An Australasian currency?

20:42, Jan 19 2014
A common Australasian currency could bring business benefits, but comes with its share of fish-hooks.

Exchange rate fluctuations drive Clare Cryer mad.

The director looks after currency for her company, malt supplier Cryermalt. The business supplies malt products to brewers and bakers Australasia-wide, and thus is hyper-aware of the aussie/kiwi cross rate.

It's illogical, she says. Over half of the Auckland-based firm's turnover is in Australian dollars but it reports in New Zealand dollars, so an adverse shift in the exchange rate hurts.

"That has a big impact on my bottom line and it's an impact I have no control over.

"It's fine when it trends the same way over time, it’s when it does an unusual trend that I get caught out.

"If we're dealing in US dollars we understand we’re dealing with a currency that's a long way away, that no-one has any influence over.


"But we’re supposed to have closer economic relations (with Australia), that’s our closest neighbour. We're supposed to be able to access the Australian market easily, and this thing called foreign exchange comes in and makes our life difficult."

The most recent Grant Thornton International Business Report found that exchange rate volatility was holding 20 per cent of New Zealand businesses back from going global.

In the case of trans-Tasman trade, Cryer - like many Kiwi SME owners - would like to see a common currency.

CEO of Intilecta Apps, Greg Martin, get similarly frustrated with the vagaries of the Australian/New Zealand cross.

The business app seller currently does 25 per cent of its business in Australia.

Its costs and revenue base are in both currencies, so like Cryermalt its results are affected by the state of the exchange rate.

Things would be easier if there was a single Australasian currency, he says.

Martin, whose wife is Australian, has lived and worked in the country and says Intilecta executives spend most of their time there.

"Whether we like it or not we're a state of Australia.

"People confuse the currency with sovereignty and that's ultimately where it never gets [momentum].

"I think it’s probably more of a sentimental thing, because I have a hybrid family and business. It feels the same."

Unfortunately for Cryer and Martin, there's unlikey to be an Anzac currency anytime soon.

The joint Australian and New Zealand Productivity Commissions'  "Strengthening trans-Tasman economic relations" report, released last year, all but dismissed the idea saying the costs would outweigh the benefits.

Yes it would remove exchange rate risk and permit easier price comparisons, potentially increasing investment and trade.

But, "in forming a monetary union a country surrenders autonomy over monetary policy and exchange rate flexibility, which are important tools for macroeconomic stabilisation", the report said.

This meant that if there was an economic shock in one country but not the other adjustments would need to be made using prices, wages and employment.

"Adjustment through these channels is typically slower and can result in more volatile prices and output."

And "there are few instances where monetary union has worked effectively without some degree of political union", it said.

A year ago when the kiwi was at 75 cents Australian, businesses wouldn’t have been calling for a common currency, ANZ chief economist Cameron Bagrie says.

"A lot of it is wanting to have your cake and eat it too."

The reality is the concept comes with a lot of fishhooks, he says.

For example, in 2011 Australia's Cash Rate Target was 4.75 per cent.

"Can you imagine where the New Zealand economy would have been if we’d had our cash rate at 4.75?

"But all of a sudden we get (the New Zealand dollar) up to 90 cents (Australian) and we expect it to deliver salvation."

There is already an Auckland-versus-New Zealand divide, he points out. Do we really want an Auckland-versus-Sydney one as well?

A common currency is not out of the realms of possibility, but it would require much closer alignment of factors such as the two tax systems and labour markets, Bagrie says.

"If we get those sorts of dymanics in place at a microeconomic level it looks more of a goer."