The RBA minutes make a strong case for lower rates: Bill Evans

The RBA minutes make a strong case for lower rates: Bill Evans
Bill EvansDecember 7, 2020


There are two very important aspects to the minutes of the October meeting of the Reserve Bank Board.

The first one relates to the conclusion to the minutes, “the Board would continue to monitor developments, including in the labour market, and was prepared to ease monetary policy further, if needed…”

This language is consistent with the July minutes following the cut at that meeting, “The Board would continue to monitor developments  in the labour market and adjust monetary policy if needed …”.

There was no move in August but this conclusion left the door open.

This compares with the August minutes, where the minutes concluded: “Having eased monetary policy at the previous two meetings, the Board judged it appropriate to assess developments in the global and domestic economies before considering further change to the setting of monetary policy. Members would consider a further easing of monetary policy if the accumulation of additional evidence suggested this was needed to support sustainable growth in the economy and the achievement of the inflation target over time.”

This indicated a clear message that rates would be on hold in September.

However,  consider the September minutes: “Members would assess developments in both the international and domestic economies, including labour market conditions, and would ease monetary policy further if needed…”

This clearly left the door open for a move in October which subsequently eventuated.

We were expecting the conclusion to the October minutes to look like the August conclusion, which would have indicated that the Board intended to pause in November as they gathered more information. That conclusion  was not used, and the conclusion looked like July.

The conclusion in October, “was prepared to ease”, is not as strong as the September conclusion “would ease”. It is  like the July conclusion, no strong commitment and allowing some flexibility.

However, it is surprising that the Board did not choose to close off the option of another move so soon after October.

The second important aspect of these minutes is a very detailed justification of the decision to cut in October and a general argument as to why lower rates still work in Australia. Firstly, the Board noted that it was the level of rates rather than the change that was the important determinant. Holding back rate cuts in anticipation of a negative shock was not the best policy. Instead, it is better to cut ; strengthen the economy immediately if deemed necessary so that the economy would be better placed to absorb a negative shock.

The Board also discussed whether  low interest rates might impact confidence. That was left as an open question, it still saw the transmission through the exchange rate channel working effectively and noted the positive effects of lower interest rates on aggregate household cash flows.( confidence issue is whether households decide to spend the improved cash flow.)

Finally, it noted that asset prices were part of the transmission mechanism of policy, including via encouraging home building. At this stage, it assessed that higher asset prices were unlikely to present a risk to financial stability and members saw only a limited risk of excess borrowing.

There is no doubt that this discussion can be seen as a justification of the decision that was made in October. As we have noted before, central banks will always provide robust arguments to support their decisions. However, these arguments seem to go beyond merely justifying the decision in October and laying the foundation for even lower rates.

There is no discussion at this point as to whether an effective lower bound exists for the cash rate. We do not think we should interpret this discussion as contemplating negative rates or even zero rates.

The commentary on the domestic economy further lowers the RBA’s assessment of the strength of the economy. This could be expected given the decision to cut rates.

In particular, the residential construction downturn was now expected to continue for some time, “the decline in dwelling investment for the June quarter was greater than had been expected a few months earlier”, and “the Bank’s liaison program continued to report weak pre-sales for higher density developments”. Members also noted that conditions in retailing are reported to have been very weak, and there had not been a pick- up in household spending following the tax cuts and cash rate reductions. Employment growth was likely to moderate over the subsequent few quarters.

On the positive side strong exports growth; and public demand was noted, while strong employment growth had boosted growth in labour income.

Unusually, the minutes did not confirm the current forecast that GDP growth in 2020 would be around trend. This might imply that the Bank is preparing to lower its GDP forecast for 2020 when it releases the revised forecasts on November 8.


We were surprised that the Board did not indicate more clearly that it was planning to take some time, given the decision in October, to assess the timing of the next cut. That indication would have been consistent with the wording used in August.

However, the language that is used is similar to July , following the cut at that meeting and, of course, there was no follow up move in August. 

The Board is clearly leaving itself the flexibility to move in November but we believe the hurdle is high and while the minutes leave us with little doubt that another cut is expected we are holding to the view we adopted in July that the next moves would be in October and February.

BILL EVANS is the Chief Economist for Westpac

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