Growth in the global economy is continuing at a moderate pace, helped by firmer conditions in the advanced countries. China's growth remains generally in line with policymakers' objectives. Commodity prices in historical terms remain high, but some of those important to Australia have declined this year.
Financial conditions overall remain very accommodative. Long-term interest rates and risk spreads remain very low. Emerging market economies are receiving capital inflows. Volatility in many financial prices is currently unusually low. Markets appear to be attaching a very low probability to any rise in global interest rates, or other adverse event, over the period ahead.
In Australia, growth was firmer around the turn of the year, but this resulted mainly from very strong increases in resource exports as new capacity came on line; smaller increases in such exports are likely in coming quarters. Moderate growth has been occurring in consumer demand. A strong expansion in housing construction is now under way. At the same time, resources sector investment spending is starting to decline significantly. Signs of improvement in investment intentions in some other sectors are emerging, but these plans remain tentative as firms wait for more evidence of improved conditions before committing to significant expansion. Public spending is scheduled to be subdued. Overall, the Bank still expects growth to be a little below trend over the year ahead.
There has been some improvement in indicators for the labour market this year, but it will probably be some time yet before unemployment declines consistently. Recent data showed an increase in inflation, with both headline and underlying measures affected by the decline in the exchange rate last year. But growth in wages has declined noticeably and is expected to remain relatively modest over the period ahead, which should keep inflation consistent with the target even with lower levels of the exchange rate.
Monetary policy remains accommodative. Interest rates are very low and for some borrowers have continued to edge lower over recent months. Savers continue to look for higher returns in response to low rates on safe instruments. Credit growth has picked up a little, including most recently to businesses. The increase in dwelling prices has been slower this year than last year, though prices continue to rise. The exchange rate remains high by historical standards, particularly given the declines in key commodity prices, and hence is offering less assistance than it might in achieving balanced growth in the economy.
Looking ahead, continued accommodative monetary policy should provide support to demand and help growth to strengthen over time. Inflation is expected to be consistent with the 2–3 per cent target over the next two years.
In the Board's judgement, monetary policy is appropriately configured to foster sustainable growth in demand and inflation outcomes consistent with the target. On present indications, the most prudent course is likely to be a period of stability in interest rates