AUD/NZD Talking Points:
- The Australian and New Zealand Dollars tend to closely follow global stock indexes
- AUD/NZD can thus at times net out market mood swings, acting as “risk neutral”
- This places the focus for AUD/NZD on RBA and RBNZ monetary policy expectations
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Part 1 — AUD & NZD, Sentiment-Linked Currencies
In the majors FX spectrum, two currencies often find themselves moving in tandem with global stock indexes such as the S&P 500 and Nikkei 225. These are the Australian and New Zealand Dollars. To get a rough idea of why, we have to go back to the 2008 financial crisis. Central banks in developed economies at the time cut their lending rates close to or near zero levels to help stimulate their economies as liquidity shrunk, growth slowed and inflation fell.
However, two of them did not quite cut rates as far. Those are the reserve banks of Australia and New Zealand. While the Fed’s benchmark rate hovered between a range of 0.00% – 0.25% and the Bank of England pushed theirs down to 0.50%, the RBA and RBNZ reached 3.00% and 2.50% respectively. Then, in the aftermath they eventually glided down to 1.50% and 1.75% respectively (though at times they did rise before getting to those levels).
Still, those rates were higher than what other major central banks offered. This in turn gave investors an option for higher returns in a world with depressed yields. One could borrow in a cheap/low-yielding currency and then park their capital into ones that offered a higher rate. For those seeking to capitalize on interest rate differentials, AUD and NZD were/are a prime target for carry trades.
With that in mind, during times when market mood is jubilant and traders are focused on seeking returns as stocks rally, the sentiment-linked Australian and New Zealand Dollars tend to benefit. However, this behavior can also reverse. As an example, below is a chart showing how AUD/USD performed in February 2018 when the S&P 500 and Nikkei 225 fell as much as 11% and 13% respectively.
Chart Created in TradingView
Below is the identical reaction from NZD/USD:
Chart Created in TradingView
During this period of extraordinary market volatility, AUD/USD declined as much as 4.6% while NZD/USD fell about 3.2%. Both succumbed to selling pressure as the focus for traders shifted from seeking returns to preserving capital. But what happens when you start comparing both AUD and NZD against each other during times of broad market malaise?
Part 2 – AUD/NZD, Brexit Vote Reaction
Given that these sentiment-linked currencies tend to closely follow stocks, one may hypothesize that the impact of market mood on AUD/NZD could cancel each other out. This may result in the pair being close to little changed when equities tumble. Such was the case when looking at how AUD/NZD reacted in June 2016 when the UK voted to leave the European Union.
Chart Created in TradingView
The Brexit vote carried large amounts of uncertainty for the future of the UK and EU given that no country had ever left the nation bloc before. Markets were unnerved as the S&P 500 and Nikkei 225 declined about 5% and 9% respectively in the aftermath. AUD/USD (-4%) and NZD/USD (-3.75%) also saw aggressive losses as one would expect. But, solely looking at AUD/NZD shows that it fell only about 0.65% and the pair largely remained within its trading range.
Part 3 – The Key Fundamental Catalyst for AUD/NZD
So at times, AUD/NZD can behave as a “risk neutral” pair that acts as a shock absorber to a certain extent. This allows the pair to fundamentally focus more on RBA and RBNZ monetary policy expectations. After all, the key driver for FX is the direction of where interest rates are going.
One of the ways in which we can measure which of the two is on the verge of gaining a yield advantage over the other is looking at differences in government bond yields between the two countries. Below is a chart showing AUD/NZD and its performance between the spread of two-year Australian and New Zealand bond yields from June 2016 to the beginning of August 2018.
In addition, here is the same relationship but looking at the often more liquid 10-year yield:
When the spread between Australian and New Zealand bond yields rises, it means that rates in the former are outpacing the latter. Not surprisingly, when Australian bond yields earn higher returns than in New Zealand, AUD tends to appreciate against NZD and vice versa.
Note that the 20-day rolling correlation in both cases was positive around 80 percent of the time. In addition, sometimes AUD/NZD would find itself favoring spreads between the two-year and at other times the ten-year. However, do keep in mind that this relationship is not always perfect and at times the correlation was negative.
With that in mind, those closely watching AUD/NZD should be aware of its potential as a “risk neutral” pair that can focus more on relative interest rate differentials between the RBA and RBNZ. This can also make it more reactive to local economic event risks (central banks, GDP, CPI, jobs data, etc…). This was evident when in August 2018 the Reserve Bank of New Zealand suggested that its next rate hike would be further out. As a result, AUD/NZD volatility suddenly awoke as it rallied more than 1.54% within hours of the monetary policy announcement.
Finally, keep in mind that in the future the behavior between AUD/NZD and equities could change depending on where other central banks take their interest rates. As of August 2018, the Fed boasts the highest yield in the majors FX spectrum of up to 2.00% and that seems likely to increase in the near-term. In addition, the Bank of Canada raised benchmark lending rates to 1.50% in July 2018. This tied it with the RBA. As other central banks outpace both the RBA and RBNZ, the relationship between stocks and the Australian and New Zealand Dollars could wane compared to other higher yielding currencies.
AUD/NZD Trading Resources:
- Just getting started? See our beginners’ guide for FX traders
- Having trouble with your strategy? Here’s the #1 mistake that traders make
- See how the Australian and New Zealand Dollars are viewed by the trading community at the DailyFX Sentiment Page