Australia central bank chief rejects market push for early tightening

FILE PHOTO: Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) Governor Philip Lowe speaks at a parliamentary economics committee meeting in Sydney
FILE PHOTO: Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) Governor Philip Lowe speaks at a parliamentary economics committee meeting in Sydney, September 22, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Reed/File Photo

July 8, 2021

By Swati Pandey and Wayne Cole

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s top central banker on Thursday sought to drive home the message that a step-down in bond purchases did not represent a withdrawal of support, rejecting views it had embarked on a policy tightening path.

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) on Tuesday announced it would scale back its government bond purchases from September to A$4 billion a week from current A$5 billion, sparking talks of rate rises as early as next year.

In a speech in Sydney on Thursday, Governor Philip Lowe pushed back on market pricing, saying interest rates will remain at current record lows of 0.1% for a long time to come.

He also clarified it was the total stock of bonds purchased, not the flow, that mattered for policy.

“It’s a modest scaling back and it’s reflecting the progress that we’ve made,” Lowe said, referring to recent strength in economic data, particularly solid employment growth.

The RBA, last year, slashed interest rates three times to 0.1% and launched a massive bond buying programme to drive borrowing costs down.

The measures have helped boost jobs growth, consumer spending and housing prices, propelling Australia’s A$2 trillion ($1.5 trillion) economy out of its first recession in three decades.

Yet more progress was needed, Lowe said.

Unemployment would need to fall further and hold in the low 4% levels from 5.1% now to lift inflation to within the RBA’s 2-3% target band, an outcome not expected until 2024.

“It is not enough for inflation to be forecast in this range. We want to see results before we change interest rates,” Lowe added.

“We’re going to keep buying these bonds until we make more material progress.”

By mid-November, the RBA’s cumulative bond purchases would amount to A$237 billion, or nearly 12% of the country’s annual output.

“This represents a substantial and ongoing degree of support to the Australian economy. The adjustment in the rate of weekly purchases does not change this,” Lowe said.

Lowe’s dogged dovishness helped pull three-year bond yields down to 0.379%, from a top of 0.489% early in the week. Yields on 10-year bonds fell to a five-month low of 1.337%, a long way from this year’s peak of 1.97%. [AUD/]

The Australian dollar was hovering near a seven-month trough at $0.7455.

($1 = 1.3401 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Swati Pandey; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Sam Holmes)