An important role of the Reserve Bank is conducting monetary policy to achieve the objectives of the Reserve Bank Board. It is the responsibility of the Board to set interest rates in a way that best contribute to the stability of the currency (which means price stability), full employment, and the economic prosperity and welfare of the people of Australia.
To achieve price stability, the Reserve Bank uses a flexible medium-term inflation target, with the goal of keeping inflation between 2 and 3 per cent, on average, over time. The Reserve Bank sets the cash rate to influence economic activity and inflation to achieve this goal.
Monetary Policy Framework
Watch former Governor Glenn Stevens discuss the objectives of monetary policy and the inflation target, along with the structure of the Reserve Bank Board.
Glenn Stevens, Governor (2006 – 2016)
If people come into the foyer of the Reserve Bank, and they're always welcome to do that here at Martin Place, you will see on the wall on the right hand side there's some letters etched into the black stone there, that are from our Charter, those words are from 1945, they haven't changed since, and they're about stability of the currency, the maintenance of full employment and the prosperity and welfare of the Australian people. Now they're very big, broad, fine sounding words, how do we put that into practice? Well the way we do that is we have a medium term target for inflation and we talk about holding CPI inflation to 2 to 3 per cent on average over time. In other words, preserving the value of money and that's very important, because a stable money is really a foundation for economic prosperity more generally. If we don't have stable money then whatever else we do we won't really be able to achieve broader economic prosperity. That framework's been in place since the early 1990s, we have hit the target over that 20 year period, the average inflation rate's pretty close to 2.5 per cent, so we regard that as successful by the terms of the definition that we set ourselves and I think that's made a big contribution to economic stability more generally and I don't think it's an accident that that period of fairly low predictable inflation has coincided with pretty good sustained growth in the economy.
The target is a medium term one, so there's a little bit of flexibility over the short term, and I think experience shows that in trying to do economic policy and trying to control inflation there really isn't an ability to fine tune these things over very short periods of time, you have to take a more medium term perspective. We've always thought that and I think experience shows that that's the right way to do it, and as I say we've managed to achieve that target fairly well over quite a long period of time now.
Sometimes things happen, economists refer to these things as shocks which just means they're events which are not forecastable and not controllable. Things come along it might be a rise in global oil prices because there's military tension in the Middle East, it could be the celebrated banana price rise because the crop's been damaged by a cyclone, it could be some government policy that raises or lowers the cost of medical care, so these things come along and they affect the measured inflation rate over a short period, and we can't stop that occurring, we can't control that, but the key thing is to have inflation come back to the target over time and the policy decision is really about trying to configure the interest rate setting so that we can be pretty sure that inflation will come back over time and one of the key things that helps us do that is if people's expectations about inflation in the future are well anchored near the target, that actually feeds through to their behaviour, to the behaviour of wage setting, to the behaviour of business and the way they set prices, if they behave consistently with the target that actually helps us achieve it. So one of the things we watch is whether those expectations are indeed well anchored or not and that helps us to work out what response we might need when inflation starts to go off course.
While historically we've had this board for a very long time, since the early 1950s, it's always been a board where the Governor is the Chairman but we have a majority of outside people drawn from industry, from academia, from sometimes other parts of society who bring a common sense perspective, they bring their own commercial or academic experience and they apply a filter of the, I suppose you could say, the educated, informed, reasonable person to the judgements that we on the inside want to bring to the decision and for us to get the decision that we think is right we have to convince them. And that's as it should be. That's a strong filter. I think our board, although unusual amongst other boards, there are very few if any other central banks that have this kind of a board, but in our country, for this kind of filter to be applied to the decision process, I think adds to the credibility, to the legitimacy that the whole process has in the eyes of ordinary people and that's very important. So it's worked quite well for 60 years now.
Domestic Market Operations
Watch Deputy Governor Guy Debelle talk about the Reserve Bank's domestic market operations and how this keeps the cash rate as close as possible to its target.
Guy Debelle, Assistant Governor (2007 – 2016)
The Bank has two roles: it operates in the domestic market and it operates in international markets. The Reserve Bank Board sets a target for the cash rate at its monthly meetings and it's the job of the domestic operations to make sure that target is actually achieved. It does that by adjusting the supply of funds in the interbank market, so that the banks have an incentive to lend their money between themselves at the cash rate. So we control the supply; they have the demand, and the net outcome of that is the price.
To adjust the supply of liquidity in the market, the Bank operates in the market by either buying or selling securities, which is the stuff you read in textbooks. But mostly what we do is actually something called a repo, which is we lend or borrow money from the banking system against collateral (normally a government security), but also bank paper as well. So we inject money into the system by lending to a bank and, in return, they provide us with a security.
We operate in the market every day. We do it at 9.45 in the morning, so at 9.30 am we publish on the news services what our intention is that day: we tell them how much liquidity we're going to inject, what we intend to inject into the market, and at what term we're going to do.[*] So we don't lend overnight generally – almost never. We lend for a period of time – a month or two. The banks, or any other participant, can ring us back with their bids by 9.45 am each day. It's an auction, so whoever gives, or offers us the best price, is the one we accept. Normally we accept multiple bids and we also do, since last November, a second round of open market operations, potentially each day at around 5.10 pm in the day, about one in every two or three days. With the move to fast settlements now, there is a requirement that the liquidity position in the market at the end of the day is right where we want it to be.
It's because we operate in the market every day that we get to assess the demand of counterparties for liquidity. As I said, we control the supply, they have the demand, and we can see how much they're demanding. If they're demanding more, we can increase the supply to make sure that the price, which is the cash rate, stays where the Board wants it to be. But also because we're interacting with market participants every day in doing these transactions, it gives us a lot of insight into the conditions in the market because we're actually a participant in the market ourselves.
How the Reserve Bank Implements Monetary Policy
Watch Senior Analyst Katherine Leong talk about how the Reserve Bank implements monetary policy in this short lecture-style video.
Katherine Leong, Senior Analyst, Domestic Markets Department
Hello everyone. My name is Katherine and I work in the Domestic Markets Department at the Reserve Bank. In this video, I'm going to be explaining how the Reserve Bank implements monetary policy or, in other words, how we keep the cash rate on target. I think this is something which isn't widely understood so I'm really excited to have the opportunity to discuss this with you.
I think the best place to start is with this standard textbook model for the Australian cash market. So this is the stylised demand and supply diagram for a corridor system. On the X-axis here, we have the amount of cash, or liquidity, which is available. And on the vertical axis we have the price. In this case, the cash rate - or the interest rate paid on overnight, unsecured loans between banks. Now you may know that the Reserve Bank Board meets once a month and in that meeting they decide what the target rate for the cash rate should be.
Now Australia runs a corridor system, and I've indicated this by two dotted lines on our diagram. The corridor forms a ceiling and a floor on the cash rate target at 25 basis points above and 25 basis points below. And actually, banks have no incentive to trade outside this range. They know they can always borrow cash from the Reserve Bank at 25 basis points above target, and they can always leave excess reserves at the Reserve Bank for 25 basis points below. So all market activity is actually contained within this range.
Now I've also included a standard downward sloping demand curve here. We don't directly observe demand, but we interact with the market every day so we get a pretty good gauge of what demand is.
And finally, we have the supply curve. And this is really the domain of the Domestic Markets Department. It's our job to ensure that the supply of cash is appropriate to meet demand and keep the cash rate close to target. Or in other words, it's our job to make sure the supply curve intersects that demand curve close to that target rate.
Now demand can and does move around in this market. And if demand moves then the Reserve Bank will respond by altering supply. So for example, if demand were to increase in this market, the Reserve Bank would respond by increasing the supply of cash as well, to keep that cash rate near our target. This is exactly what happened during the financial crisis. Banks wanted to hold a bit of extra cash as precautionary balances and the Reserve Bank made sure to supply some extra cash to the market.
Now I'd just like to clarify exactly what we mean by cash or liquidity in this case. To be very clear, what I'm talking about is actually exchange settlement balances, or ES balances, for short. So all of the banks and some other financial institutions each have accounts at the Reserve Bank. In these accounts, are the Reserve Bank's own electronic currency called exchange settlement balances.
Now these ES balances are really for the banks to make payments between each other. So for example, if Bank A wanted to pay Bank B, they'd do this through ES balances. Bank A's account would be debited and Bank B's account would be credited.
Now most ES balances are actually held for balances after the close of the cash market. These actually have no monetary policy impact so we can ignore these for the purpose of this presentation. A very small portion of these ES balances are actually what we call a surplus ES balance. They're held for banks to meet their payment obligations and any ad hoc increases in demand. They're really there to make sure the payment system runs as smoothly as possible.
Now the reason we care about these surplus ES balances is that if you add up the surplus at each individual bank, the total of these balances would be the supply of cash in the market or the supply from that supply and demand diagram I showed you earlier. Now I can actually show you what surplus ES balances or the supply of liquidity has been in the market since the year 2000. You can see at the moment we're sitting at around $2 billion but at one point in time we were up at over $16 billion and that was in the middle of the financial crisis. As I mentioned earlier, the banks wanted to hold a lot of extra precautionary balances at that time.
Now this is actually one of my favourite graphs, and the reason for this is that it's really useful in debunking what I think is one of the biggest myths around monetary policy. And that is that the Reserve Bank changes the cash rate target by changing the supply of cash. If I add on the cash rate target here, you can see that there are actually a lot of times when the cash rate target is changing but the supply of cash is remaining the same.
So if we don't change the cash rate target by changing the supply of cash, how do we do it? Well, I'll be honest with you, the corridor system actually does all of the work for us. These surplus ES balances are actually remunerated at that floor of the corridor: that's 25 basis points below that target rate. So regardless of the level of the cash rate target there's always a 25 basis point penalty for holding that cash at the Reserve Bank. Actually, demand remains unchanged when we change the cash rate target and the market automatically reprices for us. So a day when the cash rate target changes looks very much like any other for the Domestic Markets Department.
Let's have a bit more of a look at surplus ES balances. I've said before that if you add up all the surplus ES balances, you'll get the supply of liquidity in the market. I've represented this visually by a beaker filled with liquid, or liquidity, in this case. Now the Reserve Bank gauges demand in the market and works out the appropriate level of supply to keep that cash rate close to target and we call this our target level of liquidity. I've marked that in this little black line on the beaker here.
So all we need to do to keep the cash rate close to target is to ensure that the supply of cash remains near that target level of liquidity. How hard can that be? Well actually, it's not as easy as it sounds. And that's because there are all these other accounts sitting at the Reserve Bank of Australia. We have a few things here. We have some accounts belonging to the Australian government. Some belonging to the Reserve Bank itself. And finally, some belonging to our other clients, mostly foreign central banks.
Now the key thing about these other accounts is they sit quite separately to surplus ES balances. And we care primarily about how much liquidity is in that left-hand beaker. So if, for example, two banks made transactions between each other all within that left-hand beaker, the total supply of cash in the market would remain the same. So we don't care too much about those transactions. Similarly, if there's a transaction all within that right-hand beaker say between the government and the RBA, then that would leave surplus ES balances unchanged as well. So we don't care too much about those transactions either.
The transactions we do really care about are those which occur between these surplus ES balances and the government or other accounts because these transactions will actually change the total amount of surplus ES balances in the market and change our supply of cash available.
Let's break this down a little bit more. Suppose, for example, we have a transaction which is going from one of these government or other accounts to the surplus ES balances. An example of this might be when the go makes a payment, when they pay pensions or when they give a grant to a school. In this case, the funds would go from one of these government and other accounts to surplus ES balances. So the government account would decrease and surplus ES balances would increase. This would increase the total of supply in the market. Because we're adding liquidity to the market, we would call this a liquidity injection. Another example of a liquidity injection would be when a government bond matures. The funds are returned to the bond holder and surplus ES balances increase.
The reverse works exactly the same way. A transaction which goes from surplus ES balances to one of these government or other accounts will decrease the total amount of surplus ES balances in the market and hence, decrease the supply of liquidity. Because liquidity is being removed from the market, we would call this a liquidity withdrawal. An example of a liquidity withdrawal would be when individuals or companies pay tax to the government. This removes supply of liquidity from the market.
So the job of the Reserve Bank is really to forecast all the transactions we think are going to happen on a given day. What we'll do is add up all of those transactions and work out, on net, what we think the change in liquidity is going to be. So for example, if we were to add up all of today's transactions, we might find that we expect surplus ES balances to be about $1 billion below that target level. What does that mean? The Reserve Bank will actually have to come along and add back in that liquidity. We call this liquidity management. So we'll increase surplus ES balances back up to that target level to keep the cash rate close to our target rate.
The Reserve Bank conducts its liquidity management through its open market operations or OMOs for short and we have three different tools which we can use in our OMOs. The first are our outright government bond purchases. Then we have our reverse repurchase agreements or repos. And finally, our foreign exchange swaps or FX swaps. And I'm going to primarily discuss the first two of these.
So outright government bond purchases work exactly how they sound. The Reserve Bank receives a bond and provides cash to the market at an exchange. So this is actually adding surplus ES balances to the market. Thinking back to our beakers example, this would be an increase in that surplus ES balances, that left-hand beaker. Now this is a liquidity injection so it can be used to offset a transaction which has drained liquidity from the market. For example, when individuals or companies pay tax to the government.
Now these outright government purchases aren't typically used on a daily basis but we would use them in large volumes ahead of a government bond maturity. To give you a bit of an idea, we would probably sterilise about two of these each year. The tool that we would use most frequently are actually these reverse repurchase agreements or repos. So let's just make sure we're on the same page with what a repo actually is.
A repo is a contract between two counterparties where one agrees to sell a bond to the other and repurchase it at a specified price at some date in the future. So this is like a loan which is being secured by a bond and this transaction actually has two legs. The first leg looks very much like an outright bond purchase. The Reserve Bank receives the bond and supplies cash to the counterparty. So this add liquidity to the market and increases surplus ES balances.
On the second leg, this transaction will unwind. So the Reserve Bank will give back the bond and receive its cash back in return. This second leg removes liquidity from the market and is a liquidity withdrawal, so this leg can be used to offset transactions which have added liquidity to the market. For example, when the government makes a payment.
Now you can see that these repos are actually quite a flexible tool. The two legs have transactions going in opposite directions so they can be used to offset transactions which go in two different directions. And for that reason, the reverse repurchase agreements are used most frequently by the Reserve Bank, by which I mean, typically on a daily basis.
Now our third and final tool are our foreign exchange swaps. The FX swaps work very similarly to a repo. The only difference is instead of bonds being used to collateralise a loan, we actually use foreign exchange instead. For example, we might use US dollars or Japanese yen. Now these are our three open market operations tools and we would use these tools to manage liquidity in the market to make sure the supply of cash meets demand and keeps our cash rate close to that target level.
So let's have a look at how we've gone. This is the cash rate. The actual cash rate showing in black and the cash rate target shown in red here. You can see that over time the actual cash rate has got a lot closer to the target and that's because the market has learned over time that they can rely on the Reserve Bank to supply the appropriate amount of liquidity.
In recent times, you can see that the cash rate has remained really quite consistent with the target. And that's because we've made sure that the supply of cash is appropriate for demand and we can keep that cash rate close to target.
So that's everything from me. This is how we keep the cash rate close to target or how monetary policy is implemented. If you do have any more questions, feel free to get in contact with us and we'd be happy to help you out.
In a Nutshell
Roles and Functions of the Reserve Bank of Australia
Describes the different roles and functions of the Reserve Bank of Australia.
The Reserve Bank conducts monetary policy to achieve its goals of price stability, full employment and the economic prosperity and welfare of the Australian people.
Operations in Financial Markets
The Reserve Bank operates in domestic and international financial markets. This is to implement monetary policy, help ensure the smooth functioning of payments and manage Australia's foreign exchange reserves.
The Reserve Bank is responsible for overall financial system stability. It does this by managing and providing liquidity to financial institutions, monitoring risks and cooperating with other organisations as part of the Council of Financial Regulators.
Payments and Financial Markets Infrastructure
The Reserve Bank has responsibility for ensuring the stability, efficiency and competitiveness of the payments system. It also has a regulatory and operational role in ensuring that the payments infrastructure promotes financial stability.
The Reserve Bank is responsible for producing and issuing Australia's banknotes. Its goal is to produce banknotes that everyone can trust, both as a means of payment and a store of value.
The Reserve Bank provides a range of banking services to the Australian Government and overseas central banks. Payments and transactions often relate to the everyday lives of Australians, such as social security benefits and emergency payments to people affected by natural disasters.
Monetary Policy in Australia
Describes why and how the Reserve Bank conducts monetary policy.
The Reserve Bank conducts monetary policy to achieve its goals of price stability, full employment, and the economic prosperity and welfare of the Australian people.
It does this by using an inflation target to help keep inflation between 2-3%, on average, over time. The tool to manage inflation is the cash rate.
The Reserve Bank Board meets eleven times a year, on the first Tuesday of the month, to decide what the cash rate should be.
The cash rate has a strong influence over other interest rates, such as lending and deposit rates.
A reduction in the cash rate typically stimulates spending and inflation, while an increase in the cash rate typically dampens spending and inflation.
If inflation is likely to be too high for too long, the Reserve Bank Board would typically increase the cash rate to bring inflation back to the target. If inflation is likely to remain too low, the cash rate would typically be lowered.
Monetary Policy Implementation in Australia
Describes how the Reserve Bank implements monetary policy and keeps the cash rate as close as possible to its target.
The Reserve Bank implements monetary policy by keeping the cash rate as close as possible to the target.
It does this by conducting money market transactions. These ‘open market operations’ are typically conducted as auctions.
Open market operations increase or decrease the amount of cash held by banks.
The Reserve Bank also helps banks manage cash under terms where lending and deposit rates form a corridor of 0.25 percentage points above and below the cash rate target. The corridor helps keep the cash rate close to target.
The Reserve Bank lends cash to banks at an interest rate 0.25 percentage points above the cash rate target. Banks would not borrow cash at a higher rate, so there is no market above this lending rate.
Banks deposit cash with the Reserve Bank at 0.25 percentage points below the cash rate target. Banks do not lend cash at a lower rate, so there is no market below this deposit rate.
The Inflation Target
Defines Australia's inflation target and explains why and how it is used.
The Reserve Bank has an inflation target to achieve the goals of price stability, full employment, and prosperity and welfare of the Australian people.
Australia's inflation target is to keep consumer price inflation between 2–3%, on average, over time. The inflation target is flexible and allows for temporary fluctuations in inflation above or below the target.
Low and stable inflation reduces uncertainty in the economy, helps people make saving and investment decisions, and is the basis for strong and sustainable economic growth.
The Reserve Bank adopted the inflation target in the early 1990s. The Bank and the government agree on the importance of the inflation target and formally set out this agreement in the Statement on the Conduct of Monetary Policy.
The Reserve Bank uses the cash rate to stimulate or dampen economic activity such that inflation is in the target range over the medium term.
If inflation is likely to be too high for too long, the Reserve Bank Board would typically increase the cash rate to bring inflation back to the target. If inflation is likely to remain too low, the Board would typically lower the cash rate.
Financial System Regulation in Australia
Describes who is responsible for financial system regulation in Australia.
The Council of Financial Regulators (CFR) is the coordinating body for Australia’s main financial regulatory agencies. It includes the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA), the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and the Australian Treasury.
The role of the CFR is to contribute to the efficiency and effectiveness of regulation and to promote the stability of the Australian financial system. The Governor of the RBA chairs the CFR and each of the agencies plays a different role in promoting financial stability.
The RBA is responsible for promoting overall financial system stability. It does this by managing and providing liquidity to institutions, regulating the payments system (including financial market infrastructures) and monitoring risks in the financial system.
Describes why and how the Reserve Bank helps maintain a healthy and stable financial system.
The Reserve Bank helps maintain a healthy and stable financial system. This is fundamental to the economic prosperity and welfare of the Australian people.
In a healthy financial system, money is channelled between savers and borrowers so that different activities, like spending by households or investment by businesses, can be undertaken.
A healthy financial system is resilient so that money keeps flowing even when the economy slows or there are disruptive events.
The Reserve Bank ensures that there are adequate funds in Australia's financial system. During the global financial crisis, the Reserve Bank provided temporary extra funding to the system.
In normal times, the Reserve Bank watches for emerging risks in the financial system. Twice a year it publishes a financial ‘health check’ in the Financial Stability Review. Where risks pose a threat to the financial system, the Review explains the issue and the policy response.
The Reserve Bank chairs the Council of Financial Regulators, which includes the prudential regulator APRA, the corporate and financial services regulator ASIC, and the Australian Treasury. The Council meets at least four times a year to discuss current issues and policies. In a financial crisis, it coordinates responses across the member agencies.
How Australians Pay
Describes some of the most common payment methods used when paying for goods and services.
When you pay for something, you can usually choose how you pay. Here are some of the most common payment methods. Debit card 30%. Credit card 22%. Cash 37%. Other 11%.
When you pay – for example, in a shop – the shop owner faces costs for accepting your payment, including bank fees and the opportunity cost of their time. These costs depend on how you pay.
Cash is usually a low-cost method, particularly for small transaction sizes. A shop owner might not pay any fees related to the use of cash, but may face other costs (for example, time taken to deposit the cash received).
Debit cards (which use your own money from your bank account) are generally lower cost than credit cards.
Shop owners usually pay higher fees to accept credit cards (which borrow money from your bank). Fees vary depending on the type of card, and are typically higher for cards that provide rewards (such as frequent flyer points) to the cardholder.
If you use a more expensive payment method, the shop owner has to pay for it. Shop owners can either increase the prices of what they sell for all customers, or can pass on the cost directly to customers that use high-cost methods by adding a surcharge, which encourages people to switch to low-cost methods.
Banknotes in Australia
Describes the role of the Reserve Bank in producing Australia's banknotes and highlights some common features of the banknotes.
The Reserve Bank is responsible for designing, producing and distributing Australia's banknotes. Its goal is to produce banknotes that everyone can trust as a payment mechanism and a store of value.
Australia has five denominations of banknotes: the $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100. There are more than 1.5 billion banknotes on issue, worth more than $73 billion.
Australia has very low levels of counterfeiting. The Reserve Bank keeps our banknotes safe by researching anti-counterfeit technologies and upgrading security features.
Australia's banknotes are printed on polymer (plastic). They start out as plastic pellets that are melted down into large sheets, and then designs are printed onto them.
Each banknote is produced with a unique serial number. The two letters represent the banknote's position on the sheet and the first two numbers indicate what year the banknote was printed.
Polymer banknotes are recyclable. At the end of their life cycle, old and damaged banknotes can be recycled into products such as building materials and compost bins.
Explains what monetary policy is, what it aims to achieve and how monetary policy decisions are both made and implemented.
Describes how changes made by the Reserve Bank to the cash rate – the ‘instrument’ of monetary policy – flow through to economic activity and inflation.
Describes the Australian cash market and explains how the Reserve Bank ensures that the cash rate is as close as possible to its target.
Describes the inflation target, why the Reserve Bank targets inflation and how the target works.
Describes how inflation is measured, explains how different indicators of underlying inflation are calculated, and outlines some of the limitations of using the Consumer Price Index.
Explains how the unemployment rate is measured and describes the main types of unemployment.
Explains how changes in the value of the Australian dollar affect economic activity and inflation in Australia, along with the nation's balance of payments.
Explains the concept of an exchange rate, how exchange rates can be measured and the different types of exchange rate regimes that exist.
Discusses the causes of the terms of trade boom of 2005 to 2012 and explains the way in which it affected the Australian economy.
Summarises the main causes of the global financial crisis, how the crisis unfolded and how policymakers responded to it in Australia and abroad.
Roles and Functions
The presentation summarises the roles and functions of Australia's central bank.
Monetary Policy and Current Economic Conditions
This presentation summarises the monetary policy framework and current economic conditions in Australia.
The cash rate is updated to 4 September 2018, graphs with forecasts are updated to 9 August 2018, and other data are updated to 30 August 2018.
Opening the Vault
Guides students through how to find the information they need on the RBA website.
Helps students familiarise themselves with RBA publications and provides some tips to make the most of the information provided.
Read and Rehash
Guides students through how to make the most of RBA publications.
Key Economic Indicators – Unpacking the Snapshot
Helps students to apply skills to summarise and explain key economic statistics and trends.
The Transmission Mechanism
Helps students understand how a change in the cash rate flows through to the rest of the economy.
You Make the Decision – the Cash Rate
Helps students identify key economic indicators and how recent movements in these indicators could influence the cash rate decision.
Perspectives on RBA decisions
Helps students to consider how decisions made by the RBA might affect different people in the economy.
Building Charts Using RBA Statistical Tables
Helps students to gain confidence building Excel charts from data available on the RBA website.