The euro broke through the psychologically important $1.20 barrier against the U.S. dollar for the first time since January 2015 on Tuesday, a move that could help cement the shared currency’s newfound role as a global haven unless the European Central Bank intervenes.
The shared currency has strengthened more than 14% against a broadly weaker dollar EURUSD, +0.3673% this year, as its U.S. rival continues to suffer, in part, from eruptions in the Trump administration, which has also appeared to favor a weaker currency. The euro rally has been so seemingly unstoppable that analysts are beginning to wonder whether the ECB will comment on the currency’s strength in the near term.
Similarly, the euro has gained 9% against the British pound EURGBP, +0.3779% in the year to date, even though the sterling-dollar pair isn’t showing visible signs of a U.K.-specific risk premium, Viraj Patel, senior FX strategist at ING, wrote in a note last week.
“We rationalize this as both the U.K. and the U.S. political uncertainty offsetting each other in the near-term, making the euro the go to political haven in currency markets,” he added. “How times have changed.”
Supportive economic data, as well as political wins for the pro-globalization and free trade camps in the Netherlands and France have put Europe ahead this year. The currency bloc’s economy is widely expected to grow faster than that of the U.S. in the medium term, Shannon Saccocia, head of asset allocation and portfolio strategy at Boston Private, told MarketWatch.
“The euro trade might be overdone, but the growth and data momentum is still there,” said Mark McCormick, North America head of FX at TD Securities, adding that weaknesses in the Italian banking system as well as question marks around the Italian general election next May could introduce some volatility.
Most recently, eurozone unemployment rate hit an eight-year low of 9.1% in June, while GDP grew 2.1% in the second quarter this year. This week, consumer, economic, industrial and services indicators are due on Wednesday, followed by inflation and July unemployment data on Thursday, and manufacturing data on Friday.
“As long as euro-dollar continues to trade above the August 2 high at $1.1910, the upside bias will remain intact,” Rabobank analysts including Piotr Matys wrote on Tuesday, adding that a significant pickup in the rally over a short period of time could lead to verbal intervention by the ECB that could in turn trigger a correction.
Net long positions in the euro increased to 87,98k in the week ending August 22, compared with 79.27k in the week before, according to CFTC data.
The next ECB policy meeting is scheduled for Sept. 7, and market participants will be looking for details on the timing of the roll back of its quantitative easing program. And if the euro keeps rising ahead of the meeting, they’ll also be alert to any signs of unease over its strength.
“If [the euro] breaks through $1.20, I could see the ECB or other officials starting to make comments [about the impact of its strength],” Brad Bechtel, managing director of FX at Jefferies said, as the expensive euro could hurt the continent’s export business, the lifeblood of its biggest economy Germany. “Around $1.22-$1.24 they could start talking about taking action.”
Economists at Capital Economics previously noted that despite the rally, the euro remains below its long-run average of $1.21 versus the dollar and that past efforts at talking down the shared currency have come only after it had topped $1.25.
Speaking of Germany, the continent’s next big political event is the German election on Sept. 24. Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to win another term, but even if her main competitor Martin Schulz should beat the odds, the outcome would still be a pro-E.U. government. In turn, this will increase the scope for the euro to function as a reserve currency further, McCormick said.
Over the long term, “we think that it will be reallocation of official reserve balances toward the euro and away from the dollar that will spur a higher euro-dollar,” said Thierry Wizman, global interest rates and currencies strategist at Macquarie, in a Monday note. That said, the process may be long and drawn-out, slowly reversing the euro’s eight year decline as a percentage of global reserve balances, he said.
Currency composition of (global) official foreign exchange reserves
Last week’s retreat for global central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyo., which had market participants looking for clues to future monetary policy moves, sent the euro to its highest level in more than two years, even though neither Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen nor European Central Bank President Mario Draghi made explicit comments. Analysts said Draghi’s decision not to attempt to talk down the euro likely cleared the way for further gains.
“I was surprised that the dollar selloff intensified,” Bechtel said on Friday afternoon following Draghi’s speech. Yellen’s speech earlier that day kicked off the dollar’s slump and the euro’s jump.
Meanwhile, the euro also hit an eight-year high of £0.9308 against the British pound on Tuesday. Its main regional trading partner entered the third round of Brexit negotiations on Monday. Brussels has been tough on Britain, which has been struggling for direction on its Brexit stance. Prime Minister Theresa May, who was in favor of a hard Brexit, recently conceded that EU laws will still impact Britain after it leaves the union, while the Labor party prefers a softer solution.
This is an updated version of an article originally published Aug. 28.