A quiet week for the Australian economy with limited economic releases ahead of this week’s national building approvals and private sector capital spending figures. Construction work value figures were released that highlighted some weakness in the quarter for non-residential building work (falling 2.6%) offset partly by residential construction (rising 0.4%). Overall construction work done rose 0.2% in the March quarter (5% over the year) with ongoing public sector construction a major driver led by Victoria and New South Wales and their major transport infrastructure projects
Trade sanctions returned as a concern globally with the Trump Administration announcing its discontent with progress to date on trade talks with China even amidst conciliatory moves by China earlier in the week. This concern was stoked more later in the week with the Administration directing the US Commerce Department to investigate car imports and whether they threatened to impair US National Security. This is a possible prelude to the exercise of presidential powers to restrict trade without Congressional approval.
Chinese equity markets declined with the revival of speculation of trade tensions with the US. Japanese equities suffered from the yen rally following this news (Japanese equities typically trade inversely to the yen because of their heavy exporter focus as a stronger currency necessarily implies lower profits). The ASX fell slightly led by weakness in the banking space over ongoing Royal Commission disclosures. This was partially offset by gains in bond proxies such as REITs and utility stocks that benefited from falling bond yields.
The US Dollar fell last week against the Australian Dollar and other major currencies following dovish Federal Reserve (“The Fed”) minutes that tempered expectations of an additional interest rate hike this year beyond the two more currently projected by the Fed at its March meeting. The Yen also benefited from its status as a safe haven currency with speculation of further escalation in trade tensions by President Trump imposing tariffs on US car imports. The Euro by contrast was weighed down by concerns over Italy with a coalition of populist parties taking power stoking concerns of a possible EU breakup as well as fears of a general economic slowdown continuing with a preliminary estimate of composite business data sliding to an 18-month low.