The Washington impasse may lead to further Euro strength

In an epic reversal of fortunes, the Eurozone is starting to look like a safe haven to some.

It’s been a pretty quiet year in the major currency markets. Euro vs the USD is the most actively traded currency pair in the 5 trillion USD a day market, and this year its range has been pretty muted, with a high on 1 February of 1.3711 and a low of 1.2746 on 4 April. As I write, on 21 October, the current price is 1.3680, so only a hair’s breadth away from the year’s highs.

The USD was already suffering as a result of the Fed’s "no-taper" shocker in September and we know what China felt about Washington’s stand-off and brinkmanship with the debt ceiling; last week saw China’s ex-deputy head of FX regulation opining that China should cut its holdings of US Treasuries in the medium to long term and the ECB’s Nowotny chipping in to say that the Euro will play an increasing role as a reserve currency.

The dollar’s trouble is that it now seems highly unlikely that the Fed will stop printing money in the near future. The messy denouement of the Washington show means that we will now be subject to another four or maybe even six months of rather unsettling uncertainty.

Although Congress has extended to debt limit to 7 February, the US Treasury could then start to use "extraordinary" accounting measures to live from hand-to-mouth for a few more weeks, as it started doing this year in May, finding some USD 300bn tucked away to prolong the real debt limit deadline to 17 October (ish). The seasonal shape of US Treasury receipts and payments suggests it will only take a couple of months or so to use up USD 300bn this time, only getting them through to April.

This is neither "nowt nor summat", as we say in Yorkshire. It’s not a short enough time for consumers, corporations and the Fed to feel this is all going to be behind us soon, and it’s not far enough away for everyone to think "whatever, I’ll forget about Washington for a year", say. It’s just about the worst timescale one can imagine.

Consumers will put off purchases, employers will hesitate to hire - in both cases probably not catastrophically, but enough to take the edge off growth - 0.5 per cent in Q4 2013 and Q1 2014. More importantly for the dollar’s fortunes the Fed now seems highly unlikely to taper before its March meeting, and there must even be some doubt over that now.

The Fed’s key data points are going to be unreliable. We’re now going to see September’s employment report on 22 October, but the market’s reaction function will be heavily skewed: if the numbers are weak, then they’ll be taken to presage an economic dip, if they’re strong they’ll be discounted as dating from before Washington’s antics. The next employment report, for October, will now come out on 8 November and the "household survey" used to calculate the unemployment rate will have to conducted retrospectively - so that will be tainted, and also subject to the same interpretation bias. This all means it’ll be January before the Fed might feel it has "clean" jobs data to analyse.

In an epic reversal of fortunes, the shutdown/debt ceiling debate has given even the Euro some semblance of safe-haven status and thrown into stark relief the contrast between the philosophies of the Fed and the ECB.

With the OMT still doing its job as a virtual sticking plaster, and a Grand Coalition in the making in Germany, there seems little reason why EUR/USD can’t climb towards 1.40 or above before Christmas. That in turn will make the ECB very uneasy, as the Eurozone is flirting with deflation, so a rate cut and/or another LTRO seems very likely-probably at the December meeting.

US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke reads the FT during the annual World Bank - IMF meetings in Washington, DC. Photograph: Jim Watson/Getty Images.

Chairman of  Saxo Capital Markets Board

An Honours Graduate from Oxford University, Nick Beecroft has over 30 years of international trading experience within the financial industry, including senior Global Markets roles at Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank and Citibank. Nick was a member of the Bank of England's Foreign Exchange Joint Standing Committee.

More of his work can be found here.

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An unmatched font of knowledge

Edinburgh’s global reputation as a knowledge economy is rooted in the performance and international outlook of its four universities.

As sociologist-turned US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan recognised when asked how to create a world-class city, a strong academic offering is pivotal to any forward-looking, ambitious city. “Build a university,” he said, “and wait 200 years.” He recognised the long-term return such an investment can deliver; how a renowned academic institution can help attract the world. However, in today’s increasingly globalised higher education sector, world-class universities no longer rely on the world coming to come to them – their outlook is increasingly international.

Boasting four world-class universities, Edinburgh not only attracts and retains students from around the world, but also increasingly exports its own distinctively Scottish brand of academic excellence. In fact, 53.9% of the city’s working age population is educated to degree level.

In the most recent QS World University Rankings, the University of Edinburgh was named as the 21st best university in the world, reflecting its reputation for research and teaching. It’s a fact reflected in the latest UK Research Exercise Framework (REF), conducted in 2014, which judged 96% of its academic departments to be producing world-leading research.

Innovation engine

Measured across the UK, annual Gross Value Added (GVA) by University of Edinburgh start-ups contributes more than £164m to the UK economy. In fact, of 262 companies to emerge from the university since the 1960s, 81% remain active today, employing more than 2,700 staff globally. That performance places the University of Edinburgh ahead of institutions such as MIT in terms of the number of start-ups it generates; an innovation hothouse that underlines why one in four graduates remain in Edinburgh and why blue chip brands such as Amazon, IBM and Microsoft all have R&D facilities in the city.

One such spin out making its mark is PureLiFi, founded by Professor Harald Haas to commercialise his groundbreaking research on data transmission using the visible light spectrum. With data transfer speeds 10,000 times faster than radio waves, LiFi not only enables bandwidths of 1 Gigabit/sec but is also far more secure.

Edinburgh’s universities play a pivotal role in the local economy. Through its core operations, knowledge transfer activities and world-class research the University generated £4.9bn in GVA and 44,500 jobs globally, when accounting for international alumni.

With £1.4bn earmarked for estate development over the next 10 years, the University of Edinburgh remains the city’s largest property developer. Its extensive programme of investment includes the soon-to-open Higgs Centre for Innovation. A partnership with the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, the new centre will open next year and will supply business incubation support for potential big data and space technology applications, enabling start-ups to realise the commercial potential of applied research in subjects such as particle physics.

It’s a story of innovation that is mirrored across Edinburgh’s academic landscape. Each university has carved its own areas of academic excellence and research expertise, such as the University of Edinburgh’s renowned School of Informatics, ranked among the world’s elite institutions for Computer Science. 

The future of energy

Research conducted into the economic impact of Heriot-Watt University demonstrated that it generates £278m in annual GVA for the Scottish economy and directly supports more than 6,000 jobs.

Set in 380-acres of picturesque parkland, Heriot-Watt University incorporates the Edinburgh Research Park, the first science park of its kind in the UK and now home to more than 40 companies.

Consistently ranked in the top 25% of UK universities, Heriot-Watt University enjoys an increasingly international reputation underpinned by a strong track record in research. 82% of the institution’s research is considered world-class (REF) – a fact reflected in a record breaking year for the university, attracting £40.6m in research funding in 2015. With an expanding campus in Dubai and last year’s opening of a £35m campus in Malaysia, Heriot-Watt is now among the UK’s top five universities in terms of international presence and numbers of international students.

"In 2015, Heriot-Watt University was ranked 34th overall in the QS ‘Top 50 under 50’ world rankings." 

Its established strengths in industry-related research will be further boosted with the imminent opening of the £20m Lyell Centre. It will become the Scottish headquarters of the British Geological Survey, and research will focus on global issues such as energy supply, environmental impact and climate change. As well as providing laboratory facilities, the new centre will feature a 50,000 litre climate change research aquarium, the UK Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Oil and Gas, and the Shell Centre for Exploration Geoscience.

International appeal

An increasingly global outlook, supported by a bold international strategy, is helping to drive Edinburgh Napier University’s growth. The university now has more than 4,500 students studying its overseas programmes, through partnerships with institutions in Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Sri Lanka and India.

Edinburgh Napier has been present in Hong Kong for more than 20 years and its impact grows year-on-year. Already the UK’s largest higher education provider in the territory, more than 1,500 students graduated in 2015 alone.

In terms of world-leading research, Edinburgh Napier continues to make its mark, with the REF judging 54% of its research to be either world-class or internationally excellent in 2014. The assessment singled out particular strengths in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences, where it was rated the top UK modern university for research impact. Taking into account research, knowledge exchange, as well as student and staff spending, Edinburgh Napier University generates in excess of £201.9m GVA and supports 2,897 jobs in the city economy.

On the south-east side of Edinburgh, Queen Margaret University is Scotland’s first university to have an on-campus Business Gateway, highlighting the emphasis placed on business creation and innovation.

QMU moved up 49 places overall in the 2014 REF, taking it to 80th place in The Times’ rankings for research excellence in the UK. The Framework scored 58% of Queen Margaret’s research as either world-leading or internationally excellent, especially in relation to Speech and Language Sciences, where the University is ranked 2nd in the UK.

In terms of its international appeal, one in five of Queen Margaret’s students now comes from outside the EU, and it is also expanding its overseas programme offer, which already sees courses delivered in Greece, India, Nepal, Saudi Arabia and Singapore.

With 820 years of collective academic excellence to export to the world, Edinburgh enjoys a truly privileged position in the evolving story of academic globalisation and the commercialisation of world-class research and innovation. If he were still around today, Senator Moynihan would no doubt agree – a world-class city indeed.

For further information www.investinedinburgh.com