Currency Interventions Return to Ground Zero of Negative Rates

  • Danske Bank says Danish central bank may be selling kroner
  • Danish currency intervention would be first since June

The world-record holder in negative rates is probably offloading kroner in its first currency interventions since June as the central bank gets dragged back into an active fight to defend its euro peg.

Denmark’s krone has now strengthened beyond a point that “the central bank previously did not accept,” Arne Lohmann Rasmussen, head of fixed-income research in Copenhagen, said by phone on Monday. Though it’s impossible to say for sure, Danske Bank believes “the central bank is either already in the market to stabilize the krone or will intervene later,” he said. The central bank is due to announce its currency market operations on Jan. 3.

Graphic shows EURDKK. The central bank defends a krone rate of 7.46038 against the euro.

The krone has approached levels last seen in early 2015, after Switzerland’s decision to send the franc into a free float triggered a speculative attack on the krone as some hedge funds predicted it would be next to float. In the event, the Danish central bank prevailed, the speculators were fought back and the peg is intact.

Denmark’s currency regime was tested again in June, when Britain’s vote to leave the EU drove investors into markets they perceived as safe, such as AAA-rated Denmark’s krone assets. Denmark responded with interventions.

But the fallout of the U.S. election, and Donald Trump’s surprise win, has been slightly less straightforward. The haven demand wasn’t as pronounced and Danske Bank says there’s no speculative attack to speak of.

Instead, pressure on the krone stems from Denmark’s pension industry. Danske estimates that about one-third of Danish pension foreign holdings are in American stocks. The U.S. equity market rally since Nov. 8 has helped drive a roughly 6 percent appreciation in the dollar against the krone. As pension funds convert those dollar holdings into local currency, they create demand for kroner.

“It seems there’s krone buying going on when the U.S. market opens,” Rasmussen said. “The U.S. equity rally is forcing Danish pension funds to hedge more currency risk by buying Danish krone contracts.”

Meanwhile, Denmark’s current account surplus is close to 10 percent of GDP, among the biggest in the rich world, according to Danske Bank. That reflects net investment in Denmark, which also creates demand for kroner and adds to the pressure the central bank must fight.

“Fundamentally, the big Danish current account surplus is creating a structural pressure for the krone to appreciate,” Jan Storup Nielsen, senior analyst at Nordea in Copenhagen, said by phone.

And then there’s the ECB’s decision to extend its quantitative easing program, forcing the Danes to chase the euro down the path set by ECB President Mario Draghi.

“This underscores the challenges the Danish central bank faces in 2017,” Rasmussen at Danske said.

The upshot is more Danish currency interventions and bigger currency reserves. But with the benchmark interest rate in Denmark already at minus 0.65 percent after almost half a decade of negative rates, another rate cut is unlikely, according to Nordea.

“It’ll take a lot before the central bank alters its policy rate,” Nielsen said. “They should be able to handle the situation easily using interventions.”

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