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Posted by Craig Basinger on Apr 15th, 2024

Value in the Canadian Dollar

The CAD vs USD exchange rate has certainly been on the move over the past few months, to the detriment of the loonie. After rising into year-end to finish 2023 at about 75 ½ cents, the CAD has fallen down close to 72 ½ cents. The CAD is trading near the lower end of its recent range. Ah, remember the days when the loonie was on par with the U.S. dollar? Disney trips felt cheap, cross-border shopping was all the rage, and oil carried an average price of $96/bbl. Huh, with oil moving from the $70s to the high $80s, that sure doesn't match a 72 ½ cent loonie. Are we no longer a petrol currency? Maybe a decade of underinvestment and uncertainty around takeaway infrastructure can change a currency's stripes. Or there are other factors that are bigger than the oil impact on our currency exchange with the almighty dollar.

A long and short-term look at the loonie

The weakness in the Canadian dollar is pretty easy to explain. U.S. inflation has ticked higher, as has the American economic data. Meanwhile, in Canada, the opposite trend is apparent. Just look at the Citigroup economic surprise indices for each country. This rolling index measures economic data releases relative to consensus forecasts, weighted based on the importance of each data release. Canada has averaged about -36, while the U.S. has been +40 so far in 2024. Not surprisingly, this has translated into a widening spread of 2-year yields, the tenor of yields most impactful on spot currency exchange rates. U.S. 2-year yields are 4.89% compared to 4.17% in Canada, roughly the widest spread over the past decade. This has also translated into expected central bank rate cuts. In January, the market consensus was pricing in a whopping seven cuts (25bps each) for the U.S. Fed Funds rate, while Canada was forecast to cut five times. Fast forward to today, they are tied at 2 ½ cuts each.

Yet flying in the face of a weaker CAD is commodity prices. While perhaps not as strong as it was historically, the CAD dollar usually does well when commodity prices are rising, and global economic growth is improving. That is clearly not the case of late, and I would even argue this is a material disconnect. The chart below is the CRB commodity index and the price of oil compared to the CAD/USD. Normally, there is a pretty decent correlation between these factors, but not lately.

The CAD is weak despite high commodity prices

One important consideration is that the recent currency move in the loonie is more about USD strength than CAD weakness. While the CAD has lost about 5% against the USD so far this year, it has been relatively flat against other major currencies, such as the yen and euro. This really points to USD strength due to higher inflation, tempering of rate cuts, and better relative economic growth data.

But at 72 ½ cents, is there value in the loonie? It is starting to look that way. There is no denying the CAD is undervalued, as highlighted in the purchasing power parity chart below. This doesn’t mean it will fix this undervaluation anytime soon; there are fast drivers of currencies (most of the previously mentioned factors), and then there are slow drivers. Valuation is a slow driver, as are deficits. Sure, everyone runs deficits; that isn’t anything new. But the U.S. has taken deficits to new levels outside a recession/war/pandemic environment. At some point, that will be a negative for the USD relative to more fiscally responsible national currencies. We’re not saying Canada is fiscally responsible, but it is on a relative basis compared to the U.S.

Purchasing power parity has the CAD getting undervalued

Final Thoughts

Currency exposure is an important component of managing multi-asset portfolios. We remain largely unhedged with our USD exposures, which has been the right call. Generally, we like being unhedged, as the USD can be a powerful diversification tool for Canadian portfolios. However, our conviction on this is waning; the further the CAD depreciates, the better the risk-return trade-off for hedging. We're not there yet, but it is starting to look rather interesting.  

— Craig Basinger is the Chief Market Strategist at Purpose Investments

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Sources: Charts are sourced to Bloomberg L. P.

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Craig Basinger, CFA

Craig Basinger is the Chief Market Strategist at Purpose Investments. With over 25 years of investment experience, Craig combines an educational foundation in economics & psychology with years of experience in both fundamental and quantitative research. A long-term student of the markets, Craig’s thoughts and insights can be seen in his Market Ethos publications and through his regular contributions on BNN.

Craig and his team bring a transparent and cost-efficient approach to investment management. The team provides asset allocation OCIO services and directly manages over $1 billion in assets. The team manages dividend mandates, quantitative risk reduction strategies and asset allocation services.