September 2022

Australian Economy
Photo: Reserve Bank of Australia

The Reserve Bank's Liaison Program Turns 21

Jacqui Dwyer, Kate McLoughlin and Aaron Walker

In 2001, the Reserve Bank established its liaison program – a formal program of economic intelligence gathering, through which Bank staff meet frequently with firms, industry bodies, government agencies and community organisations. The program is systematic in its approach to collecting and assessing information, and the intelligence obtained is a useful complement to published sources of data and economic models in informing the Bank's assessment of economic conditions. In addition, the information gathered is available in near real time, making it useful for ‘nowcasting’ and understanding the implications of short-term shocks to the economy. This article looks at the process of liaison, the nature of the information collected and how it has been used over its 21 years of operation.

business, rba survey
Finance
Photo: Kentaroo Tryman – Getty Images

The Current Climate for Small Business Finance

Madeleine McCowage and Laura Nunn

Economic conditions for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have been relatively strong since the second half of 2021, and demand for business finance is high. However, the environment remains challenging and uncertain, and interest rates on loans for SMEs are rising from historical lows. Small businesses continue to report that accessing funding through banks is a challenge, although new lenders and products are providing alternative sources of finance. The article considers these recent developments, drawing in particular on the discussions of the Small Business Finance Advisory Panel, which met in July this year.

business, credit, COVID-19, finance, wages
Payments
Photo: mapodile – Getty Images

The Cost of Card Payments for Merchants

Troy Gill, Cara Holland and Georgia Wiley

The average cost for a merchant to accept a card payment has declined over recent years. However, consumers are making more payments with cards than ever before, which is raising total payment costs for merchants. Smaller merchants also face notably higher card payment costs per transaction than larger merchants. To strengthen competition and help reduce the cost of accepting card payments, the Reserve Bank wants all merchants to be able to choose which card network is used to process debit transactions – a functionality known as least-cost routing (LCR). While considerable progress has been made, the payments industry has more work to do to provide and promote LCR. The Bank is taking further action to ensure that LCR will be available for all merchants.

fees, payments, retail, technology
Finance
Photo: d3sign – Getty Images

Trends in Australian Banks' Bond Issuance

Claire Johnson

Bonds account for around 10 per cent of Australian banks' funding, and bonds issued by banks account for about half of the non-government bond market. The Australian bank bond market is primarily driven by the five largest banks, which issue most of the banks' bonds. This article explores trends in Australian banks' senior unsecured bond issuance since the global financial crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the policies implemented in response, significantly influenced bank bond issuance. In particular, banks' bond issuance declined for a period as they accessed funds through the Reserve Bank's Term Funding Facility; however, issuance has increased recently as the economy has recovered from the initial phase of the pandemic.

bonds, COVID-19, funding, global financial crisis
Australian Economy
Photo: SolStock – Getty Images

Sentiment, Uncertainty and Households' Inflation Expectations

Yad Haidari and Gulnara Nolan

High inflation expectations can have significant consequences for the economy as a whole, and can become self-reinforcing. It is therefore noteworthy that inflation expectations of Australian households are persistently higher than actual inflation. This is partly because when consumers are more uncertain about the economy, they tend to report their inflation expectations in round multiples of 5 per cent, which is higher than inflation has averaged over recent decades. In addition, there is a negative relationship between consumer sentiment and inflation expectations. This article examines the relationship between sentiment, uncertainty and households' inflation expectations in Australia, and considers how this uncertainty might be addressed. It suggests that targeted and clear communication about inflation can help to reduce uncertainty and provide consumers with a better understanding of the path of future inflation.

households, inflation, risk and uncertainty
Global Economy
Photo: Nick Hirst / EyeEm – Getty Images

Wage-price Dynamics in a High-inflation Environment: The International Evidence

Neyavan Suthaharan and Joanna Bleakley

Headline inflation is at multi-decade highs in most advanced economies, reflecting a confluence of factors. Wages growth has also increased, but not to the same extent. This article examines the risk that a wage-price spiral could emerge in these economies by looking at historical experience and the various factors that could make a spiral more likely. It finds that the current episode has many differences to the 1970s, when a wage-price spiral did emerge. Central banks are now focused on ensuring inflation remains low, medium-term inflation expectations remain anchored and structural changes in the labour market reduce the likelihood that wages and inflation chase each other. Nonetheless, authorities need to be mindful of the risk of a wage-price spiral.

inflation, international, labour market, wages
Global Economy
Photo: zhihao – Getty Images

Evolving Financial Stress in China's Property Development Sector

Patrick Hendy

Financial stress in China's property development sector has attracted significant attention because it may have systemic consequences for financial stability in the broader Chinese economy. Though China Evergrande Group, one of the country's largest and most leveraged property developers, has received a considerable share of this attention, risks in the sector were building for some time prior to Evergrande's default in 2021. This article reviews contributing factors to the sector's financial fragility and explores the characteristics of the financial stress faced by major developers. It also considers some likely consequences of this fragility for the Chinese property development sector and beyond.

China, housing, investment, finance, financial stability

June 2022

Payments
Photo: Reserve Bank of Australia

What Can You Do With Your Damaged Banknotes?

Amanda Burton and Henry Winata

Through the Reserve Bank's damaged banknote claims service, members of the public can ask for their damaged banknotes to be assessed and the value redeemed. Removing poor-quality banknotes also supports the Bank's aim of ensuring that the public has confidence in Australian banknotes as a means of payment and a secure store of wealth. This article provides an overview of the service, its key users and the circumstances in which claims are lodged. While the value of the majority of claims is relatively low, claims containing banknotes damaged in storage can be significant, reflecting the role of cash as a secure store of wealth.

banknotes, currency, money
Payments
Photo: Reserve Bank of Australia

Recent Trends in Banknote Counterfeiting

Leigh Mann and Siddarth Roche

Counterfeiting of Australian banknotes is approaching its lowest level in a decade. Several factors are playing a role in this decline, including fewer transactions being made with cash, COVID-19-induced lockdowns, the rollout of a new banknote series with upgraded security features, and law enforcement continuing to interrupt counterfeiting operations. This article quantifies the effect of some of these factors, while exploring the broader trends in banknote counterfeiting.

banknotes, currency, money
Australian Economy
Photo: skynesher – Getty Images

Job Mobility in Australia during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Susan Black and Emma Chow

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to large disruptions to the Australian labour market. Initially, workers were less likely to change jobs because of the uncertain economic environment, the decrease in advertised jobs and the JobKeeper program that helped workers remain attached to their employers. More recently, job mobility has increased as workers have caught up on planned job changes or been encouraged by the strong labour market to change jobs, particularly in high-skilled roles experiencing strong labour demand. This article reviews developments in job mobility in Australia through the pandemic, and compares these outcomes to other advanced economies. It also examines the potential implications for wages; a high rate of job mobility tends to be associated with higher wages growth in a tight labour market, as employers in sectors with high demand for labour compete for new staff or raise wages to retain staff.

COVID-19, labour market, labour market, wages
Australian Economy Guest article
Photo: Jorge de Araujo

First Nations Businesses: Progress, Challenges and Opportunities

Michelle Evans and Cain Polidano

Australia's First Nations business sector is growing at a pace of around 4 per cent per year, fuelled by growing demand. However, many budding First Nations entrepreneurs still face substantial barriers to establishing a successful business. This article discusses the need to develop trust for effective policy environments that support First Nations businesses, and describes how ongoing challenges of access to financial, social and symbolic capital continue to test First Nations business owners. Despite this, there are opportunities for First Nations businesses in the forms of Indigenous preferential procurement policies, and First Nations-specific business development programs as well as financial products and services. It is not yet clear how effective the policy environment is in addressing access and discrimination challenges, nor how widespread the benefits are to First Nations businesses. As such, the article concludes by discussing the role of data development for accountability.

business, First Nations
Financial Stability
Photo: Viaframe – Getty Images

Household Liquidity Buffers and Financial Stress

Lydia Wang

The ratio of household liquid assets to household income in Australia has increased substantially over recent decades, at both the aggregate and individual household levels. The increase in buffers has been most pronounced for households with mortgage debt and among indebted households – with those with the most debt typically holding the highest liquidity buffers. This is important from a financial stability perspective as liquidity buffers allow households to smooth their spending and maintain their debt payment obligations in the event of adverse shocks to their cash flows; as such, they are a key factor in reducing household financial stress. This article considers these trends and finds that, to the extent that rising liquidity buffers have increased household financial resilience, the risks associated with high and rising household indebtedness are unlikely to be as great as suggested by focusing on gross debt-to-income ratios alone.

debt, financial stability, households
Global Economy
Photo: Yuichiro Chino – Getty Images

An International Perspective on Monetary Policy Implementation Systems

Nick Baker and Sally Rafter

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and building on policies introduced during the global financial crisis, central banks in advanced economies deployed balance sheet policies to support their economies and address disruptions to the smooth functioning of financial markets. The introduction of these policies has changed how most of these central banks implement their primary policy tool – the policy rate. This article describes how many central banks transitioned from a corridor system of monetary policy implementation to a de facto floor system. It also details the range of implications of choosing a floor system. While this transition may prove to be temporary for some central banks, others have signalled that they expect to retain a floor system in the long term.

COVID-19, financial markets, interest rates, international, monetary policy
Payments
Photo: Watchara Piriyaputtanapun – Getty Images

Bank Fees in Australia

Karl Sparks and Rachael Fitzpatrick

This article updates previous Reserve Bank research on bank fees charged to Australian households, businesses and government. Since 2021, improved data on the fees charged by banks have been available from the new Economic and Financial Statistics collection, which replaced the survey on banks' fee income undertaken annually since 1997 by the Reserve Bank. The new data suggest that the overall fees charged by banks declined in 2021. This decline was broadly based across different categories, although total fees charged on loans (excluding personal lending) increased moderately, in part reflecting the higher volume of lending activity.

banking, fees, rba survey
Finance
Photo: Visual Communications – Getty Images

Fallbacks for BBSW Securities

Duke Cole and Lara Pendle

The bank bill swap rate (BBSW) is an important short-term benchmark interest rate for Australian financial markets across various maturities. It is a robust benchmark based on a liquid market. However, it is possible that, at some point in the future, BBSW might no longer be robust. Market participants need to be prepared for the possibility that BBSW, or at least some BBSW tenors, cease to be published. To do so, participants should include a ‘robust, reasonable and fair’ fallback to another interest rate in their financial contracts. To promote appropriate use of fallbacks, the Reserve Bank will only accept securities referencing BBSW issued after 1 December 2022 as collateral in its domestic market operations if those securities include such a fallback. The article explains this change and how participants can prepare for the contingency of BBSW ceasing to exist.

financial markets, interest rates, securities

March 2022

Payments
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The Evolution of Interbank Settlement in Australia

Kasia Kopec and Chirag Rao

Electronic payments are ubiquitous in modern economies and result in financial obligations between different financial institutions. These interbank obligations need to be settled in a way that is safe and efficient to promote the stability of the Australian financial system. In Australia, interbank settlement is performed in the Reserve Bank Information and Transfer System (RITS), which is owned and operated by the Reserve Bank. Since the introduction of real-time gross settlement services in 1998, the functionality of RITS has continued to evolve in line with payment innovations and the increasing importance that electronic payment systems play in supporting economic activity in Australia. This article considers key moments in this evolution as well as potential future developments.

banking, payments, technology
Australian Economy
Photo: artpartner-images – Getty Images

Exploring the ‘Confidence Gap’

Joyce Tan

Previous Reserve Bank research has shown that female students and students from less advantaged backgrounds are more likely to report having a poor understanding of economics and lower confidence in their economics proficiency than other students. This is consistent with their falling participation in the subject. Using data from a survey administered by the Bank, this article investigates whether these negative perceptions are in line with students' observed proficiency or whether there is a ‘confidence gap’. It finds that females continue to report having poorer understanding and less confidence even after accounting for their observed proficiency, indicating a confidence gap. By contrast, students' self-perceptions by socio-economic status look to be in line with variations in their observed proficiency. These findings have implications for the design of interventions to encourage greater participation by these students and support increased diversity amongst the economics student body.

education
Australian Economy
Photo: Alan Powdrill – Getty Images

Tracking Consumption during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Rosa Bishop, John Boulter and Tom Rosewall

The COVID-19 pandemic was an unprecedented shock to the economy that caused large and unexpected changes in household spending behaviour. Restrictions on household activity limited opportunities to consume services and people switched to purchasing more goods. The recovery in consumption was much stronger than expected earlier in the pandemic because households quickly adapted to the pandemic shock with the support of significant fiscal and monetary policy measures. This article examines household spending during the pandemic using a range of sources of information that have enabled the Reserve Bank of Australia to track consumption in a timely way.

COVID-19, households, modelling
Australian Economy
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COVID-19 Health Risks and Labour Supply

Nalini Agarwal and James Bishop

There is evidence that concerns about becoming infected with COVID-19 at work have affected people's willingness to participate in the labour force in some countries. This article examines whether similar health concerns have contributed to a reduction in labour supply in Australia. It finds no evidence that these concerns had a discernible effect on labour supply during the COVID-19 outbreaks in 2020 and 2021. In early 2022, however, the substantial escalation in cases of the Omicron variant led a small number of people to avoid the workplace, at least temporarily.

COVID-19, labour market, labour market
Australian Economy
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The Significant Shift in Australia's Balance of Payments

Nicole Adams and Tim Atkin

Over recent years Australia has seen a large shift in its external accounts. In contrast to long-running deficits, the current account balance has now been in surplus for over two years, supported by record trade surpluses. The corollary of this is that the level of national savings has surpassed investment and Australia has become a net exporter of capital. This article examines these changes and highlights some key trends that are associated with this shift. These include the decline of foreign direct investment following the end of the mining boom, as well as an increase in purchases of foreign equities by Australian superannuation and investment funds. These developments have contributed to a significant decline in Australia's net foreign liability position as a percentage of GDP, which is at its lowest levels in a number of decades.

capital, export, international, investment, payments, trade
Financial Stability
Photo: Witthaya Prasongsin – Getty Images

Are First Home Buyer Loans More Risky?

Maia Alfonzetti

Despite the rate of home ownership in Australia drifting down over recent decades, 2020 saw a large increase in first home purchases. Given the high level of housing prices and household indebtedness, this raises the question of whether first home buyer (FHB) loans contribute disproportionately to financial stability and macroeconomic risks. FHBs appear to be riskier than other owner-occupiers, at least during the first five years of the loan. They have higher loan-to-valuation ratios and lower liquidity buffers. While this might suggest FHBs would be more vulnerable than other borrowers during a negative income or housing price shock, recent experience indicates that FHBs have been no more likely to report financial stress or be in arrears. One potential explanation is that FHBs have historically experienced better labour market outcomes than other borrowers.

debt, finance, financial stability, housing
Finance
Photo: Bob Bosewell – Getty Images

Developments in Banks' Funding Costs and Lending Rates

Rachael Fitzpatrick, Callum Shaw and Anirudh Suthakar

This article updates previous Reserve Bank research on the ways in which developments in the composition and pricing of banks' funding sources have affected their overall cost of funds and influenced lending rates. Banks' funding costs declined a little over 2021 – after falling substantially in the previous year – supported by the Reserve Bank's policy measures. In aggregate, lending rates declined by more than funding costs. As a result, the major banks' average interest rate spread narrowed over the year. The decline in the aggregate lending rate primarily reflected strong price competition and ongoing refinancing activity, particularly in housing lending.

banking, cash rate, credit, interest rates, monetary policy
Finance
Photo: Yuichiro Chino – Getty Images

Australian Money Markets through the COVID-19 Pandemic

Ahmet Aziz, Calebe de Roure, Paul Hutchinson and Samual Nightingale

Money markets are used by banks and other entities to borrow and lend funds for short terms, and are central to the implementation and transmission of monetary policy in Australia. It is important that these markets function effectively in all economic conditions, including during the uncertain times of the COVID-19 pandemic. This article examines how the various money markets – including the cash, repo, bank bills, FX swaps and Treasury Notes markets – responded to events of the past two years. Ultimately it finds that Australian money markets have generally functioned well over this time. Short-term funding has remained readily available from these markets, as the RBA has substantially increased the supply of Exchange Settlement balances and investors have continued to desire safe and liquid investments. Over the past two years, money market rates have declined significantly as a result of the decreases in the cash rate target and the increased supply of Australian dollars in these markets.

banking, cash rate, COVID-19, exchange rate, financial markets, monetary policy
Finance
Photo: d3sign – Getty Images

Australian Securities Markets through the COVID-19 Pandemic

Claire Johnson, Kevin Lane and Nina McClure

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted many parts of the Australian economy, including securities markets. These markets play an important role in our economy, including as a source of funding for firms and in the transmission of monetary policy. This article describes how Australian markets for private securities weathered the impact of the COVID-19 shock. As the pandemic escalated, volatility in securities markets increased sharply, and some assets became difficult or costly to trade. The Reserve Bank, along with federal, state and territory governments in Australia, introduced policies to help support the economy and to ensure financial institutions were able to continue lending to households and businesses. These measures helped to support conditions in securities markets, which improved substantially from mid-2020. In turn, the recovery in securities markets helped to support the availability of low-cost funding for Australian businesses and households. Overall, the volatility in these markets at the beginning of the pandemic was brief when compared with the global financial crisis.

COVID-19, financial markets, securities

December 2021

Australian Economy
Photo: Avalon_Studio – Getty Images

Which Firms Drive Business Investment? New Evidence on the Firm-size Distribution

Lachlan Dynan

Business investment plays a key role in our current and future economic prosperity. Aggregate investment can be difficult to predict, however. This may be because different firms face different investment environments, and the factors behind their decisions can vary. This gives rise to the question: which types of firms are most important for driving aggregate outcomes? Detailed, firm-level data shows that large firms account for a significant share of investment in Australia, and are the major drivers of the patterns in aggregate non-mining investment. Understanding how firms of various sizes contribute to overall outcomes will help us to gauge the potential impact of any differences they might face, including via policies, on investment outcomes and the economy.

business, investment
Australian Economy
Photo: alvarez – Getty Images

Why Are Investment Hurdle Rates So Sticky?

Henry Edwards and Kevin Lane

Firms commonly evaluate potential investment projects by comparing expected returns to a hurdle rate. Survey evidence suggests that hurdle rates have remained high and well above the weighted average cost of capital (WACC) in recent years, as has the ex post return on invested capital for Australian-listed companies. This stickiness is a marked contrast to the decline in interest rates. This article reviews the evidence for why hurdle rates are so far above the WACC, and why they have remained so sticky over time. Proposed reasons include the perception that returns available on potential projects are unrelated to the level of interest rates. In addition, firms may avoid reducing hurdle rates to minimise the risk of regret, and some business managers could view long-term declines in interest rates as temporary.

business, capital, debt, interest rates, investment
Australian Economy
Photo: Reserve Bank of Australia

Do RBA School Talks Improve Student Outcomes?

Peter Rickards

As part of our education program, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) conducts school talks to promote economic literacy and encourage a larger and more diverse group of students to study economics. To formally evaluate this aspect of our education program, we surveyed students before and after school talks in a randomised control trial and the results were assessed relative to a control group. We found that RBA school talks improve both perceived and actual understanding of key economic concepts and increase the confidence of students, including those who are less socially advantaged. Importantly, smaller talks conducted online were perceived to be just as useful as those conducted in person, which suggests that the geographic reach of the school talks program could potentially be expanded considerably without sacrificing quality or student outcomes.

education
Australian Economy
Photo: RBA Archives, PN-019030

The Central Bank's First Economist

Selwyn Cornish

In 1930, when officials from the Bank of England came to Australia to assist Australian governments with their budgetary problems, they found that the original Commonwealth Bank, then Australia's central bank, did not have an economist on its staff. They urged the Bank's Governor to appoint a qualified economist and recommended Leslie Melville, Professor of Economics at the University of Adelaide. Melville joined the Bank in March 1931. Some two decades later, when he left to become Vice-Chancellor at the Australian National University, Dr HC Coombs wrote to him saying that he had ‘made a contribution to the theory and practice of central banking which is without equal in the world’. As Melville's 100th birthday approached in 2002, the Australian National University decided to hold a public lecture in his honour. Governor Ian Macfarlane was invited to give the inaugural lecture. He concluded that Melville was ‘one of the most distinguished Australians of the past century’. The 20th Melville Lecture will be given in early 2022 by the Treasury Secretary, Dr Steven Kennedy. Ahead of this event, the latest records to be released in the Bank's new digital archive, Unreserved, include Melville's papers in digitised form. This article traces Melville's life and career, and his significance as the Bank's first economist.

banking, currency, history
Finance
Photo: Tetra Images – Getty Images

Recent Changes to the Reserve Bank's Liquidity Operations

Sean Dowling

The Reserve Bank's policy measures to support the economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic have significantly increased liquidity in the banking system. Consequently, market participants have had less need to use some of the Reserve Bank's liquidity operations and facilities. In response, the Bank reduced the frequency of its regular open market liquidity operations from daily to weekly. It also removed the requirement for financial institutions that make payments outside of business hours to source additional liquidity from the Bank via open standing facility repos so long as they are holding sufficient Exchange Settlement balances. This article outlines these recent operational changes.

banking, COVID-19, financial markets, monetary policy
Global Economy
Photo: Martin Barraud – Getty Images

Implications of the IMF's SDR Allocation for Australia and the Global Economy

Ben Hollebon and Kate Hickie

As part of the global policy response to address the economic challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, in August 2021 the International Monetary Fund (IMF) allocated US$650 billion worth of Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) to its members, providing a significant boost to global liquidity. This article details the workings of SDRs and describes how vulnerable countries can use this additional liquidity in a range of ways, including to support spending on their country's crisis response. It also considers how countries that do not have a need for this liquidity, like Australia, may use a share of their SDR allocation to assist more vulnerable countries.

COVID-19, currency, emerging markets, international, trade
Financial Stability
Photo: PeopleImages – Getty Images

Corporate Debt Covenants in Australia

Kim Nguyen

The economic downturn associated with the COVID-19 pandemic has raised questions about the extent to which a deterioration in the financial health of some businesses could lead to breaches of debt covenants – with potential knock-on effects on firm behaviour and loan quality. This article includes a new data set on corporate debt covenants in Australia, developed by applying text analytic techniques on the annual reports of non-financial listed companies. It reveals that the share of companies reporting debt covenants has steadily increased over time from around 10 per cent in 2002 to almost 40 per cent in 2020, although the proportion of firms with covenants that reported a breach has remained stable at roughly 13 per cent. Also, following a breach, firms try to get their financial indicators back on track quickly. This study is a first step in understanding the role of debt covenants as a point of financial friction in the economy.

business, credit, debt, finance, financial stability
Global Economy
Photo: Vivek Raut / EyeEm – Getty Images

The Indian Banking System

Maxwell Sutton

Banks play a key role in India's financial system and underpin economic growth. However, during the 2010s, the health of Indian banks deteriorated significantly and a subsequent decline in credit growth contributed to a slowdown in economic activity. Although Indian authorities have taken a number of steps to strengthen the banking system, progress has been difficult and has been further curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. While financial linkages between Australia and India remain limited, India is an increasingly important trading partner for Australia, and continued weakness in its banking system is likely to weigh on India's demand for Australia's exports.

banking, credit, emerging markets, financial stability

September 2021

Finance
Photo: Krisanapong Detraphiphat – Getty Images

An Assessment of the Term Funding Facility

Susan Black, Ben Jackman and Carl Schwartz

The Term Funding Facility (TFF) was announced by the Reserve Bank Board in March 2020 as part of a comprehensive policy package to support the Australian economy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The facility has provided low cost three-year funding to banks operating in Australia against high quality collateral. The TFF closed to new drawdowns at the end of June 2021, so the last of this funding will not mature until mid 2024. This article provides an overview of TFF usage by banks, considers the future refinancing task for the banking sector, and provides an assessment of the TFF with respect to its primary policy goals.

banking, business, COVID-19, credit, finance
Finance
Photo: Trevor Williams – Getty Images

Small Business Finance and COVID-19 Outbreaks

Susan Black, Kevin Lane and Laura Nunn

Economic conditions for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) improved in the second half of 2020 and early 2021, although measures to contain the recent outbreaks of COVID-19 have affected firms in much of Australia. SMEs are being supported by policy measures, including a number of initiatives that continue to encourage lending to smaller firms. Nonetheless, the volume of SME lending has been little changed for some time, and access to finance continues to be a challenge for small businesses.

banking, business, credit, finance
Australian Economy
Photo: Marc Guitard – Getty Images

Climate Change Risks to Australian Banks

Kellie Bellrose, David Norman and Michelle Royters

Climate change affects banks because of the impact it has on the value of assets used as collateral for loans and the incomes borrowers use to repay their loans. There is significant uncertainty about the magnitude of risks to banks from climate change. This is because of the uncertainty about how climate change will alter future weather patterns, how policies will change globally and how economies adapt. This article uses one approach to provide preliminary estimates of the possible scale of risks climate change poses to banks' housing and business exposures. This approach suggests that a small share of housing in regions most exposed to extreme weather could experience price falls that might subsequently result in credit losses, but the overall losses for the financial system are likely manageable. Banks are also exposed to transition risks from their lending to emissions-intensive industries, but their portfolios appear to be less emissions-intensive than the economy as a whole. Further estimates of the impact of climate change on banks will be provided by the Climate Vulnerability Assessment currently being undertaken by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority and the five largest banks.

banking, climate change
Global Economy
Photo: Chinaface – Getty Images

Towards Net Zero: Implications for Australia of Energy Policies in East Asia

Jonathan Kemp, Madeleine McCowage and Faye Wang

China, Japan and South Korea have all set targets to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by around the middle of this century. These three countries account for around two-thirds of Australia's fossil fuel exports. Based on emission scenarios consistent with these commitments, we find that Australia's coal exports could decline significantly by 2050, with a more modest effect likely for liquefied natural gas exports; both may be offset to some degree by increases in green energy exports. The effect on overall Australian GDP is expected to be relatively small and gradual. Significant uncertainty surrounds the speed and manner in which countries will work to achieve net-zero emissions, as well as the technological developments that could change the efficiency and carbon intensity of fossil fuels.

china, climate change, export, mining, resources sector
Australian Economy
Photo: RUNSTUDIO – Getty Images

The Financial Cost of Job Loss in Australia

David Lancaster

Workers who lose a job tend to experience large and persistent earnings losses. On average, real earnings are around one-third lower in the year of job loss, and it takes at least four years for an individual's annual earnings to recover. Earnings losses are particularly persistent following the loss of a long-term job. Workers who find new employment tend to work fewer hours at lower hourly rates of pay.

COVID-19, labour market, labour market, wages
Global Economy
Photo: Chuanchai Pundej / EyeEm – Getty Images

Government Bond Markets in Advanced Economies During the Pandemic

Nick Baker, Marcus Miller and Ewan Rankin

Governments in advanced economies have funded their large fiscal policy responses to the COVID-19 crisis by issuing government debt securities. Except for a period of dysfunction in the early months of the pandemic, government bond markets have functioned well. Despite the substantial increase in debt issuance, the interest rate paid on new government debt has declined to historically low levels. A rise in private sector saving relative to investment has contributed to demand for low-risk assets like government bonds. At the same time, advanced economy central banks have lowered their policy rates and made large-scale purchases of government bonds in secondary markets in pursuit of their inflation and employment goals.

bonds, COVID-19, financial markets
Global Economy
Photo: d3sign – Getty Images

China's Labour Market: COVID-19 and Beyond

Jonathan Kemp and Morgan Spearritt

The Chinese labour market has recovered quickly following the sharp economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. While widespread lockdown measures in early 2020 pushed large numbers of Chinese workers out of the labour market, successful containment of the virus allowed most of these workers to return relatively quickly. Structural factors – notably a shrinking labour force – are now likely to be the dominant drivers of developments in the Chinese labour market. In the short term, policymakers are considering changes to the retirement age to boost labour supply. In the longer term, the focus of reforms is increasing labour productivity and reducing labour market frictions.

china, labour market, labour market
Global Economy
Photo: Filippo Maria Bianchi – Getty Images

China's Evolving Financial System and Its Global Importance

Nicole Adams, David Jacobs, Stephen Kenny, Serena Russell and Maxwell Sutton

China's economic policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been less stimulatory than the response after the global financial crisis because Chinese authorities have sought to avoid fuelling risks in the financial system. Indeed, the authorities have continued with reforms to make the financial system more market-based so that it can better support China's economy, although the state continues to play a central role in the financial system. At the same time, China has become increasingly important for international financial markets, mainly due to its weight in international trade but also because certain cross-border capital flows are rising.

china, credit, finance

June 2021

Payments
Photo: Peeradon Warithkorasuth – Getty Images

COVID-19 Stimulus Payments and the Reserve Bank’s Transactional Banking Services

Jiawen Chen and Kristin Langwasser

The Australian Government introduced significant fiscal support measures to limit the negative economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and support economic recovery. In its capacity as the banker to the Commonwealth of Australia, and importantly as transactional banker to the large agencies charged with delivering a number of these measures, the Reserve Bank facilitated the distribution of fiscal stimulus payments to households and businesses. Improvements in government processes to ensure bank account details are available when delivering large-scale economic stimulus programs ensured that the COVID-19 stimulus payments were delivered more quickly and efficiently when compared to the stimulus payments made during the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in 2008 and 2009. This meant that there was little delay for the economic stimulus to be available to the recipients and the economic support to take effect.

banking, COVID-19, payments
Payments
Photo: Glow Images – Getty Images

How Far Do Australians Need to Travel to Access Cash?

James Caddy and Zhan Zhang

Our analysis finds that Australians generally do not have to travel far to reach their nearest cash access point – a location where they may make cash withdrawals and/or deposits. Around 95 per cent of people live within about 5 kilometres of a cash access point, broadly unchanged since 2017. However, there are parts of regional and remote Australia with limited access to cash. People in these areas must travel longer distances to access cash, and the available access points do not always have nearby alternatives. This means that access to cash in these areas is more vulnerable to any future removal of cash services.

banking, banknotes, currency
Finance
Photo: Bunhill – Getty Images

An Initial Assessment of the Reserve Bank's Bond Purchase Program

Richard Finlay, Dmitry Titkov and Michelle Xiang

This article provides an initial assessment of the effect of the Reserve Bank's bond purchase program on government bond yields. Overall, we estimate that the program has reduced longer-term Australian Government Security (AGS) yields by around 30 basis points and lowered the spread of state and territory bond yields to AGS yields by 5 to 10 basis points, relative to where they would otherwise have been. This reduction in yields occurred partly in anticipation of the program and partly at its announcement. Bond yields have risen noticeably since the program was announced, but this does not imply that the impact of the program was transitory: many factors contribute to changes in bond yields, and our assessment is that bond purchases serve to hold yields lower than they would otherwise have been over an extended period. The bond purchase program has not had any substantial negative impact on the functioning of government bond markets.

bonds, COVID-19, financial markets
Finance
Photo: Yuichiro Chino – Getty Images

Monetary Policy, Liquidity, and the Central Bank Balance Sheet

Sean Dowling and Sebastien Printant

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Reserve Bank deployed a number of monetary policy tools, including some new measures, to support the economy and address disruptions to the smooth functioning of financial markets. This new mix of policy tools has changed how the Reserve Bank implements monetary policy, and has significantly increased the size of the Bank's balance sheet and the amount of liquidity in the banking system.

banking, COVID-19, financial markets, monetary policy
Finance
Photo: Busakorn Pongparnit – Getty Images

The Committed Liquidity Facility

Andrea Brischetto and Lea Jurkovic

The Reserve Bank provides the Committed Liquidity Facility (CLF) to enhance the resilience of the banking system in times of liquidity stress. Banks need to hold high-quality liquid assets (HQLA), including government securities, as a buffer against liquidity stress. However the low level of government debt in Australia limited the amount they could reasonably hold. The CLF was introduced in 2015 as an alternative. Since 2019, the size of the CLF has been reduced because the amount of government debt on issue has increased significantly. The fee charged for access to the CLF has also been increased to ensure that banks have an incentive to manage their liquidity risk appropriately. The size of the CLF and the associated fee have been adjusted in a measured way to ensure a smooth transition.

banking, financial markets
Finance
Photo: Baona – Getty Images

Corporate Bonds in the Reserve Bank's Collateral Framework

Jin Lim, Eva Liu, Nathan Walsh, Andrew Zanchetta and Duke Cole

In May 2020, the Reserve Bank broadened the range of corporate bonds accepted as collateral under repurchase agreements (repo) from AAA-rated to investment grade (BBB- or above). This change in policy increased the universe of potentially eligible securities for domestic market operations by around $150 billion, of which the Reserve Bank has received applications for and granted eligibility to around $50 billion. In assessing applications for repo eligibility, a number of features – including subordination, embedded options and legal risks – required further investigation to ensure the securities remained within the Bank's risk appetite. Corporate securities remain a small share of total eligible collateral. While usage of corporate bonds in repos with the Bank has been relatively modest to date, the policy change to broaden may have provided some support to the Australian corporate bond market.

bonds, financial markets
Payments
Photo: (Left to Right) State Library of South Australia, B 7326; RBA Archives, 18/4741, P12/256

Review of the NGB Upgrade Program

Kate Hickie, Kathryn Miegel and Matthew Tsikrikas

A key responsibility of the Reserve Bank is to maintain public confidence in Australia's banknotes as a secure method of payment and store of wealth. To help achieve this objective the Bank initiated the Next Generation Banknote (NGB) program, which involved the design and development of a new banknote series to make Australia's banknotes more secure from counterfeiting. The decade-long program concluded in late 2020, with the release of the final upgraded banknote into general circulation. The program delivered a suite of new Australian banknotes with a range of new innovative security features. Overall the banknotes have been well received by the general public and counterfeiting rates have remained low.

banknotes
Australian Economy
Photo: Lawrence Sawyer – Getty Images

The Transition from High School to University Economics

Gian-Piero Lovicu

To promote economic literacy and ensure the long-term health of the economics discipline, it is important to address the sharp decline in the size and diversity of the economics student population. Administrative data from the University Admissions Centre (UAC) provides information about how students transition from high school to university economics. These pathways suggest that interventions to increase the number and diversity of students studying economics in Year 12 can strengthen the pipeline of students into university economics. Interventions to improve the economic literacy of Year 12 economics students who are less socially advantaged are important to encourage more diversity in university economics; in contrast, female students appear to need less academic support and may instead benefit more from tailored interventions that pique their interest in and confidence with economics. More advocacy of economics should also increase its uptake at university, particularly among students already studying economics and/or a STEM subject in Year 12 and higher performers.

education
Payments
Photo: Luka TDB – Getty Images

Bank Fees in Australia During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Karl Sparks and Megan Garner

The Reserve Bank's annual survey of bank fees shows that their fee income from both households and businesses in Australia declined notably over 2020 due to the disruption to economic activity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

banking, COVID-19, fees, rba survey
Financial Stability
Photo: PM Images

Low Interest Rates and Bank Profitability – The International Experience So Far

Mark Hack and Sam Nicholls

This article discusses the effect that low interest rates may have on bank profits, and reviews the experience of banks in economies that have had very low interest rates for an extended period. In the short to medium run, low or negative interest rates appear to reduce bank profits only a little, after accounting for the positive effects of lower interest rates on loan losses and demand for credit. However, the negative effects on bank profits increase when interest rates remain very low for a prolonged period. The profits of smaller banks – which have more household deposits, limited pricing power or less capacity to adjust their activities – are more sensitive to a prolonged period of low interest rates.

banking, cash rate, interest rates, international
Australian Economy
Photo: Marko Novkov/EyeEm – Getty Images

Underemployment in the Australian Labour Market

Mark Chambers, Blair Chapman and Eleanor Rogerson

Underemployment in Australia has been moving higher for several decades. This article reviews the trends that have been driving this, including the long-run increase in part-time employment and changes in how the labour market adjusts to fluctuations in labour demand. The article also discusses the implications of the upwards trend in the underemployment rate for assessing spare capacity in the labour market. One implication is that the unemployment rate may need to decline by more than has previously been the case before wage pressures start building strongly.

labour market, labour market, wages
Global Economy
Photo: Kanawa Studio

The Global Fiscal Response to COVID-19

Callum Hudson, Benjamin Watson, Alexandra Baker and Ivailo Arsov

Globally, the fiscal policy response to the COVID-19 crisis has been the largest and fastest in peacetime. Governments have prioritised direct fiscal support for private incomes and employment, which has limited economic scarring and established a solid foundation for the recovery. The size and composition of the fiscal response has varied across countries, reflecting differences in automatic stabilisers, pre-pandemic fiscal space, the severity of infections and policy preferences. Fiscal policy is likely to remain supportive for some time after the pandemic subsides, and in many countries is expected to focus increasingly on boosting investment. For as long as governments anchor spending decisions in a sound medium-term fiscal framework and interest rates remain lower than the rate of economic growth, ongoing fiscal support need not pose problems for government debt sustainability.

COVID-19, debt, households, interest rates, international, labour market
Finance
Photo: Prime Images

Examining the Causes of Historical Failures of Central Counterparties

Nicholas Cross

Although historically rare, the failure of a central counterparty (CCP) could severely disrupt and destabilise the financial system. This has driven a global push to implement resolution regimes so that authorities can support the continuity of critical functions of a distressed CCP. This article examines 3 CCP failures to identify common causes of failure that could help authorities prevent or prepare for a resolution. It finds that while there are some common causes of failure in the episodes considered, they have largely been addressed by improvements in CCP financial risk management in recent years.

financial markets, financial stability, regulation

March 2021

Payments
Photo: paul mansfield photography – Getty Images

Cash Demand during COVID-19

Rochelle Guttmann, Charissa Pavlik, Benjamin Ung and Gary Wang

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the value of banknotes in circulation has risen sharply. This was despite cash being used much less for everyday transactions. Much of the strong demand for banknotes can be attributed to people's desire to hold cash for precautionary or store-of-wealth purposes. This behaviour is common during periods of significant economic uncertainty and stress, and many other countries saw similar patterns of cash demand.

banknotes, COVID-19, currency, payments
Payments
Photo: the_burtons – Getty Images

Property Settlement in RITS

Gabrielle De Freitas and Emilie Fitzgerald

Property transactions are among the largest and most significant financial undertakings that many Australians enter into. As with other aspects of Australia's economy, innovation and technological change have led to the introduction of electronic solutions for property conveyancing, replacing the traditional paper-based process. To support the shift to electronic conveyancing, in 2014 the Reserve Bank of Australia introduced new functionality in the Reserve Bank Information and Transfer System to enable near real-time settlement of interbank obligations relating to property transactions. This functionality minimises settlement risk for the transfer of property ownership, while also ensuring that the property settlement process remains secure, reliable and efficient.

housing, payments, technology
Australian Economy
Photo: Reserve Bank of Australia Archives PN-000271

From the Archives: The London Letters

Jacqui Dwyer and Virginia MacDonald

The Reserve Bank has a rich and unique archives that captures almost 2 centuries of primary source material about Australia's economic, financial and social history. To enhance public access to these records, we have launched a digital platform, Unreserved. Unreserved enables users to browse information about our archival collection and directly access our digitised records. Unreserved will be regularly populated with new records as the digitisation of the Bank's archives progresses. The first release of records is a ‘sampler’ of the diversity of information in our archives. This article introduces Unreserved and highlights a particular series – the London Letters – which comprises the information exchanged between the Bank's head office and its London Office from 1912 to 1975. The London Letters provide insights into the development of Australia's central bank, along with its role and experiences during some of the most significant events of the 20th century.

banking, education, finance, history
Australian Economy
Photo: Keith Lance – Getty Images

The Anatomy of a Banking Crisis: Household Depositors in the Australian Depressions

Gianni La Cava and Fiona Price

Looking into archival material can provide a new lens through which to view historical events. With the launch of Unreserved, the RBA has released archival records to the public, including longitudinal data on individual bank depositors that uncovers new facts about the behaviour of Australian households during the economic depressions of the 1890s and 1930s. Depositors responded to both depressions by withdrawing more money, consistent with households drawing down on their saving buffers in the face of rising unemployment and falling incomes. The net withdrawal rate of depositors also increased when deposit interest rates fell and when public confidence in the banking system deteriorated, with clear evidence of a run on a savings bank in the 1930s. In more normal times, most saving deposits were ‘sticky’ with transactions being very rare. This high degree of deposit stickiness appears to be because most people held these bank accounts to save for significant life events. While it is difficult to draw policy implications from the historical analysis, some features of the depositor behaviour are likely to hold true today.

banking, history, households, interest rates
Finance
Photo: Maskot Bildbyrå – Getty Images

Australia's Economic Recovery and Access to Small Business Finance

Joel Bank and Michelle Lewis

Economic conditions for many small businesses in Australia began to improve in the second half of 2020 alongside the broader recovery from the severe economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. While small businesses' access to finance from lenders tightened in the early stages of the pandemic, various policy measures were provided to help support the provision of credit. However, lending to small businesses remains little changed. Businesses have been reluctant to take on more debt in an uncertain environment and, at the same time, many have been able to make use of a range of temporary measures that have supported revenues or allowed for deferral of payments.

business, COVID-19, credit, finance, monetary policy
Finance
Photo: Busakorn Pongparnit – Getty Images

Developments in Banks' Funding Costs and Lending Rates

Megan Garner and Anirudh Suthakar

Banks' funding costs declined to historical lows over 2020, reflecting the monetary policy measures announced by the Reserve Bank. In aggregate, lending rates have fallen in line with banks' borrowing costs, such that the major banks' average interest spreads were little changed over the year.

banking, cash rate, credit, interest rates, monetary policy
Payments
Photo: Georgijevic – Getty Images

Developments in the Buy Now, Pay Later Market

Chay Fisher, Cara Holland and Tim West

The buy now, pay later (BNPL) sector is growing rapidly and new providers and business models are emerging. While the development of these new payment services is evidence of Australia's innovative and evolving payments system, it may also raise issues for policymakers. The Reserve Bank is currently considering policy issues raised by BNPL providers' no-surcharge rules as part of its Review of Retail Payments Regulation. This article discusses developments in the BNPL sector, focusing on different business models and implications for the cost of electronic payments to merchants.

credit, fees, payments, retail
Global Economy
Photo: John White Photos, d3sign – Getty Images

Determinants of the Australian Dollar over Recent Years

Tim Atkin, Isabel Hartstein and Jarkko Jääskelä

The exchange rate is influenced by a number of domestic and international factors. Two key fundamental determinants of the exchange rate are the terms of trade and differences between interest rates in Australia and those in major advanced economies. Since the end of the mining boom, the decline in the terms of trade and easing in domestic monetary policy, including the recent introduction of quantitative easing measures, have contributed to the depreciation of the Australian dollar. On a shorter-term basis the Australian dollar has also moved closely with prices in other international financial markets in response to changes in global risk sentiment.

commodities, currency, exchange rate, financial markets, trade
Australian Economy
Photo: grandriver – Getty Images

Understanding the East Coast Gas Market

Timoth de Atholia and Aaron Walker

Wholesale gas prices on the east coast have become linked to LNG export prices since 2015. This is because local gas producers can now sell into international markets through the 3 Queensland LNG export terminals. Wholesale prices will continue to be influenced by LNG export prices as long as this option is available. Contracted prices apply to the bulk of east coast gas demand and production. Contracted gas prices are likely to remain structurally higher than their pre-2015 levels over coming decades, reflecting higher marginal costs of domestic production.

export, resources sector
Global Economy
Photo: wenjin chen – Getty Images

The Response by Central Banks in Emerging Market Economies to COVID-19

Sam Pordeli, Lorenzo Schofer and Maxwell Sutton

The COVID-19 health and economic crisis has severely affected emerging market economies (EMEs). As a result, emerging market central banks have employed a wide range of tools to support their economies and financial systems, many of which have been used for the first time. These measures have helped to support the functioning of domestic financial markets, lower domestic interest rates and facilitate the flow of credit to households and businesses. The scale of monetary easing by EME central banks was larger, and the pace faster, than in some past crisis periods. This was influenced by the sudden and synchronised nature of the COVID-19-induced economic shock and the large scale policy response in advanced economies that occurred alongside the EME response. It also reflects the significant improvements emerging market central banks have made to their institutional frameworks over recent decades and the development of EME financial markets over the same period.

COVID-19, emerging markets, financial markets, financial stability, monetary policy

The graphs in the Bulletin were generated using Mathematica.

ISSN 1837-7211 (Online)