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Australia, NZ dollars make the most of US dollar malaise

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The Australian and New Zealand dollars held firm on their US counterpart on Thursday as the sudden, and unexpected, return of risk appetite helped offset a sharp rise in US bond yields.

[SYDNEY] The Australian and New Zealand dollars held firm on their US counterpart on Thursday as the sudden, and unexpected, return of risk appetite helped offset a sharp rise in US bond yields.

The Aussie was holding at US$0.7931 after climbing 0.8 per cent in a wild session overnight. It had been down as deep as US$0.7774 after US inflation figures surprised on the high side, only to rally sharply when Wall Street and commodities brushed the data aside and swept higher.

The kiwi was likewise up at US$0.7384, having surged 1.3 per cent overnight.

The Aussie took a brief knock when domestic labour data showed a large 48,900 drop in full-time jobs, though overall employment was up a solid 16,000.

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The jobless rate dropped a tick to 5.5 per cent which is pretty much where it has been for nine months now as strong hiring was met by an expanding workforce.

The increase in supply has contributed to weakness in wage growth which slowed to record lows last year. Just last week, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) said a revival in wages, and thus inflation, would likely take some time yet.

"Strong employment growth won't boost wage growth until the unemployment rate falls much further," argued Paul Dales, chief Australia & New Zealand economist at Capital Economics.

"So while the continued strength of the labour market will support consumption growth this year, without much more wage inflation the RBA isn't going to raise interest rates." Futures markets imply a 50-50 chance of a hike by November and are not fully priced for a move to 1.75 per cent until the first quarter of 2019.

That is a stark contrast to the United States where markets are braced for three tightenings this year to around two per cent.

Treasury yields have already climbed in anticipation, more than erasing Australia's long-standing premium. Australian two-year paper now pays 26 basis points less than Treasury debt, while the spread on 10-year bonds has shrunk to zero.

While Australian bond futures fell, they still managed to outperform Treasuries. The three-year bond contract lost 6 ticks to 97.810, while the 10-year contract shed 8.5 ticks to 97.0700.

Yet yield differentials have provided scant support to the US dollar, perhaps in part due to emerging concerns about the country's burgeoning budget and current account deficits.

Tax cuts and increased spending plans will see the budget shortfall explode to more than US$1 trillion this year, while the added fiscal stimulus is likely to suck in more imports.

Whatever the cause, the drop in the US dollar was a boon to prices for Australia's commodity exports with everything from gold to copper and iron ore on the rise.

REUTERS

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