Housing, jobs worries kept RBA on hold

Peter Trute
(Australian Associated Press)


A dim outlook for wages growth and continuing worries about households overextending themselves to pay mortgages were key factors that convinced the Reserve Bank of Australia to leave official interest rates on hold in May.

Minutes from the RBA’s May meeting show bank board members are waiting to see what effects recent mortgage rate rises and regulatory clampdowns on lending will have on high housing-related debt levels before deciding on any shift in rates.

The central bank is also expecting only gradual improvement in the jobs market and a similarly sluggish rise in Australia’s low wage growth.

“The board continued to judge that developments in the labour and housing markets warranted careful monitoring,” the minutes noted.

The RBA left the cash rate unchanged at 1.5 per cent at its May meeting, continuing the holding stance it has held since a 0.25 per cent cut in August 2016.

Reaction from economists and the markets was muted, with observers noting little change in the RBA’s language from its quarterly Statement on Monetary Policy, released in early May.

Attention was focused on the bank’s mention of the labour and housing markets, with RBC’s head of ANZ strategy Su-Lin Ong saying the RBA had renewed the importance of the state of the jobs market.

“Having dropped an explicit reference to watching the labour market in the statement following the conclusion of the May board meeting, the minutes re-instated the April minutes reference,” Ms Ong said, noting the “careful monitoring” phrase in the final paragraph of the minutes.

NAB economist Tapas Strickland said the RBA remained concerned that any cut to rates to stimulate inflation and jobs could have the negative effect of boosting borrowing for housing and add to already risky household debt levels.

“Today’s minutes suggest the RBA could be willing to re-consider this trade-off should the labour market deteriorate, or housing risks diminish and unemployment remains elevated,” Mr Strickland said.

NAB expects official interest rates to remain on hold in 2017 and 2018, while CBA economist Kristina Clifton said the RBA was expected to keep rates steady “well into 2018”.

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