There is much for Australian and global economic policy makers to consider: Westpac

There is much for Australian and global economic policy makers to consider: Westpac
There is much for Australian and global economic policy makers to consider: Westpac


Comments by policy makers and global politics have given market participants many a point to consider.

For Australia, RBA Governor Lowe’s “Economic Update” speech in Armidale on Tuesday was the event of note. Overall, the speech had a cautious and concerned tone over the domestic and global economies respectively. Notably it was recognised that Australian growth has been weaker than anticipated, central to which is the stalling of growth in consumption per capita – highlighted by Governor Lowe as an “unusual outcome at a time when employment is growing strongly”.

While the RBA continues to expect a return to trend growth over the coming year, Governor Lowe added that “there are some obvious risks to this outlook”, and further that, while seeing the economy at a “gentle turning point”, “the strength and durability of this pick-up remains to be seen”. A key risk looking forward for consumption is that “the lift in wages growth looks to have stalled recently”. We would add that, as employment growth slows and participation and population growth remain historically high, the unemployment rate is set to lift, further hindering wages growth. 

On the world economy, concern over the impact of global uncertainties was evident, particularly for manufacturing and business investment. The risk that businesses might “also defer hiring” was emphasised too, as was the significance of central bank responses elsewhere in the world. 

On the latter, for the RBA, as a “small open economy, we have to take the world and global interest rates as we find them” and “if we did seek to ignore these shifts, our exchange rate would appreciate, which, in the current environment, would be unhelpful in terms of achieving both the inflation target and full employment”. 

Westpac retains our call for an October RBA rate cut, to be followed by another come February 2020. This will leave the cash rate at 0.50%. 

Turning to New Zealand, the RBNZ met this week. Their September decision was as expected, with the cash rate unchanged after August’s 50bp cut. However, a less dovish tone to their communications disappointed the market. Our New Zealand economics team continues to see a November cut as most probable, but there is a clear risk it does not eventuate. A November cut will require negative data surprises between now and then.

For the US, economic signals were mixed this week. New and pending home sales surprised to the upside in August. But home prices continued to decelerate in July, and Conference Board consumer sentiment began to wilt. Mixed messages were also provided by Federal Reserve officials, with Evans emphasising he believed the FOMC had done enough (to see inflation return to their 2.0%yr target) just as September dissenter Bullard continued to call for another 25bp cut by year end.

At this stage, it seems the Committee continues to place their faith in the spending power of the US consumer. We instead believe that GDP growth will slow to and then below trend over the forecast horizon. This view is built on the weakness already evident in business investment feeding through to employment and hence consumption. While some ‘green shoots’ continue to be seen regarding trade, we are a long way from a deal and considerable damage has already been done to the US economy. This week’s developments in Washington regarding a formal impeachment inquiry against President Trump will create yet more uncertainty.

Finally to Europe, the most significant outcome was Germany’s flash manufacturing PMI falling to its lowest level since the GFC in September. German IFO business expectations also deteriorated further in the month, though the view on current conditions edged higher.

It is not surprising then that, in his last Parliamentary testimony before his term ends, ECB President Draghi emphasised that recent data points “do not show convincing signs of a rebound in growth in the near future and [that] the balance of risks to the growth outlook [therefore] remains tilted to the downside”. He went on to state that the “longer the weakness in manufacturing persists, the greater the risks that other sectors of the economy will be affected by the slowdown”.

Global central bankers have already taken decisive steps to ease policy this year. But, very clearly, there is a lot more to consider into year-end – let alone come 2020. 

ANDREW HANLAN is a senior economist for Westpac.

ELLIOT CLARKE is a senior economist at Westpac.

Policy Economy

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