Trader's View - The biggest day on the Australian economic calendar

Market data Source: Bloomberg

The biggest day of the (economic) year

The Australian economy garnered significant attention yesterday. Arguably, it was the biggest day on the economic calendar we’ll see this year. Insights into both the future of monetary and fiscal policy don’t often come on the same day. But yesterday it did: the RBA delivered their monthly decision on Australian interest rates; and the Federal Government handed down its latest budget. The price action in financial markets has thus far been limited – though, granted, we wait for the ASX to open this morning to witness the stock market response to the budget. At least from a purely intellectual standpoint though, both events have given market-buffs enough to chew on, and potentially frame future trading opportunities.

The RBA stays away from politics

Let’s break it down and start with RBA. If there was ever a meeting the RBA wanted to avoid politicization, it was this one. Unlike what’s happening in the United States, our central bank has been generally insulated from political-ire in the post-truth, anti-establishment era. But surely Dr. Philip Lowe and his team have sharp memories and recall the impact the 25-basis point hike to interest rates in November 2007, weeks before a Federal Election, had on the political discourse. Considering that last night’s budget was just as much a re-election pitch as it was a document of economic management, keeping safely away from the fray was always on the cards for the RBA.

The economic rationale

And not for unwise economic reasons, either. All Australians know how the game works: an election year budget is a vote-buying budget. In principle, it’s the chance to buy-back the electorate after years of (ostensibly) tough-but-necessary decision making. For the boffins at the RBA, the timing of the situation couldn’t be better: provided it’s implemented responsibly, with the Australian economy in its current state, some meaningful fiscal stimulus from the government wouldn’t go astray. It takes the heat off the RBA, undoubtedly: ideally, the injection of money into the economy will jump-start domestic demand, and boost consumption at a time when households are doing it a little tougher than they have in the past.

Keeping the powder dry

It helps the RBA keep their powder dry, too. They have 1.50% of potential cuts if things turn sour in the economy to play with, so to speak, before, like some of the world’s other major central banks, they would have to experiment with some unconventional monetary policies. Not only that, but unlike some of the more fiscally irresponsible governments around the world, the Australian government, with relatively low levels of debt, can still afford to pull some fiscal levers. This desire to wait-and-see shone through in yesterday’s RBA statement. They certainly took a more balanced view to economic risks, but they shied away from taking the line that rate cuts may soon prove necessary.

Picking up the slack

The benefit of this is that rather than just drop interest rates, and risk inflating (certain) asset prices and encourage the accumulation of private debt, targeted spending may add the necessary sugar-hit to revitalize households and their consumption. This is important to the RBA: there are three things really weighing on consumers at present: high-levels of private debt, a fall in house prices, and low wages growth. Now, a touch of fiscal stimulus won’t reverse these challenges in-and-of-itself; and the RBA will need to remain active in managing risks relating to all three. However, the hope is that a quick boost to government spending could do its part to ease the pressures, and perhaps unleash the economy’s animal spirits.

Forever the lucky country

Now, some of the structural or cyclical factors, from a global economic perspective, will remain unchanged. And that is what is often glazed over or ignore when it comes to Australian economic policy. The pollies will claim it’s an act of volition, but Australia is a small and open economy, and without good-luck, like what’s recently been seen in with our terms of trade, the money would not exist to support tax cuts and infrastructure spending. The problem for the RBA and Federal government, is sluggish wage growth (the thing that both parties are banking on turning around to maintain surpluses and stable monetary policy) is being caused by phenomena outside their control.

A day for a little judgement

The interesting part of today’s trade is that market participants get a little sample of what the market is think about the combination of yesterday’s RBA meeting and Federal Budget. SPI Futures are indicating a big jump for the ASX 200, despite a lukewarm night on global markets. First and foremost, in response to the RBA, the Australian Dollar has fallen with rate expectations and bond yields, as inflation expectations are deferred. Reactions to the budget will probably have to be judged by the behaviour of the ASX, though: consumer stocks outperformed yesterday, in a possible by-the-rumour sell the fact scenario. All of this will unfold around the release of important Retail Sales numbers today, which will give a true update on Aussie-consumers.


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