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RBA sees job growth as weak wages allow for easing if needed

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Australia is likely to maintain its recent spurt of hiring, while weak wage growth also provides scope to cut interest rates further, the central bank said.

[SYDNEY] Australia is likely to maintain its recent spurt of hiring, while weak wage growth also provides scope to cut interest rates further, the central bank said.

"Household demand had continued to be supported by low interest rates and above-average employment growth," the Reserve Bank of Australia said Tuesday in minutes of its March 1 meeting when it kept interest rates at a record-low 2 per cent.

"Members observed that ongoing low wage growth was consistent with there being some spare capacity in the labor market, though they also noted that this was not unique to Australia."

RBA governor Glenn Stevens is assessing fallout from a darker global outlook - including wobbles in China - against a local economy showing "reasonable prospects for continued growth" after a record quarterly jobs gain. This month's meeting was held a day before data showed the economy grew a strong 3 per cent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier.

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The minutes showed the board spent part of the meeting discussing issues relevant to China's "longer-run economic performance and the risks to growth" in Australia's biggest trading partner. It noted that demographic changes and strong productivity growth that had been key drivers were reversing and were likely to weigh on China's future expansion.

China Risks

The RBA ran through the repercussions of China's reliance on heavy investment and risks to the financial sector from large-scale lending against that country's low level of foreign currency debt compared with other emerging economies.

"While the overhang of residential housing inventory and excess capacity in the industrial sector would affect demand for Australia's resource exports and their prices, the scope for Chinese household incomes to rise over time created long-run potential for Australia to increase exports of rural produce and services, including tourism, to China," the central bank said.

Australia's economy is grappling with a decline in mining investment that had helped to underpin growth during a commodity price boom. The RBA slashed rates and the currency has fallen more than 25 per cent from parity with the US dollar, helping ease the economy's transition.

The Aussie dollar was little changed at 75.25 US cents in Sydney after the release of the minutes.

Yet the currency has jumped about 9 per cent in the past two months as the global economy grappled with crosscurrents from policy moves - Japan and Europe's negative rates versus the US tightening in December.

BOJ Move

Reflecting on the market volatility after the Bank of Japan's move in particular, the RBA said that "generally there appeared to be more uncertainty about the direction and potency of monetary policy in the major jurisdictions."

Traders are gaining confidence that Mr Stevens won't lower rates again before his 10 years at the helm of the RBA end in September. They've unwound bets in recent days, with just 13 basis points of cuts priced in for the next six months as of Monday 5 pm in Sydney, compared with 28 basis points of cuts as recently as March 9.

The RBA reiterated its statement that it was appropriate to leave the cash rate unchanged at an accommodative setting.

"Over the period ahead, new information should allow the board to assess whether the improvement in labor market conditions was continuing and whether the recent financial turbulence presaged weaker global and domestic demand," it said.

"Members noted that continued low inflation would provide scope to ease monetary policy further, should that be appropriate to lend support to demand."

BLOOMBERG

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