Downward forecast revisions highlight enduring uncertainty: Elliot Clarke

Downward forecast revisions highlight enduring uncertainty: Elliot Clarke
Downward forecast revisions highlight enduring uncertainty: Elliot Clarke


The RBA has been the focus this week given the August Board meeting and today’s release of their latest Statement on Monetary Policy.

Unsurprisingly, the RBA decision statement maintained a cautious view on the global economy, noting that the outlook remains highly uncertain despite the worst of the contraction having passed.

The risks for the domestic economy were also highlighted: the growth view for 2020 maintained at -6.0% as the 2021 gain was revised down to +5%; and the end-2020 unemployment rate forecast revised up from 9% to 10% on the expectation that Victoria’s lockdown will result in further job losses.

In light of these factors, the Governor emphasised the RBA’s commitment to the 3-year bond yield target of 0.25% by announcing that CGS purchases would re-commence after the August meeting.

The statement also outlined the ongoing evolution of the Term Funding Facility, highlighting the liquidity support it has and will provide to the economy.  

Westpac’s own growth view remains more constructive on 2020 than the RBA, but we believe 2021 will disappoint.

Having revised our 2020 growth target from -4.2% to -4.7%, principally due to developments in Victoria, while keeping our +3.0% expectation for 2021 unrevised, we believe the Australian economy will end 2021 with a level of GDP 1.8ppts below that at December 2019. This compares to -1.0% on the RBA’s baseline forecasts.

On either view, labour market slack is set to become entrenched for an extended period. From its 10% peak later this year, the RBA anticipates that the unemployment rate will only slowly decline to around 7% at December 2022.

A full discussion of Westpac’s revised forecasts, the outlook for policy and the risks was provided by Chief Economist Bill Evans this week.

The release of our August Market Outlook publication this week also gave cause to reassess our global views. Most prominent are the divergent economic prospects of the US and China as well as the rapid depreciation of the US dollar currently underway.

Beginning with the US and China, the response of authorities in each jurisdiction to COVID-19 was polar opposite; unsurprisingly, so are the economic consequences now being seen.

Whereas China regained the activity lost in Q1 in just three months, the US looks likely to end-2021 with a level of GDP almost 3.0% lower than end-2019. Further, while short and medium-term risks for China are to the upside, they are most certainly skewed down in the US.

While out of the spotlight, Europe is somewhere in between, still having to suppress small but frequent COVID-19 outbreaks, but with the promise of co-ordinated fiscal support and an emerging global recovery getting brighter by the week.

That then brings us to the US dollar downtrend. The scale of the decline we have seen to date from the peak levels seen in April and May has been broadly in line with our expectations.

But, as is often the case in financial markets, the speed of the move has been much more rapid than we anticipated. As a result, the August Market Outlook includes meaningful revisions to our US dollar expectations against Euro and the British Pound.

The US dollar DXY index is now expected to retrace most of its gains since 2018, falling to 90.5 by end-2021. The risk remains that this move occurs quicker than forecast and/ or is more pronounced.

The gains we anticipate for China’s Renminbi highlight the promise of recovery for nations that have suppressed COVID-19’s spread.

While US/China trade tensions loom, China has ample trade opportunities before it within the Asian region, where economic development prospects remain strong. 

Elliot Clarke is a senior economist at Westpac 

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