Global Investing

Aussie: reserve managers’ new favourite

Lucky Australia. In a world of slowing economic growth its central bank today raised forecasts for 2012 GDP growth by a half point to 3.5 percent. That’s down to a mining boom, driven of course by China. But there’s a downside. Australia’s currency, the dollar (or affectionately, the Aussie), has steadily risen in recent years, and is up 3 percent versus the U.S. dollar this year. Unsurprisingly, the Reserve Bank of Australia tempered its good news on growth with a warning over the Aussie’s gains.

Analysts at Credit Agricole note that the Aussie’s gains this year have come in tandem with a rise in Japan’s yen. That in itself would have been highly unusual in the past: the yen is a so-called safe haven, the currency investors run to when all else is selling off, while the Aussie is a commodity currency, one that does well when world growth is looking good and risk appetite is high. CA analysts explain thus:

The role of the (Aussie) is probably changing from a traditional commodity currency to an increasingly attractive reserve currency.

There is only anecdotal evidence central banks are actually buying the Aussie in large quantities. The German, Swiss and Russian central banks are among those that have indicated an interest. But a recent IMF report put the share of ‘other’ currencies (that includes the Aussie and the New Zealand dollar) in world FX reserves at $295 billion in the second 2012 quarter.  And that’s quite a jump from $87 billion in three years ago. The graphic below shows that the share of the “others” in central bank reserves now exceeds the sterling or the yen.

Credit Agricole adds:

Although the breakdown is unknown, such a big jump indicates at least part of diversification flows moving into Aussie.

The Big Five: themes for the week ahead

Five things to think about this week:

GOOD RUN 
-  Stocks have managed to extend their rally but potential hurdles, such as this week’s U.S. non-farm payrolls, could prove increasingly hard to leap given valuations — European stocks are trading at their highest multiples of earnings since May 2008 while the multiple for the S&P is the highest since mid-September 2008. If investors are to boost equity holdings — which Reuters polls show already back to pre-Lehman levels — it may require more concrete evidence of economic expansion, rather than just economic stabilisation, and signs that profit margins will be supported by revenue growth, rather than cost cutting. 

BOE – HANGING IN THE BALANCE
- The Bank of England will have to decide this week whether to end its asset-buying programme or extend it. Concern about potential longer-term inflation implications will have to be weighed against the signs of economic weakness still manifest in recent Q2 GDP data. With economists split on the outcome, markets look set for volatility, not least as the MPC’s decision is likely to be viewed as a indication of when other central banks could start to halt/unwind their credit easing strategy. 

SQUARING CIRCLES
- The dexterity with which China can manage surging lending and potential price pressures without unsettling markets with any rapid reversal of stimulative policy is increasingly in focus and will have financial market and macroeconomic repercussions well beyond its borders and Asia, as last week showed. Australia, which felt the spillover effect of the China jitters, has its own policy dilemma as the RBA is trying to push back against its currency’s appreciation while giving markets another reason to buy A$ by its more upbeat view on the domestic economic outlook. The RBA policy meeting this week will give the central bank a chance to show how it squares this circle.