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Australian dollar surges above US78c: How high will it go?

Credit: Benny

The Australian dollar has taken investors and analysts by complete surprise this year.

While many assumed it would continue to fall when it hit a low of US68.27 cents in January, it has rebounded nearly US 10 cents, or 14.3%, in the time since to trade at US78.03 cents today. It was trading as high as US78.26 cents earlier in the week, which was its highest level in 10 months.

Although officials from the Reserve Bank of Australia have been rather quiet on the issue recently – with Governor Glenn Stevens largely ignoring several chances to ‘jawbone’ it down – it has still expressed its desire to have a weaker local currency. Some board members have even said they would prefer to see it at around US65 cents (almost 17% below today’s level) in order to boost the competitiveness of our exports on a global basis.

Indeed, one of the key reasons behind the dollar’s strength is the rebound in commodity prices. After it slipped to around US$38 a tonne late last year, iron ore is now fetching more than US$64, according to The Metal Bulletin, while oil prices have also surged above US$45 a barrel again.

Meanwhile, lowered expectations of interest rate hikes in the United States, combined with the RBA’s own hesitations to cut interest rates locally, have also forced the Australian dollar higher.

While that is good news for many of the nation’s importers, including the likes of JB Hi-Fi Limited (ASX: JBH) and Harvey Norman Holdings Limited (ASX: HVN), it could also act as a drag on the earnings reported by companies such as Westfield Corp Ltd (ASX: WFD) and Amcor Limited (ASX: AMC).

These companies generate much of their earnings (or, in Westfield’s case, all of its earnings) in overseas markets, so local investors benefit from a lower dollar. Still, there is a case to be made for a weaker currency in the long-run which investors should certainly keep in mind.

While some economists believe the dollar could rally above US80 cents in the near-term, most believe it will continue to fall in the medium-to-long terms. For example, AMP Capital’s chief economist Shane Oliver believes it will fall towards US60 cents in the next 12 months. Meanwhile, BlackRock’s head of fixed income for Australia, Stephen Miller, thinks it will fall to US65 cents or lower by the end of this year, according to The Australian Financial Review.

Although the RBA has been rather quiet on the dollar recently, I would expect it to become somewhat more vocal if the upwards trend does continue from here.

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Motley Fool contributor Ryan Newman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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