RBA should keep cash rate on hold at 3.5%: Shadow board

The self-appointed "shadow" RBA board favours the Reserve Bank leaving the cash rate on hold today at 3.5% but expects a rate cut in the medium term.

The board is comprised of economists and academics that meet under the banner of the Centre for Applied Macroeconomic Analysis (CAMA) at Australia National University.

Keeping the interest rate unchanged at 3.5% received nearly 60% weight, considerably above the next most popular setting — a decrease to 3.25% — which received a 30% weight.

For the RBA's September decision, keeping the interest rate unchanged at 3.5% received around a 65% weight from the shadow board.

In October, the shadow board saw evidence of weakening inflationary pressures and a risk that the current cash rate should be lower.

"The corresponding figures for September suggested both more upside risk and less downside risk to inflation. With some evidence that inflationary pressures will continue to abate in the coming months, there is greater scope for lower rates in the medium term. Support for a decrease in the cash rate over the next six months was just over 50%.

“Support for a decrease in the cash rate over the next six months was just over 50%," said the shadow board.

Shadow board member Saul Eslake, chief economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch Australia and formerly chief economist at ANZ for 14 years, says the argument for a rate cut is “getting stronger — given the ongoing slowdown in China, and the impact that’s having on commodity prices — but not, so far, on the Australian dollar”.

“However, it’s not yet clear to me that, overall, the negative effects of persistent Australian dollar strength have started to overwhelm the other factors that have kept the unemployment rate steady in a 5% to 5.25% range and growth close to or even slightly above its trend pace so far this year. I expect rates eventually will need to fall, but I’m not ‘over the line’ for October.”

Another shadow board member, Jeffrey Sheen, professor and head of economics at Macquarie University, says that Australian foreign interest rate differentials are “probably appropriate to this stage of the mining boom, delivering expected future depreciation”

“The expected weakening in the terms of trade — down a little from a 50-year high — will assist this depreciation in due course.”

He also pointed out that there have been no significant changes to global macro risks in the last month.

Shadow board member Paul Bloxham, chief economist at HSBC Bank Australia, says he favours holding rates steady this month, although he says he would be willing to consider cutting rates by 25 basis points.

“Conditions locally and in China look fairly similar to last month. Western growth is still slowing, but it is not clear how much further downward pressure that will put on growth in Asia. Commodity markets have generally stabilised. The local unemployment rate remains low.”

“While there are some signs that employment is easing, timely indicators do not decisively point to weaker conditions. Monetary policy is starting to lift the housing market. Inflation was low in the second quarter, but there is no new price data this month to confirm that this has continued to be the case in the third quarter.

“Given limited urgency to cut rates further, and signs that lower rates are providing some support for the economy, I would prefer to wait for the third quarter CPI for confirmation that inflation remains low before cutting rates further if needed,” said Bloxham

The full shadow board is:

Shaun Vahey, Professor, RSE, ANU. (non-voting chair)

Paul Bloxham, Chief Economist (Australia & New Zealand), HSBC Bank Australia Ltd

Mark Crosby, Dean of the Global MBA Program, Acting Dean of the Global BBA Program, and Professor of Economics, S P Jain Center of Management in Singapore

Mardi Dungey, Professor, University of Tasmania, CFAP University of Cambridge, CAMA

Saul Eslake, Chief Economist, Bank of America Merrill Lynch Australia

Bob Gregory, Professor Emeritus, RSE, ANU, Professorial Fellow, Centre for Strategic Economic Studies, Victoria University, Adjunct Professor, School of Economics & Finance, Queensland University of Technology

Warwick McKibbin, Professor, RSE, ANU, CAMA

James Morley, Professor, University of New South Wales, CAMA

Jeffrey Sheen, Professor & Head, Department of Economics, Macquarie University,Editor, The Economic Record, CAMA

Mark Thirlwell, Director, International Economy Program, Lowy Institute for International Policy

Larry Schlesinger

Larry Schlesinger

Larry Schlesinger was a property writer at Property Observer


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