RBA to cut cash rate to record low 0.25% and announce QE: Westpac's Bill Evans

RBA to cut cash rate to record low 0.25% and announce QE: Westpac's Bill Evans
RBA to cut cash rate to record low 0.25% and announce QE: Westpac's Bill Evans


Today, the Reserve Bank released a Statement which was aimed at addressing liquidity issues in the Australian financial market.

The liquidity policies were aimed at both the government bond market and the bank funding markets.

Earlier in the day, we saw aggressive policy changes from both the US FOMC and the Reserve Bank of New Zealand.

The RBA Governor’s Statement noted that the Reserve Bank “stands ready to purchase Australian government bonds in the secondary market”.

The Statement indicated that the action was aimed at supporting the smooth functioning of the bond market.

At a recent Conference, on March 11, RBA Deputy Governor Debelle noted that “at the moment we don’t see material disruptions in financial markets. If that were to change we obviously have the capacity to act in the market like we did back in 2008 in terms of ensuring sufficient liquidity to the market. We don’t see the need for that now, but obviously if circumstances change, that might also need to change”.

Clearly from the RBA’s perspective the circumstances have changed. So this action in the bond market is targeted at boosting liquidity in a market that is seen as a “key pricing benchmark for the Australian financial system”.

Other liquidity based policies which were announced include one month; three month; and six month or longer repo operations to support liquidity in bank funding markets.

This action in the bond market is not the Quantitative Easing policy which we have been anticipating will be adopted when the overnight cash rate reaches 0.25% (defined by Governor Lowe as the zero lower bound at a speech on November 26).

In explaining its proposed approach to Quantitative Easing Deputy Governor Debelle pointed out at the same Conference, “So we would talk about the likely future path of interest rates – what is generally known as forward guidance – and to validate that we would be operating in the bond market as necessary to keep government bond rates, or the risk free curve, consistent with our outlook for interest rates".

It is interesting that the Bank’s first foray into the bond market is based on liquidity but we do not expect that the Quantitative Easing approach has been shelved.

The Governor's statement today also indicated that: "further policy measures to support the Australian economy" will be announced on Thursday March 19.

Those policy measures are expected to include a lowering of the overnight cash rate from 0.50% to 0.25%.

Quantitative Easing, along the lines described by the Deputy Governor, is also expected to be announced. This would involve the RBA targeting a particular outlook for the risk free curve.

The Governor’s Statement also noted that the RBA and the AOFM are in close liaison. Recall that during the Global Financial Crisis the AOFM purchased a range of mortgage backed securities. A repeat of that successful exercise is also likely to be announced.

Last year Westpac raised the issue of the RBA adopting a similar policy to the Bank of England to support small businesses and households while supporting banks’ funding at a time of excessively low interest rates.

Under the arrangement the RBA would lend long term funds to the commercial banks at a rate close to the overnight cash rate with the funds being tied to loans to business and households.

We understand that in this current crisis a key priority is about ensuring that good companies stay afloat until the crisis has passed and in turn that companies are able to retain their employees.

The Government’s Fiscal Stimulus Package addressed these issues but we think that the monetary authorities, in conjunction with our unquestionably strong banking system, can also play a role.

BILL EVANS is the chief economist for Westpac.

This article was first published on Westpac IQ.

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