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First virus vaccine jabs boost confidence

NCOV Vaccine
Photo: First virus vaccine jabs boost confidence
The start of the national COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been a shot in the arm for confidence after an unsettled start to the year.

The weekly ANZ-Roy Morgan consumer confidence index rose one per cent, ending three weeks of consecutive declines.

The index - a pointer to future household spending - now stands around its long-run average.

"Consumer confidence reversed its three-week losing streak as the nationwide inoculation program began a week ago," ANZ head of Australian economics David Plank said releasing the figures on Tuesday.

However, he said the highlight of the survey taken over the weekend was a further rise in consumer inflation expectations to 3.9 per cent, its highest level since last April.

Mr Plank said rising petrol prices, coupled with a strong housing market and the faster than expected recovery in the labour market could be fuelling inflation concerns.
"Inflation expectations are still below pre-pandemic levels, so could rise further without causing undue alarm for the RBA," he said.

Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe has repeatedly said the board won't increase the cash from its record low 0.1 per cent until actual inflation is sustainably within the two to three per cent target, and probably not until 2024. The consumer price index was just 0.9 per cent at the end of 2020.

However, financial markets appear sceptical of such an outlook, with interest rates, or yields, on government bonds factoring in 0.5 per cent of rate hikes by the end of 2023. Global bond yields have risen sharply in recent weeks on the view that the world economy will recover from the COVID-19 induced recession quicker than first thought, fuelling inflation.

Such market action runs at odds with what the RBA and other central banks are trying to achieve through massive bond buying programs, otherwise known as quantitative easing, aimed at keeping market interest rates, and in turn borrowing costs, low.

The RBA purchased $4 billion worth of three-year bonds on Monday, double the usual amount, as it tried to push back against market moves.

The central bank holds its monthly board meeting on Tuesday. At its February board meeting, while keeping the rate at 0.1 per cent on its suite of policy measures, the RBA also unexpectedly announced it will purchase an additional $100 billion in government and state bonds when an existing program ends in mid-April.

"My expectation is that the RBA will merely affirm current policies, though another attempted 'big bang' announcement of a larger and longer QE program can't be ruled out,"

BetaShares Capital chief economist David Bassanese said. "Of course, the risk for the RBA - and global central banks in general - is that they find they can't control yields as easily as they might have expected in the face of a market that determinedly disagrees with their benign inflation outlook or the likely actual path of central bank policy."

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