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The U.S. dollar is the strongest it has been in a generation. The U.S. dollar index is up almost 11% this year against a basket of global reserve currencies with the greenback reaching parity with the euro last week for the first time since 2002. Like many things in financial markets, interest rates tend to be one of the most significant drivers of currency valuation, specifically the interest rate differentials between global central banks. As the Federal Reserve has pivoted to a more hawkish stance to tame decades-high inflation, other central banks, including the ECB and BOJ, have been slower to respond. When capital can flow freely, investors tend to flock to higher-yielding assets as interest rates rise, which leads to appreciation of the higher-interest rate country’s financial account and increases demand for the domestic currency — in this case, the U.S. dollar.
The Japanese yen is down roughly 16% year-to-date and is the worst performing major currency relative to the U.S. dollar. In an effort to fight decades-long deflation, the Bank of Japan has committed to holding down short-term interest rates, resulting in significant currency devaluation. Japan is the largest foreign holder of U.S. Treasuries, with $1.3 trillion as of January 2022. As the U.S. dollar strengthens, it becomes more expensive for Japan to continue to purchase on-the-run Treasury issuances, which could put further upward pressure on U.S. rates at the same time the Fed is lifting the benchmark fed funds rate and engaging in quantitative tightening. The question of what will happen when the two largest buyers of U.S. Treasuries — the Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan — both remove liquidity from the market is another unknown that could add to market volatility in the near term.
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