RBA stays on hold, signals on hold in December as well: Bill Evans

RBA stays on hold, signals on hold in December as well: Bill Evans
RBA stays on hold, signals on hold in December as well: Bill Evans

EXPERT OBSERVER

As expected, the Reserve Bank Board decided to leave the cash rate unchanged at 0.75% at its November Board meeting.

While this result was what was widely expected today, markets had given a 50% probability of a rate cut following the move in October. Westpac was never convinced of that prospect and had pointed to the fact that central banks usually make very strong cases for a decision and markets can over interpret that sentiment. We were also concerned that very low interest rates were likely to adversely affect sentiment, as we saw in the response to the June and July rate cuts where the Westpac-MI Consumer Sentiment Index fell by 4.1%. Readers will be aware that following the October rate cut, the index fell by 5.5%.

For us, the most important aspect of the Governor’s November Decision Statement was the signalling around prospects for a cut in December. It has always been our view that policy would be unchanged in November and December, but when market pricing reached 50% for November, December pricing was around 90%.

There are two key signals to suggest that the Board will take a break in December as well. Firstly, the term “the Board will continue to monitor developments” was included in the final paragraph, with the term “monitor” implying no urgency to move. Secondly, the final paragraph also notes “the easing of monetary policy since June”. It is our experience that when central banks refer back to previous decisions, it is also unlikely that they plan to move in the near future.

However, we are mindful that the Board does not want the market to believe that it has reached the end of the easing cycle. That would put unwelcome upward pressure on the AUD. Consequently, there remains a very clear easing bias: “the Board… is prepared to ease monetary policy further if needed”.

As indicated in our preview to today’s RBA decision, we pointed out that it was unlikely that the RBA would change its forecast for 2020. The Statement refers to growth in 2019 at 2¼ per cent and gradually picking up to 3 per cent in 2021. That indicates that the current growth forecast of 2.8% in 2020, which was adopted in August, is likely to be retained in Friday’s Statement on Monetary Policy.

The growth forecast for 2019 has been lowered from 2½ per cent to 2¼ per cent. When the 2½ per cent forecast was made, the RBA was unaware of the “softish” 0.5% GDP growth for the June quarter. With the first half of 2019 totalling 1 per cent, the 2¼ per cent forecast implies two quarters of around 0.6% growth in the second half of 2019. Westpac expects 0.5% in the September quarter.

Other key themes remain unchanged from the October statement: global economy risks are tilted to the downside; the main domestic uncertainty continues to be the outlook for consumption; the unemployment rate is expected to remain around 5 ¼ per cent for some time, before gradually declining to a little below 5% in 2021; wages growth is expected to remain around the current rate for some time; and there are further signs of a turnaround in established housing markets, especially in Sydney and Melbourne.

Some additional insights are: other sources of uncertainty include the drought and the housing construction cycle; and the recent inflation data were broadly as expected.

Conclusion

There is nothing in this Statement that prompts us to revise our current forecast that rates will be on hold in December with the next and final rate cut occurring in February next year.

Following that move, the state of the economy will be such that further stimulus will still be required, without which an unwelcome lift in the Australian Dollar would pose a significant headwind for the RBA’s current forecast of return to trend growth in 2020. Under those circumstances, it seems reasonable that the RBA might move towards some unconventional measures to boost demand and retain downward pressure on the Australian Dollar

BILL EVANS is the Chief Economist at Westpac

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Interest Rates Rba Rate Decision

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