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Aussie, NZ dollars fall as market wagers all on imminent rate cuts

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The Australian dollar huddled near 11-year lows on Monday after a dire reading on Chinese manufacturing and talk of rate cuts in the United States stoked speculation of an imminent policy easing at home.

[SYDNEY] The Australian dollar huddled near 11-year lows on Monday after a dire reading on Chinese manufacturing and talk of rate cuts in the United States stoked speculation of an imminent policy easing at home.

The Aussie was down at US$0.6478, having dived as deep as US$0.6435 on Friday for a loss on the week of 1.9 per cent. There is still little in the way of chart support until a US$0.6280 low from early 2009.

The New Zealand dollar sank to US$0.6203, having shed 1.6 per cent last week to touch lows last seen in 2009.

Both currencies have been hit hard as the coronavirus outbreak hamstrung global trade and tourism, while denting prices for key commodity exports.

A survey released over the weekend showed factory activity in China contracted at the fastest pace ever in February, with the country's official Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) falling to 35.7 from 50.0 in January.

The collapse, combined with a hint from the Federal Reserve that it may take action, fuelled speculation the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) would respond by cutting interest rates at its monthly policy meeting on Tuesday.

A Reuters poll last week found few analysts expected a move so soon, but the sheer scale of market losses around the globe and the dismal news out of China had changed all that.

Futures were now implying a 96 per cent chance of a quarter-point cut to 0.5 per cent this week, compared with just 18 per cent last week.

A further move to 0.25 per cent was fully priced in by July, and analysts were pondering quantitative easing steps such as the central bank buying government bonds.

"The RBA looks like it will join what seems to be a coordinated global easing effort," said Tapas Strickland, director of economics at National Australia Bank, citing talk the Bank of Japan would make a statement on Monday morning.

"With policy rates so low, thoughts will now turn to how likely QE and negative rates are globally and also in Australia," he added. "The clear risk of COVID-19 spilling over to consumer and business confidence is very real and looks to be being realised."

Investors were likewise wagering the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) would be forced into cutting, even though it recently dropped its easing bias and turned neutral.

The market is more than fully priced for a quarter-point cut to 0.75 per cent at the next meeting on March 25.

Fed funds are pricing in almost 44 basis points of U.S. cuts this month, and 90 basis points by November.

Australian bond yields duly dropped to all-time lows with the 10-year down at 0.84 per cent.

The three-year bond future surged 16.5 ticks on Monday to a record peak of 99.665, implying an yield of just 0.335 per cent. The 10-year contract climbed 13 ticks to 99.3150.

REUTERS