Few changes following RBA's July meeting: Westpac's Bill Evans

Few changes following RBA's July meeting: Westpac's Bill Evans
Few changes following RBA's July meeting: Westpac's Bill Evans

As expected the Reserve Bank Board left the cash rate unchanged at 2% at its July Board meeting.

There were very few changes in the Governor’s statement from the statement following the June Board meeting.

Even though the Australian dollar has declined from around  USD0.77 at the June meeting to around USD0.75 today the Governor repeated his comment, “Further depreciation seems both likely and necessary, particularly given the significant declines in key commodity prices”.

The closing paragraph was also almost identical with the key sentence remaining: “Information on economic and financial conditions to be received over the period ahead will inform the Board's assessment of the outlook and hence whether the current stance of policy will most effectively foster sustainable growth and inflation consistent with the target.” That effectively means that the Bank is prepared to move on rates if it deems that necessary and effective, squashing any suggestion that 2% is some agreed floor for the cash rate. That sentiment was even more clearly enunciated in the Governor’s speech on June 10 when he said “We remain open to the possibility of further policy easing if that is, on balance, beneficial for sustainable growth”.

The commentary around the Australian economy included some interesting deviations from the June statement. Firstly, in June the Governor referred to “Household spending has improved”. That sentiment would have been based on the expectation that household spending would print a 0.7% rise in the March quarter national accounts which were due to be released the following day. Along with a strong 0.9% pick up in the December quarter that would have indicated that the annualised pace of spending had picked up from 2.5% to 3%. However the accounts recorded that spending grew by only 0.5% and the December quarter was downgraded. Overall the conclusion has to be that household spending remains stuck around a 2.5% pace rather than lifting as had been anticipated by the Bank last month.

On the other hand the June statement excluded any discussion on employment whereas in July the Governor states “the rate of unemployment, though elevated, has been little changed recently” even though that appears to be a bland statement of the facts the decision to point that out must indicate that the Bank is less convinced that the unemployment rate will rise consistently through the course of this year.

Despite no discussion on the weak investment in both mining and non-mining sectors it must still be assumed, given the results in the national accounts, that both mining and non-mining investment are underperforming significantly relative to previous expectations.

Developments in Greece and China get a mention in the statement as one explanation for volatile markets but there appears to be little anxiety with their impact being largely restricted to financial markets.

Outlook

Westpac’s current view is that rates will remain on hold through both 2015 and 2016. However the risks are clearly to the downside and will be dependent upon the Bank’s confidence in the outlook for the unemployment rate and economic growth. We continue to expect the unemployment rate to edge up further and while there appears to be some evidence in the statement that the Bank might be having some doubts around their long held view that the unemployment rate would edge up further we think they are still expecting such a result.

Secondly, they currently expect that GDP growth will lift from 2.5% in 2015 to 3.25% (trend) in 2016. Any substantial downward revision to that 2016 estimate should trigger a further policy response. The next test of that forecast will come in August and while there is a case for the Bank lowering that number to 3% that is not sufficient to support another rate cut. For that reason we think the first practical ’window’ for lower rates would be November when the data might be pointing to a softening growth outlook. The most important determinant of that forecast will be the momentum in the economy in the second half of 2015. By the November Board meeting the September quarter national accounts will still be one day away making it difficult to gauge momentum in 2015 H2. As with this year that would tend to push any further cut into the first half of the following year.

For our part there is insufficient evidence to lower those growth numbers sufficiently to justify a rate cut. Consequently we retain our position that rates will remain on hold in 2015 and 2016.

Bill Evans is chief economist at Westpac.

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