Posts Tagged ‘Greeks’

The more it changes, the more it is the same

Saturday, November 5th, 2011

The euro exchange rate is probably the most important FX number to follow. The Yen is not as prominent as it used to be given the relative decline of the Japanese economy. The Reminbi will certainly become the leading currency but we are not there yet. The British Pound, Swiss Franc or Australian dollar are indeed interesting pieces of the FX puzzle but with a more local flavor. By default this leaves the EUR has the main currency to monitor (unless you think Gold is a currency).

And it is amazing how stable the euro has been in the past few years. If you have a look at the chart of the past five years of data, it is clear that we have a range [1.20-1.60] with an attraction value of 1.40. You can run all statistical tests you wish, but here the eye ball analysis tells a clear story of a mean reverting asset, with a mean around 1.40. The market tested 1.60 in a double top formation, but failed and collapsed steeply from there. A few years later it was time to attempt 1.20 and here again the V-shaped reversal was swift.

The chart shows an oscillation around 1.40 and it seems that for once the PPA is working. PPA in other words parity of purchasing power is a fundamental theory for valuing currencies. It simply says that physical assets, and in particular consumption goods, should have about the same value in various currencies otherwise arbitrage opportunities will arise that will bring back the forex level to a more realistic level. Of course this theory is just a framework for thoughts as currencies have a tendency to derail from it. To take 2 examples from the currencies previously mentioned, the Yuan has beem undervalued for a few decades (based on PPA), while Swiss products and cost of living remain consistently pricey.

The PPA is better illustrated by following ‘The Economist’s Mac Donald Index’ which compiles the value of a Big Mac all over the world. Back to the euro, Western Europe and the USA have many similarities, both are large, stable and developed economies with a lot of commerce and exchange between the two. So when the euro reached 1.60, it seemed like Europeans became undeservingly rich compared to Americans and anyone could fly to New York and have the time of their life. Conversely at 1.20 it was Americans who found themselves with a bargain.

These economies are similar with respect to their modest growth and to their large middle class and retired population. Europeans like to buy retirement homes in Spain or Marocco, but it the euro got too strong their may opt for a nice beach property in Florida. Likewise Americans would love to have a house in Europe if they can afford it. This type of supply demand equilibrium is part of what keeps the euro in check.

The above description was somehow the rosy scenario. Of course this assumes that the euro can survive its internal tensions, after all it is not a real currency issued by a sovereign state, so there is always the risk that it collapses. So far the Greeks have not yet killed the euro, but the battle is not over.