Uncertainty remains around the labour, housing markets: Westpac's Bill Evans

Uncertainty remains around the labour, housing markets: Westpac's Bill Evans
Uncertainty remains around the labour, housing markets: Westpac's Bill Evans


As expected the Reserve Bank Board decided to leave the cash rate unchanged at 1.50 percent.

With tomorrow’s prospect of a negative print for GDP growth in the September quarter, we were interested in whether that issue would be addressed in the Governor’s statement. To his credit he has done that by referring to “some slowing in the year ended growth rate is likely” but notes that growth is expected to pick up again in 2017.

In November the Bank released its forecasts that the economy would grow at close to potential in 2017 (forecast growth midpoint of 3 percent). It does not appear to have revised that view in this statement.

Indeed whereas in November the Governor’s statement recognised that commodity prices had risen, in December that increase is now assessed to “provide a boost to national income”.

The key policy sensitive areas of the labour market and housing are given the usual relatively extensive attention.

Overall, the assessment of the labour market appears to be a little less comfortable – the fall in the unemployment rate since December is qualified by “some measures of labour underutilisation are little changed.” Labour market indicators are still described as mixed with employment growth slowing but forward-looking indicators pointing to expansion in employment.

On the other hand, the commentary around housing is more upbeat. Conditions in the housing market are assessed to have strengthened with prices rising briskly in some markets. However, the statement does note that conditions vary considerably with prices falling in other markets.

Internationally, there is a hint of more confidence with “the outlook for inflation is more balanced than it has been for some time.” Most importantly, whereas the near term performance of China is better than expected a few months ago (our assessment), “medium-term risks to growth remain.”

Not surprisingly, the closing paragraph signals the ongoing neutral bias with: “the Board judged that holding the stance of policy unchanged at this meeting would be consistent with sustainable growth in the economy and achieving the inflation target over time.”


Following the rate cut in May this year Westpac forecast that there would be a follow up cut in August and then rates would remain on hold throughout the remainder of 2016 and all of 2017. That was despite market pricing favouring more than one follow up cut in 2017.

Today’s statement further supports our long held view and given ongoing difficulties in the labour market the prospect of rate hikes in 2017, despite some developments in market pricing, seems remote.

BILL EVANS is chief economist of Westpac

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