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Tuesday March 25, 2008 - 19:51:45 GMT
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Morning Report

Morning Report  Wednesday 26 March 2008

News and views
New Zealand dollar was one of the strongest performers against the US dollar overnight, in spite of a sharp fall in consumer confidence. The Westpac-McDermott Miller consumer confidence index fell to 96.5 from 110 in the fourth quarter of last year, the lowest level in ten years, as consumers were battered by higher mortgage rates, rising food and fuel prices, and the global financial market turmoil. The NZD slipped below 0.8020 in the London session as the result filtered through the market, but strong demand at a rate set, and a rebound in US equities after a soft start, helped the NZD back up towards 0.8080.

New Zealand households aren’t the only ones getting the blues. The US
Conference Board consumer confidence index was much weaker than expected, falling 11.9pts to 64.5 in March, a fresh five-year low. The expectations component dropped to 47.9, the lowest level since 1973. The job market index also weakened, a sign that unemployment is on an upward trend. This lack of confidence suggests that consumers are feeling the squeeze, and are likely to be more cautious in their spending decisions.

The US dollar softened against the other major currencies as a result, unwinding some of its gains from the long weekend. The euro bounced sharply yesterday afternoon, rumoured to be driven by Asian central bank buying, and continued higher to 1.56 early this morning, while the pound returned above 2.00. The yen started out stronger as US equities began the day on a weak footing, but gains later in the day pushed USD/JPY back above 100.

Market pricing of Fed rate cuts has been scaled back significantly in recent days, with less than 50bp of further easing factored in for this year – having just come off a 75bp easing at the 19 March review. This suggests that recent efforts by US officials – in particular the rescue of Bear Stearns – have greatly reduced fears of a widespread crisis in the financial system. However, expectations of easing in other regions such as Europe and the UK have also been scaled back, so this move hasn’t benefited the USD on a relative interest rate basis.

Other economic data was largely ignored. The US Richmond factory index bounced to +6 in March, the first positive reading since September. This result contrasts with weak readings from other regional manufacturing surveys, such as the Empire State (-22) and Philly Fed (-17.4). The Richmond survey found that shipments improved in (+13 vs –4 in Feb), as did new orders (7 vs –5 last month), reportedly on the back of overseas demand. However, capacity utilisation and backlogs remained in negative territory – albeit not as negative as in February.

US house prices declined further in January. The S&P/CS measure for Jan was -10.7%yr, deteriorating from -9.0%yr in December. The Office for Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight index also weakened, declining to -3.0%yr from -1.6%yr in December. The S&P/CS is the preferred house price measure, whereas the OFHEO index tends to show less pronounced downward movements, as it only includes well established single family homes that have changed ownership at least twice. That the OFHEO index has also turned negative is a reflection of the deep problems in the US housing sector.

With US officials having already done a lot of ‘housekeeping’ in recent weeks, traders are starting to cast their eyes towards other parts of the world that may be vulnerable. As a result, we suspect the US dollar’s bounce hasn’t run its full course yet. However, we emphasise that this is likely to be a short-term move, as the market shakes off the excessive pessimism of recent weeks. It’s a big week for local data, with the trade balance and current account (Thurs) and GDP (Fri). The latter will be particularly important, as it should give the market a reminder that, like much of the Asia-Pacific region, the economy ended last year on a strong note. However, some of the strength in Q4 will be stolen from Q1, so any upside surprise this week would raise the risk of a negative print further down the track.

Michael Gordon, Market Strategist, Wellington, Ph: (04) 470 8266
With contributions from Westpac Economics and Westpac Strategy

Latest Research Papers/Publications
• NZ Q1 Consumer Confidence (26 March)
• NZ Weekly Forex Outlook (25 March)
• NZ Q4 GDP Preview (19 March)
• NZ Q4 Current Account Preview (19 March)
• NZ Weekly Forex Outlook (17 March)
• NZ Weekly Forex Outlook (10 March)
• NZ Agribiz March 2008 (12 March)

These papers/publications are available on Online Research on Westpac
Institutional Bank’s website (

Upcoming Events
Date Country Release Last Forecast

26 Mar US Feb Durable Goods Orders –5.3% 1.0%
Feb New Home Sales –2.8% –2.0%
Fedspeak: Evans and Fisher
Jpn Feb Trade Balance ¥bn 862 796
Feb Corp. Services Prices %yr 0.8% 0.8%
Eur Jan Current Account €bn –10.3 –
Jan Industrial Orders –3.6% 0.2%
Ger Mar Ifo Bus Climate Index 104.1 103.5
27 Mar NZ Q4 Current Acct NZDm s.a. –3,639 –3,160
Feb Merch Trade NZDm –320 –300

Westpac Banking Corporation ABN 33 007 457 141 incorporated in Australia (NZ division). Information current as at 14 November 2007. All customers please note that this information has been prepared without taking account of your objectives, financial situation or needs. Because of this you should, before acting on this information, consider its appropriateness, having regard to your objectives, financial situation or needs. Australian customers can obtain Westpac's financial services guide by calling +612 9284 8372, visiting or visiting any Westpac Branch. The information may contain material provided directly by third parties, and while such material is published with permission, Westpac accepts no responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of any such material. Except where contrary to law, Westpac intends by this notice to exclude liability for the information. The information is subject to change without notice and Westpac is under no obligation to update the information or correct any inaccuracy which may become apparent at a later date. Westpac Banking Corporation is regulated for the conduct of investment business in the United Kingdom by the Financial Services Authority. © 2004 Westpac Banking Corporation. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. The forecasts given in this document are predictive in character. Whilst every effort has been taken to ensure that the assumptions on which the forecasts are based are reasonable, the forecasts may be affected by incorrect assumptions or by known or unknown risks and uncertainties. The ultimate outcomes may differ substantially from these forecasts.



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