More RBA easing may be necessary in the future: Shane Oliver

More RBA easing may be necessary in the future: Shane Oliver
More RBA easing may be necessary in the future: Shane Oliver

EXPERT OBSERVER

As widely expected the RBA left the cash rate on hold at 0.75% at its November board meeting.

While we thought a rate cut was justified, recent commentary from the RBA had suggested little urgency on its part so today’s on hold decision was not surprising. 

The post meeting Statement was a little bit more upbeat referring to: a scaling back in market expectations for interest rate cuts globally; a “gentle turning” point in the local economy; expectations for growth to pick up to 3% by 2021, recent inflation data being broadly as expected; and further signs of a turnaround in the established housing market.

However, while the RBA still sees growth picking up to around 3% in 2021, it has yet again downgraded its growth expectation for this year to “around 2.25%” from 2.5% in August. And don’t forget that a year ago it expected growth this year of 3.25%.

Apart from maybe feeling a bit more upbeat, the RBA probably also decided to pause in easing to give tax and rate cuts to date more time to work. But it’s interesting that it made no reference to September’s very weak retail sales report which along with continuing weak car sales suggests very little boost to consumer spending from the tax and rate cuts so far.

The final paragraph of the RBA’s post meeting Statement repeats that its “reasonable to expect that an extended period of low interest rates will be required” and that “The Board will continue to monitor developments, including in the labour market, and is prepared to ease monetary policy further if needed to support sustainable growth in the economy, full employment and the achievement of the inflation target over time.” Quite clearly the RBA retain an easing bias.

Based on the US experience which has required unemployment and underemployment to fall to 7% just to get wages growth of 3% year on year, full employment in Australia probably means unemployment around 3.5-4% and underemployment around the same level so we have a long way to go!

As a result, we remain of the view that further RBA monetary easing will be required and is likely. Growth is still likely to remain subdued and below trend for longer than the RBA is allowing. This will keep unemployment higher for longer and wages growth and inflation below target for longer. Consequently, more easing will be required to achieve full employment and clear progress to the inflation target. What’s more inflation has been running below target for more than four years now and the longer this is allowed to persist the more the inflation target will lose credibility and won’t be the “strong nominal anchor that people can rely on when making their decisions” that Governor Lowe has stated the Board is seeking to provide.

Ideally more fiscal stimulus is required (such as a bring forward of the stage 2 tax cuts, a boost to Newstart, inducements to large companies to investment more and increased infrastructure spending where possible) as this would give a bigger bang for the buck and could be more fairly targeted. But in the absence of more fiscal stimulus, pressure remains on the RBA for further easing. We continue to see the cash rate being cut to a low of 0.25% in December and February but this could also come with quantitative easing measures designed to lower bank funding costs and increase the banks’ pass through of rate cuts to borrowers.

The RBA’s forward guidance is also likely to be toughened in the next few months to say something along the lines that the RBA “doesn’t expect to consider raising interest rates until inflation is near the mid-point of the 2-3% inflation target.”

Meanwhile, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s decision to make no changes to the RBA’s inflation target and the broader Statement on the Conduct of Monetary Policy of which it is a part makes sense.

The interpretation of meeting the inflation objective as being “on average” and “over time” has served Australia well and has contributed to the relative stability of the Australian economy. To lower the inflation target to 1-3% as some were arguing should occur would have blown its credibility, pushed the $A up sharply and boosted the risk of deflation and falling wages which is the last thing we want given high household debt levels. Making the target stricter – by requiring say a BoE style letter each time the target is breached – could force the RBA to become inflation nutters. So thankfully it remains unchanged.

The only thing now is to get inflation back to target “on average” and “over time.”

SHANE OLIVER is the Chief Economist for AMP Capital

Tags: 
Rba Rate Decision Economy

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