A spike in the dollar has been a reliable signal of global panic

THERE ARE two types of sellers in financial markets. The first kind sell because they want to. They may need cash to meet a contingency; or they might coolly judge that the risks of holding an asset are not matched by the prospective rewards. The second kind sell because they have to. The archetype is an investor who has borrowed to fund his purchase and has his loan called. If there are lots of forced sellers, as can happen in periods of stress, the result is a rout.

Involuntary selling can amplify any decline in asset prices. A called loan is not the only trigger. It might be a ratings downgrade; an order from a regulator; or a jump in volatility that breaches a risk limit. What happens in the markets then feeds back to the broader economy, making a bad situation worse.

This brings us to the dollar. An evergreen concern is the scale of dollar securities issued or held outside America. In the midst of the financial crisis of 2007-09, the Federal Reserve set up currency-swap lines with other central banks to deal with a lack of dollars, as borrowers outside America were caught short. In stressed markets a spike in the greenback is a tell. Investors sell what they own to buy the dollar not because they want to but because they have to.

So far the dollar has traded reasonably. In recent weeks it has rallied against...

via The Economist: Finance and economics Business Feeds

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