SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s central bank has turned more upbeat on the economic outlook, citing an improving labor market, stronger public investment and a pick up in household consumption.
The mood was clearly brighter, with the word “positive” appearing repeatedly in the five-page minutes of the Reserve Bank of Australia’s (RBA) July meeting and catapulting the local dollar to a more than two-year high of $0.7905.
While traders bid the Aussie higher, economists said the RBA would be in no hurry to raise rates anytime soon as it remained watchful on risks to jobs and housing.
“We would need to see an upgrade to inflation and wages forecasts to change our view of policy on hold until well into next year,” said Kristina Clifton, economist at Commonwealth Bank.
Besides, analysts suspect the recent sharp rise in the local dollar would itself add to the case against a hike. The RBA has long warned that a rising currency would hurt the economy’s transition away from a decade-long mining investment boom.
Since the RBA’s July meeting, the Aussie has rocketed nearly 4 percent to a level that will be highly unwelcome to policy makers in the face of weak inflation at home.
Domestic financial conditions had been further tightened by a recent increase in mortgage rates at Australia’s major banks, which followed a clamp-down by regulators on risky lending.
The RBA’s policy board also discussed estimates of the neutral level of interest rates – that which neither stimulates the economy nor retards it. This was put at around 3.5 percent, which was down from 5 percent in 2007 but still implied the current rate of 1.5 percent was “expansionary.”
“The discussion around neutral rates caught the market off guard,” said Michael Turner, strategist at RBC Capital Markets. “They are not necessarily laying the groundwork for a hike but this would be the first step if they were moving in that direction.”
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