An RBA rate cut is not about housing – it’s about exports and investment

Tue, 06 Nov 2018  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo 7 website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/heres-reserve-bank-needs-cut-rates-000642869.htm

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An RBA rate cut is not about housing – it’s about exports and investment

Many people misunderstand my concern about falling house prices and the coincident call for the Reserve Bank to cut official interest rates.

Any interest rate cut that the RBA may yet deliver should not, and certainly will not, be aimed directly at supporting house prices. On the contrary – future interest rate cuts should be directed at supporting the economy more generally at a time when the house price falls threaten to erode household wealth, consumer spending and the economy more generally.

The house price declines in the current downturn are much what I was forecasting a year ago. The issues surrounding the price falls are being compounded by the recent acceleration of the decline, the historic collapse in housing auction clearance rates, the escalation of the bank credit freeze and the on-going problems with low wages and inflation that are all creating an environment that will hit the economy into 2019.

While a recession in Australia is still unlikely, very unlikely in fact, there is a growing risk the unfolding mix of events will hit the economy hard.

The destruction in household wealth from the falls in house prices alone is now about $300 billion. Add to this another $100 billion of wealth destruction from the recent fall in the stock market, and a climate of severe weakness in consumer spending is front and centre in the outlook for most credible forecasters.

This is why the RBA would be wise to cut interest rates.

To reiterate – the wisdom in cutting interest rates is not to reflate house prices. On the contrary, macro-prudential rules and the tight credit conditions for mortgages should remain in place if interest rates are lowered. Lower interest rates matter because they would help guard against the fall out from the unfolding household wealth destruction which would see annual GDP growth slowing to around 2 per cent, it would see the unemployment rate get back up towards 6 per cent and inflation would fall from already near record low levels.

Most analysis on interest rates makes the mistake of focusing on the housing market if a rate cut is delivered.

Ignored is the fact that the business sector has over $940 billion of bank debt and another half a trillion or so in corporate debt. Lower interest rates would free up cash flow on this business debt by lowering debt service costs. This would not only help business to invest and hire more, it would underpin new business investment as the interest rate threshold for expansion is lowered.

What’s more, interest rate cuts would likely see the Australian dollar fall, especially when the US is in a clear cycle of interest rate increases. A lower Aussie dollar would give the export sector an extra boost, adding to economic growth and national incomes and would provide an offset to the looming weakness in household spending. It would also help local businesses competing with aggressive low cost importers as the price of imported items rose.

The housing market is important in itself but more importantly, in the way it risks dragging the rest of the economy down with it.

It is this latter point where policy should be directed for the sake of economic growth and stability.

With inflation locked in at a remarkably low rate, the most effective policy change would be to cut interest rates to shore up the business sector in the risky time.

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“Bitterly disappointing”: We are seeing a once in a generation policy failure

Imagine having the power to promote economic growth, lower the unemployment rate and set in train the conditions to boost real wages growth and inflation?

It would be immensely satisfying to change policies to improve the living standards and quality of life for every day, hard-working Australians and their families.

Wouldn’t it?

Next imagine a harsh reality where economic growth is weak and slowing, the unemployment rate is rising and wages growth and inflation well below a satisfactory level, and you choose not to wield the power reverse these uncomfortable circumstances?

Doing nothing, unwilling to pump some much needed cash into the economy because of a political dogma wedded to a notion that budget surpluses are good and that holding interest rates unnecessarily high so you might dampen demand for houses – which is seen as a problem - and household debt overwhelms your power to make things better.

The RBA admits it stuffed things up – sort of

Mon, 22 Jul 2019

This article first appeared on the Yahoo website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/did-the-rb-as-monetary-policy-put-our-economy-at-risk-033940907.html

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The RBA admits it stuffed things up – sort of

The Reserve Bank of Australia needs to be congratulated for publishing research which implicitly confirms that it made a mistake when setting monetary policy in the period mid-2017 to early 2019.

Not that the research explicitly says that, but the RBA Discussion Paper, Cost-benefit Analysis of Leaning Against the Wind, written by Trent Saunders and Peter Tulip, makes the powerful conclusion that by keeping monetary policy tighter in order to “lean against” the risk of a financial crisis, there was a cost to the economy that is three to eight times larger than the benefit of minimising the risk of such a crisis eventuating.

The costs to the economy includes lower GDP growth and higher unemployment, that lasts for at least for several years.

A few terms first.

According to the Saunders/Tulip research, “leaning against the wind”, a term widely used in central banking, is “the policy of setting interest rates higher than a narrow interpretation of a central bank’s macroeconomic objectives would warrant due to concerns about financial instability”. In the RBA’s case, the “narrow interpretation” of the RBA’s objectives are the 2 to 3 per cent inflation target and full employment.

In the context of the period since 2017 and despite the RBA consistently undershooting its inflation target and with labour underutilisation significantly above the level consistent with full employment, the RBA steadfastly refused to ease monetary policy (cut official interest rates) because it considered higher interest rate settings were appropriate to “lean against” house price growth and elevated levels of household debt.