How the markets could react to a North Korea Strike

It’s difficult to interpret a rational response to an untested modern day warfare strategy using nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, below are a number of possible market scenarios under ‘flash’ and ‘short-term’ constraints.

A nuclear flashpoint is difficult to factor as its considered a non-traditional build up to conflict.

It’s assumed that the U.S would be required to destroy North Korea’s ability to retaliate in one massive short onslaught, not just its ballistic missile capability. Any strike of this scale would require a massive deployment of battleships and aviation assets to the region.

There are two main reason for that:

  • Seoul, South Korea lies less than -100km from the border. It is within artillery strike.
  • Japan is also within range of missiles and could expect a heavy bombardment.

In a war scenario we could expect the following:

Under Flash Conditions:
  • USD/JPY could rally immediately above ¥130.00 (possibly ¥140+) and the Nikkei could drop by as much as ~20%. By day’s end, JPY may “not” be a safe haven. However, negating some of the ‘big’ dollar moves will be the fact that Japan is a net overseas investor, both on the retail and institutional levels. Thus, investors who have their assets in ‘non-yen’ is at risk because they are exposed to FX volatility – expect many domestic investors to want to reduce their risk by unwinding some of their overseas investments.
  • USD/Asia – all Asian currencies could depreciate aggressively ~10%+
  • ASIAN stock markets could collapse significantly and probably more in China and Hong Kong.
  • KRW will most likely be untradeable due to liquidity constraints.
  • With trade routes, east and west, expected to be severely disrupted, could be particularly bad for Australia. The ASX will likely come under immediate pressure as a high beta to China and its main export market. AUD dropping by at least ~10% would not come as a shock.
  • USD may appreciate by at least ~5 to 10% against G10 pairs for starters.
  • Global stock markets ex-Asia and APAC could fall significantly, but not at the same pace as its Asian counterparts.
  • Oil will be expected to rally aggressively, up to $70-90+ a barrel (first and second strong resistance points) and potentially then some.
  • CHF could appreciate by ~10% crushing the SNB along the way. It’s already posted its biggest daily rise in 2 and a half years this week on ‘carry’ trade unwinds.
  • Gold will likely move higher – at least ~20% is easily feasible – towards the key psychological $1500 level, and could go much higher. Similar moves will likely be seen in Silver and Platinum.
  • Base metals could collapse as demand from China plummets, or because it is unsafe to transport raw materials.
  • Food prices will likely suffer a knee jerk reaction higher as Asia scrambles for supplies to stockpile, but probably finds that no one will be willing to ship them.

Remember: Weekend moves are prone to significent price moves and gaps due to liquidity constraints.

Under Short-Term conditions:
  • G7 Central Banks will be expected to produce massive cuts in interest rates, or provide other forms of easing, to head of a liquidity crisis.
  • U.S Treasury’s, Bunds, Gilts yields may collapse – Bunds going strongly negative and U.S 10-year yields to plummet towards +1 – 1.5% are both possible scenarios.
  • On collateral damage to either South Korea or Japan could see a reversal of some of the USD bets into EUR as an alternative safe haven.

This article is for general information purposes only. It is not investment advice or a solution to buy or sell securities. Opinions are the authors; not necessarily that of OANDA Corporation or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries, officers or directors. Leveraged trading is high risk and not suitable for all. You could lose all of your deposited funds.

Dean Popplewell

Dean Popplewell

Vice-President of Market Analysis at MarketPulse
Dean Popplewell has nearly two decades of experience trading currencies and fixed income instruments. He has a deep understanding of market fundamentals and the impact of global events on capital markets. He is respected among professional traders for his skilled analysis and career history as global head of trading for firms such as Scotia Capital and BMO Nesbitt Burns. Since joining OANDA in 2006, Dean has played an instrumental role in driving awareness of the forex market as an emerging asset class for retail investors, as well as providing expert counsel to a number of internal teams on how to best serve clients and industry stakeholders.
Dean Popplewell