Aussie foils RBA as growth rivals kiwi, pound

Australia is forecast to be among the three fastest-growing economies in the developed world this year. Photo / 123RF
Australia is forecast to be among the three fastest-growing economies in the developed world this year. Photo / 123RF

Australia is forecast to be among the three fastest-growing economies in the developed world this year, making it harder for the central bank to convince currency investors it isn't about to raise interest rates.

The Reserve Bank of Australia must differentiate itself from its counterparts in New Zealand and Britain, which have signaled their economies may need higher borrowing costs, according to Westpac Banking.

Australia's record-low benchmark rate hasn't stopped foreign-exchange markets driving its dollar up 2.2 per cent in the past month, the best performing Group-of-10 currency ahead of the kiwi, the Canadian dollar and the pound.

While growth in Australia has been bolstered for now by a rebound in commodity-export volumes, the central bank is more focused on boosting labour-intensive industries from housing to manufacturing as mining investment cools.

Gross domestic product will expand 3.1 per cent in 2014, according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg News from June 12 to June 17, up from a previous forecast for 2.8 per cent. New Zealand is predicted to grow 3.3 per cent and Britain 3 per cent.

"There's a huge amount of investment that's going to fall away in the second half of this year, something that the UK and New Zealand don't really share with Australia," said Michael Turner, a debt and currency strategist at Royal Bank of Canada in Sydney.

"If they want to be credible on any kind of jawboning on the currency, they're going to have to shift back toward an easing bias," he said, referring to the RBA.

Economists increased their GDP forecasts this month following a June 4 report that showed a first-quarter expansion of 1.1 per cent, the fastest pace in two years. Exports surged 4.8 per cent from the previous three months, to be the biggest contributor to growth, the data showed.

Forecasts for exports rose, while projections for household consumption were cut, according to this month's Bloomberg survey.

"If domestic demand slows and exports pick up, headline GDP looks the same but the demand for labour is probably weaker than it was and that's the more important part for policy," RBC's Turner said. RBA minutes released last week "probably opened risks up a little more" of the central bank moving to an easing bias, he said.

The Aussie rose to its highest level since April 10 today after a Chinese manufacturing gauge rose to a seven-month high in June, indicating stronger economic momentum in Australia's largest trading partner.

Read: NZ dollar gains after Chinese manufacturing beats expectations

A preliminary Purchasing Managers' Index from HSBC Holdings and Markit Economics was at 50.8, exceeding the 49.7 median estimate of analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News and a final reading of 49.4 in May. A number above 50 indicates expansion.

It's hard to gauge how much low interest rates will offset a decline in mining investment and tighter fiscal policy, RBA officials said at their June 3 meeting, according to the minutes released June 17. Policymakers judged the currency was providing less assistance to rebalancing growth and was high by historical standards, particularly given recent declines in commodity prices, the minutes showed.

The Australian dollar tumbled 0.7 per cent on the day the minutes were published and traders have been pricing in a greater probability the central bank will ease policy in coming months. There's a 16 per cent chance of a rate cut by year-end, up from 9 per cent odds on June 13, according to swaps data compiled by Bloomberg.

Benchmark 10-year Australian bond yields fell 11 basis points last week, the most this month, to 3.68 per cent. They were at 3.69 per cent on Monday.

In contrast, minutes of the Bank of England's June 4-5 meeting showed policymakers said a rate increase this year may be more likely than investors anticipate as the economy gathers momentum. The Reserve Bank of New Zealand increased borrowing costs on June 12 for a third time this year and signaled further increases.

"You don't want to get swept up with the kiwi and the sterling - currencies that at the moment are at the top of the list in terms of the carry trade," said Robert Rennie, head of currency and commodity strategy at Westpac in Sydney. He was referring to a strategy where investors try to exploit differences in global borrowing costs.

Read more:
NZ dollar touches 2-month high
New Zealand economy rocking on

In such transactions, investors borrow in low-yielding nations and invest in those with higher returns.

The currency has remained resilient even as prices of Australia's main commodity exports drop, with iron ore near its lowest since September 2012. Prices have fallen more than 10 per cent for thermal coal and coking coal this year.

An almost 8 per cent decline in the Aussie trade-weighted index would be consistent with the current price for iron ore, Deutsche Bank said in a research note published June 19. Though other factors are currently holding the currency up, the Frankfurt-based bank said.

"What we saw in the minutes was the beginning of a debate within the RBA to talk to the uncertainties - which is their word - of how much low rates were working to support domestic demand," Westpac's Rennie said. "We are going to see further concerns of that expressed in the July 1 policy statement."

- Bloomberg

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