Currencies 3 MIN READ

Metrobank’s view: ‘Hold on to your dollars’

Will the peso depreciate even more before the year is out? Metrobank’s foreign exchange division head gives us some clarity.

September 12, 2022By Anthony O. Alcantara
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This article is exclusive to Metrobank preferred clients.

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The peso’s recent slide is not a cause for alarm, at least for now, Armand Barlis, Head of Metrobank’s Foreign Exchange Division, said.

“Since the start of the year, the expectation has really been for a weaker peso,” he said.

“There are a lot of factors, such as the country’s growing fiscal and trade deficits, but the most important factor is the prospect of faster rate hikes in the US, which has led the US dollar to soar globally,” he added.

The peso, which has fallen by 12 percent since December 2021, is not alone in its plight.

The Japanese yen has lost around 20 percent in value against the US dollar, while the Korean won has slid around 17 percent in the same period. Other Asian currencies depreciated by around 8 percent on the average.

“So, it is really not so bad in terms of competitiveness, if we consider that all the other currencies have depreciated too,” said Barlis.

While he thinks the peso can depreciate a bit more above 57.00 in the near term, there are signs of stalling and should settle at around PHP 56.45 to PHP 56.50 to the dollar by the end of the year.

‘Imported inflation’

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Currencies 3 MIN READ

Exchange rates: A game of tradeoffs

Who wins and who loses when the peso appreciates or depreciates? Who determines the price of the peso in a floating exchange rate regime? Contrary to what most may think, it is neither the BSP nor the government that sets the price.

July 19, 2022By Anna Isabelle Lejano
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With the peso breaching PHP 56 to a dollar, concerns over a weakening economy have been raised. This depreciation was caused by surging global prices due to energy supply chain disruptions from the Russian-Ukraine conflict and the subsequent US Federal Reserve (Fed) rate hikes to tame inflation, strengthening the US dollar. Now, what are the implications of this depreciation? And what are the tradeoffs?

A peso depreciation can make imports more expensive since it costs more in Philippine pesos to buy foreign goods. Basic commodities also become more costly with rising inflation, and debt that is denominated in foreign currency gets bloated.

On the other hand, a depreciated peso also has its benefits as it can help increase dollar inflows. It can boost exports since trade partners can buy more goods and services from the Philippines using the same amount of US dollars, which results in the competitiveness of the country’s products.

It can also make tourism, particularly accommodation and other travel-related amenities, more affordable for international tourists. Additionally, families receiving remittances from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) will see more pesos for every dollar sent home. There would also be an increase in the value of the dollar earnings of the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector. Also, a depreciated peso can serve as a deterrent to buying non-essential imports, which can help conserve dollars.

The reverse process goes for peso appreciation. An appreciated peso would make exports more costly and would result in a less competitive BPO and tourism sector. It would also lower the peso value of OFW remittances. On the upside, it could make imports cheaper, reduce consumer prices or temper inflation, and shrink the value of foreign currency-denominated debt. On the other hand, it can induce the buying of non-essential imports, which can deplete dollar reserves.

All about tradeoffs

So, is there a real answer as to which is better? Is it currency appreciation or depreciation? An exporter would want a depreciated currency, but an importer would want otherwise. Would you side with the exporter or the importer? An OFW would want a depreciated peso, but this might elevate prices back at home. Would you side with the OFW?

This goes to show that there are no real solutions or answers. There are only tradeoffs. With this, the tension between these tradeoffs pushes the market towards one way or another, towards appreciation or depreciation. That is, it is the market that gets to decide where the exchange rate would be.

Since there are only trade-offs, what is clear is that a too fast appreciation or depreciation can destabilize markets. Ideally markets best operate in a smooth and regular way, able to sort things out in an orderly fashion. The chaos and confusion caused by very fast currency movements can result in market panics that only make things worse as players exaggerate market swings and make adverse self-fulfilling prophecies.

This is where the BSP comes in. It manages volatility because it does not want too fast movements in the exchange rate. It does not set the exchange rate itself, but it can buy or sell dollars in the markets to manage volatility or tweak policy rates to contain inflationary pressure from a fast-depreciating peso. However, neither the BSP nor the government actually decides who wins or who loses. In the end, it is the market that decides in this ever-moving game of trade-offs.

ANNA ISABELLE “BEA” LEJANO is a Research & Business Analytics Officer at Metrobank, in charge of the bank’s research on the macroeconomy and the banking industry. She obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Business Economics from the University of the Philippines School of Economics and is currently taking up her Master’s in Economics degree at the Ateneo de Manila University. She cannot function without coffee.

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Currencies 4 MIN READ

A perfect storm for the Philippine peso

Many factors are contributing to the peso’s woes. Inflation in the US is a major one. High inflation, however, may be over in a few months, if history is any guide.

July 18, 2022By Ruben Zamora
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Despite the peso appearing oversold a few weeks ago, the local currency has continued to weaken against the US dollar. It seems it’s only a matter of time before the peso will breach the all-time exchange rate high of PHP 56.45 to the dollar in March 2004. From there, it’s uncharted territory.

As discussed in my previous article, the main driver of the abrupt peso weakness has been the stark difference in the path of US interest rates compared to that of peso interest rates. Since late May, global markets have been pricing in a faster pace of increase in US interest rates, and, naturally, as the rate of return in a currency rises relative to others, the more attractive that currency becomes.

Fast forward to mid-July and what was already an incredibly fast pace of rate hikes in the US by historical standards has sped up even more after the higher-than-expected inflation print in June of 9.1%. Take a second to digest that: over 9 percent inflation.

The US Federal Reserve has made it clear that they are willing to do everything to cool inflation down, but this latest data point suggests that what they’ve done so far (and what they’re saying they’ll do) hasn’t been enough. This means that the Fed has no other choice but to carry on raising rates until its effects translate into stabilizing prices.

Rising inflation, rising rates

The market is worried, however, that if inflation keeps surprising on the upside, then US rates will need to continue rising higher and sooner. This level of worry has reached a point that even the Banko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ surprise off-cycle rate hike of 75 basis points (bps) on July 14, an attempt to stem the slide of the peso, was effectively shrugged off.

The Monetary Board’s next rate policy setting meeting is scheduled for August 18, and based on recent memory, it has revised its benchmark policy rates outside of the official meeting only once, back in March 2020 at the very onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to support the banking system and prevent panic setting in the economy.

The 75-bp hike is also much higher than what the BSP had been saying (i.e., 25 bps or 50 bps hike) for the August 18 meeting. In other words, this decision was a major tectonic-level shift in the BSP policy, and it was designed to shock and awe the forex market. It didn’t have the desired effect.

Confluence of factors

It seems the peso is caught in a perfect storm—a jittery global market that views any sign of a more aggressive US rate hike as enough reason to sell risk. This includes emerging market currencies (i.e., flight to safety) and peak import season in the Philippines, which means the third quarter seasonally sees the strongest level of demand for the US dollar. It also includes a widening current account deficit driven by rising coal and food prices, most of which are imported and hence priced in US dollars.

The BSP has not been alone in having to adjust its interest rate policies, with central banks in both developing and advanced economies forced to keep pace with the US Fed to defend their respective currencies. The euro has experienced one of the deepest currency depreciations year-to-date, which explains in part the European Central Bank’s (ECB) guidance for a 25 bps hike on July 21st.

Follow the leader: Many countries are keeping up with the US with regard to setting policy rates in order to protect their own currencies. 

Except for Brazil, most currencies have depreciated against the US dollar.

What now?

Despite this cloudy outlook for the peso in the near-term, the BSP’s unexpected move from “dovish” (i.e., keep rates lower for longer to support growth first) to “hawkish” (i.e., defend the peso to avoid importing more inflation) should at the least help slow the depreciation of the peso against the US dollar. Given the more defensive stand on the peso, the BSP may also re-activate previous actions of supplying US dollars to create a “more orderly” foreign exchange spot market.

The fiscal side of the government, led by the Department of Finance, can also help by attracting more foreign capital into the market, and hence increasing the supply of dollars via direct investments. It begins with preserving the investment grade rating of Philippine sovereign bonds, which involves clearly laying out policies that would target a lower fiscal deficit and hence less government borrowing while supporting the country’s productivity, i.e., continuing the infrastructure build-out. While these may be aspirations in the medium-term, sending the right signals to the market will still help.

High inflation never lasts long

Ultimately, the fate of the peso still rests on what the US Fed will do, which in turn will be dictated by signs that inflation in the US is peaking. These signs remain elusive, but as John Authers, a columnist from Bloomberg, wrote in his recent article, “it is the nature of things for inflationary peaks to be over swiftly and followed by sharp declines. History, going back more than a century, shows that inflation never stays as high as it is now for more than a matter of months (outside of wars and the 1970s stagflation)”.

In the meantime, we still see any drop in the peso-dollar exchange rate below PHP 56 as a chance to buy, even though it is much higher than it used to be.

RUBEN ZAMORA is First Vice-President and Head of Institutional Investors Coverage Division, Financial Markets Sector, at Metrobank, which manages the bank’s relationships with Non-Bank Financial Institutions, including government financial institutions, insurance companies, and asset managers. He is also the bank’s Financial Markets Strategist, focusing on fixed income and rates advisory for our high-net-worth-individual and institutional clients. He holds a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. He is also an avid traveler and golfer.

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Currencies 4 MIN READ

A strong dollar story: Peso plays “depreciation catch-up”

Did the peso depreciate much more than other ASEAN currencies against the US dollar? It seems the peso is just playing “depreciation catch-up” against the backdrop of a strong dollar.

July 1, 2022By Marc Bautista, CFA
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The US Federal Reserve has been hiking its Fed Funds rate aggressively in the past few meetings, with the latest at 75 basis points (bps) and with further signals of another 50- to 75-bp hike this July, and more to come afterwards. The result is a renewed interest in US financial assets, which also generally translates to a strong dollar as investors buy dollars and sell whatever currencies they may have.

For the Philippines, this means a depreciating peso. As the chart below shows, the peso generally depreciates when the Fed Funds rate go up, and it appreciates when the Fed Funds rate comes down, at least trend-wise.

For example, in the period following the Great Recession of 2008, the effective Fed Funds rate came all the way down to near zero and, as a result, the peso generally appreciated all the way to 2013. On the other hand, between 2015 and 2019, the peso depreciated as the Fed Funds rate went up.

Market expectations drive the movement of the peso exchange rate.

However, there was a curious situation highlighted in the chart in 2013. It shows the peso actually depreciating way before the Fed actually started hiking rates in 2015. So, what gives? It turns out that the Fed started talking about tightening monetary policy in 2013 and, as a result, the peso depreciated.

So, it’s not just actual rate cuts or hikes that move the peso, but also market expectations of rate cuts or hikes. Therefore, market expectations of what the Fed will do is as important as what the Fed actually does, and these expectations actually move the exchange rate directly. The same was true in 2021, as market expectations of Fed hikes started to push up the peso and make it depreciate, even though the Fed actually started raising rates only this 2022.

It also appears that with the expected aggressive rate hikes, the markets are pricing in an even weaker peso, with the peso hitting the 55 level already, up from 51 at the start of 2022. However, currently, there is a bit of market noise on just how far up the peso is expected to weaken. In light of recent movements in other currencies, it might appear that the peso is weakening too much when looking at the recent past. However, when taking a look at a longer window, it can also appear that the peso in fact is just playing catch-up with the rest of the pack.

In this chart below, movements of the ASEAN currencies plus the yen are converted to an index based on January 2018. The overall changes relative to the base are then tracked for comparison. The 2018 base was chosen given that then, as now, there was high inflation for the Philippines.

It turns out that when tracked this way, the peso is not the currency that depreciated the most. Our ASEAN peers plus Japan have currencies that depreciated even more than the peso relative to 2018 prices.

The peso did not perform as badly as other ASEAN currencies as many may think. With high economic growth and strong imports, the peso is now playing “depreciation catch-up”.

It is perhaps not that relevant to ask whether the peso is leading the pack or is behind the pack in terms of depreciation given the different ways the observation window can be framed. Perhaps the real question should be, why did the peso appreciate too much in 2020 to 2021 relative to the pack?

That answer is simple; it’s because the country did not import that much during that period due to demand destruction and the lockdowns. However, OFW remittances and BPO revenues continued to come in and dominate the balance of payments, leading to peso strength. Our peers, on the other hand, are export- oriented, heavily dependent on the trade of goods (or tourism, in the case of Thailand) which, of course, collapsed due to the pandemic lockdowns. As a result, their currencies didn’t appreciate as much as the peso.

And because of that, the “base effect” is much more significant for the Philippines as the Fed started signaling rate hikes in 2021, completely reversing the trend. The peso is playing “depreciation catch-up” (with heightened base effects) with its peers as high economic growth, and thus, strong imports, are back in play.

Ah, yes, economic growth! With continuing growth, there will be more imports at higher inflated global prices, and the 3rd quarter is traditionally when imports are strongest. It should be expected that the peso will continue to weaken at this point.

When imports ebb by the 4th quarter and OFW remittances start to dominate once again going into the Christmas season, and with BPOs continuing to become even more competitive given the weaker peso, the peso should start getting appreciation pressure towards yearend. All the while, the Fed rate hikes will continue way into 2023. In the end, the call is still a weaker peso. After all, it’s still a strong dollar story.

MARC BAUTISTA, CFA, is Vice-President and Head of Research & Business Analytics at Metrobank, in charge of the Bank’s macroeconomic, industry, and financial market analysis and research. He loves teaching finance and investments, portfolio management, statistics, financial derivatives, economics, etc. in a university setting. He plays guitar in a rock band and loves learning other languages, especially Spanish, promoting its recovery as a heritage language in the Philippines.

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Currencies 4 MIN READ

What to do when the peso plunges to a 17-year low

There are forces pushing the value of the dollar up. Increasing policy rates in the US are mostly to blame. For now, we continue to advocate buying on dips.

June 28, 2022By Ruben Zamora
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The Philippine peso has weakened sharply against the US dollar, trading close to PHP 55 to a dollar, a level not seen since November 2005. So far this year, the peso is down over 7% vs the greenback, making it the worst-performing ASEAN currency.

As all Asian currencies weakened against the US dollar in 2022, central banks in Asia are tapping into their stockpiles to bolster their weakening currencies.

What happened?

Inflation happened. More specifically, it is the four-decade high inflation in the US, which has forced the US Federal Reserve to raise rates very quickly and by a lot more than initially expected.

On June 15, the Fed hiked its benchmark interest rate by 75 basis points (0.75 percentage points) to 1.5%-1.75%, the third consecutive rate increase in as many meetings, and the largest single rate hike since 1994. Leading up to the rate policy-setting meeting, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell signaled an increase closer to 50 bps, but after higher-than-expected inflation of 8.6% for May, the Fed decided time wasn’t on their side to cool inflation down. Just as critical, the Fed said that it will continue doing what’s needed until there’s evidence that inflation is slowing. From inflation shock, we’re now in a rate shock.

Global markets, including foreign exchange markets, immediately reset expectations on US rates to between 3.5%-4% by year-end 2022, up from 2.75% just a month ago.

The higher the interest rate of a currency, the more valuable that currency becomes, and with US interest rates rising faster than those of other countries, including the Philippines, the US dollar very quickly jumped higher against the peso.

Why won’t we keep pace with the Fed to defend the peso?

Because economic recovery comes first, at least for now.

The Philippine economic recovery remains precarious compared to the US and other advanced economies that came out of the pandemic much earlier. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) is therefore wary about hitting the brakes on growth by raising rates too early. A more gradual approach was deemed necessary.

The BSP started “normalizing” its benchmark policy rates from the historic-low 2% level, which was needed to support the economy during the pandemic, with a nice-and-easy 25-bp rate hike on May 19, two months after the Fed’s rate lift-off.

The BSP responded with another 25-bp hike in the following policy rate-setting meeting on June 23, after inflation registered a 5.40% year-on-year jump in May and on expectations of accelerating inflation.

Due to higher global oil and non-oil prices, combined with the continuing shortage in domestic food supply, particularly fish, the BSP raised its average inflation forecasts to 5% in 2022, from 4.6% previously, thereby implying average inflation of 5.6% in the 2nd half of 2022; and to 4.2% in 2023, from 3.9% previously, before tapering back to a 3.3% average in 2024.

The BSP’s two consecutive rate hikes have brought the policy rate to 2.5%, compared to the Fed Fund Rate’s current level of 1.75%, or a 75-bp interest rate differential compared to the historical average of 250 bps.

The interest rate differential of the BSP’s Overnight Rate and the Fed Funds Rate now stands at 75 basis points (bps) compared to the historical average of 250 bps.

Similar to the Fed, the BSP said it is prepared to take the necessary policy actions to bring inflation back to within the 2%-4% range target over the medium term, which includes further rate hikes through the second half of 2022.

However, given the divergent policy rate path between the Fed (aggressively “hawkish”) and the BSP (persistently “dovish”), this interest rate differential will narrow quickly, and might even turn negative (where the US interest rate is higher than the Philippine interest rate).

Metrobank Research Head Marc Bautista forecasts the BSP policy rate at 3% – 5% by year-end 2022, or another minimum 50-bp hike from here, significantly slower than the 175-bp to 225-bp expected cumulative rate hikes of the Fed.

We believe this is why the peso has weakened considerably against the US dollar and is at risk of weakening further, especially after incoming BSP Governor Felipe Medalla said that the BSP’s focus will be inflation, more than the exchange rate. This may be exacerbated as demand for the US dollar picks up ahead of peak import season in the third quarter.

Metrobank Research recently revised their exchange rate forecast to PHP 55.10 by year-end 2022 (up from PHP 53.40 previously) and PHP 56.50 by year-end 2023 (from PHP 54.70 previously), near the all-time high of PHP 56.45/USD 1 on March 31, 2004.

So what do we do now?

We’ve consistently been advocating buying the US dollar vs the peso on dips since last year. Our Financial Markets Analyst Patty Membrebe reiterated this view in her recent article, “Why buy the dollar on dips” published last May 30. Given our revised forecasts, we are keeping this strategy intact.

In the near-term, the peso appears technically oversold against the US dollar, which suggests room for a pull-back towards the 54.65-level, which could offer a window to accumulate dollars. Should the exchange rate break below this level, we see the next support at 54.50. For those who can afford to wait, the peso tends to get stronger against the dollar in the fourth quarter, when strong demand for imports goes down and seasonal OFW remittances go up.

RUBEN ZAMORA is First Vice-President and Head of Institutional Investors Coverage Division, Financial Markets Sector, at Metrobank, which manages the bank’s relationships with Non-Bank Financial Institutions, including government financial institutions, insurance companies, and asset managers. He is also the bank’s Financial Markets Strategist, focusing on fixed Income and rates advisory for our high-net-worth-individual and institutional clients. He holds a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. He is also an avid traveler and golfer.

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Currencies 4 MIN READ

Why buy the dollar on dips

A broader economic reopening, more aggressive US Fed tightening, higher commodity prices, and other factors all point to a stronger US dollar up ahead.

May 30, 2022By Patty Membrebe
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On May 26 last year, the peso was at around PHP 48.15 to the dollar. Owing to a host of factors, it has since weakened over 8% year-on-year, closing at 52.40 yesterday against the greenback. 

For those of you who have funds for investing in foreign exchange, or those with dollar requirements for your businesses, this presents a good opportunity to maximize investments. Our advice is to buy dollars on dips, meaning you buy when the dollar dips in price because, we believe, this is only temporary and it is likely to increase in value soon. 

We see three fundamental drivers that will push the dollar higher in the medium term: 1) a more aggressive tightening from the US Federal Reserve, 2) a wider current account deficit in the Philippines, and 3) continued ramping up of infrastructure spending. Metrobank Research forecasts the dollar to reach PHP 53.40 in 2022 and PHP 54.70 in 2023. 

Let’s take a closer look at these catalysts affecting the value of the dollar. 

More aggressive tightening from the Fed 

With US inflation reaching 40-year highs, increasing payrolls, and the unemployment rate almost back to pre-pandemic levels, markets now expect a total of eleven 25-basis-point (bp) hikes by the US central bank for the whole of 2022—an increase from last month’s nine 25-basis-point hikes priced-in.  

With the prospect of an accelerated tightening of monetary policy in the US and, in turn, a faster rise in interest rates, the US dollar has also seen a broad-based strengthening against major currencies as it touched 20-year highs earlier this month.  

As the Fed is poised to front-load rate hikes and reduce the balance sheet this year to re-anchor long-term inflation expectations, this has raised the risk of a stagflation, or even a recession, i.e., a “hard landing”. 

Aside from concerns over a protracted economic slowdown in the US, a myriad of global risks stemming from the Russia-Ukraine war and COVID lockdowns in China have led investors to seek safe-haven assets such as the dollar. As these issues are expected to linger in the near-term and as more investors veer away from risk, we expect the dollar to stay supported.  

Locally, the Philippine economy has turned a corner, successfully beating growth expectations for the past four quarters. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the first quarter of 2022 came in at 8.3% year-on-year, versus the consensus forecast of 6.8%. It was this growth that led to an earlier rate hike by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), a departure from its previous guidance of a possible rate hike in June.   

As widely expected, the BSP delivered a 25-basis-point increase in the overnight lending rate to 2% on May 19. After the policy rate decision, the USD/PHP continues to trade within recent ranges, with quick dips closer to 52.10 remaining supported by dollar demand from companies.  

However, players still appear to be wary of holding on to bullish peso positions as buying interest will fade as the dollar moves closer to 52.50. Real rates in the Philippines, or the key interest rate minus inflation, are still in negative territory. This is likely to weigh on the peso for most of the year.  

Wider current account deficit 

Import growth continues to outpace export growth due to the elevated prices of global commodities. As a result, importers are faced with higher dollar bills for the same volume of goods. As a net importing country, the Philippines is generally a price-taker. High commodity prices, especially those of oil and energy, do not bode well for the peso.   

We expect that a broader global reopening in the coming years will lead to a widening of the country’s trade deficit, which, in turn, is supportive of USD/PHP strength. The BSP has also revised its forecast for the country’s current account, which it now sees reaching a deficit of USD 16.3 billion this year, or 3.8% of GDP, from its previous expectation of USD 9.9 billion, equivalent to 2.3% of GDP. For 2023, the BSP sees only a slight narrowing of this current account deficit to 3.7% of GDP.  

Continued infrastructure spending 

Another fundamental driver that not only supports a big pick-up in imports, but also points to a more sustainable revival of demand in a rebounding economy, is investment growth. The latest GDP print showed a promising surge in investments, which jumped by 20%. Meanwhile, infrastructure spending for the first quarter of 2022 also rose 4% despite the ban on public works before the May 9 elections. 

This is part of the government’s “Build, Build, Build” program, which has led to an increase in the importation of capital goods. The outgoing administration has been in catch-up mode with its ambitious pipeline of big-ticket projects, for which construction has been derailed by the pandemic. Incoming President Bongbong Marcos Jr., however, has expressed his intent to build on the successes of the infrastructure program.   

There remains a bigger chunk of the flagship projects yet to be completed in 2022 and beyond, and a sustained economic reopening is set to facilitate this headwind. That said, “Build, Build, Build” is one strong factor that supports our bullish view for USD/PHP through the next couple of years, as the importation of capital goods and raw materials and, in turn, dollar demand, would have to ramp up.  

Why buy now 

Looking ahead, we are likely to see the USD/PHP spot rate to continue trading within the 52.30 to 52.50 range in the coming days, so long as risk sentiment remains stable. To the downside, 52.30 should serve as strong technical support ahead of the 52.20 level. 

On the other hand, selling interest ahead of 52.45 to 52.50 is expected to persist amid relatively light real demand, and the continued presence of local supply at 52.50.   

At current levels, those with dollar requirements may find it strategic to buy closer to 52.30 or to hedge importations in view of further peso depreciation from here.  

_____  

PATTY MEMBREBE is a Financial Markets Analyst at Metrobank – Institutional Investors Coverage Division, under the Market Strategy and Advisory Section. She communicates strategies on fixed income, rates, and portfolio solutions for our high-net-worth individual and institutional clients. She holds an AB Economics degree from Ateneo de Manila University and is currently pursuing graduate studies. On her free time, she enjoys watching indie films and watching gigs to support local indie music.

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