It was almost like you went to put the kettle on during the ad break and everything changed with the Australian Dollar: one minute we’re pushing (almost) the 1 AUD for 1 USD and within a few months the AUD is struggling to buy 60 cents US.

Not being an economist, and learning on the run as no doubt many of us are in these historical economic times, I put this question to a friend of mine that I’ve grown up with that now works in the City of London. He’s a bit of a whizz and obviously a busy man, so I really appreciated his answers in layman’s terms, and am glad he’s allowed me to share them with you. Here’s his explanation:

The USD is benefiting from several themes, I will list them:

1) There is a perception that the US is further down the road in this crisis (ie. real estate markets have fallen more dramatically) and they have unveiled a more comprehensive suite of policy measures to deal with their problems than other countries have thus far needed to, Australia included. This has enhanced the USD status as a “safe haven” currency. There is the perception that the rest of the world is now slowing down faster than the US, and so this is encouraging US investors to repatriate foreign investments into USD.

2) Central banks around the world are cutting rates aggressively, and so the interest rate differential between other currencies and USD is narrowing, this increases the relative attractiveness of the USD.

3) The unwinding of “carry” trades (this is where credit is borrowed from central banks with low interest rates and invested in other economies that are higher). Over the past year/18months some investors have borrowed in USD at low interest rates, to invest in AUD at higher rates, and so earning the 4% or 5% interest differential between the two currencies. This money flow was one of the reasons behind a 30% increase in the AUD vs the USD over this period. As volatility in financial markets increased, these investors have unwound these trades and subsequently sold AUD to buy USD.

4) The linkage of the AUD to commodities has not helped it in recent weeks, as all commodities have sold off on expectation of a rapidly slowing economy.

So there you go. Economies are ultimately a huge web of tangled and complicated interests, involve complex strategies and vary in their proclivity to risk. We clearly can’t be expected to understand every single facet with great understanding, particularly when many of the best brains in the world couldn’t.

I do hope, however, we’ve given you a few little tips that mean your “flapping in the wind” a little less. And of course, there’s certainly a need in the world for Wise Guys!

Simon Turner

FYI: Read more articles on the Credit Crunch, Buying real estate; or Recession

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