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Australia's central bank governor signals steady rates for a while yet

Friday, August 11, 2017 - 10:17

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Australia's central bank aims to keep interest rates at record lows for a while yet, governor Philip Lowe said on Friday, with any tightening "quite some time away" and likely to be gradual as households try to whittle down a mountain of debt.

[MELBOURNE] Australia's central bank aims to keep interest rates at record lows for a while yet, governor Philip Lowe said on Friday, with any tightening "quite some time away" and likely to be gradual as households try to whittle down a mountain of debt.

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) has left interest rates at an all-time low 1.50 per cent after last easing in August 2016 as it balances lukewarm inflation with skyrocketing household debt.

Mr Lowe, responding to questions at a parliamentary economics committee in Melbourne, said that market pricing for the next move to be a hike was reasonable.

Futures market implies steady rates until early 2018 with a hike fully priced in only by next Christmas.

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However, policymakers were aware of the impact higher interest rates would have on households saddled with a mountain of debt. The household debt-to-income ratio is at a record high 190 per cent and rising faster than incomes.

Annual wage growth is inching at its slowest ever pace of 1.90 per cent. Together, that has weighed on consumer confidence and spending in recent months.

Lowe said he would like to see annual wages growth of 3.5 per cent or more as economic growth picks up.

The RBA has said it is confident that the A$1.7 trillion (S$1.83 trillion) economy will accelerate over the next two years to around 3 per cent.

Mr Lowe also expects inflation to edge higher over time, as utility prices in the country are surging - another reason households are fretting over their finances.

A risk to its forecasts is a further appreciation in the Australian dollar, Mr Lowe added.

The Aussie is up about 6 per cent since June as it climbed to a two-year peak of US$0.8066 last month, largely as the US dollar has tumbled due to expectations of a gradual pace of rate increases by the Federal Reserve. The Aussie has since faltered and on Friday held at a 3-1/2 week trough of US$0.7844.

REUTERS

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