No surprises in RBA minutes; positive spin on key data points to rates on hold: Westpac's Bill Evans

No surprises in RBA minutes; positive spin on key data points to rates on hold: Westpac's Bill Evans
No surprises in RBA minutes; positive spin on key data points to rates on hold: Westpac's Bill Evans


The minutes of the March monetary policy meeting of the Board of the RBA provided no real surprises. When we assessed the Governor’s statement following the March meeting we pointed out that the key sentence “Members noted that continued low inflation would provide scope to ease monetary policy further, should that be appropriate to lend support to demand” had been changed from the February statement to include the word “would” instead of “may”. We interpreted that as a clear strengthening of the easing bias.

That decision may have been prompted by a concern that the December quarter GDP report that was set to be released the following day was going to show a significant slowdown in growth. As it turned out the report showed growth in 2015 to be 3%, comfortably above trend growth of 2.75%. In the minutes it is noted that it was reported to the Board that based on data available “growth appeared to have been slightly below average in the December quarter and over 2015 as a whole”. Clearly this assessment proved to be more cautious than turned out to be the final result. It is reasonable to argue that knowledge of the stronger GDP may have allowed the Board to retain its earlier more modest easing bias.

Of course we were also interested in the assessment of the surprise rise in the unemployment rate from 5.8% to 6.0% in January. The minutes while recognising that development point out that “leading indicators of employment had increased further and were consistent with employment growth in the months ahead”.

The minutes also clarified the relevance of the Capex survey. While the particularly weak Capex survey pointed out further but not surprising large falls in mining investment the picture around non-mining investment from the survey seemed to be overly pessimistic. The minutes point out that roughly half of non-mining investment is not covered by the Capex survey and that it had on occasions proved to be unreliable. Further boosting the view around business is the observation that surveys continue to point to conditions and capacity utilisation remaining above average levels.

The minutes have qualified the assessment that low wage growth points to some spare capacity in the labour market. They speculate that weak wages growth may be due to increasing globalisation. 

There is a long discussion on China, particularly around longer run economic performance and risks to growth. The discussion covers potential financial problems in China but concludes that China’s low household debt and low level of foreign currency debt gave it much more protection from a crisis than in other emerging economies.

At the time of the last meeting the AUD was around USD0.715, little changed from the February meeting. With the currency subsequently rising to USD0.75 there may have been some temptation to use this document to signal any discomfort. This has not happened and the term “responded to the evolving economic outlook” has been maintained.


The minutes provide some insight into expectations around GDP; reaction to the surprise rise in the unemployment rate in January; and the weak Capex report. The ‘spin’ on all of these developments indicates a Bank that is comfortably on hold. However clearly considerable attention is being paid by the Bank to developments in China and sudden adverse developments in that region would undoubtedly prompt consideration for policy change.

We will have to await new communication from the Bank to assess its degree of unrest around the recent sharp jump in the AUD.

Westpac continues to expect that the Bank will remain on hold for the remainder of the course of 2016.

Bill Evans is chief economist of Westpac.

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