RBA has scope to cut further: HSBC's Paul Bloxham

RBA has scope to cut further: HSBC's Paul Bloxham
RBA has scope to cut further: HSBC's Paul Bloxham

GUEST OBSERVER

Australia’s economy is showing considerable resilience in the face of falling commodity prices and China’s slowdown.

Growth is rebalancing away from mining to housing and services, supported by low interest rates and a lower AUD.

Loose financial conditions are expected to support further solid, albeit below average, growth of 2.6% in 2016, while low inflation leaves room for another RBA cut, now expected in 2Q.

More rebalancing ahead 

Commodity prices have fallen to a 12-year low, China’s growth has slowed, global trade has been anaemic and yet, Australia’s domestic activity indicators have been lifting. Local jobs growth has picked up, business conditions have been at seven-year highs and consumer sentiment has been rising. Why? 

The answer is: Australia’s growth is rebalancing. How is this possible? Well, first, the mining sector is only 10% of the economy, so its influence is not as pervasive as is often thought. Second, Australia is the lowest cost producer of iron ore and has long-term contracts to sell LNG, so export volumes are still ramping up.

Third, when the mining boom was strong, much of the rest of the economy was held back by tight financial conditions, which meant that there has been significant scope for a pick-up in the non-mining sectors in response to loosened financial conditions: low interest rates have driven a housing boom and the lower AUD has lifted net services exports. 

2016 is set to see a continuation of this rebalancing theme. Mining investment is set to fall again, while resources export volumes rise further, driven by new LNG projects ramping up production. The housing boom, which had been the first stage of the rebalancing act, appears to be cooling, but the services sectors have now taken the ‘growth baton’ and are driving job creation. Australia’s trade connections to Asia are set to continue to broaden beyond resources, to services and agricultural products. 

Low inflation means the RBA has scope to cut further, although financial stability concerns are making it reluctant. Our central view has another cut, now in 2Q (previously 1Q). However, a tangible fall in the AUD could obviate the need for it. We believe policymakers should be focused on structural and budgetary reform in the lead up to this year’s Federal election (likely to be in September or October).

The clearest downside risk is a sharp downturn in China. However, this would now probably need to have a significant impact on Chinese households, and their willingness to buy Australian services and assets, to see a significant local downturn. 

 

Housing boom is cooling, but a soft landing is expected

 

Following rapid growth in Sydney and Melbourne housing prices, which are up 46% and 32%, respectively, over the past four years, there are now some signs that these housing markets are cooling (Chart 13 and 14). We expect national housing price growth to slow to 3-4% in 2016, down from 10% in 2015.

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RBA has scope to cut further: HSBC's Paul Bloxham

 

The slowdown is expected to be driven by tighter lending standards that have been imposed by the prudential regulator, recent mortgage rate increases by the major banks (in response to higher capital requirements), some reduction in housing affordability due to the recent ramp up in housing prices, and a ramp up in housing supply, due to the recent residential construction boom.

The residential construction ramp up has helped to reduce a previously accumulated housing undersupply (Chart 15). Our estimates suggest the national market will still have an undersupply until 2017, although this aggregate hides pockets of potential oversupply in areas such as the Melbourne and Brisbane apartment markets. 

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RBA has scope to cut further: HSBC's Paul Bloxham

The slowdown in housing price growth and construction means that these are expected to contribute less to GDP growth in 2016, although we still expect a positive contribution from construction (Chart 16). There is also likely to be a lagged wealth effect from the previous housing price gains that could support some spending (via reduced household savings).

Although we expect the housing boom to cool in 2016, we expect national housing prices and construction to maintain modest positive momentum, supporting GDP growth.

Paul Bloxham is chief economist (Australia and New Zealand) for HSBC.

 

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Housing Undersupply

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