strong dollar and crowed trade

The Crowded Trade: Complacency Before the Fall

According to Bank of America the dollar is set for its strongest quarterly strengthening since 1992. This is due in large part to the market’s expectation that the Federal Reserve will increase interest rates in June and a current belief that there is no investment alternative or “TINA” to the US market. The result is a higher demand for dollar-denominated investments and an unintended creation of the crowded trade.

Nature of the crowded trade

A crowed trade occurs when the vast preponderance of investors are so convinced in this ‘herd logic’ that they see no need to worry or question their current positions. This complacent trader’s typical response to any misgivings such as “The US stock market is overvalued …is…Yes but you said the same thing last year, and look the market is much higher now.”  Complacent investors are slow to change but as in prior crowded trades things generally end badly and for reasons that were unanticipated.

Trying  to catch a falling knife

Crowded trades begin to unwind when a large investor suddenly realizes that their positions are way overvalued and fearing that they must act before others, break ranks and sells their investments. The subsequent shock to the stock price begins to challenge the confidence of complacent investors, who only held these stock positions because everyone else did.  As more investors wake up to the realization of this misplaced strategy and try to sell at same time, things deteriorate rapidly and stock prices drop sharply.

How could our present “crowded trade” in US stocks fall apart?

It could be as simple as the sudden realization that exports do matter. Even in a consumer-based economy (1) the strong dollar has caused shrinkage in exports that impacted not only multinationals, but also will their US suppliers. The result will soon be weaken job growth or and less consumer spending.

Take home message

As astute investors recognize an increasing risk in US investments,  we could soon see a spiraling cycle of falling stock prices that beget more selling and further stock price drops.


Why is Current U.S. Economic Growth Slow? — Follow the Money

Following the 2008 financial crisis, U.S. economic growth has been anemic compared to prior recessions. The average growth rate  has been less than 3 percent. (1)

U.S. GDP after financial crisis of 2008

GDP growth before and after 2008 financial crisis (from ref. 2)

Follow the money

In the 1976 movie, All the President’s Men, the character Deep Throat whispered “Follow the money” to a Washington Post reporter and allow the reporter to see through the White House’s lies and deceptions and find out who was behind the Watergate burglary. To answer the economic question of why US GDP growth has been so low compared to prior recessions, we have to follow Federal Reserve money flow.

Since the financial crisis, American banks have increased their excess reserves or cash funds they hold over and above the Federal Reserve’s requirements. Excess reserves, as of January 2015 now stand at $2.6 trillion (3). Why are U.S. banks holding these excess cash reserves instead of making more loans and fulfilling the intentions of the Federal Reserve? The answer stems largely from the new Federal Reserve policies introduced after the 2008 financial crisis. Under normal economic conditions banks hold excess reserves for several reasons. First and foremost is to meet any unforeseen liquidity needs such as to make payments, service deposit withdrawals, or responding quickly to market opportunities or to make loans needing immediate action. Banks normally measure the cost of carrying reserves to the interest they would make in interest bearing accounts at another financial institution versus their cost incurred in last-minute borrowing from another banks to cover a reserve shortfall. It generally cost banks more to get cash from other banks than keep an “emergency stash of fund” that the bank could access when extra cash is needed.

What has changed since the 2008 financial crisis?

Since the financial crisis banks are required by the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors to hold excess reserves (3). The Federal Reserve now mandates that net transactions greater than $14.5 million need to hold a 3% reserve ratio while ones over $103.6 million need to hold a 10% reserve ratio. A second reason (or incentive) in holding excess reserves is that now the Federal Reserve pays interests on all bank reserves (3). Before the 2008 crisis banks receive no interest payments on excess reserves but since December 2008, the Federal Reserve pays 25 basis points or 0.25% interest on all bank held reserves. This rate is substantially higher than what a bank could obtain in the market which is from 0.07% to 0.20%. For these reasons banks are calculating a zero risk and greater benefit to holding large reserves.

Carrot or the Stick: Banks move in the same direction

In 1936, as in today, US banks’ reserves accumulated to record levels. Federal Reserve at that time decided to reduce the flexibility of the banks’ options for using the cash by mandating an increased reserve requirement. Banks responded by dramatically reducing their loan portfolios. Today the Federal Reserve has mandate increased reserves but also used that powerful incentive of interest payments. With prime lending rates close to zero, banks easily sitting on large cash reserves  and make money at zero risk.

Although for opposite reasons, the banks of 1936 and the banks of today have move in the same direction and reduced their loan portfolios.  In 1937 the economy went in recession. We will have to wait, perhaps not long, to see the negative impact that current bank actions have played on the present economy.


1. Kirshner, J. 2014. The Global Financial Crisis: A Turning point.

2. Congressional Budget Office 2012. What Accounts for the Slow Growth of the Economy After the Recession

3. Craig, B. and Koepke, M. 2015 Excess Reserves: Oceans of Cash.

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