Reserve Bank Board highlights global risks for policy: Bill Evans

Reserve Bank Board highlights global risks for policy: Bill Evans
Bill EvansDecember 7, 2020


The minutes of the Reserve Bank Board meeting for August have provided one significant surprise.

In both the Governor's decision statement following the meeting and the Statement on Monetary Policy( similar version), the conclusion included "the Board would continue to monitor developments in the labour market closely and adjust monetary policy if needed to support sustainable growth in the economy and the achievement of the inflation target over time".

In these minutes, the emphasis has changed to the following "the Board judged it appropriate to assess developments in the global and domestic economies before considering further change in the setting of monetary policy. Members would consider a further easing of monetary policy if the accumulation of additional evidence suggests this was needed to support sustainable growth in the economy and the achievement of the inflation target over time".

So the message here is that policy could be eased in response to an unexpected deterioration in the global economy without the labour market providing an adequate justification for a rate cut.

Clearly, the Board has become more concerned about the global outlook: "trade and technology disputes had increased the downside risks to the global outlook", "uncertainty around trade policy had already had a negative effect on investment in many economies", and "a number of central banks had reduced interest rates this year and further monetary easing was widely expected".

This is not to say that concerns around the labour market have eased. As we observed with the increase in the RBA's unemployment forecasts and the downward revision to wage growth forecasts, the Board has noted: "there appeared to have been more spare capacity in the labour market than previously appreciated", and there is "a more subdued outlook for wages than three months earlier".

There appears to be a somewhat positive spin on the outlook for the real economy: "Although, the outlook for consumption remained uncertain, the risks around the outlook were more balanced than they had been for some time", "evidence that conditions in housing markets were showing signs of a turnaround had strengthened in July", and "signs of a turnaround in housing markets suggested there were some upside risks to dwelling investment later in the forecast period".

This commentary is consistent with the growth forecasts which anticipate GDP growth lifting from 2½ per cent in 2019 to 2¾ per cent in 2020. Westpac's forecasts are for 2.25% in 2019 and 2.5% in 2020. However, Westpac sees the clear downside risks to these forecasts coming from global developments, and it appears that the RBA Board is harbouring similar concerns.

As we saw in the Governor's testimony to the parliamentary economic committee, the Board has been briefed on unconventional monetary policy measures. The minutes cover the various measures that have been adopted overseas, but correctly qualify the assessment since "full evaluation could not been undertaken as many of these measures were yet to be unwound". It also noted that "effectiveness depended upon the specific circumstances and the nature of the financial system".

As we saw in the Governor's testimony, at this stage the Board seems to favour purchasing government bonds which were expected to flow through to lower interest rates for private borrowers. It also noted that "a package of measures tended to be more effective than measures implemented in isolation".


We do not think that after emphasising the labour market as the key factor for policy in the May, June and July minutes, the importance of the labour is in any way diluted. However, as a small open economy, a responsible central bank could not be seen to dissociate policy from global developments given the alarming signals around the world economy.

It is also important to be clear that the forecasts in the Statement on Monetary Policy, on which these minutes are based, assume market pricing for the cash rate path. At the time of the forecasts, the market pricing discounted two further rate cuts — one by the "end of this year", and a second in the "first half of 2020".

Despite this rate path, the forecasts indicate a lower profile for wages growth (reaching only 2.4% in 2021), an increase in the unemployment rate forecast (from 5% to 5.2% in December 2020), and the trimmed inflation rate forecast now below 2% by end 2020 (at 1.9%). These forecasts indicate that despite two more rate cuts, the RBA still does not expect the unemployment rate to go remotely close to its stated desired 4.5% over the forecast horizon, or reach the 2-3% target band for inflation before 2021.

Consequently, we remain comfortable with our forecast that the RBA will next cut the cash rate in October by 25bps and wait until early 2020 (February) for the second cut of 25bps.

BILL EVANS is Westpac's Chief Economist

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