Early movements in the currency markets suggested Hillary Clinton emerged victorious in the US presidential debate over Donald Trump, with notable moves in the Mexican peso, Canadian dollar and Japanese yen.
The yen spent Tuesday morning in a series of sharp dips against the Canadian dollar and Mexican Peso as Tokyo trading floors bought and sold every quip, interruption and snarl of the first US presidential debate.
The foreign exchange market’s conclusion: that Hillary Clinton put on a more convincing show than Donald Trump, that the US relationship with its immediate neighbours will remain where it is, and that the yen will not, for now at least, be called upon to perform its traditional role as a safe haven currency in times of profound global uncertainty.
“It’s very rare,” said a currency trader at a large Japanese house, “that you have a whole market responding to the tone of one person’s voice when that person isn’t a central bank governor.”
On trading floors in Japan and elsewhere, the Mexican peso assumed the job of reflecting the currency market’s reading of the debate. After several weeks of sustained declines against the dollar — in strong correlation, according to traders, with Mr Trump’s closure of polling gaps with Mrs Clinton — the peso surged from its 19.93 low against the dollar to 19.50 during the debate as the market placed its bet on the Democratic candidate.
Bank analysts are watching the peso closely because it is seen as a barometer of risk for emerging markets more broadly.
“Emerging markets, which had benefited from the rollback of monetary policy divergences this year, now fear that free trade globally would suffer under Trump,” analysts at DBS said.
Just as striking, though, was the surge of the Canadian dollar against the yen, which rose from Y75.85 to Y76.385 as the debaters hit their respective strides and Tokyo dealers opted to play in a currency pairing with more liquidity than the yen/peso.
“It was really surprising how closely the [Canadian dollar/yen] pair was tracking the debate,” said Nomura FX strategist Yunosuke Ikeda. He noted that the market was taking Mr Trump’s temper as a drag on his chances of being elected: “every time Trump looked too emotional, the Canadian dollar went up against the yen. When Trump shouted, the yen fell.”
The Canadian dollar, added Mr Ikeda, is being used as a gauge of Mr Trump’s election prospects because of his rhetorical attacks on the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta).
Ahead of the debate, currency analysts had warned the US dollar/yen pair could become a volatile bellwether of the 90-minute showdown: if Mr Trump appeared to be on top, and so more likely to win the election, the yen could be expected to surge against the US dollar. In the event — and almost from the moment the candidates first locked horns — the yen began falling.
Having traded at about Y100.30 against the US dollar three hours before the debate began, the yen dipped to Y100.84 as the debate turned to Mr Trump’s tax returns and record of support for the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.
The apparently stronger performance of Mrs Clinton, said analysts, allowed markets to postpone their fears of a Trump victory and the expected international market turmoil that might follow.
On the yen in particular, focus fell on the behaviour of Japan’s conservative life insurers and the currency hedging position on their $600bn pile of dollar-denominated assets.