The Experts

Michael Witts
Financial markets
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Cash rate remains on hold

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

by Michael Witts

What was discussed at today’s RBA meeting? Were there any major differences compared with last month’s statement?

While the length of the statement from the RBA was longer than usual (one and a half pages versus just over one page previously); the sentiment and message from the RBA was largely unchanged compared with previous months. The main messages were:

  • Improving global growth;
  • Global inflation and wages growth not an issue;
  • Australian economy tracking largely as expected;
  • Strong employment growth;
  • Pick up in non-mining investment
  • Relative strength of AUD not helping;
  • Housing market starting to cool in main hot spots; and
  • Interest rates on hold.

What are the major concerns for the RBA?

The RBA noted that the high level of debt in China was an area of medium term concern.

Domestically, the high and rising level of debt in the household sector is going to be a ongoing constraint on consumer spending. This position is compounded by the slow growth of wages currently and in prospect.

The RBA again has called out both the level and recent trend of the Australian dollar as a factor that will lead to a slower level of pick-up in economic activity and inflation than previously forecasts. This would tend to suggest that the RBA on hold well into 2018.

What is ING Direct’s outlook for the economy, the Aussie dollar and interest rates?

While broadly agreeing with the RBA, we would suggest that the international outlook will drive stronger domestic growth than is currently factored into forecasts. This will likely see a stronger USD and lower AUD; this will benefit the domestic economy through the exchange rate linkages.

Against this background we would suggest that the RBA may well be looking to adjust the cash rate over the June quarter of 2018. If , and when , the RBA starts to move rates higher the peak in rates will be lower than previous up cycles, and will also be more gradual or drawn-out over time compared with the recent past.

It is clear that the slow down in the housing market that had been apparent in other markets over the past say 18 months, is starting to have an impact on the central Sydney and Melbourne markets. Auction clearance rates are hovering just below 70% and price pressures appear to be easing.


Rates on hold for 13th month in a row

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

By ING Direct's Deputy Treasurer, Peter Casey

What was discussed at today’s RBA meeting? Were there any major differences compared with last month’s statement?

There were no major differences but the tone has been getting slightly more positive in recent months.

  • Employment numbers have been improving and this should lead to a wage pickup over time
  • Inflation is also expected to pick up
  • There are still some headwinds with residential construction likely to have peaked and retail sales sluggish
  • Housing prices may be softening in Sydney

What are the major concerns for the RBA?

Support is coming from Chinese growth but this may not be sustainable as it is reliant on high levels of debt.

There are still a few soft patches in the economy:

  • Residential construction may have peaked. This sector is a big employer so, reading between the lines, this may become a concern
  • Retail Sales are sluggish. It’s hard to get people shopping harder due to low wage growth and high debt levels
  • Wages growth remains low. I think the RBA is being too optimistic about this picking up

What is ING Direct’s outlook for the economy, the Aussie dollar and interest rates?

The next move on the Cash Rate is likely to be up but the RBA will want to see data come through to validate this move. In particular, CPI is still below the target band and GDP growth is only just recovering.

The Australian dollar is up 10% vs the USD this year but this is mostly a story of USD weakness. We think it will be hard for the AUD to move much through 80c unless the RBAS starts hiking sooner than expected.

The economy is on a path to gradual recovery but there are still some soft spots. Employment is improving but not to the extent that wages are accelerating. Imports have strengthened with stronger commodity volumes.
The housing market is in a more sustainable position with prices easing.

With high household debt levels the RBA will be cautious about hiking the Cash Rate but is has already begun signalling that the next move is more likely to be up than dow


RBA wary of higher dollar risks

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

By Michael Witts

What was discussed at the latest RBA meeting? Were there any major differences compared with last month’s statement? 

While the RBA kept the cash rate unchanged at 1.5%, today’s statement contained wholesale changes across a number of fronts. This is in stark contrast to statements issued following the recent RBA monthly meetings.

New key points to emerge include;

  • The RBA has increased their focus on the household sector, and in particular, the impact of the high levels of household debt flowing through to sluggish consumer spending against the background of slow wages growth. “Growth in housing debt has been outpacing the slow growth in household incomes.” This, in turn, leads to potential weakness in consumption.
  • The RBA has upped their comments regarding the exchange rate, suggesting an appreciating exchange rate would be expected to result in a slower pick-up in economic activity and inflation than currently forecast.

In other aspects, the statement is broadly consistent with sentiments expressed in previous months.

The “Amazon effect” was introduced to the RBA statement, even ahead of their official start in Australia. “A factor working leading to lower inflation is increased competition from new entrants in the retail industry.”

The RBA highlighted that investors in residential property are facing higher interest rates as the tightening of credit conditions following the recent macro prudential measures start to bite.

What is ING Direct’s outlook for the economy, the Aussie dollar and interest rates?

The economy is finely balanced. The recent appreciation of the AUD has the potential to play havoc with the RBA’s preferred path for the economy. As noted above, should the exchange rate remain at current or higher levels, the domestic economy would likely be negatively impacted in terms of growth, inflation and in time, labour market conditions. This could lead to speculation of lower cash rates.

The RBA would intently resist this push as the feedback loop to the housing market would be swift and direct.

Our base case is for the AUD to ease from current levels over the next few months as the interest rate differential towards the USD continues to narrow. The US economy needs to continue to demonstrate ongoing and strengthening growth. The current impasse in the US to enact key elements of the Trump growth platform is holding back further stronger US growth.

The current level of the AUD has more than likely pushed back any upward policy adjustment from the RBA into the second half of 2018. We consider a cut in the cash rate to be a remote chance at this stage, although subsequent events could alter this outlook.


RBA cash rate unchanged at 1.5%

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

By Michael Witts

What was discussed at today’s RBA meeting? Were there any major differences compared with its last statement? Any major concerns?

The RBA again left the cash rate unchanged at 1.5%. This means the cash rate is unchanged over the past 12 months.

The statement itself is almost identical to the previous month’s. Clearly the RBA is content to sit on the sidelines as the various macro-prudential controls imposed by APRA work their way through the housing market. The RBA is expecting a gradual improvement in the Australian economy over the next few years as non-mining investment improves. Labour market conditions have improved and are expected to continue on a gradually improving path.

Momentum in the housing market appears to be slowing in response to the macro prudential controls. Investor activity is being increasingly priced out of the market. Auction clearance rates have also come back to around 70% from above 80% over the past two years.

Against this background, wages growth will be tepid and inflation will reflect a similar benign outlook.

The RBA has again called time on further cuts in offshore interest rates, echoing the comments from various central bank officials over the past couple of weeks.  

If and when the RBA moves to increase rates any such move will be very gradual and the peak in rates in this cycle will be somewhat lower than in previous cycles.

What is your view on the call that the RBA could raise the cash rate at least 8 times over the next two years?  Can we expect any rate rises/cuts in the next year?

I would suggest that such a call is not supported by the current outlook for the domestic or global economy. Our view is that any move in rates would be very gradual and hence drawn out. Current expectations are that the RBA may look to adjust rates in the first half of 2018, and as noted, then only gradually.

To put the comments about eight moves in context, there was most probably less than eight words changed in the July statement relative to the June statement.

What is ING Direct’s view on the Australian economy, and the Australian dollar?

We are inclined to be broadly aligned with the RBA on their view of the economy. If there is a point of difference, it is that we would see the economy growing slightly faster as the export phase of the resources comes fully and forcefully online.

There is scope for the AUD to move lower from current levels as the interest rate differential between AUD and offshore interest rates narrow; this suggests that there is scope for the AUD to move back towards 70 US cents.

The key indicator for the economy is employment levels. Given the high level of household debt, any weakness in the labour market has the potential to move swiftly through into the housing market.


RBA leaves cash rate at 1.5%

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

By Michael Witts

What was discussed at yesterday's RBA meeting? Were there any major differences compared with its last statement? Any major concerns?

The RBA Board again left the cash rate unchanged at 1.5%. The tone from the meeting was consistent with recent previous meetings; namely the transition in the economy continues and the shift towards non-mining investment is gathering momentum.

The RBA flagged that the GDP data to be released today will likely be at the lower end of expectations; this outcome has been strengthened by net export data, which was weaker than expected, together with a build-up of inventories.

Equally, the RBA appears confident to look through the quarterly GDP data prints as they focus towards a stronger growth picture in 2018.

The RBA suggests that recent supervisory measures are beginning to help address the risks associated with high and rising levels of indebtedness. The RBA notes that lenders have also announced increases in mortgage rates, particularly those paid by investors and on interest-only loans.

What is the RBA’s view on the Australian dollar?

The RBA reiterated their previous comments that the depreciation of the AUD over recent years has been positive in assisting in the transition of the economy. Rightfully, they have indicated that an appreciation of the AUD from around current levels would unwind some of these positive effects. 

Did the RBA make any comment on the Budget and effects on the economy?

It would be unusual for the RBA to comment explicitly on the Budget. The Bank suggested that the economy will grow by around 3% in 2018/19, which is very much in line with the forecasts provided by Treasury when the Budget was released.

What is ING Direct’s view on the economy and expectations for national accounts data?

From the partial indicators that have been released, it appears likely that the quarterly GDP data will be a slight positive (0.1/0.2%), for annual growth of around 1.5%. This outcome was weather impacted due to the heavy rains along the east coast during March, and the June quarter will be impacted by Cyclone Debbie.

The services sectors, including tourism and education, appear to be solid.

The challenge for the RBA and APRA will be to manage the orderly slowdown in the housing market without adverse impacts on the broader economy and consumer sentiment in particular. At this stage, we see this risk as being manageable.

The key indicators to watch are those related to the labour market, in particular job growth, or the lack thereof. Any weakness in the labour market could well translate to increased mortgage arrears.

Broadly, we believe the economy will successfully transition to the expected higher growth plan as suggested by both RBA and Treasury forecasts.


RBA leaves cash rate on hold at 1.5%

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

By Michael Witts

What was discussed at yesterday's RBA meeting? Were there any major differences compared with last month’s statement?

At yesterday’s meeting, the RBA left the cash rate unchanged at the record low of 1.5%. The comments this month were broadly consistent with the comments released following previous meetings. It would appear clear that the Bank is not inclined to further cut the cash rate. Equally, it appears unlikely that the cash rate will not be increasing in the near future.

The RBA noted that the recent moves by regulators through banks has seen the level of activity in the housing market, especially amongst investors, being to gain traction, although more concrete evidence is required before the RBA and other regulators are confident the market is fully responding to these initiatives.

Is the RBA still upbeat about the global and Australian outlook?

Generally yes. While the RBA does not comment on geo-political factors, the heightened tensions surrounding North Korea have the potential to stabilise growth in the region and potentially more broadly.

Putting this potential hotspot to the side, the RBA is increasingly optimistic regarding global and domestic growth, with improved labour market conditions more broadly together with the emergence of rising inflation.

The RBA retains the view that additional further monetary easing is off the table in major economies.

The RBA suggests that the domestic economy is expected to grow by around 3% per annum over the next couple of years.

What were the main concerns?

The three main areas of concern for the RBA continue to be:

  • The slow rate of growth of non-mining investment; “a stronger pick up would be welcome”
  • An appreciating exchange rate would complicate the outlook for the domestic economy, following a period in which the lower exchange rate has assisted the transition process
  • The absolute level and the rate of growth of household indebtedness, driven by higher house prices and slower/lower wage growth.

Did the RBA comment on house prices, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne? Are they concerned?

Again, the RBA noted that the housing market continues to vary considerably between states; prices have been rising briskly in some markets and declining in others.

The RBA continues to see considerable oversupply of apartments. As noted above, the pace of growth of debt in the household sector is a significant concern, although the RBA believes the recent regulatory measures should help address this concern. Time will tell.

What is ING Direct’s view on the economy, Australian dollar and interest rates?

The AUD recently settled around 75 cents. As noted by the RBA, a lower exchange rate would be more helpful for the domestic economy. This will likely require a combination of a stronger USD and lower commodity prices; a potentially unlikely combination in the current market.

It appears highly likely the RBA will be on hold over the course of 2017 and into 2018. Despite this, it is possible there could be further regulatory induced, out-of-cycle interest rate changes similar to what has been recently observed in the market. There is scope of further price differentiation between owner occupiers and investors and equally between interest-only and principal and interest loans.

The Australian economy appears on a positive path; solid employment, slightly rising inflation and steady interest rates augur well for the future direction of the economy.

The various budget measures that will be formally announced next week appear to have sufficient clarity and direction to minimise the risk of Australia’s AAA rating being downgraded.


RBA keeps cash rate steady at 1.50%

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

What was discussed at today’s RBA meeting? What are the RBA’s main concerns?

The RBA left the cash rate unchanged following yesterday's Board meeting. This outcome was widely anticipated across financial markets. Current expectations are that the RBA will be on hold over the balance of 2017 and into the first half of 2018.

The RBA remains positive on the global economy and has called time on any further easing of monetary policy across the globe. In this environment, it is challenging to identify a scenario in which the RBA would ease the local cash rate.

The housing market received more than usual attention in the statement released after the meeting. The RBA highlighted their concerns around the growth of interest-only lending and the extent to which lending standards may be at risk of compromise given the demand for housing funding. The Bank again highlighted the patchy nature of the housing market, with most activity focused on the east coast and largely in Sydney and Melbourne.

However, even within these cities there are multiple markets operating at different speeds. The looming oversupply of apartments was highlighted, suggesting the RBA perceives i increasing settlement risks. The growth in household debt at a rate well above the growth in household income continues to be unsustainable over the long run, and has the potential to be of serious concern in the event of labour market weakness.

What is the RBA’s view on the Australian dollar?

The RBA again re-iterated that a further strengthening of the AUD would complicate the transition process from mining investment towards non-mining sectors. The very strong trade surplus announced yesterday further highlights the combined benefits to the Australian economy of higher export volumes, as the next phase of the mining boom comes on stream ie. the production phase, combined with the turnaround in commodity prices evident since mid-last year.

This outcome will underwrite solid income across the economy in the period ahead. In regard to the exchange rate, longer-term movements are the relevant considerations rather than month-on-month movements. In this context, the AUD remains well below its average level from, say, three years ago.

Looking forward, given the high likelihood of the US Federal Reserve continuing to raise US interest rates, it is reasonable to expect the US dollar to strengthen resulting in the AUD moving below 75 cents towards 70 cents.

Has the RBA changed its view on property market in Australia? What is ING Direct’s view on property prices?

In relation to property prices, as previously noted, there is not a single property market in Australia, let alone within cities and or regions. The recent action by APRA and ASIC, after consultation with the RBA, means that in those markets driven by high levels of investor activity, bank loans for investment properties and interest-only loans will be more expensive. In effect, there will be an increasing gap between interest rates on owner-occupied loans and investor loans.

This is, in some way, a return to market conditions from say 20/25 years ago, when there was a clear differential between interest rates to these two types of borrowers. The regulators believe this will take some of the froth out of the market. Time will tell.

It appears likely that the upcoming Federal Budget will potentially include measures to decrease the attractiveness of housing investment. All of these measures are directed at the demand side of the equation, however, equal if not more focus should be applied to the supply side together with transport infrastructure.

What is ING Direct’s view on the economy?

Overall, the economy appears to be in reasonable shape with the prospect of continued broad-based growth in the period ahead. The immediate issue that needs to be addressed is how to take sufficient steam out of the housing market, while at the same balancing the competing forces such that prices can be stabilised without sharp negative moves in the event of a marked contraction in demand. This is especially the case given the looming over-supply of apartments, to which the RBA has referred to on a constant basis over recent months.


Interest rates in 2017: what to expect

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

By Michael Witts

What was discussed at yesterday’s RBA meeting? Were there any major differences compared with the December statement?

At today’s meeting, the RBA kept the cash rate unchanged at 1.50%. This outcome was broadly expected across financial markets.

The RBA was slightly more upbeat in its assessment of the global economy than it has been previously. While highlighting the stronger growth in prospect for China, the Bank warned that the debt funded nature and the composition of the growth suggest that risks remain in the medium term.

In other aspects, the commentary was largely consistent with similar statements over recent months.

In terms of global monetary policy, the Bank was particularly forthcoming in their comments, noting; “Interest rates are expected to increase further in the United States and there is no longer an expectation of additional monetary easing in other major economies”. Against this background, it is challenging to see the RBA leading central banks by cutting rates in Australia over the course of 2017.

What are the RBA’s main concerns?

While noting that the RBA was generally upbeat about the global and Australian outlook, several aspects were highlighted as potential concerns, including:

  • The speed, source and composition of the Chinese growth story.
  • While consumption growth in Australia was strong over the final quarter of 2016, it was largely funded by running down savings as income growth remains subdued. This is not sustainable over the medium term, especially given the high level of household indebtedness and the likely higher level of interest rates at some stage in the future.
  • A further appreciation of the exchange rate will complicate the adjustment process currently underway.

What is the RBA’s view on the Australian dollar?

While the RBA rarely comments directly on the exchange rate, it is clear they would prefer to see a lower AUD as opposed to the continuation of the recent strengthening trend. The path of the AUD is being influenced by two opposing forces; namely stronger commodity prices and the very strong likelihood of higher USD interest rates. In the end, it is likely the AUD will retreat from current levels as the current heat in the commodity markets cools and equally as US rates move higher.

What is the RBA’s view on inflation this year? Could this lead to rate rises this year?

The RBA sees inflation picking up over the course of 2017 to be above the lower boundary point of 2%. Underlying inflation is expected to rise on a slightly more gradual trajectory. On this basis, it is difficult to see inflation being a driver for higher interest rates.

What is ING Direct’s view on the economy?

We would broadly agree with the RBA’s view on the economy and the outlook for interest and exchange rates. In terms of interest rates, we expect to see them move higher towards the end of 2017. This will be on the basis of stronger growth across the economy, in part driven by a lower exchange rate thanks to higher US interest rates.

The sustainability of the recovery in consumer spending is a concern. The run down in savings means the economy is potentially exposed to the impact of higher interest rates. Income growth over recent years has been flat. Consumers have opted to run down savings rather than adjust their standard of living; this has potentially been on the basis of the wealth effect from higher housing prices.


Rate cuts off the table

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

By Michael Witts

What was discussed at today’s RBA meeting? Were there any major differences compared with its December statement?

While the wording was different, the sentiments expressed in the statement released following the meeting were generally consistent with previous months.

While leaving the cash rate at 1.5%, the RBA noted that on a global basis there is no longer an expectation of further monetary easing in other major economies. Against this background, it is unlikely the RBA would be keen to move the cash rate lower in the absence of a significant adverse development in either global or domestic factors. Given the heightened geo-political risks that currently exist, this risk cannot be ignored.

What is the RBA’s view on Australia’s economy and the global economy in 2017? Is this different to ING Direct’s view?

The RBA was reasonably upbeat about both the global economy, with above-trend growth expected, and the domestic economy, with growth of around 3% over the next couple of years in the central scenario. We would share this view.

It is important to note that the increased production from the resources sector is beginning to flow sharply into higher value of exports - this is contributing to a sharp lift in national income. This is also reflecting in the surplus on the trade account over the two months.

What are the RBA’s main concerns?

The RBA again cited the positive impact of the lower AUD over recent years, especially in the services and education sectors. However the RBA warned that a further sustained increase in the exchange rate would complicate this contribution.

Although overall employment markets in aggregate appear to be satisfactory, the RBA noted that there was considerable variation in labour market conditions between states and across regions.

What is the RBA’s view on the property market? Are they concerned about apartment oversupply issues?

The RBA made similar observations in relation to the property market with activity varying considerably around the country. Based on the RBA analysis, it appears that investors have returned to the market with renewed interest following a pause over the second half of 2016. The RBA suggests that as leverage is increasing and household debt-to-income ratios accelerate, further supervisory action may be required. Equally, lenders have begun to apply further differential pricing towards the investor segment.

The looming over-supply of apartments on the eastern seaboard is again highlighted by the RBA. It is noteworthy that they do not draw any pricing conclusions from this development, however it is clearly a key watch point.

Can we expect any rate cuts/rises in 2017?

It appears now very clear that the RBA will be on hold for the balance of 2017.

The caveat to this would be adverse developments on the global stage that have a knock-on effect to the domestic economy. The increasing range of potential geo-political hot spots around the world could ignite an adverse economic outcome.


Will interest rates rise in 2017?

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

By Michael Witts

What was discussed at today’s RBA meeting? Were there any changes compared with previous statement?

The Statement from the RBA, while similar to previous statements, did suggest a couple of slight changes at the margin.

In terms of the international economy, the Bank suggested that the disinflationary period of the past few years may be coming to an end. They observed that the inflation outlook is more balanced than it has been for some period.

In addition, global labour markets appear stronger, and the Bank notes the increase in global bond rates following the US election.

The RBA appears to telegraph a lower September quarter GDP print, due on Wednesday, when they comment that growth will likely slow into the year's end before picking up again. Current market forecast suggests that the quarterly print will be low – close to zero. 

Such an outcome will see annual growth back around 2.5%, compared with 3.3% in the June quarter. Forecasts for 2017 as a whole suggest growth back towards 3% plus.

What is the RBA’s view on property and outlook for property in 2017?

The RBA highlighted that the housing market is highly segmented – in some markets prices are rising briskly, while in others they are declining – and notes that lenders have begun to decrease their new lending activities in certain segments. In this context, apartments on the East coast come to mind.

The Bank also suggests that market discipline will eventually have an impact. This, when combined with supervisory activities, will likely see a slowdown in market activity and price growth accordingly.

What is the RBA’s view on Australia’s economy and the global economy? 

The Bank appears quite comfortable with the economic outlook for both the global and the local economy.

While there may be a dip in reported growth in Australia into year's end, the RBA believes the economy has sufficient momentum to move into 2017  with a strong set of economic fundamentals.

In addition, the “go for growth” strategy espoused by President-elect Trump will likely provide a boost to the US economy and the broader global economy. In this context, commodity prices have been improving through a combination of strong demand and supply reductions, together with anticipating stronger world growth.

What is ING DIRECT’s outlook for the Australian economy, global economy and the Australian dollar in 2017? Can we expect a cash rate rise/cut in 2017?

At ING DIRECT we are reasonably optimistic regarding local and global economic prospects over the year ahead.

We anticipate the US Federal reserve will tighten monetary policy at its December meeting. Progressively, over the first half of 2017, the policy direction of the Trump presidency will become clear. If policy promises match policy actions, a big risk in some key elements, the US economy maybe on a strong growth path. However, it’s at what cost from a budget and broader debt viewpoint.

These elements combined should see a stronger US share market and stronger USD. This risk is that the markets have already factored in these developments and potentially more, therefore the risk is ‘buy the rumour and sell the fact’ after President Trump takes office.

This will likely see the AUD at around current to slightly lower levels over the first half of 2016.

Against the background of stronger domestic and global growth, we would suggest that the RBA will be on hold for much of 2017. The risk is that towards the back end of 2017, pressures may emerge for the RBA to opt for a rate increase.

What does the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States mean for Australia’s economy?

In general terms, it could be a positive impact as it is expected to lead to stronger world growth and, through the flow on effect for commodity prices, boost the domestic economy. 

The question will be whether Trump the candidate is different to Trump the president and, if so, what is the impact?  



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