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QE causes currency and fiscal impotence

The world has never worked through a period where Quantitative Easing (QE) has been undertaken by most of the major global economies, including for the first time the United States.

A goal of QE is to increase liquidity through the central bank by buying illiquid bank assets, freeing up funds which the banks should in turn lend to consumers and businesses. This has not occurred in the US. Instead banks have tightened their credit criteria and are using QE as an opportunity to re-capitalise their balance sheets. QE is a godsend to US banks as it is simpler and substantially cheaper than raising equity capital. It has helped to address a bank solvency issue but has not increased money supply.

Having a strategy to deal with it is critical, yet neither the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), nor past or present governments have articulated one. QE is the foremost issue impacting on our economic future.

Put simply, QE is an admission of failure to properly manage an economy in prior years that results in a central bank having to print money to stimulate economic growth. On a global scale, countries that have made a mess of their economy and are engaging in QE generate flow on problems to the rest of the world.

Exchange rates no longer reflect fundamentals

The first casualty of QE is exchange rates. Rather than a rate reflecting underlining economic fundamentals, there is a distortion of both spot and forward markets as those countries engaging in QE attempt to devalue their currency, to improve their competitiveness and increase exports.

For Australia, these so-called currency wars are a major factor causing the strength of the Australian dollar, as global investors seek out safe haven currencies. This combined with continuing strong commodity prices and Asian investors looking to protect their wealth through Australian property investment are maintaining the upward pressure on the Australian dollar.

Another impact that needs to be considered is whether the nexus between the Australian dollar and commodity prices has been broken in the long term. Only time will tell, however if it has not and the Australian dollar’s correlation with commodity prices returns, then Australia will once again be relegated to being a price taker, not maker. For the nexus to remain permanently removed we must continue transforming the Australian economy through significant productivity improvements to reduce unit costs of production. We must also commercialise our innovations and embrace the structural changes to our economy that the internet and offshoring are driving. These major challenges can bring huge rewards.

Rates rise and equities fall on hint of tapering

Low interest rates associated with QE encourage investors to switch from cash to higher risk assets. On this score QE has been successful as investors have returned to equity and property markets. However, it only takes a slight hint of tapering to cause equity markets to fall.

Interest rates around the world will increase when tapering commences as competition between governments for budget deficit funding intensifies. For Australia, the Federal budget deficit will blow out further as interest costs on current borrowings jump before including the funding costs for the proposed infrastructure projects. Based on recent company earnings forecasts, tax receipts will remain stagnant, so the pressure is on the Federal Government to make necessary structural changes to the budget if it wants to return to surplus over the forward estimates.

The RBA has acknowledged that its response to global QE through lower interest rates has proven impotent. The Australian dollar will continue to ride high regardless of RBA policy settings as the QE programs of major economies wreak havoc on economies that have been managed well. Australia must fight back with well thought-out strategies. In addition to addressing structural problems within the budget, tax and industrial relations reform, we should be looking at re-negotiating free trade agreements with QE protagonists while avoiding protectionism. We need to broaden our intellectual property laws and advocate solutions that place less reliance on the world’s reserve currency.

 

Michael McAlary is Founder and Managing Director of WealthMaker Financial Services.


 

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