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May 19th 2009

Outlook is Positive for Australia, but Less so for Australian Dollar

The economic outlook continues to improve for Australia. Most recently, both the government and the Central Bank released five-year growth forecasts, both of which show a modest recovery in 2010. “By 2011-12, the commodity-rich economy will again be firing on all cylinders with growth of 4.5%, well above the long-term growth rate of around 3%.”

This positive development coincided with the release of similarly upbeat economic data: “Retail sales surged 2.2 percent in March from the previous month, four times as much as economists forecast. Home-loan approvals jumped 4.9 percent, the sixth consecutive gain.” Meanwhile, unemployment shrank for the first time in months, and consumer confidence is once again rising. While the economy is forecast to shrink by .75% in the current fiscal year, this compares favorably with other industrialized countries.

The sudden turnaround can be attributed to a couple factors. First of all, the pickup in China’s economy is stimulating demand for natural resources, which had been slack for the last year. If not for simultaneously falling commodity prices, Australia might have even achieved positive economic growth for the year.

The government’s stimulus plan and spending initiatives have also played a role, although the extent cannot be measured accurately for a few months. “The government claims that measures in its budget will inject a further A$8.8 billion into the economy in 2009-10, adding to around A$50 billion in fiscal measures already announced since October 2008.”

The outlook for the Australian Dollar, meanwhile, is not so rosy. The 425 basis points in cumulative rate cuts that the Royal Bank of Australia (RBA) effected over the last year have lowered the interest rate differential with other industrialized countries. While the RBA has indicated that it will pause before cutting rates further, interest rate futures reflect the expectation that rates will be lower twelve months from now. “Economists say the RBA is open to cutting interest rates again if consumer and business confidence appear threatened, but for now it is content to let monetary and fiscal stimulus measures take hold.”

To be sure, the uptick in risk tolerance has been good for the Australian Dollar, igniting a 25% rise since March. The currency now stands at a 7-month high against the US Dollar. But the increasingly modest differential is now causing some analysts to question whether it is a reasonable risk to take, especially against the backdrop of volatility and a high correlation with global stock prices. “What’s the point of picking up a 3 percent interest-rate differential by being long Aussie and short Japan in a world where the exchange rate can move by that much in two days?” Asks One analyst rhetorically.

This same analyst is actually recommending investors to use the Australian Dollar as a funding currency, and go long on higher-yielding currencies, such as the Brazilian Real. This particular trade would have netted a respectable 5.9% return in 2009. How quickly the roles have reversed!


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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Australian Dollar, Economic Indicators, News | 1 Comment »

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    […] Adam Kritzer explains the gap between a good outlook for Australia and a bad outlook for the Aussie. AUD/USD is one of my favorites… […]

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