In order to put the current “tranquil” state of the FX markets in context, it’s necessary to look back in history...way back. The stability of the US Dollar against the Japanese Yen that is being observed in FX exchanges today has not been seen since 1977. Using a variety of proxy modelling techniques, it could also be stated that the Euro Dollar has not been this tame since 1979.
Although many would view these observations as simply part of a larger pattern occurring in the international economy, the actual data points to something else entirely. According to George Saravelos, a currencies analyst at Deutsche Bank, “The decline in currency volatility is unusual compared to other asset classes.”
So, what could be the cause of this unique situation? Analysts agree that current economic conditions would not promote this level of stability. In fact, both the S&P 500 and 10-year US Bonds are experiencing over a 1% increase in volatility when compared to levels witnessed in the early 1990’s. Following the “taper tantrum” that occurred last summer, as well as a variety of unexpected policy surprises coming from the ECB, it seemed reasonable to assume that volatility would shake up for the FX markets for a reasonable amount of time.
One possible explanation for the placid nature of the currency markets could be a shrinking gap between buy and sell prices due to increasing competition and ever more powerful FX trading technology. This year alone, the buy and sell spread for FX exchanges at large was reduced by 20%. As automation and complex algorithms take over the marketplace, some say, it is inevitable that stability will slowly embed itself within the infrastructure of the FX markets.
Another possible theory points to the growing shift towards electronic trading platforms as opposed to traditional inter-bank voice trading. This shift is not just relegated to the FX markets. Following recent changes outlined by Dodd-Frank, many of the asset classes within the US fixed income market are also being transformed and revolutionized by electronic trading systems.
FX traders shouldn’t be overly worried that the glory days of foreign exchange are over. That being said, some experts are saying that the highs experienced earlier this year may not return for quite a while. According to Saravelos, this unheard of stability, “is also a warning shot on the impact that technology and regulation can have on other asset classes as competition and the market mature.”