shift in value in relation to each other, and what direction that shift is going to be in. The good news is that those fundamentals are relatively simple; is the dollar going to weaken against the yen? Will the pound pick up against the euro? Another piece of good news is that there are huge swathes of data available to the average retail trader to enable them to make these decisions. Of course, you may opt to rely on your instincts and make decisions as the situation in the various currency exchanges unfolds before you.

While there is a place for this kind of fast thinking and quick decision making in forex trading, it will only ever form the basis of a stable and successful long term strategy – one which delivers consistent levels of profit – if the quick decisions are built upon the foundations of a clear and thought through long term plan. And this kind of planning is only possible if you know exactly what kind of data to be on the lookout for, and about the tools which are available aid in your analysis. 

The complexities of big data in the age of seamless digital communication are such that it would be impossible to summarise every possible metric or analytical approach accessible to the retail trader in the space available. What is possible, however, is an overview of the main planks of data analysis a trader needs to bear in mind, and a look at a few of the types of tool which can make that analysis easier and more accurate.             

Forex Fundamentals 

When a trader buys and sells shares the analysis required is focused, in the main, on the good health of otherwise of the company in question, and whether the various indicators predict that the shares are likely to rise or fall in value. Wider market conditions have an impact as well, of course, but these conditions would be the same for any stock being traded, which places the emphasis firmly on the choice of stock.

Where forex trading is concerned, however, the fundamental issue is always going to be the relative strength and weakness of a pair of currencies. Looking ahead in an effort to take advantage of shifts in value means analysing macro-economic figures such as interest rates, unemployment rates and GDP (gross domestic product). Many of these figures are firmly fixed in the economic news cycle, meaning it’s simple for a trader to see in advance when a country or bloc such as the EU is likely to announce figures which might impact on currency fluctuations (predicting what this impact will be is a more complex matter altogether, of course).

Requiring more vigilance to spot, on the other hand, are the sudden shifts which might be triggered by an event such as a comment in a ministerial press conference which is assumed to increase the chances of a no-deal Brexit and so sends the value of the pound dropping. Fundamental analysis based on one-off events of this kind requires a close attention to detail, up to the minute (or even second) access to newsfeeds and the willingness to take up positions instantly.        

Technical

Technical analysis is based not on real world events beyond the confines of the currency exchanges, but on in-depth analysis of the way in which the price of currencies has moved in the past. By focusing on charts of price movements and analysing them with a variety of tools – both manual and automatic – a trader can identify patterns which have repeated in the past and can be expected to repeat again in the future. Past performance is no guarantee of future success, of course (some clichés become clichés because they happen to be true), but the relative stability of the major currencies, over the long term, means that patterns of movement can become relatively predictable. 

Market Movements

A further method of analyzing the forex markets is by watching out for larger than usual shifts in the number of traders investing in a particular currency. As soon as a large number of traders invest in a particular currency, the future pool of people who might opt to sell that currency expands, with the result that the potential value of that currency is impacted upon. Analyzing market movements could be referred to as depending upon the wisdom of crowds. As has been shown in the past, that wisdom can often be mistaken. A stampede to buy or sell a specific currency could be triggered by knowledge of where the value of that currency is heading, but it could also be caused by a simple self-fulfilling prophecy – sometimes, if enough traders take a position, enough other traders assume there must be a good reason for doing so and follow suit, creating a pattern which feeds off itself with little or no external justification.     

It’s not a question of which of these three modes of analysis is the most effective, since the best results will always be gained by combining elements of all three. The deluge of data which is available, however, particularly where technical analysis is concerned, means that the wiser trader will make use of some of the tools which are available:

Session highlighter

One of the key attractions of forex trading is the fact that the currency markets are open somewhere in the world 24 hours a day throughout the week. The fact that different markets are open at different times of the day means that the sessions within those markets are likely to have different impacts on the pairs of currencies which a trader is working with. A session highlighter tool can be used to divide a traders charts into these various sessions, and then to highlight any movement that occurs over set periods, such as a minute, a specific number of minutes or an hour.     

Volatility Tool for Forex 

A volatility tool will show a trader how much, and in what way, a pair of currencies has moved on an hourly basis during a period such as the last thirty days. This enables the trader to build up a fuller picture of the way the currency pair behaves, and note any patterns such as recurring movements on specific days or at a specific time of the day. The more advanced versions of the tool will calculate the typical movement range and, given a time period by the trader, will display a percentage probability that the pair will stay within the set range.   

Signal service

Signal service providers offer instant information in the form of tips, delivered either by experts or AI systems, which recommend trades are made at a certain time and price on the basis of analysis. There are different types of signal services available, some based on fundamental analysis (i.e. news which might impact on the markets) and some on technical analysis. Signals shouldn’t be confused with the kind of AI that trades automatically on your behalf – they are merely providing information in a timely manner which it is up to you, as a trader, to interpret.  

Undertaking and applying analysis is a key practice of any successful trader. The degree of analysis a trader carries out will depend upon their inclination and appetite for hard number crunching, but the rule to remember is that while there really isn’t such a thing as too much analysis (as long as it’s used to eventually take a position), the concept of too little analysis is all too real.