Photographer: Justin Chin/Bloomberg

The Big Hong Kong Dollar Short Is Bruised, But Not Broken

Updated on
  • U.S. rates’ premium over Hong Kong widens to most since 2008
  • Hong Kong dollar has seen sharp rebounds twice this quarter

Hong Kong dollar bears are down, not out. So say Credit Agricole CIB and DBS Hong Kong Ltd. after the biggest jump by the pegged currency in 19 months.

The main factors weighing down the exchange rate haven’t gone away, with ample liquidity causing a wide interest-rate discount to that on the greenback. Low volatility due to a peg to the U.S. currency and cheap funding costs also make it an especially appealing short.

“Interest in shorting the Hong Kong dollar might have fallen slightly, but it’s still there because it’s not like there are expectations of a U.S. rate cut,” said Tommy Ong, managing director for treasury and markets at DBS Hong Kong Ltd. “Although U.S. rates aren’t going up, Hong Kong rates haven’t caught up on the short end.”

The exchange rate extended its two-day jump to 0.4 percent on Friday, the biggest on an intraday basis since January 2016 as a tumble in the greenback forced investors to unwind short positions on the Asian currency. Traders were already shaken out of their complacency once in August when the Hong Kong Monetary Authority announced additional debt sales, a move that pushes up rates.

Although the market is pricing in a slower pace of U.S. rate hikes, there are no signs that liquidity in Hong Kong will tighten significantly even after the debt issuance, as factors such as equity inflows from mainland China continue to hold. The premium of U.S. rates over Hong Kong reached the most since 2008 just last Thursday.

Read more: a QuickTake Q&A on Hong Kong’s dollar

Twelve-month forward points -- a reflection of expectations for the spread -- plunged to a nine-year low last week, driving the outright contracts to trade as strong as HK$7.7353, outside the spot rate’s HK$7.75-HK$7.85 band against the greenback. This means being long the U.S. dollar via such forwards will be profitable as long as the peg doesn’t break.

The Hong Kong dollar spot rate weakened 0.02 percent on Monday to HK$7.8150, after erasing gains of as much as 0.25 percent on Friday.

“Liquidity still remains quite flush,” said Gary Yau, a strategist at Credit Agricole in Hong Kong. “If you look at the interest-rate differential, higher U.S. dollar against Hong Kong dollar still makes sense.”

(Updates move in second-last paragraph.)
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