April 2024

Australian Economy

Assessing Full Employment in Australia

Alexander Ballantyne, Avish Sharma and Tim Taylor

Full employment is a longstanding objective of monetary policy in Australia, alongside price stability. The Reserve Bank Board aims to achieve the maximum level of employment consistent with low and stable inflation in the medium term. This article explains how RBA staff form an assessment of how labour market conditions stand relative to full employment. RBA staff draw on a range of labour market indicators, model-based estimates and outcomes for wages growth and inflation. Any single indicator tends to provide a partial view of the labour market and the level of each indicator that is consistent with full employment can change over time as the structure of the economy evolves. Ultimately, assessing how close the labour market is to full employment requires careful judgement, which the RBA sets out in its quarterly Statement on Monetary.

inflation, labour market, modelling, monetary policy, wages
Australian Economy

Cash Rate Pass-through to Outstanding Mortgage Rates

Benjamin Ung

The interest rate paid by outstanding mortgage borrowers increased by around 320 basis points between May 2022 and December 2023, around 105 basis points less than the cumulative increase in the cash rate over this period. This pass-through from cash rate increases to the average outstanding mortgage rate has been slower than in recent tightening episodes due to a high share of outstanding fixed-rate loans and the effects of heightened mortgage lending competition. The average outstanding mortgage rate will increase further as the remaining share of low-rate fixed-rate loans expire and reprice at higher interest rates. By the end of 2024, overall pass-through is expected to be comparable to earlier tightening episodes.

banking, cash rate, interest rates, monetary policy, housing
Australian Economy

Bank Funding and the Recent Tightening of Monetary Policy

Venura De Zoysa, Jessica Dunphy and Christopher Schwartz

Banks’ funding costs have risen substantially since early 2022, driven by increases in the cash rate. This article explains how increases in the cash rate passed through to banks’ funding sources and how banks adjusted their funding mix. All non-equity sources of bank funding became more expensive over the hiking phase. Banks increased rates on term deposits by more than at-call deposits. Within at-call deposits, banks increased rates most for those savings accounts with conditions attached. Further, banks’ share of funding from term deposits grew and banks issued more debt as the Term Funding Facility started to mature.

banking, cash rate, funding, interest rates, monetary policy

The Effect of Least-cost Routing on Merchant Payment Costs

Boston Dobie and Benjamin Watson

The RBA supports all merchants being able to choose the card network used to process debit transactions – a functionality known as least-cost routing (LCR) – with the aim of increasing competition and reducing the cost of accepting card payments. This article presents the RBA’s first estimates of the effects of LCR on a merchant’s cost of accepting debit card payments. Using merchant-level data, we estimate that the cost of accepting debit card transactions is nearly 20 per cent lower for merchants that have LCR turned on compared with those with LCR turned off, though the results differ across merchant size and choice of pricing plans. Once LCR for online and mobile wallet payments is widely available and taken up by merchants, the potential cost savings are likely to be even larger.

business, fees, modelling, payments, technology
Financial Stability

Financial Stability Risks from Non-bank Financial Intermediation in Australia

Marcus Robinson and Stefano Tornielli di Crestvolant

Risks to financial stability posed by the non-bank financial intermediation (NBFI) sector in Australia remain relatively contained. In comparison to overseas, the size of the NBFI sector (excluding superannuation) is relatively small, and its interconnectedness with the traditional banking sector has continued to decline. However, as has been shown in recent periods of stress in overseas markets, vulnerabilities in the NBFI sector can have implications for financial stability. In particular, there remains a risk of disorderly movements in some international asset markets, which could be exacerbated by the role of overseas NBFIs and spill over into Australian markets. Lending by Australian non-banks remains small as a share of outstanding credit, but has recently shifted towards riskier market segments and there is less detailed information about this lending than that done by prudentially regulated banks. As part of its monitoring of evolving risks in the NBFI sector, Australia’s Council of Financial Regulators has sought to improve visibility over domestic NBFIs’ activities, including in commercial real estate and the growing use of over-the-counter derivatives. This article provides an analysis of recent developments and evolving risks posed by NBFIs in Australia.

financial stability, finance, risk and uncertainty
Financial Stability

Assessing Physical Climate Risk in Repo-eligible Residential Mortgage-backed Securities

Ronan McCarthy and Geordie Reid

This article assesses physical climate risk in Australian residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) using two risk metrics. Based on these metrics, RMBS with higher levels of physical climate risk tend to be issued by small regional banks and credit unions. In addition, RMBS with higher physical climate risk do not appear to have additional credit enhancement. This could suggest that securitisation markets have yet to fully incorporate physical climate risk exposures into their assessments of RMBS, or that current climate risks are perceived to be small. However, the measure of climate risk used in this analysis is subject to several limitations and there is significant uncertainty about the future path and impact of climate change. This analysis is a first attempt at quantifying climate risk present in Australian RMBS and is part of ongoing work at the RBA to assess the effect of climate change on the financial system.

climate change, financial markets, securities, modelling, risk and uncertainty
Australian Economy

The Private Equity Market in Australia

Jacob Harris and Emma Chow

The Australian private equity market has grown significantly for a number of years, particularly as the economy recovered from pandemic-related disruptions. Consistent with this growth, private equity deals involving Australian companies have increased in value, and private equity funds have raised larger amounts of capital from investors. Recently, however, private equity activity has declined substantially as borrowing costs increased. Over recent years, international private equity firms and investors have also increased their presence in the Australian market. This article discusses these developments in the Australian private equity market and considers the implications that a robust private equity market may have on Australian businesses and public capital markets.

business, credit, finance, investment
Financial Stability

Migration to Public Cloud: Risks and Regulatory Requirements for Clearing and Settlement Facilities

Oscar Douglas, Elizabeth Kandelas and Ed Orum

Public cloud technologies are increasingly being adopted by firms in the financial industry, including clearing and settlement facilities (CS facilities). Using public cloud offers a range of opportunities, but also presents risks for a CS facility’s operations. Because CS facilities play a critical role in supporting the smooth functioning of financial markets, they need to manage these risks to ensure that they continue to provide resilient and secure services. This article discusses the opportunities and risks for CS facilities in using public cloud, and outlines the related regulatory requirements that apply to CS facilities in their management of risks, consistent with their obligations to promote efficiency and stability in the financial system.

central clearing, securities, regulation, risk and uncertainty, technology
Global Economy

China’s Monetary Policy Framework and Financial Market Transmission

William Maher

While it has evolved significantly over the years, China’s monetary policy framework continues to differ in some important respects to those in most advanced economies. In contrast to these economies, the People’s Bank of China makes significant use of quantity-based policy instruments, though interest rates now play a greater role than in the past. This article takes stock of China’s current monetary policy framework and its implementation, and discusses the transmission of price-based monetary policy instruments to market and retail interest rates in the economy. In doing so, this article sheds light on the implementation of monetary policy in the world’s second largest economy.

China, interest rates, liquidity, monetary policy
Global Economy

Urban Residential Construction and Steel Demand in China

Adam Baird

Investment in Chinese urban residential real estate has been declining since 2021, and demand for steel by the sector has also slowed considerably. Despite this decline, overall demand for steel in China has been resilient due to strong growth in manufacturing and infrastructure investment, which looks likely to continue in the near term. This article provides a projection for urban residential construction in China to 2050, suggesting that construction in China has peaked and that demand for steel will decline in the longer term. This will weigh on overall steel demand in China, though there remains considerable uncertainty around the longer term outlook for demand from other sources.

China, housing, investment, finance, modelling

January 2024

Australian Economy

Understanding the Post-Pandemic Demand for Australia’s Banknotes

Patrick Elkington and Rochelle Guttmann

Banknotes can be used to make legitimate payments, but they can also be hoarded, lost or used to facilitate transactions in the shadow economy. Understanding how banknotes are used can assist policymakers in responding to changes in payment behaviour and demand for cash. This article examines the value of banknotes used for each component of cash demand and how it has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic. The share of banknotes used for transactional purposes is estimated to have fallen by 5 percentage points since early 2020, while cash use in the shadow economy has increased slightly and the proportion of banknotes that are lost has remained unchanged. Overall, the majority of banknotes on issue are currently used for non-transactional purposes, consistent with pre-pandemic trends.

banknotes, COVID-19, money, payments
Financial Stability

Developments in Income and Consumption Across Household Groups

Benjamin Beckers, Ashwin Clarke, Amelia Gao, Madeleine James and Ryan Morgan

Data on spending by income and mortgagor status suggest that growth in consumption has slowed significantly over the past year or so across most household groups as cost-of-living pressures have weighed on household finances. High inflation has decreased the purchasing power of all households and has had a relatively similar effect on real disposable incomes across different groups. While higher interest rates have also weighed heavily on the incomes of mortgagor households, many of these households have larger financial buffers, which have helped to offset the aggregate impact of interest rates on their spending so far. Resilient growth in nominal incomes has helped to support the spending of many lower income households and renters. Nonetheless, many of these households have lower financial buffers and so increases in their cost of living are more likely to have caused financial stress with all its adverse impacts on their wellbeing. Indeed, many households are experiencing acute challenges in the face of high inflation and higher interest rates. This article explores these recent developments in consumption across household groups.

households, income and wealth, consumption, inflation
Australian Economy

Inflation Expectations and Economic Literacy

Madeleine McCowage and Peter Rickards

The level of community awareness and understanding of basic economic issues can influence a central bank’s ability to achieve its goals, such as by anchoring the public’s inflation expectations in line with its inflation target. This article draws on novel data from a large-scale survey of Australian adults about their knowledge of the Reserve Bank’s inflation target and their expectations for inflation over the short and medium term. Responses to these questions varied significantly according to the socio-demographic characteristics of the survey respondents and their level of economic literacy. The results of this study point to the need for clear communication about the Bank’s inflation objectives that caters for variations in awareness and understanding of economic issues across different socio-demographic groups.

education, inflation, rba survey
Australian Economy

What Do Firms Tell Us About the Inflation Outlook?

Amardeep Johal, Jonathan Kemp, Kate McLoughlin and Max Zang

The Reserve Bank’s liaison program collects information from firms in Australia about current economic conditions and their expectations for future conditions, including their own prices. Firms’ observations provide a timely read on inflation. Over the past six months, firms have generally expected their prices growth to continue to moderate, but on average to remain above the Bank’s inflation target range of 2–3 per cent. Firms have reported that large cost increases over recent years are still flowing through to some parts of the supply chain and have indicated that this is the primary driver of their decisions to increase prices at a faster-than-normal rate. Slower growth in demand and increased competition are expected to result in a further slowing in growth of firms’ prices over coming quarters.

inflation, rba survey, machine learning, forecasting, risk and uncertainty, households

Bank Fees in Australia

Jessica Dunphy

This article updates Reserve Bank research on bank fees charged to Australian households, businesses and government. Over the year to June 2023, total fees charged by banks fell by around 4 per cent. Fees comprised just 5 per cent of banks’ total revenue over the period, while over 50 per cent came from interest earnings on loans. By customer, most fees were paid by large businesses, as was the case in previous years. However, fee earnings from businesses and government declined over 2022/23, in part reflecting lower merchant services fees. On the other hand, fee income from households increased, driven by higher revenue from charges on credit cards related to international travel and increased revenue from break fees on term deposits.

banking, business, credit, fees, households

The Committed Liquidity Facility: 2015–2022

Fabio Rustia, Carl Schwartz and Nick Stenner

The Reserve Bank’s Committed Liquidity Facility (CLF) was used from 2015–2022 to enhance the resilience of the banking system to times of liquidity stress. Banks must hold high-quality liquid assets (HQLA), including government securities, as a buffer against liquidity stress. Historically, the low level of government debt in Australia limited the amount that banks could reasonably hold, and so the CLF was introduced in 2015 as an alternative. Over time, however, the amount of government debt on issue and system liquidity increased significantly due to fiscal and monetary policy measures implemented to support the Australian economy during the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to this significant increase in HQLA, the size of the CLF was gradually reduced so that it was no longer in use at the beginning of 2023. This article provides an overview of the CLF and discusses its introduction and why it is no longer in use.

banking, COVID-19, financial markets, funding, liquidity

Recent Developments in the Semi-government Bond Market

Sam Batchelor and Maddie Roberts

The market for Australian state and territory government bonds is often referred to as the market for ‘semis’. Semi-government bonds are a key source of government funding and they form an important share of high-quality liquid assets in the Australian financial system. The COVID-19 pandemic, and state and territory government policies implemented in response, increased the size of the semi-government bond market significantly. During this period, there have also been compositional changes in the types of issuance and investors of semis. This article explores recent trends in the issuance, ownership and pricing of semi-government bonds.

bonds, financial markets, securities

The graphs in the Bulletin were generated using Mathematica.

ISSN 1837-7211 (Online)