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AUD/USD falls to 4-week low on broad-based USD recovery. Speech awaited from RBA Governor Phil Lowe this evening.

By Nick Parsons

Something different began to happen in Wednesday’s trading in the Northern Hemisphere day. During the previous few days of extreme equity market volatility, the USD tended to do well as stock markets fell, with its best session (the European morning on Tuesday) coming as equities were smashed and US 10-year yields fell back to 2.70%. As the US indices recovered sharply Tuesday afternoon, so the US Dollar gave back all of its morning gains. This pattern continued into Wednesday, as the early call for the DJIA to open 200 point slower helped underpin the USD. But, as stocks extended gains and bond yields rose back to 2.79%, so the US Dollar continued to rise and finished the day at the top of our one-day performance table. We mention this at the top of our report because it goes a long way to explaining the performance of AUD/USD which yesterday tumbled over three-quarters of a cent from the high in Sydney to a 4-week low around 0.7825. AUD/EUR and AUD/NZD, by contrast, finished little changed on the day.

Bloomberg reported yesterday that Commonwealth Bank of Australia – the nation’s largest bank – has reduced its exposure to apartment developers by more than A$1 billion ($789 million), or 23%, according to data included in its first-half earnings report, released today. It’s also pulling back on loans to property investors, which rose just 0.5 percent compared to 7.5 percent growth for owner-occupier loans. Data released last week showed Sydney house prices, which surged 75% between February 2012 and July, have now dropped 3.1% from their peak. As the other major banks report their numbers over the next few weeks, analysts will be looking for any further signs of caution on the property market which has been a major driver of household consumption and consumer confidence over the past few years.

The main event for the rest of this week is on Friday when the RBA releases its latest Quarterly Statement of Monetary Policy, but before then in Sydney this evening, Governor Phil Lowe is scheduled to give a speech. He is usually full of interest and insight and this first set-piece event since the summer holidays at the A50 Australian Economic Forum dinner is sure to be closely-followed. The Australian Dollar opens in Asia at USD0.7825, with AUD/NZD at 1.0790 and GBP/AUD1.7735.

The NZD couldn’t sustain Tuesday’s strength. The AUD/NZD made an early attempt to probe into fresh 6-month lows but having reached 1.0750, it then reversed around 30 pips higher. Against the US Dollar, it broadly tracked the movements of its Aussie cousin, falling almost a full cent from its Asian high of 0.7345 to a 3-week low of 0.750.

New Zealand’s fourth quarter labour market report showed the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 4.5% in the December 2017 quarter, down from 4.6% in Q3; the lowest since the December 2008 quarter, when it was 4.4%. Although good news, the unemployment rate remains considerably above New Zealand’s lowest unemployment rate, which was 3.3%, recorded a decade ago in the December 2007 quarter, immediately before the global financial crisis. The employment rate held steady at 67.8 percent, the equal highest rate since the series began in 1986, as employment kept pace with the expanding working-age population. Women also remained at their highest ever rate of employment at 62.4 percent.

Ahead of this morning’s first RBNZ policy meeting of the year, it was interesting to see the official statisticians point out prominently in their data release that, “the underutilisation rate was just over 12 percent – reflecting about 340,000 New Zealanders with potential to work more. This measure is just as important as the unemployment rate”. Analysts are unanimous that there will be no change in official interest rates with most attention focused on the new forecast track that the RBNZ will be publishing and whether or not there is any explicit attempt to talk the currency lower. The New Zealand Dollar opens in Asia today at USD0.7250 and AUD/NZD1.0785.

Yesterday morning in Europe, GBP/USD made another attempt to get back on to a 1.40 ‘big figure’ but could get no higher than 1.3995 before then losing more than a full cent against a strongly recovering US Dollar. Despite the weakness in the ‘cable’ rate, the British Pound actually ended the day higher against NZD, AUD and the EUR, whilst little changed against the CAD.

The EU’s leaked position paper – ‘Transitional Arrangements in the Withdrawal Agreement’ – which we highlighted here yesterday had the very rare impact of uniting the whole of the UK political spectrum against it. This unity probably won’t last long. Even the Liberal Democrats qualified their opposition by saying it proved the need to have a second referendum. Nonetheless, it would have provided a welcome respite for the embattled Prime Minister Theresa May, even if it will only last until her own Cabinet start tearing lumps out of each other once again. When pressed on the clause at parliamentary question time, the PM promised a “robust” response, even though to nearly all observers she seems to be in the position of a poker player bluffing with a pair of two’s…

There’s a Bank of England MPC meeting today. In his appearance before a House of Lords Select Committee last week, BoE Governor Carney hinted that the Bank is preparing to upgrade the forecasts in its Inflation Report. “I would expect that in 2019 we will see a pick-up in this economy all things being equal – strong global growth, greater certainty... A disorderly Brexit, not a likely scenario at all, is less likely than at the time we did the assessment in the fall.” We’ll wait to see whether his bullish talk has survived the harsh reality of this week’s Brexit-speak. For today, the GBP opens in Asia at USD1.3875, GBP/AUD1.7725 and GBP/NZD1.9120.

As we explained in detail at the top of today’s report in the AUD section, something different began to happen in Wednesday’s trading in the Northern Hemisphere day. As stocks extended gains and bond yields rose back to 2.79%, so the US Dollar continued to rise and finished the day at the top of our one-day performance table. It’s index against a basket of major currencies is now up from a low last Thursday of 88.25 to 89.95 and is now back above the level from which it began to fall a couple of weeks ago when Treasury Secretary Mnuchin made his infamous comments in Davos.

Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Robert Kaplan said Wednesday, the recent selloff is "basically a market event and these things can be healthy." Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard said the latest market decline was no surprise given the elevated valuations of technology stocks and absence of any recent drops. “This is the most predicted selloff of all time because the markets have been up so much and they have had so many days in a row without meaningful down days”. Federal Reserve Bank of New York President William Dudley, meantime, said recent stock-market declines weren’t that big and don’t yet change his outlook for the U.S. economy. “The stock market had a remarkable rise over a very long time with extremely low volatility… My outlook hasn’t changed just because the stock market’s a little bit lower than it was a few days ago. It’s still up sharply from where it was a year ago.” There’s certainly no sign here either of concern about a deeper stock market correction, nor any desire at all to signal rates won’t be raised at the March FOMC meeting.

There are no top-tier US economic data releases scheduled for the rest of the week in the US, though it will be interesting to see if weekly jobless claims later today can extend their recent decline even further into record-setting territory. After its strong run of the past few days, the USD index opens in Asia around 89.90.

After yesterday’s exceptionally quiet session in Asia (with barely 20 pips separating the high and low in EUR/USD), the Northern Hemisphere day was much livelier as investors tried to digest news of the new Coalition government in Germany. We have seen what happened in the VIX market in the US when investors in a very crowded trade all tried to pile through the exit at once and there were some tentative signs in EUR/USD that the same might be happening in FX. The EUR fell over a full cent in the late European afternoon to a low of 1.2260; its first time back on a 1.22 handle in two weeks.

On the one hand – as the economists say! – there was some relief that Germany might avoid a fresh, destabilising Federal Election, but on the other is a concern that Ms Merkel might have conceded too much to the left-wing SPD. Early reports suggested that the SPD would be handed the Finance Ministry – a major victory for the Social Democrats – while CSU leader Horst Seehofer, one of the most conservative figures on Merkel's side, would become Interior Minister. The SPD also look set to keep control of the Foreign Ministry and the Labour Ministry, with party leader Martin Schulz reportedly keen to be Foreign Minister. The SPD leadership confirmed the Coalition agreement in a group WhatsApp message, which began, "Tired. But satisfied."

Today brings the ECB’s Economic Bulletin while there are no less than four Governing Council members all giving speeches during the European morning. The EUR opens in Asia at USD1.2260, AUD/EUR0.6375 and NZD/EUR0.5910.

In the space of just three trading days, USD/CAD rose exactly three cents from a low of 1.2260 last Thursday evening to 1.2560 on Tuesday morning. Mostly this was a story of USD strength, though the Canadian Dollar had also slipped on some of its major crosses with EUR/CAD, for example, up around half a cent over the same period. Taking a bigger picture view, since the beginning of 2018, USD/CAD has been in a range 1.2260-1.2580 and in yesterday’s New York afternoon held below the top of this range even as the USD jumped.

Statistics Canada yesterday reported monthly and annual figures for building permits. The municipalities issued $8.1 billion in building permits in December, up 4.8% following a 7.3% decline in November. The December increase stemmed from higher construction intentions in the residential sector. Across Canada, all components climbed in 2017, up 10.4% from the previous year. The value of permits in the residential sector has increased every year since 2009. In 2017, the residential sector increased 7.8%, pushed up primarily by the multi-family component (+13.7%).

The next big event in domestic economic news will be the employment report on Friday where consensus is looking for only a 10k rise after a 78k gain in December. Before then, Bank of Canada Senior Deputy Governor Carolyn Wilkins will give a speech today which could offer the next clues on the outlook for interest rates. The Canadian Dollar opens in Asia today at USD/CAD1.2570, AUD/CAD0.9830 and NZD/CAD0.9125.