August 6, 2019 / 4:48 AM / 13 days ago

Australia's central bank sees low for longer rates as trade war rages

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia’s central bank held rates at an all-time low of 1% on Tuesday as it weighed the impact of past easing, though markets are wagering the tide of policy stimulus sweeping the world will compel it to cut again before year-end.

Two women walk next to the Reserve Bank of Australia headquarters in central Sydney, Australia February 6, 2018. REUTERS/Daniel Munoz

The Reserve Bank of Australia’s (RBA) quarter-point cuts in June and July have, in reality, struggled to gain traction in the face of hard-pressed consumers at home and global uncertainty cast by the Sino-U.S. trade dispute.

RBA Governor Philip Lowe acknowledged there might be more to do after its monthly board meeting, adding it was “reasonable” to expect lower for longer interest rates to help boost employment growth and inflation.

Futures are pricing in a cut to 0.75% by October <0#YIB:>, and 0.5% by early next year.

“You do get the sense that if they are concerned about the unemployment rate going in an upward trajectory they will move again,” said JPMorgan Chase & Co economist Ben Jarman.

JPMorgan expects the RBA will pause this year before resuming easing in early 2020.

The RBA will issue updated economic forecasts this Friday and Lowe offered a taster on the outlook, noting that consumer prices would stay subdued for a long time to come.

Inflation is not seen reaching the floor of the RBA’s 2% to 3% target band over 2020. The jobless rate is also not seen hitting the RBA’s aspirational 4.5% target over the next two years.

Governor Lowe will appear before a parliamentary economics committee on Friday where he will field questions from lawmakers on the economy and the future course of monetary policy.

Lowe has already taken what is seen as a step toward forward guidance by saying it was “reasonable to expect that an extended period of low interest rates will be required in Australia.”

This tactic has been used by many central banks to put downward pressure on both long-term borrowing costs and their currencies.

The ploy has had some success with Australia’s 10-year bond yield AU10YT=RR diving 21 basis points in just the past month to hit an historic trough of 0.993%.

The local currency AUD=D3 has shed 1.2% in the same period to touch seven-month lows at $0.6748, a huge boost to export earnings from resources which are priced in U.S. dollars.

TRADE BOOM AMID THE GLOOM

Data out Tuesday showed the country’s trade surplus ballooned to a record A$8 billion ($5.43 billion) in June capping easily the best quarter on record for exports.

Australia may have even enjoyed its first quarterly current account surplus since 1975, lessening its reliance on foreign funding at a time when global markets are stressed and providing scope for some fiscal stimulus.

“We do think...there will be capacity for fiscal policy at some point,” JPMorgan’s Jarman noted. “That will certainly take some pressure off the RBA but we don’t think that’s coming anytime soon.”

Economists are unsure whether Australia can maintain its strong trade position in the face of a sudden flare-up in Sino-U.S. trade tensions, which is prompting a new round of global policy easing.

New Zealand’s central bank is considered certain to cut its rates on Wednesday while markets are now pricing in 115 basis points of easing from the Federal Reserve out to the end of next year.

There was no mention in the RBA’s statement of the most recent tariff war escalation. But Lowe will likely be asked about the impact from trade war at his Friday testimony while Deputy Governor Guy Debelle speaks on “Risks To Outlook” next week.

“Given Governor Lowe’s previous concerns about adverse trade developments, Australia’s stronger external position and resilience in key exports to key export destinations is a marginal argument in favor of stable monetary policy right now,” Citi economist Josh Williamson said.

“However, we aren’t expecting further gains in the trade surplus and instead expect some moderation in the second half of the year,” he added.

“Regardless, domestic labor market developments are likely to be the key behind ongoing RBA policy discussions going forward outside of the risk of negative global shocks.”

($1 = 1.4743 Australian dollars)

Reporting by Wayne Cole; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Sam Holmes

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