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Australian, New Zealand dollars hold near multi-week highs

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The Australian dollar held near six-week highs on Tuesday, as the country's central bank expressed greater confidence about the economic outlook, while the New Zealand dollar hovered around a two-month top.

[SYDNEY] The Australian dollar held near six-week highs on Tuesday, as the country's central bank expressed greater confidence about the economic outlook, while the New Zealand dollar hovered around a two-month top.

The Australian dollar traded around US$0.7661, not far from Friday's US$0.7694 which was the highest since early November.

The Aussie has been on an uptrend since last week, rising in six of the last seven sessions, helped by strong data at home as well as from China, Australia's top trading partner.

Tuesday's minutes from the Reserve Bank of Australia's (RBA) December meeting showed policymakers were encouraged by that run of better economic data, although weakness in consumer spending was a "significant risk." That, along with subdued inflation and scrooge-like wage growth, is why the RBA is widely expected to hold rates at a record low 1.50 per cent for a long while yet.

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"Strength in the labour market and expected associated spill-over effects is expected to continue, although policy will only be adjusted when it is clear that wage and price pressures return," said Westpac chief economist Bill Evans.

"We retain our view that the overnight cash rate will remain on hold in 2018 and 2019."

The RBA has spent more than seven years now without raising interest rates, the longest spell since the official cash rate was introduced in 1990.

Interbank futures suggest this period of record-low rates could be here to stay for at least another year.

The Aussie has also eased to reflect that. It is down nearly 5 per cent from a lofty US$0.8125 touched in September with the US Federal Reserve staying on its tightening path, and expected to hike rates three more times next year.

Across the Tasman Sea, the New Zealand dollar edged up 0.2 per cent to US$0.7008 on Tuesday as hopes for a strong dairy auction later in the day outweighed surveys showing subdued confidence in the economy.

The kiwi was within striking distance of a two-month peak of US$0.7034 hit last week.

Prices for whole milk powder, the country's largest goods export, were expected to pick up at the fortnightly global dairy auction as local production slowed.

That helped overcome a pair of surveys which showed soft consumer and business confidence amid a change in policy direction by the country's new Labour government.

New Zealand government bonds were mixed, with yields down at the short end but rising on longer dates in line with U.S. Treasuries.

Australian government bond futures slipped, with the three-year bond contract down 2.5 ticks at 97.880. The 10-year contract also fell 2.5 ticks to 97.4150.

REUTERS