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27 -07-2016 LITTLE IN THE WAY OF THE RESERVE BANK CUTTING RATES AGAIN

Craig James | 27 July 2016 | Property Observer

Little in the way of the Reserve Bank cutting rates again: CommSec's Craig James

Little in the way of the Reserve Bank cutting rates again: CommSec's Craig James

GUEST OBSERVER

The Consumer Price Index – the main measure of inflation in Australia – rose by 0.4 percent in the June quarter, in line with expectations.

In seasonally adjusted terms the CPI rose by 0.6 percent. The annual rate of inflation fell from 1.3 percent to 1.0 percent – equalling the low set in June 1999. So inflation stands at a 17-year low.

The Reserve Bank monitors three measures to derive the underlying inflation rate. The trimmed mean rose by 0.5 percent in the June quarter (1.7 percent annual); the weighted median rose by 0.4 percent (1.3 percent annual) and the CPI less volatile items rose by 0.3 percent (1.6 percent annual). Overall, underlying inflation rose by 0.4 percent in the quarter and by 1.53 percent over the year – a record low.

Petrol prices rose by 5.9 percent in the quarter with medical and hospital services up by 4.2 percent, tobacco up by 2.1 percent and new dwelling purchase up 0.9 percent. The CPI was dragged lower by a 3.7 percent fall in domestic holiday costs, a 1.3 percent fall in car prices and 1.5 percent fall in telecom equipment and services.

Education fees rose 3.3 percent over the year – the slowest growth on record. A raft of goods fell at a record annual rate including breakfast cereals, wine, snacks & confectionary and communication.

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What does it all mean?

 Price pressures are contained. Clearly this is not a new development and certainly not one confined to Australia. Consumers can buy goods anywhere and anytime with internet purchases transforming businesses across the globe. Competition is keeping downward pressure on prices and margins and causing businesses to look first at cutting costs before opting to lift prices. And disruption is adding to the competitive forces – developments like Airbnb and Uber are challenging mainstream industries and businesses.

Inflation is stubbornly below the Reserve Bank’s 2-3 percent target band. And importantly it is unlikely the Bank will look to revise the target any time soon. The only way that the Reserve Bank can seek to lift the inflation rate to the target band is by running the economy at a faster rate and that means cutting interest rates. So a rate cut will be on the agenda at the Reserve Bank Board meeting next Tuesday.

Will a rate cut actually boost growth? It is far from certain, but the Reserve Bank has to try. But the Reserve Bank won’t continue to cut rates if it’s clear that interest rates at super-low levels have become ineffective in boosting demand.

Before today’s data the Reserve Bank had assumed an annual headline CPI result near 1 percent in the June quarter with the underlying rate at 1.5 percent. Those forecasts have been realised. But the Reserve Bank had tipped inflation to stay locked between 1.5-2.5 percent over the next two years. So even before the latest data the Reserve Bank held open the possibility of a rate cut with inflation expected to remain at or below the bottom end of its 2-3 percent target range.

Low inflation isn’t confined to certain parts of the economy – it is very much an economy-wide phenomenon. In fact the core measure of market-determined services (excludes volatile items) actually fell by 0.2 percent in the quarter. It’s not just goods but also services that are getting cheaper. Consumers are kings and queens in the current environment.

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What do the figures show?

Consumer Price Index

The All Groups Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose by 0.4 percent in the June quarter, broadly in line with expectations. In seasonally adjusted terms the CPI rose by 0.6 percent. The annual rate of inflation fell from 1.3 percent to 1.0 percent – equalling the low set in June 1999. So inflation stands at a 17-year low.

Underlying measures of inflation were generally in line with forecasts in the June quarter. The trimmed mean rose by 0.5 percent in the June quarter (1.7 percent annual); the weighted median rose by 0.4 percent (1.3 percent annual) and the CPI less volatile items rose by 0.3 percent (1.6 percent annual). Overall, underlying inflation rose by 0.4 percent in the quarter and by 1.53 percent over the year – a record low.

The Bureau of Statistics noted: “The most significant price rises this quarter are medical and hospital services (+4.2 percent), automotive fuel (+5.9 percent), tobacco (+2.1 percent) and new dwelling purchase by owner- occupiers (+0.9 percent). The most significant offsetting price falls this quarter are domestic holiday travel and accommodation (-3.7 percent), motor vehicles (-1.3 percent) and telecommunication equipment and services (- 1.5 percent).”

Prices of tradables rose by 0.6 percent in the June quarter with higher petrol prices offsetting low car prices. The tradables component of consumer prices was unchanged in the year to June.

Prices of non-tradables rose by 0.4 percent in the June quarter. Price increases were recorded for new dwelling purchase and hospital and medical services. The most significant offsetting fall was for domestic holiday travel and accommodation. Non-tradables prices rose by 1.6 percent in the year to June. Tradable goods are those items whose prices are largely determined on the world market. Non-tradable prices are more affected by domestic economic conditions.

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Why is the data important?

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is regarded as Australia’s premier measure of inflation. The CPI is published quarterly and measures price changes for a ‘basket’ of goods and services that dominate expenditure of metropolitan households. The “All Groups” index is the main focus, but other inflation measures are also published such as so-called ‘underlying’ measures. These include measures that abstract from price changes in volatile price items such as fresh food and petrol.

The Reserve Bank aims to keep the headline inflation rate between 2-3 percent over an economic cycle. If inflation is high and expected to rise, the Reserve Bank may elect to raise interest rates in order to constrain price pressures. Conversely, if inflation is low and expected to remain low, the Reserve Bank may elect to cut interest rates if it believes the growth pace of the economy is in need of strengthening.

What are the implications?

CommSec expects the Reserve Bank to cut the cash rate next week by 25 basis points or a quarter of a percent to 1.75 percent.

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At the Reserve Bank website, four measures of inflation are represented – the headline rate of inflation and three underlying measures. All four are important. The headline inflation rate is at 17-year lows. The average underlying rate is 1.53 percent – the lowest result in data extending back to 1983. It is clear that little stands in the way of the Reserve Bank cutting rates again.

There are no inflationary pressures. Businesses will need to continue to look at cost and productivity savings to keep prices low or drive prices even lower.

Craig James is the chief economist at CommSec.