The Reserve Bank of Australia cut its key benchmark interest rate to a record low 2.50% earlier this year, highlighting the central bank’s concerns over the sensitivity of the Australian economy to turmoil in emerging markets.
When discussing Australia at the turn of the year, we suggested that: “Now, with rates at all-time lows, it’s a good moment to reflect on why we’re in the current predicament. After all, dovish monetary policy is only implemented when worries of an economic slowdown persist.”
These concerns were well-informed, as the Australian labor market has only deteriorated over the course of the year, forcing the Reserve Bank of Australia to cut its main interest rate to a record low of 2.50% at its August policy meeting. This is a significant step lower from the 4.75% rate employed as recently as November 2011; an aggressive rate cut cycle the RBA has employed, indeed.
Nevertheless, it’s evident that concerns surrounding Australia will continue. The country’s most important sector, mining, continues to show signs of slowdown, and government advisors have reluctantly admitted that the global commodity supercycle – driven by rapidly growing emerging markets – may be finished.
We continue to believe that the changing economic climate of Australia will play a negative influence on the Australian Dollar. The labor market remains a primary concern, and has proven to be a major negative influence on the Australian Dollar in recent months:
Over the past two-plus years, after the AUDUSD peak near $1.1100 in the summer of 2011, the RBA’s aggressive easing cycle, in part to help soothe fears over the labor distress, has driven the AUDUSD down to its lowest exchange rate since September 2010, below $0.9000 in August.
Further pressure on the Australian labor market, and thus the Australian Dollar, seems likely. Whereas the AUDUSD was quite stable near $1.0500 for several months while labor markets deteriorated, it’s clear that reality has set in. Despite several rate cuts since November 2011, Australia’s unemployment rate has increased from 4.9% in April 2011 to 5.8% in August 2013, the highest rate since August 2009.
Scope for recovery in the labor market is limited at best as long as the commodity cycle slowdown persists. Data compiled by the RBA in August showed that base metals prices, perhaps most indicative of economic strength in the mining sector, sunk to their lowest level since late-2009 by midyear, an ominous sign considering the time before prices had reached that level it was on the way lower by another 30% amid the global financial crisis of 2008.
Base metals prices continue to be the guiding light for Australia – and should they remain subdued going forward, we suspect that dovish guidance will remain in place at the RBA, serving as a consistent, bearish influence on the Aussie for the remainder of 2013.