Timing of the next RBA rate cut moved from August to July.

We have decided to bring forward the timing of the next RBA rate cut from August to July. We are surprised that we have to do this, given that a pause between cuts might have allowed for a smoother transmission process but cannot deny the explicit signals provided in the Governor’s more recent speech. This includes: that it would “… be unrealistic to expect that lowering interest rates by ¼ of a percentage point will materially shift the path we look to be on”; that “the possibility of lower rates remains on the table”; and that it “is not unrealistic to expect a further reduction in the cash rate.” These are early days for interpreting this Governor’s language at a time when policy is active. However based on our experience with other central bankers, this language is direct. As such, we now expect a cut in July that will substitute for the move we had originally expected in August. This will complete the two cuts we originally forecast on February 21 when markets were priced for only one cut by March 2020. The timing however is somewhat earlier than we anticipated back in February.

It was reasonable to expect that the Bank would lower its growth and inflation forecasts in the August Statement on Monetary Policy and acknowledge that decision by cutting in August. However it now appears that, based on the Governor’s speech, he may decide to hold steady on the May growth and inflation forecasts. In particular, the Governor stressed that the decision to cut in June “was not in response to a deterioration in the economic outlook since the previous update was published in early May”. Note that the May forecasts were conditioned on market pricing which included two rate cuts by the end of 2019. With those cuts set to be delivered the August forecast update will also benefit from markets pricing in a further rate cut to 0.75% by the end of 2019. The wording in the Statement in August will probably include something along the lines of “having already cut rates twice”.

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Readers will recall that on May 24 Westpac forecast a terminal rate in November of 0.75%. This was ahead of all major forecasters (Bloomberg survey May 24) and market pricing. Although the Bank may decide to hold its growth and inflation forecasts steady in the August Statement on Monetary Policy we do not expect it to be possible to sustain this view through to November. Westpac expects growth of 2.2% in 2019 and underlying inflation of 1.4%. Official forecasts more in line with those estimates are likely by November meaning it will not be possible to credibly lower the Bank’s unemployment rate forecast, which currently stands at 5%, well above the 4.5% level now assessed as full employment. That combination means a further rate cut would be appropriate.

When we released the May 24 forecast we noted that the risk to the rate view was to the downside with a potential terminal rate of 0.5% possible. We remain comfortable with the 0.75% target but recognise that given the current official intense focus on lowering the unemployment rate these downside risks have increased. The focus on the unemployment rate also raises prospects for less predictable timing of the rate cut decision. In previous cycles growth and inflation and changes to associated forecasts have dominated the timing of decisions with most rate cuts timed for February, May, August and November. As we expect to see in July, that timing has changed because updates on the labour market are available monthly rather than quarterly. Accordingly it is possible that our November target date for the rate cut after July is more flexible than in previous cycles.

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