The Reserve Bank of Australia announced it will hold the official cash rate in September at the historically low rate of 1.50%. The decline of rates throughout 2016 may be partly attributed to the stubborn Australian dollar, thumb which hovered around US$0.76 for most of July and August. The RBA have used subtle language and interest rate cuts in an attempt to de-value the Australian currency over the year.

A lower Australian dollar increases competitiveness of Australian goods. It also increases general prices through imported inflation, order lifting the price of imported inputs for Australian goods and services. The annual inflation rate of just 1% to June in Australia looks set to remain low, at least over the remainder of the year.  Despite the best efforts of the RBA, the AUD continued to climb gradually since May, which partially contributed to the August cut. The persistently high AUD made a case for further rate cuts.

That was, until, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen spoke at a symposium on the 26th of August. Yellen argued that strengthening in the US labour force meant “the case for an increase in the federal funds rate has strengthened in recent months”. The speech was followed by comments from the Vice Chair Stanley Fischer, who indicated that US rates could rise as soon as September.

This hint at higher interest rates saw a boost to the USD, and a complementary weakening in the AUD. Graph 1 shows the movement of the AUD relative to the USD over August. This took pressure off the RBA to use monetary policy as a means to lower the dollar, and may have contributed to the hold decision this month. The next Fed rate decision is September 22nd, and an increase is likely to place further downwards pressure on the AUD and potentially create room for the RBA to delay further rate cuts.

This is important, because residential property value growth and dwelling approvals in Sydney and Melbourne have continued to be reactive to rate cuts earlier this year. Across Australia, dwelling construction saw a 1.2% increase over the June quarter, and a strong 6% increase over the year. Meanwhile, other sectors of construction work fell dramatically: engineering work fell by 9% in the quarter, and private construction fell by 14% over the period.

Building approvals were up across Australia in July, as the number of units approved increased 4.97% year on year. However, across the country the number of separate houses approved fell by 3.19%. Much of the growth in dwelling approvals for the year was driven by the Sydney and Melbourne markets. This was expected following a May rate cut as more dwelling development projects gain cost benefit. A hold in rates is likely to see the market steady.

The number of dwelling approvals across Australia over time is shown in Graph 2. While 2012-15 saw a steep increase in the number of dwelling approvals, another small upward trend can be seen over 2016. Graph 3 shows the original monthly data of total dwelling approvals by capital city (which is volatile relative to the trend data), with Sydney and Melbourne experiencing a significant surge. The movements in dwelling approval data is expected, as it follows capital growth in the dwelling market.

The RBA faces a two-tiered economy in which housing has boosted growth in the south-east coast of Australia, while growth in other cities across Australia is subdued. Part time employment in Australia also reached a record high of 31.63% in July, suggesting ongoing structural challenges in full time job creation and wage growth. As the rate is held for September, we may expect these east coast markets to steady a little, and growth in approvals start to flatten.


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