Asia’s Rich Showing Less Love for Australian Dollar: UBS


JANUARY 27, 2015

Asia’s wealthy are falling out of love with the Aussie dollar as record-low yields and sustained declines persuade them to look elsewhere, according to UBS.

Many of the bank’s wealthiest clients in the region began to abandon the currency as Australia’s bond yield premium over the United States slid and the Federal Reserve discussed raising interest rates, said Simon Smiles, Zurich-based chief investment officer for ultra-high-net-worth individuals.

The 10-year yield is 74 basis points above that of the United States, down from 130 a year ago.

“Two years ago when I came to the region, in most client meetings, people were asking about Aussie assets, the Australian dollar, yield play; when you talk about it now, there’s almost no interest,” Smiles said on Monday. “From the third quarter of last year, there’s a growing belief that the US dollar would start a sustained appreciation trend.”

The Aussie has tumbled 16 percent in the past six months to the weakest level since 2009 and Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Glenn Stevens has said he expects it to extend declines. The local dollar has fallen less than the euro and the currencies of Denmark, Canada and Norway this year and “should be the next domino to fall,” said Olivier Korber, a strategist at Societe Generale in Paris.

Australia has been struggling with the end of a once-in-a-century resources boom and a slowdown in China, which buys more than 35 percent of the South Pacific nation’s exports.

A Deutsche Bank index tracking the prices of commodities important to Australia has tumbled 30 percent in the past 12 months with iron ore and thermal coal sliding to multi-year lows.

China slowing

China’s economy grew 7.4 percent in 2014, the slowest pace in 24 years. The expansion will weaken to 7 percent this year, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey.

“The biggest structural concern for Australia and the currency is probably the landing of the Chinese economy amid falling commodity prices,” Societe Generale’s Korber said last Friday.

Australia’s dollar is set to end the year at 77 US cents, he said. An earlier-than-expected decline below this level may accelerate its descent toward 70 cents.

The Australian dollar was little changed at 79.24 cents after declining on Monday to 78.55 cents, the weakest since July 2009. Forecasters see it finishing the year at 78 cents, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey.

Surprise reduction

The Bank of Canada’s unexpected decision to cut interest rates last week and the European Central Bank’s announcement of a bond-purchase program have spurred traders to increase bets the RBA will also loosen monetary policy. There’s a 40 percent chance it will lower borrowing costs on Feb. 3, up from about 25 percent odds on Jan. 16, interest-rate swaps show.

Central bank chief Stevens last month signaled the cash rate will remain unchanged for the foreseeable future.

The currency will probably extend losses this year, he said in an interview with the Australian Financial Review published on Dec. 12, saying a level of 75 cents would be better than 85.

“The weaker Australian dollar is easing monetary conditions for the RBA,” David Forrester, senior vice president for Group of 10 foreign-exchange strategy at Macquarie in Singapore, said on Monday. “The RBA would prefer to ease monetary conditions via the currency rather than having to cut rates and risk generating asset bubbles.”

Inflation swaps

Yields on Australian five-year inflation swaps, which signal expectations for consumer prices, dropped to a five-year low of 2.12 percent on Monday, toward the lower range of the central bank’s inflation target of 2 percent to 3 percent.

A further decline in the Aussie will depend on what the Fed says about the US dollar at its two-day meeting starting on Tuesday, Forrester said.

While Macquarie expects Australia’s currency to weaken to 78 cents in three months, there’s a risk the Fed “could talk down” the US dollar, providing a respite for its Australian counterpart, Forrester said on Monday.

Bloomberg’s dollar gauge is set for its seventh monthly gain as the Fed moves toward raising interest rates. Some 45 percent of 53 economists in a Bloomberg survey said the central bank will raise the benchmark lending rate in June.

Six percent said July, while 30 percent said the Fed will wait until September for the first increase since 2006. Fed officials last month said they expect to raise the rate this year.

“The Australian dollar has fallen on a total return basis, lost people money and there’s an expectation that it will continue to depreciate,” UBS’s Smiles said.

“Clients see it as a fairly compelling reason not to be invested there.”