RBA to hog economic calendar limelight
By the end of this week we should all have a clear idea whether the Reserve Bank has changed its view about the interest rate outlook.
The central bank will hold its first board meeting of the year on Tuesday, its governor Philip Lowe will address the National Press Club on Wednesday and he will also be quizzed by federal politicians on Friday.
The Reserve Bank will also release its quarterly statement on monetary policy on Friday, which will provide its latest economic forecasts.
Since its board last met in early December, economic data has generally pointed to a solid rebound from Australia's first recession in nearly 30 years.
Importantly, the unemployment rate has kept falling rather than rising again as earlier feared, business conditions have surged, retail spending is trending higher and demand for new homes has hit the roof.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says the labour market has outperformed expectations, but declined to rule out the unemployment rate rising again as predicted in his mid-year budget review released in December.
Inflation also proved stronger than expected in the final three months of 2020, largely as a result of government initiatives.
However, the release of the December quarter consumer price index last week showed the annual rate was just 0.9 per cent and underlying measures of inflation - which smooth out wild price swings and are closely monitored by the Reserve Bank in terms of monetary policy - were similarly benign.
The central bank has repeatedly said it will not lift interest rates until inflation is sustainably within the two to three per cent inflation target, something it hadn't expected to see until 2023.
"Australia's economy is moving in the right direction, and we expect the RBA to remain on hold in February," HSBC chief economist Paul Bloxham said.
"As long as the labour market is improving, we expect the RBA to be content in maintaining its current policy stance."
That means the cash rate, and other key policy measures, will remain at a record low 0.1 per cent.
The start of a new month also sees a wide spread of economic figures, including job advertisements, house prices and home lending on Monday, building approvals on Wednesday, international trade on Thursday and retail spending on Friday.
Meanwhile, Australian shares look set for a further fall on Monday, dragged down by the shenanigans of online retail investors taking on the huge US funds who had been betting on video game retailer GameStop's shares falling.
Instead, buying by retail investors sent GameStop shares soaring, forcing the the big funds to sell other shares to cover their positions.
The tussle has now come under the eye of regulators, but AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver does not expect the incident will have a long term impact on trading.
"It's really just a bit of short-term noise and will likely be largely forgotten about in a few months," Dr Oliver said.
Even so, Australian share futures fell 34 point to 6507, extending the 0.6 per cent drop seen in Friday's trading.
In the US the S&P 500 fell 73.14 points to 3,714.24 on Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 620.74 points to 29,982.62 and the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite slid 266.46 points to 13,070.69.
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