Exchange rate movements as explained by dealers

Exchange rate movements as explained by dealers1 Introduction

Theoretically, the value of a currency is determined by the economic fundamentals of its country, such as interest rates, inflation rates and national income. These fundamentals have an effect on trade and capital flows and hence the demand and supply of the currency. However, there have been many well-known episodes when real exchange rates have moved contrary to these fundamentals for lengthy periods of time (Krugman, 1989). Attempts using empirical models to test economic fundamentals as a basis for predicting exchange rate movements have not been very successful especially over the short run (Taylor, 1995). Furthermore, market practitioners have successfully developed and implemented profitable trading strategies, which do not rely on economic fundamentals. One reason for the poor performance of trading activities based on fundamental analysis could be the behaviour of practitioners trading in the foreign exchange market (Krugman, 1989). For example, some practitioners may trade tactically in a way that forces an exchange rate to move away from its fundamental value. These practitioners would then establish a currency position that becomes profitable once general market trading moves the exchange rate back towards its true value (Rankin, 1999).

To gather information on the factors influencing traders, dealers in the Australian foreign exchange market were asked to complete a questionnaire survey. Their responses can be used to gauge the degree to which economic fundamentals influence the trading behaviour of dealers and hence exchange rates. As the majority of currency trading occurs through dealers, they are an ideal group to survey (Carew and Slayter, 1994). In order for their trading to be profitable they need to pay attention to any factor or event they consider will influence exchange rates. Consequently their responses can be used to obtain information on the relative importance dealers place on various factors considered to influence exchange rates. This information will contribute to the continuing debate on exchange rate determination. It may identify areas other than those previously studied, such as purchasing power parity, which could be researched in order to provide additional explanations for exchange rate movements.

The survey also included questions on the market's trading environment, such as the use of electronic broking, bid-ask spread size and the degree of competition in the market. The dealers' responses to these questions were analysed in an earlier paper (Hutcheson, 2001).

The paper is organised as follows. The preparation of the survey questions and the collection of the survey data are discussed in part two. The impact of changing economic fundamentals on exchange rates is investigated in part three while the influence of non-fundamental factors, impact of economic announcements and predictability of exchange rate movements are analysed in parts four, five and six respectively. Part seven contains some concluding observations about the survey responses.

2 The Survey Data

Each of the institutions licensed by the Reserve Bank of Australia, as at 12th July 1999, to deal in foreign exchange received a copy of the survey. A high response rate was achieved with 39 of the 59 surveys mailed out being completed and returned (1). Consequently, the survey responses should be representative of the views of the majority of dealers trading in the market. As explained in an earlier paper on this survey, most of the survey respondents held senior positions in the foreign exchange section of their institution's treasury department (Hutcheson, 2001). The comprehensive knowledge and market experience of these respondents should ensure the survey responses are a fairly accurate description of events in the market.

Survey data has been used in the past to obtain feedback from foreign exchange dealers (2). Some of the questions used in this survey are based on questions included in surveys undertaken by Cheung, Chinn and Marsh (1999), Cheung and Wong (2000) and Cheung and Chinn (2001). However, the questions are asked in a different way to the other surveys. Consequently, it is difficult to directly compare the responses to all the similar questions across the surveys.

3 Fundamental Movements in Exchange Rate

Market participants known as fundamental analysts adopt the notion that exchange rate movements are determined by the economic fundamentals of the countries represented by the exchange rate. They argue that the market regards a currency, as being under or over valued if it does not reflect these fundamentals thus creating a profitable arbitrage opportunity. In a floating exchange rate regime, where central banks do not intervene, arbitrageurs would buy undervalued currencies and sell overvalued currencies. This trading would force the currency's value to move quickly back towards its true value (Neely, 1997). According to fundamentalists if all currently available information on economic fundamentals is correctly priced into an exchange rate it will only change when new information becomes available.

Regrettably daily and intra-day exchange rate movements are not well explained by fundamental analysis (Singleton, 1987). In fact there have been times when it has appeared as though dealers have simply disregarded economic fundamentals and are merely overreacting to news and rumours (Shleifer and Summers, 1990). As shown in table 1 the majority of respondents believe that intra-day exchange rate movements do not reflect changes in the fundamental value of an exchange rate. They feel that changing fundamental values are reflected a lot more in the movements that occur within a period of six months or greater. These responses reinforce the finding from other surveys that fundamental analysis became more important as the time horizon increased (Taylor and Allen, 1992; Cheung, Chinn and Marsh, 1999; Cheung and Wong, 2000; Cheung and Chinn, 2001).

4 Non-Fundamental Movements in Exchange Rate

The respondents indicate in Table 2 that excessive speculation and manipulation by hedge funds are the main factors preventing exchange rates from reflecting their fundamental value. Excessive intervention by central banks was the next most heavily supported factor while views taken by major trading banks and slowness of dealers to respond did not receive as much support. Whilst speculation has for some time been seen as a force that can potentially destabilise exchange rate movements, only in recent years have hedge funds been one of the factors held responsible for unpredicted swings in exchange rates.

Cheung and Wong's (2000) survey on dealers trading in Hong Kong, Tokyo and Singapore and Cheung and Chinn's (2001) survey on dealers trading in the United States also found that excessive speculation and hedge fund manipulation were regarded to be the major forces behind exchange rate movements.

4.1 Speculation

It has been argued that speculative forces can destabilise currencies and prevent them from reflecting a country's economic fundamentals (Neely, 1997). However, as shown in Table 3, the survey respondents do not unanimously support speculation as a destabilising force with 55.6% indicating that speculation mainly moves exchange rates towards their fundamental value while 44.4% indicate that it moves them away. This is consistent with the finding by Cheung and Wong (2000) for the Hong Kong, Tokyo and Singapore markets. On the other hand 70.67% of the respondents to Cheung and Chinn's (2001) survey of United States dealers considered speculation to be a force that moved exchange rates in the direction of their fundamental values.