Economists say the door remains open to Reserve Bank rate cuts this year after members raised “significant uncertainties” over the Australian economy at this month’s board meeting.
Minutes from the RBA’s March 4 meeting released on Tuesday showed board members believed positive and negative factors were more evenly balanced than at previous meetings.
Although the RBA kept the cash rate at a record low 1.5 per cent this month, economists say dwindling optimism suggests the RBA could fall into line with their predictions of at least one rate cut in 2019.
JP Morgan rate strategist Sally M Auld said, while only very weak labour data this week could force an April rate cut, the negatives may soon outweigh the positives for the RBA.
“Despite a run of weaker activity data so far this year, today’s minutes suggest the RBA is not rushing to any judgement that lower rates are required,” Ms Auld said.
“But by early 3Q, we think signs of a modestly higher unemployment rate and further weakness in activity data will force the RBA’s hand.”
Ms Auld is tipping a 0.25 percentage point cut in July and another in August.
The RBA was clear it was waiting for more data before acting.
“Significant uncertainties around the forecasts remained, with scenarios where an increase in the cash rate would be appropriate at some point and other scenarios where a decrease in the cash rate would be appropriate,” the minutes said.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics releases labour force data on Thursday, and NAB markets economist Kaixin Owyong agreed that employment data would be key to RBA thinking.
“Labour market data will be key to resolving the tension in the economic data over the coming months and our view is that the data will show a weakening labour market, triggering the RBA to cut rates to one per cent,” Ms Owyong said.
Ms Owyong expects employment to be unchanged in February, while noting a risk that the unemployment rate ticks up to 5.1 from 5.0 per cent.