RBA board members upbeat about improvment in global economy: Savanth Sebastian

Staff reporterDecember 20, 20160 min read


The Reserve Bank board minutes make for interesting reading, although there was no significant surprise in views.

Board members were upbeat about the improvement in the global economy – particularly China and were also aware of the likelihood of the weaker domestic September quarter economic growth result.

Interestingly, policymakers highlighted a couple of concerns at the time of the December 6 Board meeting – in particular the complications of “an appreciating exchange rate” on rebalancing the economy and “uncertainty about the moment in the labour market”.

Since the board meeting the Australian dollar has lost well over two cents (2.4%) against the US dollar and is even 1.3% lower against the trade weighted index.

Importantly the latest round of employment data showed a substantial rebound in full-time employment.

No doubt it is still early days but the improvements would give policymakers a degree of comfort.

Looking forward it is likely that the lift in commodity prices should support medium-term employment in the commodity states.

The focus for central bank official would be on how the business investment profile shifts over the coming year.

It is clear that a lift in non-mining business investment will be need to support broader economic growth.

Overall inflation remains well contained despite the lift in commodity prices.

Simply interest rate settings are likely to remain stable until well into 2017.

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Members noted that the international environment had been more positive in recent months, while observing that significant risks to the outlook for global activity persisted.

The Chinese economy had remained resilient, supported by expansionary fiscal policy and rapid growth in financing.

“There was still considerable uncertainty about the momentum in the labour market,” the minutes said.

The unemployment rate had declined over the past year, as had measures of excess capacity that accounted for the number of additional desired hours of work.

Part-time employment had grown strongly over the previous year, but employment growth overall had slowed.

Members noted that there was expected to be excess capacity in the labour market for some time, which was consistent with further indications of subdued labour cost pressures.

This suggested that inflation would remain low for some time before returning to more normal levels.

“Members noted that these factors had assisted the economy in its transition following the mining investment boom and that an appreciating exchange rate could complicate the adjustment.”

“Housing market conditions had strengthened overall over preceding months, although there was considerable variation across the country and between houses and apartments. Housing credit growth had picked up a little, particularly for investors.”

“Prices for a number of Australia's key commodities, including coking coal, iron ore and base metals, had increased noticeably over the June and September quarters, which had contributed to the increase in Australia's terms of trade of about 6% over that period.

“3Commodity prices had risen further over November, suggesting that an increase in the terms of trade in the December quarter was likely.

“Taking into account the information that had become available over the previous month, and having eased monetary policy earlier in the year, the Board judged that holding the stance of policy unchanged would be consistent with sustainable growth in the economy and achieving the inflation target over time.”

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The ANZ/Roy Morgan weekly survey of consumer confidence closely tracks the monthly Westpac/Melbourne Institute consumer sentiment index but the former measure is a timelier assessment of consumer attitudes and is now closely tracked by the Reserve Bank.

CommSec expects the Reserve Bank to remain on the interest rate sidelines for an extended period.

Could the next move in interest rates be a rate hike rather than a rate cut? It’s important not to get too far ahead of ourselves.

Inflation is still historically low. And while there is speculation of growth-focussed policies in the US, they haven’t been fleshed out.

However you get a sense that inflation has reached an inflexion point.

Savanth Sebastian is senior economist with CommSec.

Staff reporter

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