Predicting the next move in the markets is the key to making money in trading, but putting this simple concept into action is much harder than it sounds. Professional forex traders have long known that trading currencies requires looking beyond the world of FX. The fact is that currencies are moved by many factors - supply and demand, politics, interest rates, economic growth, and so on. More specifically, since economic growth and exports are directly related to a country's domestic industry, it is natural for some currencies to be heavily correlated with commodity prices. The top three currencies that have the tightest correlations with commodities are the Australian dollar, the Canadian dollar and the
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Oil and the Canadian Dollar
Over the past few years, the price of commodities has fluctuated significantly. Oil, for example, surged from $60 a barrel in 2006 to a high of $147.27 a barrel in 2008 before plummeting back below $40 a barrel in the first quarter of 2009 and rising to above $80 in 2011. Similar volatility can be seen in the price of gold, which hit $1600 an ounce in June 2011 and then a new high of over $1,800 an ounce a few months later in August 2011. With many countries around the world in recession, the trend of commodity prices can mean the difference between a deeper downturn and a faster recovery. Knowing which currencies are affected by what commodities will help you make more educated trading decisions. (Find out how the everyday items you use can affect your investments in Commodities That Move The Markets.)
Oil is one of the world's basic necessities - at least for now, most people in developed countries cannot live without it. In February 2009, the price of oil was nearly 70% below its all-time high of $147.27 set on July 11, 2008. A decline in oil prices is a nightmare for oil producers, while oil consumers enjoy the benefits of greater purchasing power. This is a complete 180-degree change from the situation at the beginning of 2008, when record-high oil prices put a big smile on the faces of oil producers while forcing oil consumers to pinch pennies. There are a number of reasons to explain the fall in oil prices, including a stronger dollar (oil is priced in dollars) and weaker global demand. As a net oil exporter,
Between the years 2006-2009, for example, the correlation between the Canadian dollar and oil prices was approximately 80%. On a day-to-day basis, the correlation can break, but over the long term it has been strong because the value of the Canadian dollar has good reason to be sensitive to the price of oil.
Figure 1 shows the clearly positive relationship between oil and the Canadian loonie. In fact, it should come as no surprise that the price of oil actually acts as a leading indicator for the price action of the CAD/USD. Since the traded instrument is the inverse, or USD/CAD, it's important to note that based on the historical relationship, when oil prices go up, USD/CAD falls and when oil prices go down, USD/CAD rises.
|Figure 1: A look at the correlation between the price of oil and the price action in
the CAD/USD from January 2005 to March 2009
Oil and the Japanese Economy
At the other end of the spectrum is
An Attractive Oil Play: CAD/JPY
Looking at this from a net oil exporter/importer perspective, the currency pair that tops the list of currencies to trade to express a view on oil prices is the Canadian dollar against the Japanese yen. Figure 2 illustrates the tight correlation between oil prices and CAD/JPY. More often than not, oil prices tend to be the leading indicator (as with USD/CAD) for CAD/JPY price action with a noticeable delay. As oil prices continued to fall during this period, CAD/JPY broke the 100 level to hit a low of 76.
|Figure 2: A look at the correlation between the price of oil and the price action in the CAD/JPY from January 2005 to March 2009|
Going for Gold
Gold traders may also be surprised to hear that trading the Australian dollar is just like trading gold in many ways. As the world's third-largest producer of gold, the Australian dollar had an 84% positive correlation with the precious metal between 1999 and 2008. Generally speaking, this means that when gold prices rise, the Australian dollar appreciates as well. The proximity of
|Figure 3: A look at the correlation between the price of gold and the price action in the NZD/USD from January 2005 to March 2009|
A weaker, but still important, correlation is that of gold prices and the Swiss franc. The country's political neutrality and the fact that its currency used to be backed by gold have made the franc the currency of choice in times of political uncertainty. From January 2006 until January 2009, USD/CHF and gold prices had a 77% positive correlation. However, the relationship broke down somewhat in September 2005 as the U.S. dollar decoupled from gold price movements. (For further reading, see The Gold Standard Revisited and What Is Wrong With Gold?)
Trading Currencies as a Supplement to Trading Oil or Gold
For seasoned commodity traders, it may also be worthwhile to look at trading currencies as an alternative or a supplement to trading commodities. In addition to being able to capitalize on a similar outlook (e.g. higher oil), traders may also be able to earn interest if they are on 2% margin or higher with most brokers. When trading currencies, you are dealing with countries, and countries have interest rates, of course. For example, a trader who may have bought the AUD/USD in March 2009 would be able to earn up to 3% in interest income if Australian interest rates remained at 3.25% and
Along the same lines, if you shorted AUD/USD to express a short gold view, you would end up paying interest. If you're a commodity trader looking for a bit of a change from the usual pro gold trade (for example), commodity currencies such as the AUD/USD and NZD/USD provide good opportunities worth looking into.
If you want to trade commodity currencies, the best way to use commodity prices in your trading is to always keep one eye on movements in the oil or gold market and the other eye on the currency market to watch how quickly it responds. Due to the slightly delayed impact of these movements on the currency market, there is generally an opportunity to overlay a broader movement that is happening in the commodity market to that of the currency market. Bottom line: It never hurts to be more informed about commodity prices and how they drive currency movements. (For more insight, read The Currency Market Information Edge and Forex: Wading Into The Currency Market.)