The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) has defended its interest rate cuts, arguing they will boost jobs growth and take pressure off indebted households as economists warn tighter lending standards will be needed to prevent a surge in house prices.
As the Morrison government considers possible tax cuts to deliver a boost to the economy, RBA deputy governor Guy Debelle said recent rate cuts would deliver a long-term benefit to many mortgage holders.
The bank has come under attack from some commentators about its three rate cuts this year to a record low of 0.75 per cent, with complaints they are failing to work while hurting people with bank deposits.
Dr Debelle told a financial services conference arrears rates on Australian mortgages remained very low by historical and global standards, although there had been a slight increase over recent years.
He said rate cuts would take some time to work their way through the economy, adding that even now households were better off as the interest bill on their mortgages started to fall.
"Recent reductions in the interest rates will reduce the interest payments of indebted households and support employment growth and housing market conditions more generally," he said.
Figures this week showed the single largest drop in monthly employment since 2014 while wages growth has slowed to 2.2 per cent, its weakest annual result in a year and well short of Treasury forecasts.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the government would update its forecasts in an "orderly fashion" in its mid-year budget update next month, noting the economy was dealing with the drought and global headwinds.
"All things considered, Australia is performing extremely well," he said.
But National Australia Bank (NAB) interim chief executive Philip Chronican told a parliamentary committee there continued to be headwinds for the domestic economy. He said preliminary research by NAB economists suggested a quarter of the income tax cuts that started flowing from July 1 were being spent by consumers. Most economists had anticipated at least half would be spent.
"The economy locally continues to soften," he said.
Westpac economists said in a research note that with the various issues facing the economy, suggestions of growth around trend looked "particularly challenging".
"Indeed, even with another 25 basis point cut in February and the adoption of unconventional monetary policy, we foresee a continuation of below-trend growth," they said. "To our mind, this is why there is need for the legislated tax cuts to be brought forward."
Financial markets put the chance of a rate cut at the RBA's final meeting of the year on December 3 at less than 1 in 3. But the same markets believe there is a 70 per cent chance the bank will open 2020 with a rate cut at its February 4 meeting.
AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver said more cuts would probably drive higher property prices in Sydney and Melbourne, which was another reason the government should consider tax cuts in its mid-year budget update. If it did not, banking regulators would have to take action.
"That probably means that we should expect a renewed tightening of bank lending standards next year," he said.
- SMH/The Age