The minutes of the RBA Board meeting for September indicate that the Board is nearing the time when another rate cut will occur. We see no reason, at this stage, to change our call for a move in October.

The minutes of the Reserve Bank Board’s September meeting contain similar themes to the August minutes but indicate that the Board acknowledges that it is getting closer to its next move on policy.

In August the Board minutes concluded that: “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”.

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In these minutes there is no reference to previous actions. Arguably reference to previous actions is a clear sign that the Board is content to observe developments whereas not referring to previous actions there is less emphasis on the need to wait.

It is also interesting that the theme that drove the June and July decisions to cut rates: “the Australian economy could sustain lower rates of unemployment and underemployment” was repeated in these minutes whereas that particular theme was absent in the August minutes.

The minutes refer to three “developments that had a bearing on the monetary policy decision”.

  • The labour market – strong employment growth was recognised but the unemployment rate had remained steady at 5.2% (recall that the Governor has noted on other occasions that he would like to see the unemployment rate at 4.5%) and that wages growth “had remained low”. Indeed the minutes point out that “the upward trend in wages growth appeared to have stalled”. We are aware that the Governor sees rising wages growth as the key to a sustained lift in spending growth and higher inflation. In addition the minutes noted that “forward – looking indicators had continued to suggest that employment growth would moderate over the following six months.”
  • The housing market – it was noted that there was “a turnaround in established housing markets” but from the perspective of economic activity there was “further weakness in dwelling investment in the near term” and low turnover in the housing market meant that “spending on home furnishings and other housing related items was not expected to contribute to consumption growth in the near term”.
  • GDP growth – the Board meeting was held the day before the release of the June quarter national accounts. When the RBA released its forecasts on August 9 it was expecting GDP growth in the June quarter to be 0.8%; in the minutes it referred to an expectation of 0.5% due to the weakness of the partials in the lead up to the release. That forecast proved to be correct but the minutes did note that “private final demand was expected to be weak”. (In fact it was flat in the June quarter and down 0.4% for the year! – “weak” is probably an overstatement of the state of final demand).

On the international front the overriding theme was that “the escalation of the US–China trade and technology disputes, …had intensified the downside risks to the global outlook”. The outlook for China deteriorated somewhat and the trade disputes were weighing on East Asia generally.

On monetary policy the minutes note that markets priced in 100 basis points of easing from the Federal Reserve while generally “further monetary policy easing was widely expected “from a number of central banks.

Finally, the minutes point out that, for Australia, “ financial market pricing continued to imply that the cash rate was expected to be lowered by another 25 basis points by November, with a further cut expected in the early part of 2020”.

Conclusion

The minutes make a fairly clear case for another rate cut in 2019.

With two meetings now having passed since the last move and , from my perspective, most importantly, the key rate cut theme that “the Australian economy could sustain lower rates of unemployment and underemployment” returning to the narrative, our central view that there is no reason to wait until November for the next move still seems reasonable.

November is typically favoured by the RBA since it is a time when it can refresh its forecasts although we are not expecting any significant changes along the lines of August when the forecast unemployment rate was lifted; the forecast pace of wages growth was lowered; and the timing of the return of inflation to the 2–3% band was pushed out by a year. The growth forecast in 2019 is likely to be lowered but the 2020 forecast should remain intact.

However, as the minutes warn, “developments in the international and domestic economies, including the labour market” will be assessed to see whether a further easing of policy is “needed”.

Westpac continues to predict cuts in the cash rate of 25 basis points in both October and February next year.

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