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Trade figures today are the first test this week for the NZD

By Nick Parsons

It seems a long time ago that the NZD/USD hit a high around 0.7430; the first time it had been on a US 74 cents ‘big figure’ since early-August 2017. In fact, it was only last Wednesday but the Kiwi Dollar has been hit hard in the wake of the quarterly CPI numbers. It has fallen around 1¼ cents against the US Dollar: whilst the AUD/NZD cross yesterday hit 110.70; its highest level since December 5th.

The main economic numbers locally today are the December merchandise trade report. The previous month brought an unexpectedly large deficit of $1,193; the first deficit for a November month since 2005 and compared to an average November deficit of $447 over the past five years. Even if the erratic ‘aircraft import’ was stripped out, the November deficit was still $930m. Analysts locally are looking for a very small surplus in December.

Later this week, on Thursday we have the ANZ job advertising figures and at the end of the week, the always fascinating numbers on net migration and visitor arrivals. The New Zealand Dollar opens this morning in Asia at USD0.7315 and AUD/NZD1.1060.

The Aussie Dollar began last Monday just below US 80 cents, having broken above this psychological level a couple of time the previous week, but on both occasions having failed to hold there. By the end of last week, a combination of decent local economic news (the Westpac leading index) and US Treasury Secretary Mnuchin’s words on the benefits of a weaker dollar helped cement the AUD onto this new ‘big figure’. Indeed, from Wednesday afternoon local time the Aussie Dollar never looked back and it went on to reach a high on Friday of USD just below 0.8135; its best level since January 2015 when it was around three-quarters of the way through its multi-year decline from an all-time high around USD1.10 to just 70 cents.

As Australians head back to work at the end of the Summer holidays and a long weekend, so too economic news flow begins to pick up. On Tuesday its the monthly NAB Business Survey but more important will be Wednesday’s quarterly CPI numbers. It is a constant source of wonder – though probably linked to internal politics around funding – that the official statisticians don’t produce monthly inflation numbers. It means the government and central bank have to rely on private sector estimates for a timely read on price pressures, then have a whole series of official numbers (headline, trimmed mean, weighted median etc) which can sometimes be difficult to interpret. Anyhow, the general consensus is that headline CPI will rise around 0.7% q/q to take the annual rate up to 2.%.

The RBA doesn’t have a Board meeting in January so its meeting on Tuesday February 6th will be its first chance for two months to publicly review all the incoming data. Too great a focus on the AUD/USD exchange rate would be misleading as it’s more of a story around the US Dollar, whilst the AUD/NZD cross rate is pretty much unchanged from the day of the last RBA meeting back in early December. As for its other pairs, the AUD is around one cent firmer against both the GBP and EUR than it was when the RBA last met to decide official interest rates. Whilst any comment they make on exchange rates will be seized on by analysts, it’s probably still the case that monetary policy in 2018 will be determined more by growth in wages than by what’s happening to the external value of the Aussie Dollar. The Australian Dollar starts this new week having closed on Friday at USD0.8105, with AUD/NZD at 1.1025 and GBP/AUD1.7460.

The British Pound’s remarkable 11-day sequence in which it never tested the previous day’s low against the US Dollar was good while it lasted, but has now come to an end. At one point, GBP/USD was almost 9 cents higher than its starting point around 1.3460 on January 11th having reached a best level last Thursday around 1.4330. Yesterday it didn’t just break below Friday’s low of 1.4145, but traded all the way down to 1.4035; the first ‘down day’ for the GBP in 2½ weeks.

The first few weeks of the new year have been mercifully free of Brexit news, but it is a subject which is now set to return with a vengeance; with just under 14 months left until the UK formally exits the European Union on March 29th 2019. Though the legislation has passed the House of Commons, this week it goes for debate to the House of Lords whose constitution committee has already said that the bill as it currently stands risked “undermining legal certainty” and should be substantially changed. The chair of the committee today said yesterday, “We acknowledge the scale, challenge and unprecedented nature of the task of converting existing EU law into UK law, but as it stands, this bill is constitutionally unacceptable.”

In what will be a relatively quiet week for UK economic data, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney is due to give evidence to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee on Tuesday afternoon. During his Q+A session at Davos last week, he attempted to quantify the loss of GDP which resulted from the EU referendum result 18 months ago and might well come in for some tough questioning over this. The GBP opens lower in Asia this morning at USD1.4075, GBP/AUD1.7375 and GBP/NZD1.9225.

Hold the front page - the US Dollar didn’t fall yesterday! The USD index reached a low point on Thursday last week of 88.20 before rallying into the NY close and then holding around half of its gains on Friday. It opened on Monday morning in Sydney around 88.75 and at one point during the European afternoon managed to break on to an 89 ‘big figure’ for the first time in four days. Its gains we’re broad-based and saw the USD rise against every major currency to take a rare top spot on our one-day performance table.

US economic data on Monday were pretty much in line with consensus expectations. They may be a bit obscure for some of our readers, but the personal consumption and spending figures are very important to the Fed for two reasons: First, they feed directly into estimates of GDP and second, they are accompanied by so-called a PCE deflator which is the measure of inflation the Fed is targeting. Whereas the RBA in Australia and the RBNZ in New Zealand have CPI targets, the US Fed has a PCE target. The headline measure of PCE inflation was 1.7% with the core ex-food & energy number as expected at 15%.

After the US numbers were published, the Atlanta Fed updated its GDPNow model. It had overstated the Q4 numbers last week but its first estimate of Q1 2018 is a very punchy 4.2% which would more than make up for any disappointments last Friday. Its’ next update will come on Thursday after the ISM survey and official numbers on construction spending. For Tuesday, consumer confidence is the main data point but the big event of the day will be President Trump’s State of the Union address at 9pm EST. The speech is titled, “Building a safe, strong and proud America”. With US 10-year bond yields up at a fresh cycle high of 2.71%, the USD index opens in Asia today at 89.00.

EUR/USD hit a 3-year high of 1.2530 during the ECB Press Conference last Thursday before then falling one and a half cents to 1.2375 on President Trump’s comments to CNBC about wanting a stronger Dollar over the longer-term. On Friday it couldn’t regain the highs and in the early evening in New York yesterday fell to a low of 1.2345.

Speaking in Brussels on Monday, The ECB’s chief economist Peter Praet said the European Central Bank will only stop pumping cash into the euro zone economy when it is confident that inflation is heading towards its target without its extra help. Praet is one of the key supporters of the ECB’s €2.55 trillion bond-buying programme and was responding to calls by officials – notably in Germany and the Netherlands - to stop the scheme later this year. Despite these dovish remarks, German 5-year bond yields yesterday moved back into positive territory for the first time since late-2015 whilst 10-year bunds were up 6bp to 0.69%.

Today in the Eurozone brings Q4 GDP figures where consensus estimates are for a +0.6% quarterly increase. We’ll also get German CPI figures which will then see analysts firming up their forecasts for the Eurozone CPI numbers on Wednesday. The EUR opens in Asia this morning at USD1.2385, AUD/EUR0.6535 and NZD/EUR0.5910.

USD/CAD has settled in the lower part of a 1.2280-1.25 range. The CAD has been helped by continued strength in oil prices (WTI crude was back above $66 yesterday morning) and a sense that negotiations around NAFTA seemed to proceeding well; albeit behind closed doors.

Trade ministers from Canada, Mexico and the United States ended the sixth round of NAFTA negotiations in Montreal on Monday, agreeing some progress was made but acknowledging that tough challenges still lie ahead to strike a new deal. US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said while some progress was made, he hoped it would accelerate and achieve major breakthroughs. "This round was a step forward, but we are progressing very slowly," he said. This was because trilateral negotiations are more "complicated and contentious" than bilateral talks. Nevertheless, in his closing remarks, Lighthizer said, “Some real headway was made here today… We're committed to moving forward."

After the relief that NAFTA talks haven’t completely collapsed despite plenty of outstanding differences between the three negotiating teams, investors can now focus on upcoming economic data releases. We get the monthly GDP and industrial production numbers on Wednesday and the manufacturing PMI survey on Thursday. The Canadian Dollar opens in Asia this morning at USD/CAD1.2325, AUD/CAD0.9980 and NZD/CAD0.9025.