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AUD and NZD both rally strongly, as does CAD

By Nick Parsons

The Aussie Dollar has had a pretty good 24 hours, even though the reaction to RBA Governor Phil Lowe’s speech to the Australian Business Economists (ABE) annual dinner might well prove to have been a bit optimistic. The RBA chief set out three sets of questions that have occupied much of their time over the past year. The first is how the final stages of the transition to lower levels of mining investment would play out. The second is the degree to which an improving labour market would translate into a pick-up in wage growth and inflation. The third is the nature of risks stemming from high and rising levels of household debt and how to deal with those risks.

Mr Lowe’s speeches are always packed with information and insight. They are worth reading many times over. But, in the FX world of instant, reductive analysis, the sentence which drew most attention was that ‘If the economy continues to improve as expected, it is more likely that the next move in interest rates will be up, rather than down’. This was in no way newsworthy. It was a statement of the blindingly obvious. But, in a market which was clearly short of AUD, it was enough to prompt a flurry of buy orders which took AUD/USD up from the 0.7530 area to a high of 0.7586 before closing in New York around 0.7580. Whether it can sustain these gains remains to be seen. The so-called “Construction Work Done” series on Wednesday is the highlight of an otherwise empty calendar today and will be a good test of sentiment after yesterday’s decent Aussie Dollar bounce.

It’s fair to say that the New Zealand Dollar rose on Tuesday only because the Australian Dollar did. It was certainly not in reaction to any fresh local news, whether economic or political. Offshore traders often link the two Antipodean currencies far more than is warranted by a closer examination of relative fundamentals. So, if the AUD rallied on a one-line comment from RBA Governor Lowe, so it dragged the NZD in its’ wake. The AUD/NZD cross opened in Sydney on Tuesday morning at 1.1090 and it opens today at 1.1090…

The latest Global Dairy Auction from Fonterra certainly did nothing to encourage a positive view of the NZD. Dairy values, as measured by the GlobalDairyTrade (GDT) index, dropped for a fourth successive auction, this time by 3.4%, to record their weakest finish in eight months. The index, which came in at 969, also showed a year-on-year decline for the first time since May last year. This morning in NZ brings the official data on overseas visitor numbers and net inward migration. It’s too soon to see the recent fall in the NZD translate into higher tourism inflows but if it’s sustained then it surely can’t do any harm to that industry.

The best levels for the pound on Tuesday came early in the European session and it gradually slid lower as the day progressed. GBP/USD hit 1.3264 as London traders arrived but lost around 30 pips over the rest of the day. Its best levels against the Aussie and Kiwi Dollars also came in the morning (1.7580 and 1.9505 respectively) and both these pairs ended the day more than a full cent lower.

Four of the nine members of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) were giving evidence to MP’s yesterday, with a wide spread of views on the outlook for monetary policy and the reasons for their individual votes at their last meeting. Gertjan Vlieghe, an external MPC member, said he switched his vote to support the rate hike due to signs that employers were finding it harder to recruit staff and that employees were more confident about changing jobs for higher pay whilst Jon Cunliffe, a BoE deputy governor who was one of the two MPC members who voted against a rate hike, said low domestic inflation pressures made it possible to “wait before tightening policy until there is clear evidence that pay growth is responding to the level of unemployment in line with our forecast."

There’s something for everyone in that spread of views though the GBP on Wednesday will be all about fiscal policy – not monetary policy – when the Chancellor presents his annual Budget to Parliament. Be prepared for a potentially much more volatile day ahead for the GBP.

The US Dollar is trading as though the Thanksgiving holiday is already here. Its index against a basket of currencies opened the week around 93.50, and thirty-six hours later it stood at 93.67, having been as low as 93.30 on Monday and traded to a high of 93.80 yesterday. In economic data, October’s existing home sales came in stronger than expected at 5.48 million units but the big talking point of the day was the performance of the stock market where the S+P 500 index traded at 2600 for the first time ever. This index added 16 points during the day (0.64%) with the Dow Jones Industrial Average up a whopping 175 points to 23,600.

Ahead of Wednesday’s FOMC Minutes, outgoing Fed Chair Janet Yellen is at Stern Business School in New York Tuesday evening at an event billed as “In conversation with Mervyn King”. This is by invitation only and scheduled to start at 6pm local time in New York. Whether her resignation loosens her tongue remains to be seen... With incoming economic data still quite firm and the stock market at record highs, the CME probability calculator shows a 91.5% chance of a 25bp rate hike on December 13th. In fact, such a move is more than fully discounted: there’s a calculated 8.5% probability of a 50bp move. Which would certainly count as a shock!

The euro had a much calmer day on Tuesday. Having opened in Europe around USD1.1735, it managed a best level in USD1.1750 but then gave back all its admittedly modest gains to end little changed on the day against the USD, though down against the Aussie, Kiwi and Canadian Dollars. With no fresh incoming economic data, the focus of attentions remains very firmly on German politics.

We can summarise the four options facing Chancellor Merkel quite simply: She can try to struggle along with a minority government which then risks being defeated in Parliament on any single issue. She can call fresh Federal elections and hope to increase her party’s 33% share of the vote it won in September. She can try to form a Coalition with the SPD who have already rejected this option. Or she can try to restart Sunday’s failed talks in the hope that the FDP’s leader might cop the blame for the instability and be prepared to renegotiate. None of these four options look particularly appealing to Ms. Merkel and none of them provide the solid and stable leadership the EU needs during Brexit negotiations. Flash PMI data on Thursday might help switch investor attention back on the Eurozone economy, but for now politics continue to weigh on the euro.

The Canadian Dollar got a double dose of good news on Tuesday and ended the North American session the equal strongest (with the AUD) of the currencies we follow here. Crude oil was up around 23 cents per barrel with NYMEX spot at $56.66 per barrel; more than a dollar and a half above last week’s low having at one point touched $56.90 late in the New York morning. The other bit of fundamental good news came from the NAFTA negotiations which are being held to thrash out a new version of the 23-year old Free Trade Agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico. These so-called NAFTA 2.0 talks are taking place as closed-door meetings and no documents from the meetings have been made public. Stakeholders involved in the negotiations are also forbidden from disclosing details.

Nevertheless, it was reported on Bloomberg yesterday afternoon that, “Mexico sees the nations close to finishing work on telecom, energy and digital commerce chapters in the fifth round of negotiations ending today”. USD/MXN fell from 19.00 to a 4-week low of 18.79 on these headlines, with USD/CAD down from a high of 1.2817 to 1.2753. In other NAFTA news it is also being reported that in the New Year the talks will be moved to non-capital cities and that after Spanish-speaking and English-speaking settings, the Canadians want to hold a round in French-speaking Quebec in late-January. The talks are still live, progress is being made and the CAD has responded accordingly.