Excellent post on $A Carry Trade in SMH, Age

Flattr this!

Ken­neth David­son has been one of the most con­sis­tent voic­es for sen­si­ble eco­nom­ic analy­sis in the Aus­tralian media for decades now (anoth­er I’d give a sim­i­lar acco­lade to is Bri­an Toohey), and he’s writ­ten a bril­liant piece in The Age and The Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald on the specual­tive bub­ble that is the Aus­tralian dol­lar.

David­son lays out the caus­es and prob­a­ble effects superbly in the length of a news­pa­per fea­ture. The caus­es are that:

  • The bailout funds in the USA and UK in par­tic­u­lar have cashed up finan­cial insti­tu­tions that don’t want to lend any more to mort­gages (and have long ago for­got­ten how to lend to fund pro­duc­tive enter­pris­es), so they’re look­ing for short term hot mon­ey gains;
  • The RBA’s flag­ging that it intends rais­ing rates from 2–3% above rates in the USA and UK to pos­si­bly 4–5% above is a “sure thing” return on a cur­ren­cy that was already appre­ci­at­ing because of com­mod­i­ty sales to Chi­na;
  • This gives the hedge funds a sure fire dou­ble wham­my gain:
    • bor­row in the US or UK at 1% to buy $A and “invest” in float­ing rate bonds or shares (par­tic­u­lar­ly in banks) and get a high­er return (at least 2% bet­ter than the bor­row­ing costs, and assured to rise); and
    • dri­ve up the $A in the process, so that when you sell out, you get both a high­er return and an appre­ci­at­ed cur­ren­cy in which it is denom­i­nat­ed.

The most remark­able thing about this bub­ble is that the RBA’s “we’re rais­ing rates now and we’re going to keep on doing it for a few months” mes­sages are part of the cause, and yet they seem unaware of both the phe­nom­e­non and the dan­gers it pos­es. David­son points out that Brazil, which is expe­ri­enc­ing a sim­i­lar com­mod­i­ty-dri­ven cur­ren­cy appre­ci­a­tion bub­ble, is aware of the dan­gers and is doing some­thing about it:

The ris­ing val­ue of the Brazil­ian real and the Aus­tralian dol­lar against the US dol­lar has had a dis­as­trous impact on both coun­tries’ non-com­mod­i­ty export and import com­pet­ing indus­tries. Brazil’s pop­u­lar and large­ly eco­nom­i­cal­ly suc­cess­ful left-wing Gov­ern­ment led by Pres­i­dent Lula da Sil­va is meet­ing the prob­lem head on. It has decid­ed to impose a 2 per cent tax on all cap­i­tal inflows to stop the real appre­ci­at­ing fur­ther.”

In the mean­time, our RBA seems pos­si­bly even pleased that this short-term phe­nom­e­non is afflict­ing our man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor adverse­ly.

Of course, like any spec­u­la­tive bub­ble, this has an end-game–and that’s when you think the rate ris­es have come to an end, sell out and watch the $A crash for those who are still hold­ing it. Then the dol­lar (and Aus­tralian bank shares) will crash, and our econ­o­my will have act­ed as a dol­lar pump for the hedge funds.

David­son also accu­rate­ly notes that the RBA’s obses­sion with dri­ving rates high­er now is dri­ven by the clas­sic “fight­ing the last war” syn­drome of believ­ing that an out­break of wage-dri­ven com­mod­i­ty-price infla­tion is the main dan­ger fac­ing the Aus­tralian economy–just as it was in, oh, about 1973 (if you ignore pri­vate debt lev­els of course…).

He con­cludes that:

The world has moved on but the obses­sive debate about wage infla­tion and union pow­ers has­n’t. Since the begin­ning of the ’80s, the prob­lem has been peri­od­ic bouts of asset price infla­tion. It is the biggest dan­ger now.

Instead of con­trol­ling the unions, there should be con­trol of finan­cial insti­tu­tions. The Aus­tralian dol­lar bub­ble and the incip­i­ent hous­ing bub­ble should be micro-man­aged. Cap­i­tal inflow could be damp­ened by a com­pul­so­ry deposit of 1 to 2 per cent to be redeemed after a year to stop spec­u­la­tive inflow. Home own­er­ship has become a tax shel­ter. The steam could be tak­en out of the rise in house prices if neg­a­tive gear­ing was lim­it­ed to new hous­ing. This would obvi­ate the need for high­er inter­est rates that affect every­one.

It’s an excel­lent article–read it and pass it on. The more peo­ple who do read it, the high­er it will rise in the news­pa­pers’ online-indi­ca­tors of read­er inter­est, which will push it towards the top of the online page. And I’m head­ing out now to buy a paper copy of the SMH as well. Bra­vo, Ken­neth David­son.

Bookmark the permalink.