Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Steady at 1.5%: Reserve thinks it won't need to cut again

Don't bet on another interest rate cut.

Behind the typically bland language used by Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe to explain Tuesday's decision to keep the cash rate on hold ("the board judged that holding the stance of policy unchanged at this meeting would be consistent with sustainable growth in the economy and achieving the inflation target over time") lies a belief that things are about to pick up.

That's what he'll forecast in his first quarterly statement to be released on Friday, and what his predecessor Glenn Stevens forecast in his final quarterly statement released in August.

Developments since August have strengthened Lowe's confidence.

After sliding since 2013, the underlying measures of inflation have been steady at an annual rate of about 1.5 per cent for three quarters. After sliding since 2011, private sector wage growth has been broadly steady for four quarters.

Commodity prices are no longer sliding. They've been climbing since May, and they climbed another 9.5 per cent in October.

While the RBA doesn't think they'll continue to climb for too much longer (some of the recent increases in the contracted prices of coking coal have been too good to be true and dependent on temporary conditions in China), it doesn't expect commodity prices to fall back to where they were at the time of the May budget. They are not likely to depress wages and prices as they once did.

Mining investment has slid so far the RBA believes it's about to stop.

When that happens, it'll no longer be depressing employment, and the employment figures themselves aren't bad, even if part-time jobs are replacing full-time jobs. The bank believes having a job - any sort of job - is a lot better than not having one at all.

And it has received encouraging news from the retailers it talks to as part of its business liaison program. They say they are beginning to claw back pricing power.

After squeezing their margins in food, alcohol, clothing and luxury goods for ever so long, they are starting to feel they can charge a bit more.

If things continue like this, inflation will recover all by itself and the economy will grow at a healthy pace of around, then above, 3 per cent.

Lowe can leave the cash rate at 1.5 per cent. Things might change, they often do. But that's his central case.

In The Age and Sydney Morning Herald