Key insights from the week that was.
Following the March quarter CPI report, a May RBA rate cut became the majority opinion amongst Australian market economists. Westpac however remained of the view that the first cut would instead come in August after the labour market turned down and as the RBA recognised growth was set to remain well-below trend through 2019.
Westpac’s view proved correct for May, and the language of the decision statement was also consistent with our August/ November timing for rate cuts. Of greatest importance, the Board inferred in the statement that the labour market would have to strengthen further to stay a rate cut(s). In stark contrast, our analysis of the labour market suggests the cyclical sectors have already turned down sharply and that the headline measures will follow from April (a key release for next week).
On GDP growth, while the RBA only marked their 2019 GDP growth forecast to trend in May, the data-to-hand continues to point to a much weaker outcome. Note, in this week’s retail trade data for the March quarter, sale volumes were shown to be up just 0.2% over the nine months to March. Ahead, as the labour market deteriorates, house price declines continue and the savings rate lifts, consumption (and consumer-linked investment in the retail sector) will come under further pressure.
Across the Tasman, the RBNZ sought to get ahead of the curve by cutting the cash rate 25bps at their May meeting to 1.50%. The RBNZ had previously been betting on stronger growth in the domestic economy getting inflation back to the 2.0%yr target. However, this has not eventuated and hence, given global risks, the RBNZ decided to act.
Turning to Europe, the recent stabilisation in European data continued this week. The final April services PMI, March retail sales and May Sentix investor confidence all slightly beat consensus expectations, though March German factory orders underwhelmed. ECB President Draghi also remained constructive regarding policy’s effectiveness, reiterating a need to be patient and persistent to bring inflation back to target and that the ECB “don’t accept defeat”.
Over in the UK, the political situation continues to deteriorate. After a swing in local elections away from the conservatives, infighting is growing (again). Equally concerning, a Tory-Labour compromise is looking unlikely in the near-term, portending persistent Brexit uncertainty.
Finally to US and China trade. At the beginning of the week, President Trump surprised global markets by turning up the heat on China. Today the 10% tariff on $200bn of imports is set to be increased to 25% unless a deal can be reached in last-minute negotiations. A 25% tariffs on the remaining $325bn of imports from China to the US has also been mooted, though the timing is unknown.
If they become policy, these threats will not only put at risk China’s 2019 growth target of 6.0% –6.5%, but also the outlook for the US economy. The mutual cost to both nations is reason to believe a resolution will be reached, but not necessarily today. Clearly, there is significant distance between the two parties and the subject matter is highly contentious.