5 Things We’ve Learned from the RBA’s September Meeting Minutes

Earlier this month the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) decided to keep its interest rates at a record low of 1.50% after cutting it by 25 basis points in May and in August. Not only that, but the central bank barely changed its statement from the August release!

Still, we’ve dug deeper into the RBA’s September meeting minutes to see what Glenn Stevens and his gang talked about. Here are five things we’ve learned:

Growth is in line with previous expectations

The RBA noted that business investment had fallen further in Q2 2016 thanks to more declines in mining investment. Meanwhile non-mining investments are also having trouble getting boosts amidst uncertainty over future demand growth.

Despite these, the RBA still believes that the economy expanded at around “around estimates of potential growth over the first half of 2016.” In other words, they already called it.

Employment story is consistent with mining story

Since Australia makes most of its moolah from exporting commodities, it makes sense that its labor market will be altered by the decline from the mining boom.

RBA members noted that commodity prices and mining activities continue to influence the employment picture. For starters, the decline in full-time employment is largely observed in resource-rich regions like New South Wales, Western Australia, and Queensland but that gains in part-time jobs were broad-based.

Unfortunately, the RBA’s oracles (read: liaison contacts) have reported that employers are generally taking a cautious approach to hiring. Oh, and buckle up, mates. The RBA also says we’ll likely see little changes in the unemployment rate “in the coming months.”

Borrowers > Savers

The central bank effectively just told Australia’s savers to rub some dirt on it. See, RBA members have discussed the pros and cons of lower interest rates and have come to the conclusion that “the positive effect on the disposable income of borrowing households (those with mortgages) is larger than the negative effects on the income of lender households.

Apparently, the average borrower household has 2-3 times more interest-bearing debt than the average “lender” household has interest-earning assets. Borrowers are also likely to be significantly more responsive to changes in income that are related to changes in interest rates because they are more likely to be liquidity constrained.

That doesn’t mean that targeting borrowers will immediately increase consumer spending though. Thanks to the 2008 financial crisis, they are more likely to spend their extra cash flow paying debt, which delays the spending response to the RBA’s lower rates. Tough luck, savers!

What housing bubble?

In its August statement the RBA was already feeling pretty chill about Australia’s property prices, saying that “ the more cautious attitude towards lending” and slower growth in lending for housing purposes have decreased the risks of the RBA’s low rates negatively affecting Australia’s housing markets.

This time around the central bank said that “indicators for the housing market had also generally pointed to weaker conditions than a year earlier.” It even listed specifics!

  • The number of auctions had declined and remained lower than a year earlier.
  • In the private treaty market (where over 80 per cent of transactions occur nationally), turnover had also declined since the previous year and the average number of days that a property was on the market had been on an upward trend.
  • The value of housing loan approvals had been broadly steady and housing credit growth had been lower than a year earlier, consistent with the earlier tightening in lending standards and low turnover.

It’s Glenn Stevens’ last meeting as RBA Governor!

Say goodbye to Glenn Stevens and say hello to Philip Lowe! After 10 years as the RBA’s head honcho, Stevens is passing the baton to his former Deputy. Read the 3 things we like about the new RBA Chief!

There’s also a major reshuffle of senior staff. Christopher Kent, economic forecasting guy, will replace Guy Debelle in the financial markets unit. Debelle is set to replace Lowe as Deputy Governor. Michelle Bullock, head of business services, will also move up as Assistant Governor of Financial System Stability to replace a retiring Malcolm Edey.

Overall it doesn’t look like the RBA is angling for another interest rate cut. Growth and employment trends are mostly in line with the central bank’s expectations and consumer and housing prices haven’t been too volatile lately. However, easing property prices and its warnings against a high exchange rate are leaving the RBA enough room to lower the boom if necessary. Don’t be too complacent!


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