Chief economist update: Do nothing RBA

If all goes according to expectations, today's Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) Board meeting will mark one-month and two years (25 months) that the country's cash rate had been stuck at a record low 1.50%, and the longest stretch of unchanged interest rates at that.

For sure and for certain, financial markets would hear what they expect to hear from Governor Philip Lowe and his merry men and women when the RBA announces its decision at 2.30pm AEST today.

That really is not up for any debate. What's bugging me are the forecasts, the expectations, the speculations, the educated that the RBA's next action on interest rates is to give it a lift. That's all well and good for it suggests that the economic growth is strong and sustainable enough to withstand an itsy-bitsy-teenie-weenie increase in borrowing costs which at the same time allows the Australian central bank to normalise monetary policy and rebuild its firepower to fight the next downturn.

If memory serves me right, the when of this next rate hike has been pushed from last year to this year to next year and maybe, not until 2020.

Australian and global economic dynamics may change between now and then and the RBA could hike interest rates earlier or much, much later than consensus predictions.

Only yesterday I ranted that the RBA wouldn't and couldn't raise interest rates before Australians, all, get a pay rise - maybe not all - but you get the point.

Wages growth remains tepid and this is cycling and re-cycling on the overall economy through reduced consumer optimism, weak consumer spending, weak pricing power (low inflation) and so on and so forth.

Low inflation, in turn, provides no impetus for a lift and wages and pensions (indexed to inflation) ... and so the unvirtuous cycle goes.

No doubt, the RBA would again mention the strengthening labour market to rationalise its optimism that someday, sometime, growth in wages will begin to pick up. Maybe wages will but the experience du jour in other economies show that this may be a long time coming. The US and the UK have stronger labour markets than Australia, yet wages growth there remains low.

Still, the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England went ahead and raised interest rates, highlighting the truism of BOE Governor Mark Carney's words: "The mistake is to always wait, wait, wait until you have perfect certainty."

Then again, the US and UK labour markets are operating at or close to full capacity with 3.9% and 4% unemployment rate, respectively. Australia's still trying to get there and a premature rate hike could unravel the economy's slow but still decent trajectory.

Surely, the RBA could raise interest rates now (projecting its optimism over Australia's economic outlook) or it could cut interest rates to give economic activity a move along.

Raising interest rates now risks an A$ appreciation (not a good idea when our biggest export market - China - is in the midst of a trade war with Uncle Trump) but cutting interest rates now could re-ignite the already slowing housing market and encourage Australian households to raise their already record high debt levels?

Sometimes the best move is to do nothing. Or to paraphrase Ronan Keating's song, you do it best when you do nothing at all.

Ben Ong is the Director of Economics and Investments at Rainmaker Group. He previously worked as a fund manager, economist, asset allocation strategist, portfolio analyst and stock market analyst. Check out his economics analysis here.

Read more: AustraliaUKeconomicsBank of EnglandChinaMark CarneyPhilip LoweRBA - Reserve Bank of AustraliaRonan KeatingUS Federal Reserve
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