Monday, October 19, 2009

Has the RBA lost the plot?

The Reserve Bank of Australia's decision to raise interest rates earlier this month led to a massive 8% rally in the Australian dollar against the US dollar over the past two weeks. The Australian dollar has now rallied over 50% since early March, a rally so sharp that it raises very serious questions about the currency's credibility as a reliable asset form. The currency has now seen a combined 100% swing in its valuation (50% each way) against the US dollar over the last 15 months. The Australian economy has weathered the recent recession better than all developed economies, experiencing only a temporary negative dip in GDP. How then does this explain the massive volatility in the country's currency? One thing is does demonstrate to us is that the value of the Australian dollar has very little or nothing to do with the actual performance of the Australian economy and its trade volumes, but more to do with the speculative greed driven by the 'money for nothing' monetary policy of the US Federal Reserve (and the Bank of Japan before it). The loose monetary policy of the US is seeing speculators (many of them major US investment banks) use the dollar as a funding currency to essentially sell the dollar in favour of any liquid asset that is not the US dollar. So while hundreds of thousands of American citizens find themselves being made redundant every month, hundreds of billions of the free money being given to US banks by the Fed, supposedly to stimulate the US economy, is instead being used to speculate against the US dollar and in effect bet against a credible recovery in the US, thereby triggering a rather rapid acceleration in the depletion of the wealth of the US population. The ridiculous price surges being witnessed in commodities and many currencies has absolutely zero to do with the economic principles of demand and supply and everything to do with highly leveraged risk and the unchecked and unregulated transactions of large hedge funds and investment banks.

Many Central Banks continue to misread financial markets, primarily because they have not got a clue how they are operated, let alone regulated. The Reserve Bank of Australia takes the biscuit in terms of universal ignorance and shocking misjudgment. We should not be too surprised though as the RBA is the only central bank in the developed world in recent years that intervened to try to prop up its currency at a time when it was grossly overvalued. That episode might go some way to explaining why Governor Stevens chose to hike interest rates at a time when deflation is more of a concern across the globe than inflation. The RBA have a strong Aussie dollar policy and they are prepared to risk the long-run sustainability of the Australian economy in exchange for attracting short-term funds. The US economy has suffered hugely over the past 2 years of recession and the Fed's ongoing accommodative policy of low interest rates is reflective of an economy in protracted turmoil. The most recent current account report out of the US shows the US current account deficit running at 3% of GDP over the past 12 months. The corresponding report for Australia, where the RBA has just risen interest rates, shows a deficit of 3.9%. The disconnects between the Australian dollar, interest rate policy and harsh economic reality are stark and the RBA's continual misreading of the economic world portrays Governor Stevens as a type of Alice in Wonderland type character.

Let's hope his fable does not have a sorry ending, for the citizens of Oz and all its companies that need to export to the outside world.

Bob - Oct 20