Australia lives with rising aussie
Australians thinking of visiting Hong Kong - or any other destination with a currency tied to the US dollar - are contemplating their trips with the happy thought that their spending money will buy 10 per cent more today than it would a month ago.
The rapid fall in the greenback has seen the Australian dollar return to the highs of February this year, when the unit touched 80 US cents for the first time in a decade, and has created an unexpected spree for Australians planning overseas travel, or thinking of buying big-ticket imported goods, such as a car, a boat or even a small jet.
It has been a yo-yo ride in recent years for the aussie. The currency hit a record low of 47 US cents in 2001, only to rebound by as much as 30 per cent over the past 18 months.
While some Australians think a strong currency reflects a strong nation, in much the same way as a champion sporting team, there are renewed fears that the sudden upswing in the Australian unit will have a negative impact on the economy, particularly on exports.
'The falling [US] dollar is making life tougher for Australian exporters,' said Treasurer Peter Costello as he returned from a meeting of the Group of 20 finance officials in Berlin at the weekend.
'The fact it is harder for exporters is another factor that will affect our economy.'
Australia has been riding a commodity exporting boom, with China, where the yuan is pegged to the greenback, as a major exporter. But for a company such as steel exporter BlueScope Steel, every one cent appreciation in the aussie against the greenback has an A$13 million ($79.6 million) negative impact on earnings.
According to BlueScope, every one cent rise in the aussie against the greenback shaved manufacturing exports by 0.3 per cent, or A$210 million a year.
Unions are also concerned that the Australian dollar's rise could see a massive shift in manufacturing jobs offshore.
Not everyone, however, is overly concerned about the aussie's rise, even among economists.
HSBC Australia's chief economist, John Edwards, said that a look at Australia's export history showed the sector was more responsive to patterns in global growth than to fluctuations in the greenback.
'I don't think we are going to suffer that much damage, to be honest,' Mr Edwards said. 'Manufacturing exports are more sensitive than commodity exports, and how it plays out is not going to be determined by what happens in the US, but what happens regionally.'
Mr Edwards noted that although the aussie had appreciated sharply against the greenback recently, it depreciated slightly against the yen and stayed roughly equivalent to the South Korean won and the Singaporean dollar.
He said he anticipated some depreciation in the yuan in the next six months, a move which would also limit the damage from the falling greenback for Australia.
And, in another positive for the Australian economy, the recent surge in the aussie 'rules out any interest-rate rise before the middle of next year', Mr Edwards said.
Analysts have been anticipating an interest-rate rise all year after two increases late last year, and many were surprised that the Reserve Bank did not make a move at its first meeting after the election last month.
The sanguine views of Mr Edwards are reflected in the latest DHL/Austrade survey of exporting businesses, which showed that while 70 per cent of respondents cited the higher aussie as the biggest negative on sales over the past year, an overwhelming percentage expects good market conditions for exports in the year ahead.
The survey showed that 70 per cent expected an increase in export orders, while 74 per cent were bullish about their profitability.
With a free trade agreement with the US set to be enacted, and a similar agreement with China now on the drawing board, many exporters think they can break the nexus between currency fluctuations and sales, and ride the winds of global growth.
Even the tourist industry, usually so susceptible to exchange-rate fluctuations, is proving resilient.
Only this week, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released figures showing that for the nine months to September, 5.2 million international visitors arrived in Australia - an increase of 11 per cent over the same period last year.