Many were expecting a 25 basis points cut today, with twelve of 15 economist surveyed predicting as much, but the RBA instead opted to remain on the sidelines for the time being.
While a November rate cut would have boosted Christmas spending and aided an ailing retail sector, it appears the RBA couldn’t see a significant enough increase in downside risk to domestic growth or the global economy to lower the official cash rate.
It is true that little has changed in both Europe and the US since the RBA last met in October, but this situation could change quickly given the elections in the US and the ongoing battle in Greece between the general populous and the pro-austerity politicians.
Nevertheless, the key aspect to consider from an external standpoint is the turnaround in sentiment regarding Chinese growth, which may have been enough to temper monetary policy in Australia for the moment.
Domestically, the full impact of this year’s earlier rate cuts has yet to be seen and the board has acknowledged that it will take time. On top of that, new retail sales and building approvals data looks to have improved since the board’s last meeting.
December rate cut?
Westpac's chief executive Gail Kelly called for a rate cut before the end of the year to boost consumer and business sentiment.
"I think we are definitely in an environment where declining interest rates are the likely outcome, and I think it would certainly be very beneficial for consumer confidence and consumer sentiment if we continue to see rates come down."
But Mrs Kelly refused to say whether Westpac would pass on any rate cuts delivered by the RBA.
"I really don't want to talk about what we might do with pricing decisions," Mrs Kelly said.
Statement by Glenn Stevens, Governor: Monetary Policy Decision
''At its meeting today, the Board decided to leave the cash rate unchanged at 3.25 per cent.
Global growth is forecast to be a little below average for a time. Risks to the outlook are still seen to be on the downside, largely as a result of the situation in Europe, where economic activity is still contracting. Risks elsewhere seem more balanced. The United States is recording moderate growth, while recent data from China suggest growth there has stabilised. Around Asia generally, growth has been dampened by the more moderate Chinese expansion and the weakness in Europe.
Key commodity prices for Australia remain significantly lower than earlier in the year, though trends have been more mixed over the past couple of months, with some prices recovering some ground while others declined further. The terms of trade have declined by about 13 per cent since the peak last year, but are likely to remain historically high.
Financial markets have responded positively over the past few months to signs of progress in addressing Europe's financial problems, but expectations for further progress remain high. Long-term interest rates faced by highly rated sovereigns, including Australia, remain at exceptionally low levels. Capital markets remain open to corporations and well-rated banks, and Australian banks have had no difficulty accessing funding, including on an unsecured basis. Borrowing conditions for large corporations are similarly attractive. Share markets have generally risen over recent months.
In Australia, most indicators available for this meeting suggest that growth has been running close to trend over the past year, led by very large increases in capital spending in the resources sector. Looking ahead, the peak in resource investment is likely to occur next year, at a lower level than expected six months ago. As this peak approaches, the Board will be monitoring the strength of other components of demand.
Some of the consumption strength in the first half of 2012 was temporary, but there have been some signs of ongoing growth, though a return to very strong growth in consumption is unlikely. While investment in dwellings has been subdued for some time, over recent months there have been some indications of a prospective improvement. Non-residential building investment has remained weak. Public spending is forecast to be subdued.
Recent outcomes on inflation were slightly higher than expected, though they still show inflation consistent with the medium-term target, with underlying measures around 2½ per cent over the year to September, and headline CPI inflation a little lower than that. The introduction of the carbon price affected consumer prices in the September quarter, and there could be some further small effects over the next couple of quarters. With the labour market having generally softened somewhat in recent months, and unemployment edging higher, conditions should work to contain pressure on labour costs in sectors other than those directly affected by the current strength in resources. This and some continuing improvement in productivity performance will be needed to keep inflation low, since the effects on prices of the earlier exchange rate appreciation are now waning. The Bank's assessment remains that inflation will be consistent with the target over the next one to two years.
Over the past year, monetary policy has become more accommodative. Interest rates for borrowers have declined to be clearly below their medium-term averages and savers are facing increased incentives to look for assets with higher returns. While the impact of these changes takes some time to work through the economy, there are signs of easier conditions starting to have some of the expected effects. Business demand for external funding has increased this year, the housing market has strengthened and share prices have risen in line with markets overseas. The exchange rate, though, remains higher than might have been expected, given the observed decline in export prices and the weaker global outlook.
Further effects of actions already taken to ease monetary policy can be expected over time. The Board will continue to monitor those effects, together with information about the various other factors affecting the outlook for growth and inflation. At today's meeting, with prices data slightly higher than expected and recent information on the world economy slightly more positive, the Board judged that the stance of monetary policy was appropriate for the time being.''