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The RBA explained: what we get wrong about the Reserve Bank

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The RBA explained: what we get wrong about the Reserve Bank

 

UNSW Sydney

How much does the public really understand about the role of the Reserve Bank of Australia? What is the role of a central bank and how much of the current economic turbulence have its policies and decisions caused – or prevented?

Amid surging interest rates and strong criticism of the outgoing Governor, Philip Lowe, the RBA has been under intense scrutiny. The incoming governor, Michele Bullock, faces acute pressure to ease the pain of higher interest rates for borrowers while constraining inflation.

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The RBA’s interbank overnight cash rate target, the major influencer of retail interest rates, has surged from 0.1 per cent in April 2022 to 4.1 per cent in July 2023 and the Reserve’s recent announcement predicts an increase in Australia’s unemployment rate to 4.5 per cent by the end of next year. Large sections of the public believe it is the RBA’s responsibility to act.

In an interview, Dr Nalini Prasad, School of Economics, and Associate Professor, Mark Humphrey-Jenner, School of Banking and Finance at UNSW Business School, explore the RBA’s role.

What is the RBA? 

A/Prof. Mark Humphrey: The RBA is Australia’s “central bank”. The RBA has several roles, with the primary one being price stability. This involves ensuring that inflation is neither too high nor too low, usually sitting between 2 per cent and 3 per cent.

Part of the RBA’s role is to implement its inflation-related goals through monetary policy meetings, the most common aspects of which include setting the interbank overnight cash rate, cash rate for short, and quantitative easing or tightening (i.e., buying or selling bonds in the market). This sets the rate at which banks are willing to lend to households and businesses in the economy.

What impact does the RBA have on the cost of living crisis?  

A/Prof. Mark Humphrey: The RBA has a complex impact on the cost of living and might initially be seen to worsen it through higher rates. This is to reduce inflation and ease cost-of-living pressures. The aim is for this to be short-term pain for long-term gain.

Raising rates certainly increases the cost of servicing mortgages. It is often asserted that this increases rents. This is because higher rates deter construction. They also increase demand for rentals because it becomes more difficult to convince a bank you can service a loan. Thus, it can increase rental demand and decrease rental supply. The ultimate beneficiary here is the bank not the landlord, assuming the bank does not see defaults increase at least. The goal is to reduce overall spending, thereby reducing inflation.

In addition, corporations might face funding pressures as well: as capital becomes more expensive, companies will be able to borrow less, or will have to do so at less favourable terms. This slows their expenditure, which in turn should reduce inflation.

The RBA may worsen the cost of living situation for some people if unemployment increases markedly. For the impacted people, the cost of living will become significantly worse if they cannot find another job. However, the RBA is aware of this and aims to reduce such impacts as far as possible.

What impact does RBA have on homeowners? 

Dr Nalini Prasad: The main way in which interest rates affect the economy is through the behaviour of people with a mortgage. When the RBA increases interest rates this increases individuals’ mortgage interest rates for those people on a variable mortgage. Individuals’ mortgage payments rise, leaving them with less money to spend on other things.

When individuals have less money to spend on other things, this reduces demand in the economy and should put downward pressure on prices. What’s interesting about the current period is that around 40 per cent of borrowers took out fixed rate mortgages during the COVID-19 period. These individuals took out loans with interest rates between 2 to 2.5 per cent which were fixed for around three years.

A lot of these fixed rate mortgages are now expiring, and these individuals are having to refinance onto home loans with interest rates between 5 to 6 per cent. This is equivalent to an $650 increase in monthly repayments for the median borrower. There are concerns that these individuals will have to cut back their consumption to meet higher interest payments on their loan. Offsetting this, households built up large savings buffers during the COVID period – this could help households meet increased interest payments without a large reduction in their spending.

What are some common misconceptions about the role and actions of the RBA? 

Dr Nalini Prasad: There is a common misconception about the RBA and thinking they do not care about the public. When interest rates were low, the RBA was criticised for lowering the incomes of retirees. When interest rates are rising, like they are now, the RBA is criticised for increasing pain on mortgage holders.

The people who work at the RBA have parents or grandparents that are retirees, and many of them also have a mortgage. They understand that changing interest rates affect segments of society differently but are trying to balance all these things to keep inflation low and ensure that everyone who wants a job is able to find one.

The RBA puts a lot of thought and analysis into the decisions it makes.

A/Prof. Mark Humphrey: It is sometimes claimed that the RBA controls or influences property prices or intends to do so. This is not correct. The RBA does not specifically aim to increase or decrease house prices. House prices derive from a complex mix of supply and demand dynamics.

In addition, there are some assertions that the RBA is the only body responsible for controlling inflation. This is false. The RBA only controls monetary policy (i.e., the RBA policy interest rate). The federal government controls fiscal policy (i.e., government spending). If the government spends profligately, the RBA must then struggle to undo the damage done by the government.

How does the RBA envision the future of the Australian economy? 

Dr Nalini Prasad: The RBA has indicated that it is likely to pause increasing interest rates to assess how previous interest rate increases have affected the economy. However, it’s hard to see how interest rate increases will stop while the inflation rate remains above that of the cash rate. The unemployment rate is also at historic lows which will concern the RBA as employers increase wages in order to attract staff.

The RBA will face a number of challenges besides dealing with inflation. The review into the RBA recommended changes to how the RBA operates. Some of these things will be straightforward to implement, others will be more challenging, like changing the structure of the board and allowing them to request information from RBA staff.

 

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New one-stop shop to attract, support and promote women in building

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New one-stop shop to attract, support and promote women in building

 

Master Builders Association of New South Wales, in collaboration with the NSW Government, proudly announces the launch of Women Building NSW, a comprehensive digital platform designed to attract, support, and champion women in the building and construction sector.

Unveiled on May 13, 2024, the Women Building NSW website represents a significant stride towards fostering inclusivity and diversity within the industry. This innovative initiative offers a centralised hub of resources and support tailored to women, young girls, parents, employers, and consumers alike.

Brian Seidler, Executive Director, underscores the pivotal role of Women Building NSW in empowering women to pursue enriching careers within the dynamic realm of building and construction. With the industry serving as a cornerstone of economic growth and development, Seidler highlights the imperative of harnessing the diverse talents and skills of women to drive progress.

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Despite the industry’s substantial footprint, statistics reveal a significant gender disparity, with women comprising only 15% of the workforce and a mere 3% of tradies. Seidler emphasises the vast potential inherent in tapping into this under-utilised talent pool to address chronic workforce shortages and meet the pressing demands of NSW’s housing crisis.

Bob Black, NSW President, affirms the Women Building hub as a valuable resource offering comprehensive guidance and support to navigate the various pathways available to women in the industry. By consolidating information and resources, the platform aims to streamline access to opportunities and empower women to thrive in traditionally male-dominated domains.

Central to the Women Building NSW initiative is the provision of a diverse array of features and resources, including a detailed Job Guidebook covering over 100+ career options, a business start-up booklet tailored for aspiring female entrepreneurs, and resources for parents, teachers, and career advisors. Additionally, the platform offers insights into upcoming pre-apprenticeship courses, apprenticeship opportunities, and resources to support employers in fostering gender diversity within their organisations.

The project has been made possible through funding from the Trade Pathways Program – Training Services NSW, underscoring the collaborative effort between industry stakeholders and government entities to effect positive change.

For those eager to explore the wealth of resources and opportunities available through Women Building NSW, the website can be accessed here.

 

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Australian unemployment increases in April to 9.7% – overall labour under-utilisation at highest since October 2020

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Australian unemployment increases in April to 9.7% – overall labour under-utilisation at highest since October 2020

 

In April 2024, Australian ‘real’ unemployment increased 177,000 to 1,535,000 (up 1% to 9.7% of the workforce) despite overall employment remaining near its all-time high at over 14.2 million.

In addition to the increase in unemployment, there was also a slight increase in under-employment, up 18,000 to 1,594,000. These combined increases mean a massive 3.13 million Australians (19.8% of the workforce, up 1%) were unemployed or under-employed in April – the highest level of total labour under-utilisation for over three years since October 2020 (3.15 million) during the early months of the pandemic.

The April Roy Morgan Unemployment estimates were obtained by surveying an Australia-wide cross section of people aged 14+. A person is classified as unemployed if they are looking for work, no matter when. The ‘real’ unemployment rate is presented as a percentage of the workforce (employed & unemployed).

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  • Overall employment remains near all-time record high at over 14.2 million in April:

Australian employment was down slightly by 35,000 to 14,232,000 in April. A significant fall in part-time employment drove the decrease, down 261,000 to 4,903,000 while full-time employment increased by 226,000 to 9,329,000.

  • Unemployment increased in April with 177,000 more Australians looking for work:

In April 1,535,000 Australians were unemployed (9.7% of the workforce, up 1%), an increase of 177,000 from March driven by more people looking for both full-time and part-time work. There were 669,000 (up 74,000) looking for full-time work and 866,000 (up 103,000) looking for part-time work.

  • Overall unemployment and under-employment increased by 1% to 19.8% in April:

In addition to the unemployed, a further 1.59 million Australians (10.1% of the workforce) were under-employed, i.e. working part-time but looking for more work, up 18,000 from March. In total 3.13 million Australians (19.8% of the workforce) were either unemployed or under-employed in April.

  • Comparisons with a year ago show rapidly increasing workforce driving employment growth:

The workforce in April was 15,767,000 (up 142,000 from March and up a massive 717,000 from a year ago) – comprised of 14,232,000 employed Australians (down 35,000 from a month ago) and 1,535,000 unemployed Australians looking for work (up 177,000 from a month ago).

Although unemployment and under-employment remain high at 3.13 million – the highest combined figure since October 2020 during the early months of the pandemic, there has been a surge in employment over the last year – up by a large 418,000 to a near record high of 14,232,000.

ABS Comparison

Roy Morgan’s unemployment figure of 9.7% is more than double the ABS estimate of 3.8% for March but is approaching the combined ABS unemployment and under-employment figure of 10.3%.

The latest monthly figures from the ABS indicate that the people working fewer hours in March 2024 due to illness, injury or sick leave was 537,100. This is around 146,000 higher than the pre-pandemic average of the five years to March 2019 (391,300) – a difference of 145,800.

If this higher than pre-pandemic average of workers (145,800) is added to the combined ABS unemployment and under-employment figure of 1,541,200 we find a total of 1,687,000 people could be considered unemployed or under-employed, equivalent to 11.4% of the workforce.

Roy Morgan Single Source January 2019 – April 2024

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source January 2019 – April 2024. Average monthly interviews 5,000.
Note: Roy Morgan unemployment estimates are actual data while the ABS estimates are seasonally adjusted.

Michele Levine, CEO Roy Morgan, says total Australian unemployment or under-employment has increased to its highest in over three years at 3.13 million in April – 19.8% of the workforce – with over 1.5 million people either unemployed or under-employed:

“The latest Roy Morgan employment estimates for April show total Australian unemployment or under-employment (also known as labour underutilisation) has increased 195,000 to 3,129,000 (19.8% of the workforce, up 1%). ’Real’ unemployment increased 177,000 to 1,535,000 (9.7% of the workforce) and under-employment increased by 18,000 to 1,594,000 (10.1%).

“This is the first time in over a year that both unemployment and under-employment have increased in the same month with the two usually moving in opposite directions. The increase means overall labour under-utilisation is now at its highest for over three years since October 2020 (3.15 million) during the early days of the pandemic.

“The labour force has experienced rapid change over the last year with a large increase in population (+717,000) – a rate almost three times higher than the average annual population growth over the last 25 years of 287,000. This population increase has been the driver of a growing workforce, up by 667,000 to a record high of over 15.7 million in April 2024.

“In turn, the increasing workforce has led to large rises in both employment, up 418,000 to over 14.2 million, and unemployment, up 249,000 to 1,535,000. As well as unemployment increasing 249,000, under-employment is up by 254,000 – a combined figure of 503,000 more Australians either unemployed or under-employed than a year ago in April 2023.

“The figures show that although new jobs are being created, there are not enough jobs being created to soak up the nearly 700,000 people who joined the workforce over the last year and increasing numbers of Australians are becoming unemployed or under-employed.”

“The sustained increase in unemployment and under-employment over the last year shows the labour market is struggling to provide the right jobs for all those joining the workforce. Tackling this continuing high level of unemployment and under-employment must be the number one priority for the Federal Government which is due to hand down a pre-election Federal Budget this week.”

This Roy Morgan survey on Australia’s unemployment and ‘under-employed’* is based on weekly interviews of 974,626 Australians aged 14 and over between January 2007 and April 2024 and includes 6,020 telephone and online interviews in April 2024. *The ‘under-employed’ are those people who are in part-time work or freelancers who are looking for more work.

 

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Potential $1 Trillion Cost to Taxpayers from Superannuation Withdrawal for Home Deposits

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Potential $1 Trillion Cost to Taxpayers from Superannuation Withdrawal for Home Deposits

 

Newly released modelling commissioned by the Super Members Council reveals significant long-term fiscal implications for Australian taxpayers stemming from proposals allowing young Australians to utilise their superannuation to fund house deposits. According to the analysis, unrestricted access to superannuation funds for this purpose could saddle taxpayers with costs amounting to a staggering $1 trillion over time.

Key Findings of the Report

  • Financial Impact: The proposal to allow a capped withdrawal of $50,000 from superannuation accounts for home deposits could result in a $300 billion drain on federal resources across future decades. In contrast, an uncapped withdrawal policy could inflate this cost to approximately $1 trillion by century’s end.
  • Increased Pension Dependency: The report underscores a critical concern that enabling first-time homebuyers to dip into their superannuation will lead to significantly reduced balances upon retirement. This reduction is expected to increase reliance on taxpayer-funded age pensions, thereby escalating government expenditures considerably.
  • Economic Consequences: At its peak, the capped withdrawal policy could impose an additional annual cost of $8 billion on taxpayers, with the uncapped option potentially reaching an annual cost of $25 billion.

Impact on Housing Market and Home Ownership

The modelling also highlights adverse effects on the housing market, predicting an increase in capital city house prices by an average of $75,000, which could further exacerbate the housing affordability crisis. This inflationary effect contradicts the policy’s intention to enhance home ownership rates, instead potentially delaying entry into the housing market for future generations.

Expert Opinions and Recommendations

Misha Schubert, CEO of the Super Members Council, criticised the policy proposals as economically imprudent. Schubert emphasised that such policies not only fail to address home ownership rates but also worsen housing affordability and erode retirement savings, leaving a hefty tax burden for all Australians.

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“Economic evidence consistently shows that breaking open super for house deposits will not resolve the housing crisis but will rather inflate property prices and amplify pension costs,” said Schubert.

Call for Policy Rethink

The Super Members Council is advocating for a reconsideration of any policy that might weaken the integrity and success of the superannuation system, which has been pivotal in ensuring a secure retirement for millions of Australians. The Council warns against the long-term economic pitfalls of such policies, suggesting they would undermine the foundational goals of the superannuation system.

Analytical Backdrop

The findings are based on comprehensive microsimulation models developed by Deloitte, accounting for demographic shifts, superannuation contributions and balances, and projected tax and pension expenditures. This robust analytical approach reinforces the credibility of the projected fiscal and market impacts.

In conclusion, the Super Members Council urges policymakers to preserve the superannuation system’s strength, cautioning against decisions that could compromise both individual financial security and broader economic stability.

 

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