Tag Archives: dollar

Why a bigger deficit is not all bad

The Federal Government’s financial position continues to deteriorate.

The latest monthly snapshot of Commonwealth finances shows the deficit reached $35.48 billion in the 12 months to December – $763 million larger than was predicted in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, which came out only a month ago.

It means there is going to be no let-up in the pressure on Federal Ministers to find savings ahead of the election year Budget released on 10 May.

But, promisingly for the Government, the deterioration in the Budget position was largely due to higher-than-expected cash payments than yet another unexpected revenue write-down.

In fact, there are some small signs that the flood of red ink that has drenched the tax revenue columns of Budget for the past few years may be starting to slow.

Gross income tax receipts ($87.6 billion for the financial year-to-date) were a little weaker than forecast in MYEFO ($88.1 billion), but recent jobs growth will spur hope of a strengthening in that revenue stream.

Even more optimistically, company tax receipts reached $30.82 billion so far this financial year – about $750 million more than anticipated in MYEFO.

Of course, this month’s sharemarket plunge might yet cruel this improvement.

Another cause for optimism is that GST receipts were mareginally stronger than expected, reflecting the increased willingness of consumers to shop and firms to invest.

If this improvement in activity, as reflected in the tax revenue figures, is sustained, then hopes that the country is well advanced in its adjustment to the end of the mining investment boom – – aided by the weakening of the dollar – will appear increasingly well founded.

 

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RBA locks in 2.5 per cent cash rate – for now

Don’t expect interest rates to go up any time soon but, equally, don’t expect them to go down – that was the clear message from the Reserve Bank today.
In unusually direct language, RBA Governor Glenn Stevens has moved to lay to rest interest rate speculation for the next few months, saying the most prudent course for the central bank to take was likely to be “a period of stability in interest rates”.
That is central bank speak for everyone – those predicting imminent rate rises, and those calling for rate cuts – to take a Bex and calm down.
As mortgage holders ponder the pros and cons of fixing part of their loan, and investors do their credit sums, the Reserve Bank has tried to give some reassurance by flagging official rates are not likely to move for some time yet.
As widely tipped, the RBA has decided to hold the official cash rate at 2.5 per cent this month.
What many may not have anticipated though, was the central bank’s unusual willingness to flag its interest rate intentions.
Following the Reserve Bank Board’s first meeting for 2014, Mr Stevens released a statement that showed the RBA is in no rush to change its policy settings.
“On present indications, the most prudent course is likely to be a period of stability in interest rates,” he said.
The Reserve Bank sees no compelling reasons yet for either a rate increase, or a rate cut.
Unexpectedly strong inflation growth in the December quarter (underlying inflation grew by 0.9 per cent to be up 2.6 per cent from a year earlier), along with the falling exchange rate and increased housing activity, had prompted some to speculate that the RBA would soon have to consider raising the c ash rate.
But while Governor Stevens admitted monetary policy was “accommodative”, interest rates were “very low”, and house prices have surged, there was as no yet sign of a dangerous build up in indebtedness. In fact, household credit growth is moderate.
On inflation, the central bank so far does not seem to be phased by the jump in prices in December, some of which it attributed to importers and retailers quickly passing through to consumers much of the increase in costs caused by the easing exchange rate.
Mr Stevens said that although inflation was stronger than the central bank had predicted when it released its most recent Statement on Monetary Policy late last year, it was “still consistent with the 2 to 3 per cent target over the next two years”.
Those arguing the case for a rate cut have pointed to the nation’s anaemic growth rate (2.3 per cent in the 12 months to the September quarter 2013), a plunge in mining investment and weak labour market (the economy shed almost 32,000 full-time jobs in December and the unemployment rate is expected to rise above its current 5.8 per cent) to show the need for more support for activity.
But to this line of argument, Mr Stevens said monetary policy was “appropriately configured” to foster growth in demand (ie don’t expect them to go any lower).
Of course, the RBA might be considering the possibility (raised by Deloitte Access Economics director Chris Richardson) that commercial banks will lower their lending rates as they secure cheaper sources of funding on international markets. The Governor’s statement gives no hint on this front, except to say that long-term interest rates and risk spreads remain low, and there is adequate funding available through credit and equity markets.
As the economy gropes toward sources of growth to replace the sugar hit from resources investment, conditions are likely to stay rocky and uncertain.
In this shifting economic environment the RBA has moved to provide consumers and investors with one welcome point of consistency, at least for the next few months.

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No more rate cuts, but no rush to tighten yet

Interest rates look set to head higher, but the RBA’s “considerable uncertainty” about the pace of recovery in much of the economy means the first rate hike of the cycle could be delayed until well into 2014.

In a widely-anticipated decision, the RBA Board has decided to hold the cash rate at 2.5 per cent – meaning it will have been at this historically low level for six months by the time of the Board’s next meeting on February 4.

There is clear evidence that low interest rates are having an effect.

The property market is strengthening (house prices have risen, building approvals are up 23 per cent from a year ago), company profits are growing (up almost 9 per cent in 12 months), shares are rising (up 20 per cent in the year to date), and retail sales are increasing at a sustained solid clip (three consecutive monthly increases of 0.5 per cent or greater).

And the central bank thinks there is more of such news to come.

As RBA Governor Glenn Stevens put it today, “The full effects of these decisions [to ease monetary policy] are still coming through, and will be for a while yet”.

This is coupled with tentative signs that activity in the non-mining parts of the economy is picking up.

Official capital expenditure data showed manufacturers and other businesses were gradually increasing their investment, and the latest report from credit reporting firm Dun & Bradstreet showed 10 per cent of firms intend to hire extra staff in the first quarter of 2014.

If this is accurate, and businesses act on their hiring intentions, the unemployment rate may not rise much higher.

In further promising news, the official GDP numbers for the September quarter, due out tomorrow, may also be a bit stronger than many have been predicting.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics threw in a surprise today with its report that the trade surplus surged more than 50 per cent in three months to almost $9 billion, adding around 0.7 of a percentage point to activity in the September quarter.

The RBA’s known unknowns: the dollar and non-mining activity

But the persistently strong dollar and the sputtering recovery in economic activity outside the mining sector are the two greatest areas of uncertainty for the Reserve Bank.

Continuing recent efforts to talk the currency down, Stevens said the dollar (which was trading at just below US91 cents following the RBA announcement) was “still uncomfortably high”.

He almost didn’t need to add that the high exchange rate will have to come down in order for the economy to achieve “balanced” growth.

On this front, the Governor admitted that expectations for an acceleration in activity outside the mining sector were subject to “considerable uncertainty”.

Market Economics managing director Stephen Koukoulas is one of the few who for some time now have been predicting rates to rise in 2014 – he tips in the first three months of next year.

But the strong dollar could make it hesitate.

Koukoulas, for one, thinks there is much more the RBA needs to do much more to get the currency down – jawboning alone has had little effect.

If he is right, look for big sell-offs of the currency in coming days.

 

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Strong dollar casts cloud over outlook

The strong Australian dollar is keeping the Reserve Bank of Australia on edge as it observes tentative signs of improvement in the non-mining sectors of the economy.

The central bank appears likely to hold interest rates steady well into 2014 as it tries to assess how competing forces – the boost to activity from record low interest rates against the depressive effects of a high dollar, rapidly receding mining investment and below-average global growth – will work on the economy over the next few months.

The RBA has taken heart from evidence that a string of rate cuts that have pushed the cash rate down to 2.5 per cent are biting, and households are shedding much of their recent caution and life is coming back into the housing and equity markets.

As evidence of this, it points to increased demand from households for finance and a shift among savers away from low-risk assets.

In a clear warning for those hoping for more official interest rate cuts, RBA Governor Glenn Stevens said that the full effects of the rate cuts made this year are yet to be felt.

But nor does the RBA seem to be in a hurry to hike rates back toward more normal levels.

Its chief concern is the continued strength of the dollar, which has sat around the 95 US cents mark for the past month.

At this level, Stevens said, it “is still uncomfortably high. A lower level of the exchange rate is likely to be needed to achieve balanced growth in the economy”.

The RBA’s ability exert influence on the exchange rate is minor – mainly through the interest rate differential between Australian and US official interest rates – but at the margin it could encourage the central bank to hold rates lower for longer.

Another argument to keep interest rates down is doubts about how durable recent improvements in non-mining activity may be. As Stevens admitted, although private demand outside the mining sector was expected to pick up, “considerable uncertainty surrounds this outlook”.

Another concern is the move by the big banks to begin inching up their lending rates, irrespective of the stable cash rate.

There is probably never a particularly comfortable time to be a central banker, but the next few months could be a particularly white knuckle time.

 

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Dollar dive staves off rate relief

Expectations that the dollar has further to fall has helped convince the Reserve Bank of Australia to keep interest rates on hold despite concerns about sluggish growth in the economy.

In a widely anticipated decision, the RBA Board has held the cash rate steady at 2.75 per cent for a second consecutive month as it assesses the effect of a 10 per cent slide in the currency against the greenback in the past three months on prospects for growth.

In a bearish assessment on the outlook for the currency following the Board meeting, RBA Governor Glenn Stevens said it was “possible” the dollar had further to fall.

The weaker dollar, which was trading at around US92 cents just before the Board’s decision was announced, is expected to encourage a lift in activity in manufacturing, higher education, tourism and other trade-exposed sectors of the economy.

Mr Stevens said that if it continued to slide, it would “help foster a rebalancing of growth in the economy”.

But the central bank has not ruled out further rate cuts, indicating that the moderate outlook for inflation – which it expects to hold steady at around 2.5 per cent “over the next one to two years” – leaves room to move the cash rate lower.

“The Board judged that the inflation outlook, as currently assessed, may provide some scope for further easing, should that be required to support demand,” Mr Stevens said.

The RBA Board stood by its assessment of a month ago that although the global economy was currently growing at a subdued pace, it was likely to strengthen next year.

Markets have been rattled in the past month by signs of a sustained recovery in the US economy, which has fuelled speculation that the US Federal Reserve may begin winding down its extraordinary stimulus efforts by late this year.

Though the latest US growth figures were revised down last week, there is mounting confidence that a sustained recovery in the world’s largest economy is underway.

But sentiment has been hurt by evidence of a developing credit squeeze in the Chinese economy as authorities act to curb lending and encourage greater demand-driven rather than investment-driven growth.

Closer to home, the RBA is conscious of the difficult transition underway in the Australian economy as the support for growth from massive mining investment tapers off, while activity in other sectors is yet to pick up, leaving the country vulnerable to downturn.

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