As expected, the Reserve Bank Board decided to leave the cash rate unchanged at 1.50 percent.
The Governor’s statement indicates that the Bank is feeling a little more comfortable with the outlook. Growth prospects have improved and the heat seems to be coming out of the housing market.
Evidence to support a more confident growth outlook is the following:
Whereas in August, the Bank referred to “the central forecast is for the economy to grow at an annual rate of around 3%”, the September statement confirms the expectation that “growth will gradually pick up over the coming year”. Note that the Bank’s current forecast for GDP growth in 2017 is 2.5%, lifting to 3.25% in 2018, and 3.5% in 2019.
The recent capex survey pointed to a lift in services investment. Our estimate is that the growth in services investment intentions in 2017/18 increased from 6% in May to 10% in August. The Governor responded by noting that “the outlook for non-mining investment has improved recently”. That confident statement compares with the milder “some pick-up in non-mining business investment is expected” (August).
The outlook for employment growth is described as “solid” (September) compared to “continued growth” in August.
While sentiment towards wages growth remains cautious, the Governor felt emboldened to predict “some lift in wages growth over time”. In August there was no reference to the outlook for wages, only the concerns around the impact of slow growth in real wages and high levels of household debt (a sentiment repeated in September).
Commentary around the Australian Dollar is unchanged. This is hardly surprising given that the AUD remains in that USD 0.79-80 range (although in TWI terms, the AUD is around 1% lower than we saw at the August meeting). The commentary refers to “an appreciating exchange rate would be expected to result in a slower pick-up in economic activity and inflation than currently forecast”. This approach is more realistic than attempting to “jawbone” the AUD given that markets are almost certain that the Bank would neither cut rates nor intervene. The language implies that further increases in the exchange rate would threaten growth and inflation.
To compound the good news, the Governor seemed more confident that housing conditions are easing. In August, he noted “some signs that these conditions are starting to ease”, whereas in September he indicates that “there are signs that conditions are easing, especially in Sydney”. Observations( in August) that prices are declining in some markets; additional supply of apartments is scheduled to come on stream; investors are facing higher interest rates; and credit conditions have tightened were repeated in the September statement.
Comments around the global economy are unchanged. The Governor continues to expect that Australia’s terms of trade will decline over coming years and to see the Federal Reserve further increasing interest rates. This may imply that he expects the AUD to ease, although the Bank does not make currency forecasts.
We cannot deny that the partial data has generally been constructive. That supports the Bank’s decision to be more optimistic about the growth outlook. We expect that will be further confirmed with the release of the June quarter GDP report where Westpac is forecasting a 1.0% increase, supported by strong consumer and government spending and net export growth.
On the other hand, as indicated in the Governor’s statement, risks around the consumer associated with weak wages growth; ongoing spare capacity in the labour market; and high household debt still threaten the current growth momentum. Indeed, we expect that these factors along with a downturn in the construction cycle and net services exports are likely to slow momentum through 2018.
We do concur with the Bank’s observation that the heat is coming out of both the Sydney and Melbourne housing markets as credit conditions tighten under the weight of increased regulation.
Under these circumstances we do not support current market pricing which points to the beginning of the rate hike cycle in mid 2018. We continue to expect rates to remain on hold in 2018.