The New Investment Boom the RBA Should Be Looking For

Quick, somebody tell the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) about natural gas. It’s the new investment boom the bank is looking for, only it’s already happening in the energy sector, not the housing sector. Even central bankers can’t always get what they want.

The bank released the minutes from its February meeting yesterday. It’s still sticking to its idea that even though mining investment has peaked/will peak this year, low interest rates (175 basis points cut from the cash rate since 2011) should kick off a housing investment boom. It also vaguely hopes that low interest rates will work their way through the economy this year, stimulating everything they touch. Here’s the key paragraph:

‘Members were briefed on the updated staff forecasts. GDP growth was expected to be a bit below trend at around 2½ per cent over 2013 before picking up a little over the course of 2014. The forecasts had been revised down slightly, largely reflecting information that accumulated late last year suggesting a softer outlook for mining and non-mining investment. The forecast for growth over the next year or so incorporated several factors, notably the likelihood that the mining investment boom would reach its peak, the effect of both fiscal consolidation and the persistently high level of the Australian dollar, and few indications of an impending pick-up in non-mining business investment at this stage. At the same time, improving conditions in the housing market were expected to continue to provide support to dwelling investment, while non-mining business investment was expected to pick up gradually over time.’

Analysing the minutes of central bank meetings is as tedious as re-shelving books in the library. Having said that, we used to re-shelve books in college and always found it satisfying to put everything back in its proper place, at least for a little while. But the orderly progression of the RBA minutes is misleading.

The more you read the minutes the more you realise the bank is hoping everything works out okay. But fundamentally, it’s wedded to the simplistic idea that the mining boom will give way to the housing boom and the economy won’t miss a beat. If investors subscribe to this theory, they’ll miss the only real boom likely to happen in 2013.

Yes, it’s the energy boom we’re talking about. That’s the one sector capable of leading the indexes to much higher highs. It’s the one sector of the economy that could lead a new investment boom. And it’s the one sector that could deliver lower energy prices – in effect, a massive tax cut – to households and manufacturers, not to mention profits to shareholders. This being an investment newsletter, it’s the last possibility that intrigues us most.

Dan Denning
for Markets and Money

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