The RBA Board ties policy to domestic economic developments - remains generally upbeat

The RBA Board ties policy to domestic economic developments - remains generally upbeat
The RBA Board ties policy to domestic economic developments - remains generally upbeat

The minutes of the monetary policy meeting of the Reserve Bank Board emphasised some positive developments in the economic data but provided a strong statement around the Bank’s policy guidelines.

However in these minutes, the Board has chosen to emphasise its independence. “Members observed that moves towards higher interest rates in other economies were a welcome development but did not have mechanical implications for the setting of policy in Australia, where the timing of any changes in interest rates would be dependent, as always, on developments in domestic economic conditions. Members also noted that monetary conditions in other advanced economies had been eased significantly more than in Australia since the onset of the financial crisis”.

In that regard, the minutes noted that the Bank of Canada had increased its policy rate “in response to stronger than expected economic growth”. The Bank of England had indicated some tightening presumably in response to a lift in inflation associated with the weak sterling ( in my view a potential policy mistake). Markets also expected the ECB to begin reducing the pace of asset purchases in 2018.

Commentary around the domestic economy was generally upbeat:

“There had been a pick-up in household consumption growth in the June quarter”. That comment came before the release of the August retail sales data showing the weakest growth in retail sales since 2013.

Employment growth “had been well above that required to absorb increases in the labour force”, although the Board did note that growth in jobs had been  based in household services (particularly health care & education) and construction. Our reading is that outside those areas growth has generally been modest. Indeed the outlook for jobs growth was somewhat more subdued than we have seen in the past, “slightly above average growth in employment over the remainder of 2017”.

Residential construction, which has plateaued, is expected to hold around current levels “over the subsequent year or so” – a little vague from my perspective, although presumably meaning all of 2018. Westpac has a more pessimistic view around that cycle than appears to be the Board’s thinking.

Private non-mining business investment has increased to be almost 10% higher than at the start of 2016 – the outlook remained positive and firm’s estimates of future capital spending has increased.

“Public investment was expected to continue to be supporting economic activity”.

On the other hand, subdued price pressures continue across the economy and  retail electricity prices are expected to increase significantly in the September quarter. (Westpac’s estimate is 13%) . It is of some interest that business liaison indicates that retail and manufacturing businesses were largely absorbing increases in energy costs into margins.

Every six months, the Board reviews the Bank’s Financial Stability Review. These minutes help us understand the key issues from the Review that were presented to the Board. In that regard, concerns around China financial risks “remained pronounced” with excessive growth through the less regulated channels including banks off balance sheet activities.

Domestically, attention always turns to household indebtedness. While the Board noted that indebtedness had edged higher, it also highlighted the strength of household’s balance sheets, noting in particular “household assets far exceeded debt with non-housing assets alone being over two times larger than total household debt”.

The concluding paragraphs in the minutes continue to emphasise the Bank’s key views, firstly that growth would increase gradually over the coming year; strong employment growth and increasing wage growth would boost income growth and household spending; and the importance to continue to assess the various risks in the housing markets and household balance sheets.

Conclusion 

We have always argued that the policy process next year will be dependent on the strength of the domestic economy and not be dictated by any global trend to higher interest rates. It is interesting that the Board has chosen to emphasise this strategy in its minutes.

While the RBA does not release the detailed forecasts behind its general view that growth will be comfortably above trend next year, we can discern from the rhetoric that the Board, to date, has a more upbeat outlook for incomes; consumer spending; jobs growth; wages growth and the construction cycle than is our own view.

We have been encouraged by these minutes to expect that if the economy evolves in the way we anticipate, the Board will see no need to raise rates in 2018.

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Mortgages Bill Evans

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