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April 21st 2009

Australian Dollar Rises Despite Unwinding of Carry Trade

When two weeks ago the Royal Bank of Australia (RBA) cut interest rates, one would have expected the Australian Dollar to suffer proportionately. Instead, the currency continued its steady upward rise, and touched a six-month high, before falling back slightly. One surprised analyst lamented, “These types of inconsistencies can make trading forex difficult or down right frustrating at times.”

The interest rate cut marked the sixth since September, since which point the RBA has trimmed its benchmark lending rate by 425 basis points, leaving it at 3%. [See chart below courtesy of “The Fundamental Analyst.”] Traders have reacted to the successive declines in yield and simultaneous pickup in risk aversion by unwinding carry trades, many of which had been long the Australian Dollar. The massive sell-off that ensued left the Aussie a long way below the level of parity with the USD, which only last year many analysts had viewed as inevitable.


The most recent rate cut, in contrast, was greeted positively by traders, perhaps because they were expecting a larger (50 basis point) rate cut, but more likely because their priorities had changed. A pickup in risk aversion in recent weeks has definitely reinvigorated interest in comparatively risky currencies such as the Australian Dollar. Overall, the markets remain risk-averse, and investors are increasingly making bets in accordance with economic fundamentals, rather than yield levels. ” ‘The focus will remain on the global backdrop…Risk appetite is still fragile and the market is increasingly realizing that the recent recovery was excessive.’ ”

In the case of the Australian Dollar, traders were heartened by the RBA’s decision to lower interest rates to a 49-year low since it reflected the Bank’s commitment to dealing with the economic crisis. But at this point, the Australian economy is still in poor shape. “Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said yesterday for the first time that a recession in Australia is inevitable amid a slump in global growth that is eroding demand for natural resources from the world’s biggest shipper of coal and iron ore.”

Meanwhile, “The global economic downturn has pushed Australia’s economy into its first recession since 1991, Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Glen Stevens said.” According to the minutes from the RBA’s last meeting, “Conditions in the labor market continued to soften” and “Further falls in employment and rises in unemployment were expected.” These observations should be viewed in the context of a 5.7% unemployment rate.

The near-term prognosis for the Australian economy remains quite poor, regardless of whether a recovery materializes in 2010, as forecast by economists. Accordingly, analysts expect the RBA to lower its benchmark interest rate further, probably to 2.25% or 2.5%; there is a “bias toward further modest rate cuts, although we continue to think that the RBA may well pause for a few months to assess the impact of the current round of fiscal stimulus,” offered one forecaster.

Given the lull in market activity, some commentators have turned to technical analysis. “Westpac Currency strategist Robert Rennie said their own risk measurement models are clearly flagging a bumpy period ahead for high yielding currencies. ‘Our proprietary models are…clearly telling us to watch risk sentiment and data much more closely than we have over the past six weeks.’ ” In short, traders should not become complacent as result of the Aussie’s recent rally, and should continue to monitor economic data for signs of progress and/or hiccups on the road to recovery.


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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Australian Dollar, Central Banks | 1 Comment »

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