16 Jul 2013

Australian dollar fall could hit NZ firms' earnings

7:04 am on 16 July 2013

An analyst says further falls in the Australian dollar and the weak economy across the Tasman will start hurting New Zealand companies with operations there.

The New Zealand dollar reached a near five-year high against its Australian counterpart of 86.3 cents on Friday, and is expected to go higher in the coming months. On Tuesday morning it was trading at around 85.85 Australian.

Forsyth Barr analyst Brian Stewart says the market has priced in the recent depreciation of the Australian dollar, but further weakness could put earnings and valuations at risk for a number of companies.

He cites Abano Healthcare, Fletcher Building, Michael Hill and SkyCity.

Abano Healthcare derives $250 million - more than half its revenues - from Australia, with a large dental group and a growing audiology operation.

Chief executive Alan Clarke says the health services his company offers mean it's currently relatively insulated from the slowing Australian economy.

He says Australia was largely unaffected by the global financial crisis until about six months ago when the minerals boom faded, but now there are a lot of "for lease" signs to be seen.

Mr Clarke says dealing with the slowdown in New Zealand in recent years has given many firms the tools to tackle one in Australia, such as offering customers financial support and ways of phasing in treatment. He says a slowdown is now being seen in forward bookings.

Westpac currency strategist Imre Speizer says the Australian and New Zealand dollars are now on diverging paths.

He says since 2008 the two currencies had moved close together but "the market's now waking up to the difference in those economies - that's why you're seeing this accelerated phase of the uptrend in the cross since March this year".