RBA dividend not expected for years

·3-min read

The central bank says its massive bond-buying scheme helped keep the economy afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic but it may prevent the bank from paying the government a dividend over the next few years.

The Reserve Bank of Australia has released a review into the pandemic-era measure that was designed to provide "extra insurance against the ongoing risk of very bad economic outcomes".

The program, which saw the RBA buy $281 billion worth of federal and state government bonds, was deemed a success by the internal review.

"The design and implementation of the bond-purchasing program worked broadly as intended, without materially affecting market functioning," the review stated.

The reviewers also noted it was difficult to isolate the effects of the bond-buying program given it was installed at the same time as cuts to the cash rate and other efforts to lower the structure of interest rates.

In light of the findings, the RBA board believes the unconventional tactic should be used for emergencies only and when the cash rate is already as low as it can go.

Speaking about the bond purchasing program at a Bloomberg event in Sydney, RBA deputy governor Michele Bullock said the bond purchases and other decisions made during the pandemic had led to a substantial accounting loss in 2021/22.

"This will not, however, affect the bank's ability to operate effectively or perform its policy functions," Ms Bullock said.

She said the bank would return to positive equity over time.

"As the bonds mature and the bank's balance sheet declines, the bank will once again return to positive earnings."

In the meantime, this means the bank is not in a position to pay a dividend to the government.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers said he was not counting on a dividend from the Reserve Bank this year.

"It's been obvious for some time that there won't be one," he told reporters in Brisbane.

Dr Chalmers backed the bond-buying program and said it was an important part of the country's pandemic response.

He said the bank would not need an additional capital injection from the government and would repair its capital position over time.

Also on Wednesday, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released its population figures that showed the population swelling by 0.9 per cent in the year to March.

ABS demography director Beidar Cho said the surge in overseas migration after the borders reopened added 110,000 people to the population.

"After two years of mostly low or no population growth, overseas migration is again a significant contributor to Australia's population increase, accounting for almost half of the growth in the year to March 2022."

Meanwhile, despite many expecting ultra-low unemployment to start putting upwards pressure on wages, salary growth for new recruits has slowed.

Advertised salaries as measured by employment marketplace SEEK climbed 3.8 per cent in the year to August, which was down from 4.1 per cent year-on-year growth in July.

However, the index remains high compared to this time last year.

Other indicators suggest wages are still climbing.

Wages in small and medium enterprises lifted 1.8 per cent in August and 8.6 per cent for the year, according to Employment Hero data.

Take home pay as measured by the ABS's wage price index rose 0.7 per cent in the June quarter and 2.6 per cent over the year, which represented a substantial fall in real wages given inflation hit 6.1 per cent last quarter.