For the unconstrained global investor, Australia is a prospective hunting ground for profit. Any comprehensive analysis of the main trade and capital trends at work in the world find their conflux in Australia’s capital markets. Predicated on China’s fixed asset investment boom over the past quarter century, Australia’s economy has been substantially driven by demand for its ores and minerals. It relates uneasily, it seems at times, on account of deep cultural differences, to the rest of Asia, in particular Indonesia.
Australia is an affluent, urbanised society. It is, above all, a consumerised population that is, in economic jargon, fully financially included. It has an independent central bank and currency.
On account of these features, backed by disciplined capital markets and secure laws, Australia’s equities, government bonds and currency have been a destination for macro investors of all stripes, including hedge funds.
We measure recent opportunities by looking at 12 month rolling returns of its currency, benchmark bond and main equity index.
When the currency is weakening, returns from key asset classes are crimped, as can be seen in the below chart.
The tricky thing with macro investing, prosecuted via Australian instruments, is the various counter influences at work. We list these as follows:
– Shorting the AUD is intrinsically expensive on account of the yield differential between AUD and its obvious corollaries. For example, the yield differential between AUD and USD, based on 1Y rates has averaged 304bps over the past 5 years.
– Outright investments in the sovereign bond market have delivered returns in AUD based on the general fall in rates accompanied by some flattening of the curve. However, for a non-domestic investor, these gains have been crimped by AUD weakness. Longer range, strategic investments in the bonds require the adoption of significant currency risk. Against them are lined up the yield hunters and persistently positive capital flows of new immigrants from China and elsewhere.
– Many macro commentators have long predicted the demise of the economy as they surmised that that falling commodity prices would spur some form of recession that could include a property down cycle. This has tempted some funds to go short Australian equities and the banking sector, in particular, has been targeted. To their frustration, the Australian equity market has remained peachy, supported by Australia’s superannuation schemes (government mandated pensions), with the banks especially valued for their income stream.
– To cap these, the various identified trends have been subject to reversal. In particular the currency which fell 20.1% between July 2014 and April 2015 has strengthened by 6.7% from 2nd April 2015 to the time of writing.
Cerno Capital’s core strategy ran a short Australian dollar position profitably until it was closed on 16th February 2015. We currently hold no specific exposures to Australia directly.