Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Reserve Bank cleared of leak in ASIC suspicious dollar trading probe

The Reserve Bank appears to have been cleared of an internal leak after unusual trading in the Australian dollar seconds before two key interest rate decisions earlier this year.

The suspicious trading in February and March had been referred to the Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) given concerns about the security of board decisions and the potential to move markets.

A third incident of unusual trading before the cash rate decision in April has also been referred to ASIC.

The minutes from the RBA board's most recent meeting says members were briefed on the progress of the ASIC probe but that the theory of a rogue insider leaking the information had been ruled out.

"Internal work since March has not identified any evidence of procedural lapses or conduct that could have led to the early release of relevant information," the minutes say.

The RBA is now working on the theory that the unusual trades could have been caused by algorithmic or high speed trading the triggered other buying or selling in currency markets.

"Illiquid conditions that existed in the foreign exchange market at the time meant that small trades could move by relatively large amounts," the minutes say.

"Once such movements occurred it would be highly likely that algorithmic trading strategies would exacerbate such movements."

In keeping the cash rate on hold at 2.25 percent a fortnight ago the Reserve Bank also repeated its warning that record low interest rates could "foster imbalances" in Sydney's booming housing market.

"The most recent data suggested that activity in the housing market "remained strong" and that "there had been little change to housing market conditions or in the growth of housing credit in early 2015".

Earlier today in New York, the RBA governor Glenn Stevens ramped up his concerns saying that prices in Sydney were "rather exuberant".

However, Mr Stevens also said the current focus on Sydney real estate in terms of monetary policy tended to ignore the softer trends in the remaining 80 percent of the country.

While the minutes say "a further easing may be appropriate" in interest rates, it would be important to receive more economic data to determine the impact of the February rate cut.

The latest reading on quarter consumer inflation out tomorrow now appears to be key in whether the Reserve Bank will decide on a pre-Budget rate cut in May.

The minutes also express concern about the economic slowdown in China where deteriorating conditions in the property market had "increased the vulnerability of leverage property developers".

The RBA also noted the weakness in China is flowing through to lower demand for steel which has contributed to the current plunge in the price of iron ore.

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