Australia central bank cautions about housing boom as rates held at record lows

[SYDNEY] Australia's central bank left interest rates at an all-time low on Tuesday in a widely expected decision but cautioned it would "carefully" monitor trends in property debt as the housing market boomed.

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) also reiterated its commitment to keep policy accommodative for as long as is needed to pull down unemployment and push inflation higher, signalling the cash rate would remain at 0.1 per cent until at least 2024.

The RBA cut interest rates three times last year, announced a yield curve control programme to keep three year government bond yields at 0.1 per cent and launched a massive quantitative easing programme targeting longer term bonds.

The ultra-easy policy settings have lit a fire under the country's housing market where prices soared at the fastest pace in three decades in March.

In a short post-meeting statement, RBA Governor Philip Lowe noted the house price surge was driven by strong demand from owner-occupiers and first-home buyers while pointing to the still subdued credit growth for property investors.

"Given the environment of rising housing prices and low interest rates, the bank will be monitoring trends in housing borrowing carefully and it is important that lending standards are maintained," Mr Lowe said.

Analysts generally expect financial regulators to impose stricter macro-prudential rules on banks this year to help rein in risky lending behaviour with the RBA seen likely to keep rates at 0.1 per cent for some time to come.

"The RBA will continue to watch this space closely, but they will leave any policy response to APRA if price growth becomes concerning," said Sean Langcake, senior economist for BIS Oxford Economics, referring to Australia's prudential regulator.

The Australian dollar was unmoved at US$0.7640 after the RBA's decision to hold the cash rate at 0.1 per cent for its fourth straight meeting.

The central bank reiterated it will not raise rates until actual inflation is sustainably within its 2-3 per cent target range, a goal it does not expect to meet before 2024.

The fiscal and monetary policy response so far has helped Australia pull out of its first recession in three decades. Data on retail sales, construction activity, business confidence, consumer sentiment and employment have all surpassed expectations in recent months.

Figures out earlier showed Australian job advertisement surged to their highest in 12 years in March, jumping 7.4 per cent from the previous month.

The RBA will release its biannual Financial Stability Review on Friday where it will highlight the risks facing the financial system as well as trends in the sector.

REUTERS

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