Roger J Kerr assesses where the NZD stands at a time of great trade and political turbulence, and reckons the sudden re-emergence of inflation risk is a real concern

Roger J Kerr assesses where the NZD stands at a time of great trade and political turbulence, and reckons the sudden re-emergence of inflation risk is a real concern

Summary of key points:

  • Global/domestic political risks, trade risks and equities market risks buffer the Kiwi
  • EUR/USD exchange rate approaching a major turning point?
  • Future inflation levels may transpire to be massively different to current forecasts

Global/domestic political risks, trade risks and equities market risks buffer the Kiwi

Making decisions on how much risk to accept and how much risk to mitigate (if it is possible to pass through, hedge or buy insurance on the risk) is never easy, as any company actively managing FX risk will tell you. There are judgement calls all the way.

However, financial outcomes are typically less volatile and enhanced if there are regular decisions being made within a policy framework that caps the maximum level that can be taken. Ignoring the risk totally, refusing/frightened to make decisions or not using the risk mitigants that are available, typically results in poor outcomes for the business firm’s shareholders and workers alike.

Politicians also very aware that they must also manage the risk of not being re-elected and therefore positioning themselves ahead of time to have options later is a classical risk management technique.

Global geo-political risks do have a direct impact on the NZ dollar exchange rate, particularly if international trade is involved. The fortress America trade policies of the Trump administration and the resultant trade wars with China caused two significant sell-offs in the NZD against the USD in October 2018 and again in October 2019.

The Kiwi rebounded back on both occasions as the US tariffs and threats of more tariffs did not really impact on our exports and the NZ economy was not adversely affected. Last week the Kiwi dollar displayed a rare resilience to escalating trade tensions between the US and China as President Trump prepared to retaliate against China imposing security measures over Hong Kong. Tellingly, the Donald refrained from touching the Phase One trade deal with China in his response of US sanctions against China. As has been stated previously in this column, Donald Trump needs “wins” to boast about in his re-election campaign, the supposed gains for the US economy from the Phase One trade agreement need to remain in place.

The good piece of news for New Zealand as a trading economy coming out of the Covid-19 economic carnage is that all countries will not want to cut off import/export trade opportunities to help their economic recovery. The risks to the NZ economy and the Kiwi dollar from future trade wars and increased global protectionism has just taken a leg down.

Here at home, our Government politicians have some major risk decisions to make in both the short term and medium term. The wily veteran politician Winston Peters reads the public mood better than most, thus the pressure he is currently applying on his coalition partner to move the economy to level 1 sooner rather than later. Overly cautious delays with that decision at this point will cost more business failures and jobs. Jacinda and Grant have been lauded for their “go early and go hard” decision on the pandemic health emergency.

Equally important is the decision to re-start the economy once the health risk is contained and acceptable. Winston is positioning himself with political options come September if they stuff that decision up. Evidence is mounting that the NZ economy can rebound closer to a “V” shaped recovery provided Government imposed restrictions are eased immediately. There is considerable political risk on Jacinda and Grant if the economy is still struggling to recover in September and the unemployment rate is rising above 10% due to poor and delayed risk decisions in early June.  

In the meantime, global and local equity markets continue their trend higher on the massive monetary and fiscal stimulus packages that are going to last for some time yet.

The upside risks for the Kiwi dollar look to be well above the downside risks given the above factors.  

EUR/USD exchange rate approaching a major turning point?

The largest risk local USD exporters face in mid-2020 is the fortunes of the US dollar itself on global currency markets changing from the strong USD we have witnessed over recent years.

The US economic fundamentals of large budget deficits, increased Government debt, infinite money printing (QE) and more economic damage from Covid-19 than other countries, all point to a reversal to a weaker USD currency value. The global reserve currency and safe harbour buying from “risk’-off” investor sentiment factors that cause USD strength seem less intense today than two months ago at the height of the pandemic crisis.

Euroland has been a poor economic performer in recent years compared to the US and therefore global fund managers have had no reason to prefer Euro in their portfolios ahead of the USD. That paradigm may well start to change as the EUR/USD exchange rate rises and threatens to break above the downtrend line (stronger USD/weaker EUR) that has been in place since 2009 (refer chart below). The USD depreciated 88% against the Euro from 2000 until 2009 and it has appreciated 34% since then. The large and long-term USD currency cycles are a major factor in NZD/USD direction/value and should not be ignored.

A movement of the EUR/USD rate above the long-established trendline (currently at $1.1600) could well signal further technical buying of Euro to $1.2000 and above. If the USD did weaken by 8% from the current level of $1.1100 to $1.2000, the NZD/USD could potentially appreciate by five cents to 0.6700, in the absence of any specific NZ negative developments.

Future inflation levels may transpire to be massively different to current forecasts

The conventional wisdom from the RBNZ and local bank economists is that our annual inflation rates will move sharply lower from the current 2.8% level to potentially below 1.0% as the economy falls into recession.

However, these are not conventional times and their automatic “substantially lower” inflation forecast may in time prove to be widely inaccurate.

As articulated in this column on several occasions previously, relatively high domestic (non-tradable) inflation in New Zealand near to 3.00% per annum over the last decade has been disguised by plummeting prices for technology - internet/communications and some household appliances. An ending of the technology deflation may result in the Emperor having no clothes on this one.

Outside the hiring of motorhomes, there is no evidence of large-scale downward pressure on prices in the NZ economy at this time. On the contrary, food prices and freight costs have lifted sharply. Additionally, other domestic prices for rent, household utilities, health, education and transport are not plunging anytime soon.

Consumer demand may be lower due to job insecurity; however New Zealand’s inflation is always supply-side driven, not determined by weak or strong consumer demand. Lower inflation may have come from falling petrol pump prices, however a rebound upwards in crude oil prices and the generally lower NZD have put paid to that.

The doom merchants have also confidently predicted house prices falling by 10% or 15% due to the economic recession. The evidence and sentiment in the residential property market so far suggests these forecasts are nothing more than scaremongering to seek media headlines.


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*Roger J Kerr is Executive Chairman of Barrington Treasury Services NZ Limited. He has written commentaries on the NZ dollar since 1981.

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26 Comments

12
up

So according to Roger the ANZ is scaremongering for headlines? And is a doomster? Hail the master forecaster

11
up

Let's get real.
10%-15% isn't Doom, is it?
It's not even a technical correction in some eyes (that has to be 20%+).
Doom !! is something on an entirely different level....

11
up

I come to Roger Kerr articles for the LOLZ.
"The upside risks for the Kiwi dollar look to be well above the downside risks given the above factors."

BAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAA.

I go straight to the comments for the LOLs. Roger has triggered the Housing and Kiwi $ bears but could have spiced it up with a predicted National Government though to really get everyone going.

I'm not sure why he is always so bullish on the NZD. We're not a reserve currency and pumping out the QE...shouldn't we be more bearish?

"shouldn't we be more bearish?"

I have traded forex for over 30 years and sat here after reading that asking myself that exact question. The fact I could not answer it I thought was quite interesting.

We are pumping out the QE, but who isn't? And QE is only one such variable, with all the others posing similar questions.

The forex market is a market of balances and not absolutes. The USD can be argued to be total crap, and yet where is a *more safe currency?

Yes I'm bearish short term on the NZD. Moved a significant part of my net worth into USD back in 2014. Just waiting for an appropriate time to bring it back.

Open to thoughts - especially someone with extensive experience such as yourself.

Shurely currencies are always in a 'Least-Ugly' beauty contest? So least-ugly 'wins' for the next few nanoseconds.....

YOU might think so

11
up

Sometimes I just despair reading some of this stuff. There is NO going back to normal, the world is bleeding economically and quite probably tooling up for another big war, and bloody economists just keep blathering on as if this is all just a blip.
Seriously if you looking for something to invest in, I suggest arms.

Is Roger Kerr an economist?

I think his views are representative of a generation of men who think investing is benefiting from falling interest rates and watching asset values rise. Will be interesting to see what they do when that cycle reverses - their whole world will be thrown upside down.

All that astute investors really need is asset price movement. It doesn't really matter which direction it takes so long as there is a futures market somewhere nearby.

For the housing market I guess the banks were what you would have had to have shorted.

Roger Kerr - neoliberalism personified

Exactly what I was thinking when I read the article. Was thinking yes the solution to our problems is more of the last 30+ years. Not realising you can't be the problem and the solution at the same time.

Roger is correct, so far there has been no indication whatsoever of house prices dropping and won’t be anytime soon!
The word from the real estate salespeople I have spoken to in ChCh, is that they have all been very busy and multiple offers on many properties.
Spoke to a salesperson who is marketing a subdivision and she stated that she has had heaps of enquires and made many sales.
With the interest rates so low now and likely to be down for a very long time, why on earth would you not be buying well priced attractive property, whether for your own occupation or investments

Well perhaps you just lost your job or had a paycut or got a divorce. Just been reading the news this morning. What echo chamber were you in?

Like Roger - you're probably in your 50's - 60's and witnessed 30+ years of falling interest rates.

Age is but a no. IO!
I am like a teenager at heart.

There was some evidence of softening of Auckland apartment sales:

https://www.interest.co.nz/property/105282/recent-auckland-apartment-auc...

Not enough to hang a hat on yet, of course.

I've watched Port of Tauranga shares go from $8.00 before Covid down to near $5 and now back at $7.20. What does this tell me? I think it says that there is a search for assets that pay a decent return. A search by people who want a return from their capital and are having a hard time finding one. I would pick a short term bump in import prices for consumers that is then snuffed out by lackluster consumer spending coupled with price inflation in good quality income producing assets.

My opinion is that a $50 Billion hole in aggregate demand has not been filled by a $15 Billion fiscal response from the govt. There will be a gap in the real economy that hasn't been filled when it should have been (some two weeks ago). Meanwhile there is $60 Billion extra in bond buying by the RBNZ without a home. Where is that extra liquidity going if the govt aren't going to spend it in the real economy? Into financial and speculative assets I would have thought.

So a tale of two cities - a moderately performing real economy if there is some lucky break for us outside of the hesitant govt spending or a stagnant real economy if there is not, and buoyant asset prices driven by high liquidity in the hands of FOMO driven investors with capital to allocate.

I've been having some really interesting conversations with those getting ready to retire (most late 60's) and attempting to understand what the RBNZ are doing to them with interest rates and the options they have in generating retirement income. Many own multiple homes (often one home and one holiday home, neither generating income, nor want to get into the AirBnb or rental market). So asset rich, cash and income poor. Now trying look at the possibility of very low returns on the cash they do have and wonder what they are going to do with their money.

I’m younger than them, but am doing the same planning. My first priority is ensuring I have liquid assets able to meet one or more preferably two years expenses even if the financial system has some hiccups. I have gone for physical NZD cash and Kiwi bonds. I’m also building international liquidity with foreign cash, Gold coins and investment watches. Wealth maintenance is sorted with residential real estate (owner occupied to avoid potential taxes). The only thing I’m unsure of is where to place investable cash. I’m hoping for a dip in markets but if nothing happens I’d buy more residential property to pass to my children.

I_O,

If they are stupid enough to have a holiday home but inadequate income, my sympathies are limited.

Coming here from the UK to retire in 2003 with a very favourable exchange rate, I could easily have bought a bach in say Hahei, but chose instead to invest in a small rental property and a larger stockmarket portfolio focused on dividends. Since then, my income has risen steadily and I can holiday where I like.

This website is seeking feedback and I will provide it.
I must say, Here though, that the Ongoing presence of this author’s articles are a real concern. There’s just so much wrong with much of what he says.

"There’s just so much wrong with much of what he says."

I am super happy to live in a free society where we can still make that statement without censorship. Let's keep it that way.

I agree. Its called keeping an open mind and staying informed.