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Wed, Oct 07, 2009 - Page 10 News List

Australian central bank raises rates

MORE EXPECTED The RBA is the first of the G20 central banks to hike rates. HSBC economist Frederic Neumann thinks South Korea will be next, and then Taiwan


Australia’s central bank raised its key cash rate by 25 basis points to 3.25 percent yesterday and heralded more to come, saying it was safe to row back on stimulus now that the worst danger for the economy had passed.

The Australian dollar jumped to a 14-month high and interbank futures slid as investors rushed to price in at least one more hike by Christmas and rates above 4 percent in a year.

Markets elsewhere in Asia also moved to factor in expectations for more hawkish central banks.

The Reserve Bank of Australia’s (RBA) decision made it the first of the G20 central banks to hike as the global financial crisis eases and came as a surprise to many analysts.

Markets, however, had been abuzz with speculation about a move given the strength of recent economic data.

“The RBA had widely advertised it was near to edging up rates from their extraordinary lows, and now it’s done so,” said Rory Robertson, interest rate strategist at Macquarie in Sydney.

“It will be a gradual move from an emergency rate of 3.0 percent to a still-easy 4 percent,” he said. “If everything goes well over time, then we could get back to a more normal 5 percent in the next year or two.”

It was the RBA’s first increase since March last year, but only takes back a little of the 425 basis-points of easing delivered when the global credit crisis was in full swing.

Indeed, by any historical measure, policy is still very accommodative in Australia, something noted by RBA Governor Glenn Stevens in his post-meeting statement.

“With growth likely to be close to trend over the year ahead, inflation close to target and the risk of serious economic contraction in Australia now having passed, the board’s view is that it is now prudent to begin gradually lessening the stimulus provided by monetary policy,” Stevens wrote.

The move by the RBA puts it far ahead of most major developed nations, which show little if any inclination to tighten.

Rates in the US, the euro zone, Britain, Canada and Japan are all at or under 1 percent.

But investors took a different view in some Asian markets. South Korean bond futures tumbled, Indian swap rates and yields rose and in Singapore, which has a twice-yearly policy review on Monday, interbank rates fell in preparation for more hawkish leanings from monetary policy makers after the RBA decision.

“This is a surprise move, evidently, and raises the chance that other central banks will follow suit perhaps sooner than anticipated,” HSBC economist Frederic Neumann said in a research note.

“First on the list is [South] Korea and we see a greater chance now of a hike this quarter rather than the next, with Taiwan, perhaps surprisingly, coming next in Asia,” he wrote.

The RBA’s pre-emptive policy largely reflects the strengths of Australia’s economy, which boasts a sound banking system and strong demand from China for its commodity exports.

Australia was the only developed nation to grow in the first half of this year.

That helped Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan sound sanguine on what was be an unpopular move in a country obsessed with home ownership.

“The Australian economy is outperforming other advanced economies and I guess many economists will see the decision today as a consequence of economic recovery,” he told reporters.

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