- Options traders become least bearish on currency since 2014
- ‘No real reason to be short’ Aussie: Nikko Asset’s Bridges
The Reserve Bank of Australia’s ability to influence the direction of its currency is in question.
Even after twin RBA interest-rate cuts this year, options traders have become the least bearish on the Australian dollar since 2014, while the median year-end analyst forecast has risen almost 3 percent this month to 73 U.S. cents. The Aussie’s 8.2 percent total return in the past six months came as the pound slumped and most European currencies stalled.
Investor demand is holding strong as yields on Australia’s 10-year bonds after accounting for inflation are higher than in the U.S. and compare with negative levels in Europe and Japan. The Aussie is unlikely to weaken as the U.S. presidential election and the Federal Reserve’s reluctance to raise interest rates hold back the greenback, according to Amundi SA and Nikko Asset Management Co.
“I see no real reason to be short in the Australian dollar at the moment,” said Roger Bridges, chief global strategist for interest rates and currencies at Nikko Asset Management’s Australian unit in Sydney, which has about $16 billion in assets. “It’s probably a little bit overvalued at the moment, but I really can’t see it going down.”
The Aussie was at 76.82 U.S. cents as of 12:45 p.m. in Sydney Wednesday, close to its average of 76.63 in April, before the RBA eased in May and August. The price of iron ore, Australia’s biggest export, has surged almost 30 percent since early June, contributing to the currency’s resilience.
While swaps traders see an almost even chance of another rate cut by year-end, Australia stands out for its relatively high yields while central bank asset-purchase programs from Japan to the euro area keep borrowing costs low worldwide. Japanese investors bought 145.3 billion yen ($1.44 billion) of Australian debt in the first six months of the year, according to data from the Bank of Japan.
“Changes to expectations about central banks’ policies continued to have an important influence on global exchange-rate developments,” the RBA said Tuesday in minutes of its Aug. 2 meeting, when the benchmark was reduced to 1.5 percent.
RBA Governor Glenn Stevens and his board have signaled a preference for a weaker currency to encourage growth in services like tourism and education amid the winding down of a once-in-a-century mining boom. While the economy has grown faster than the central bank predicted, core inflation and wage growth are both at record lows.
In his final speech before retiring as central-bank governor, Stevens said a week after the latest easing that “the ability of monetary policy alone to boost growth sustainably is very likely to be a good deal more limited than we might wish.” Australia isn’t alone. The New Zealand dollar surged after the central bank cut its key rate to a fresh record low last week, while the yen rallied on July 29 when the BOJ failed to expand stimulus as much as analysts had forecast.
The RBA is unlikely to be in a hurry to ease again, said James Kwok, London-based head of currency management at Amundi, which oversees more than $1.1 trillion.
“The U.S. election uncertainty may have contributed to the disconnection between monetary policy and currency performance,” he said.
ABN Amro Bank NV last week closed its trading recommendation that sought to profit from the Aussie’s decline. The currency is unlikely to weaken toward 72 cents at the end of the third quarter, as earlier predicted by the bank, said Roy Teo, its senior currency strategist in Singapore. It’s set to end the year at about 74 cents as the RBA will probably ease again as soon as November, he said.
“If they do not ease later this year, the Aussie is likely to head higher and that will complicate the exports and inflation outlook in Australia,” Teo said.
Options traders have reduced positions benefiting from a weaker currency. The premium for three-month contracts giving the right to sell the Aussie over those to buy shrank to 1.17 percent at the end of last week, the lowest on a closing basis since July 2014. It was at 1.20 percent Wednesday.
“Australian yields remain relatively high compared to Europe, Japan and the U.S. and the recent stability in the currency supports investor appetite,” said Jarrod Kerr, a senior rates strategist at Commonwealth Bank of Australia in Sydney. Even as Australia’s debt market grows, “it remains a tiny island of yield to multi-trillion dollar investors,” he said.