Foreign speculation on our currency is a bubble set to burst
The Age (Australia)
October 26, 2009
The pooh-bahs running US and British hedge funds and the banks supporting them are more than capable of reading the minutes of the Reserve Bank of Australia board meetings and coming to the conclusion that RBA Governor Glenn Stevens is committed to pushing up the cash rate from the present 3.25 per cent to 4 to 5 per cent if necessary.
And they are already betting tens of billions of dollars on what has so far been a sure bet. These foreign financial institutions are up to their old tricks. After getting trillions of dollars out of their respective governments to avoid GFC-induced bankruptcy - which was largely engineered by their criminal greed - because they are ''too big to fail'', they are already using their influence to maintain ''business as usual''.
Why funnel the money gouged out of American and British taxpayers into lending to their national economies to maintain employment when there are richer pickings elsewhere? Two of those destinations are Brazil and Australia. Their resource-rich economies are still doing well compared with most other countries because they are riding in the slipstream of the strong demand for commodities from China and India.
Cash is pouring into these economies, not for development, but to speculate on the local currency and the sharemarket. 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.
Arguably, the monetary strategy adopted by Stevens has compounded Australia's lack of international competitiveness for our manufacturing and service industries, especially tourism. Since the end of 2008 our dollar has appreciated 27 per cent (as of last week). This means that financial institutions that invested money at the beginning of January are enjoying an annual rate of return on their investments of 35 per cent.
US and British commercial banks can borrow from their central banks at a rate less than 1 per cent. The equivalent RBA rate is 3.25 per cent and many pundits are forecasting the rate could go to 3.75 per cent before the end of 2009. This will increase the differential between Australian and British and US interest rates and make the scope for speculative profits even higher.
Since the beginning of the year, $64 billion has poured into Australia in the form of direct and portfolio (share) investment and foreign lenders have switched $80 billion of foreign debt payable in foreign currencies to Australian currency. Most of the portfolio investment ($41 billion) has gone into bank shares. Banks now represent 40 per cent of the value of shares traded on the stock exchange, and while shares in the big four bank shares have increased by about 80 per cent (as measured by CBA shares), the Australian Stock Exchange Index has risen by only 30 per cent.
Foreigners have shifted out of Australian fixed interest debt and into equities because as interest rates go up, the capital value of fixed debt declines. By driving up interest rates to curb inflationary expectations and the prospect of a housing price bubble the RBA is in far greater danger of creating a stock exchange asset price bubble as well as an Australian dollar bubble. Once foreigners believe interest rates have peaked, the bubbles are likely to be pricked as financial speculators attempt to realise their gains. This could lead to a stampede out of Australian denominated securities.
With unemployment expected to continue to rise, and the level of unemployment disguised by growing numbers of workers being forced to work part-time, there is little chance of the underlying inflation rate, already below 2 per cent, increasing as a result of a wages break-out. The last wages breakout (leaving aside the explosive growth in executive salaries in the past three decades) occurred in 1979.
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.
Kenneth Davidson is an Age senior columnist.
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Sunday, November 22, 2009
Australia and Brazil not happy to be Wall Street's target of speculation
The most successful economies in the current calamity are not in China or Europe, but in Brazil and Australia. Now the cheap chips minted for the big banks by the Fed are being carried into these markets and are producing trouble. Here from a leading journalist is what's up Down Under.
at 2:54 AM