As we expected, the RBA Board kept the cash rate on hold for another month. It retained the theme that rates can be cut “if needed”. We think that case has already been made and expect that to be recognised at the October meeting.
As expected, the Reserve Bank Board decided to leave the cash rate unchanged at 1.0% at today’s meeting.
The all-important final paragraph is slightly changed from the previous August decision statement and the minutes of the August meeting (“The board will continue to monitor developments, including in the labour market, and ease monetary policy further if needed to support sustainable growth in the economy and the achievement of the inflation target over time”). Given that Westpac is expecting the Board to cut rates by a further 25bps at the next meeting in October, we would have liked to have seen the term “if needed” excluded from the decision statement. As discussed in our preview to today’s decision, the term “if needed” could be interpreted as requiring more time than one month to decide on the next cut. However (realistically) the Board should not lock itself into a specific strategy one month out from the next meeting. By maintaining the “if needed” qualification, it provides itself with flexibility.
General commentary in the decision statement is very similar to the August decision statement. The most important changes are to be somewhat guarded on housing markets, “further signs of a turnaround in established housing markets”, but to also point out that construction activity has weakened.
There is also less apparent confidence in the growth and unemployment forecasts. The 2½ per cent forecast for GDP growth in 2019, which was explicitly noted in August, was not mentioned, although the expected return to trend growth “over the next couple of years” is noted. In August, the Governor’s decision statement specifically referred to the unemployment rate edging back to 5% “over the following couple of years”. That forecast was also not repeated in today’s decision statement.
Other themes that are consistent with the August statement are: risks are tilted to the downside for the global economy; “further monetary easing is widely expected” for a number of central banks; “Australian dollar is at its lowest level of recent times” (USD 0.6770 in August, down to USD 0.6700 in September); main source of domestic uncertainty remains the outlook for consumption; a further gradual lift in wages growth would be a welcome development; and “inflation pressures likely to remain subdued for some time yet” (new description).
With less confidence around the economic forecasts and recognition about the weakening activity in the residential construction sector, this decision statement is marginally more downbeat than the statement in August.
With the emphasis consistently on the labour market in both statements, the monthly employment reports remain important. However, other factors are also key to the October decision.
Firstly, it is likely that tomorrow’s GDP report for the June quarter will show the economy had less momentum than had been expected by the RBA at the time of the August meeting (detailed forecasts imply a GDP growth rate of 0.8% was expected for the June quarter). And while the Governor backs away from the 2½ per cent growth forecast for 2019, there still appears to be a heavy dose of optimism around the general growth outlook. If Westpac’s forecast for GDP growth in the June quarter of 0.5% proves to be correct, then the RBA is likely to need to revise down its growth forecast of 2½ per cent for 2019 and reasonably review the 2¾ per cent forecast for 2020
Secondly, it is clear that the RBA values the weakening of the AUD. We expect that by the time of the October meeting, the US Federal Reserve will have further cut the federal funds rate, and, in turn, lessening the impact on the AUD of recent rate cuts by the RBA, clearly signalling the need for further action.
Thirdly, a cut in October leaves options open for a further cut in December should conditions, particularly in global markets, point to the need for even lower rates. Leaving the next move to November reduces the RBA’s flexibility, given that a cut in December would represent back-to-back moves. As measured by the Westpac-MI Consumer Sentiment index, the back-to-back moves in June and July unnecessarily unnerved households.
All these arguments, on balance, point to another cut in October being the best way for the RBA to stay ahead of the curve and provide further downward pressure on the AUD.