RBA Holds Interest Rates, Remains Cautious on Outlook

By James Glynn Features Dow Jones Newswires

Australia's central bank left its benchmark interest rate on hold as expected, balancing concerns around high household debt and weak wages growth with signs of a stronger job market.

Continue Reading Below

The cash rate target was held at a record-low 1.5%, where it has remained since August 2016.

"Wages growth remains low. This is likely to continue for a while yet, although the stronger conditions in the labor market should see some lift in wage growth over time," said RBA Governor Philip Lowe in a statement.

The Australian dollar dipped on the commentary by Mr. Lowe, which offered little for those expecting interest rates to rise early next year.

Mr. Lowe also kept the focus on the Australian dollar, which recently traded at two-year highs, warning it could hold back both economic recovery and hopes of higher inflation over the medium term.

"The higher exchange rate is expected to contribute to continued subdued price pressures in the economy. It is also weighing on the outlook for output and employment," he said. "An appreciating exchange rate would be expected to result in a slower pick-up in economic activity and inflation than currently forecast."

Continue Reading Below

Still, strength in job creation over the past six months has seen financial markets grow more confident about interest-rate increases in 2018. Non-mining investment has also picked up with the RBA happy that firms are rediscovering their "animal spirits."

"Until we see a sustainable pick up in consumption, higher cash rates remain a long way off," said David Choi, head of Australian macro at Aberdeen Standard Investments.

The economy expanded strongly in the second quarter and Mr. Lowe recently described surging full-time jobs growth as "unambiguously good."

Mr. Lowe continues to talk down suggestion that the RBA will join the hawkish chorus of its global counterparts, but economists expect that any upturn in wages growth could prompt the RBA to shift its policy stance if it looks sustainable.

Still, Mr. Lowe has repeatedly qualified his optimism with warnings that the RBA may yet fail to achieve a forecast rise in inflation back to within a 2-3% range. The global economy offers little assurance either, with low inflation a sticky issue just about everywhere.

-Write to James Glynn at james.glynn@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 03, 2017 00:03 ET (04:03 GMT)