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Earnings, Distribution and Capital

The Reserve Bank recorded a net profit of $4.5 billion in 2018/19. In accordance with the Reserve Bank Act 1959, unrealised gains are not available for distribution and are transferred to the unrealised profits reserve. Earnings available for distribution amounted to $1.7 billion, with the full sum to be distributed to the Commonwealth. The Reserve Bank remains well capitalised.

The Reserve Bank's Earnings

The Reserve Bank’s earnings come from two sources: underlying earnings, including net interest and fee income, less operating costs; and valuation gains or losses. Net interest income arises from the Bank earning interest on almost all of its assets, albeit currently at low rates, while paying no interest on a large portion of its liabilities, namely banknotes on issue, and capital and reserves. Fees paid by authorised deposit-taking institutions in relation to the Committed Liquidity Facility also contribute to underlying earnings.

Valuation gains and losses result from fluctuations in the value of the Reserve Bank’s assets because of movements in exchange rates or changes in the market yields on securities held outright. A depreciation of the Australian dollar or a decline in market yields results in valuation gains. Conversely, an appreciation of the Australian dollar or a rise in market yields leads to valuation losses. These gains and losses are realised only when the underlying asset is sold or matures. Valuation gains and losses are volatile, as both exchange rates and market interest rates can fluctuate in wide ranges over time. Market risk is managed by the Bank within strict parameters, although it is not completely eliminated given the policy purposes for which the Bank’s assets are held.

Management of the Bank’s assets is discussed in the chapter on ‘Operations in Financial Markets’; the associated risks are outlined in the chapter on ‘Risk Management’.

The Reserve Bank reports net profit as income from all sources, in accordance with Australian Accounting Standards, while the distribution of profits is determined by section 30 of the Reserve Bank Act. In terms of the Act, net profit is dealt with in the following way:

  • Unrealised gains (or losses) are not available for distribution and are transferred to (absorbed by) the unrealised profits reserve. The remainder of net profit after this transfer is available for distribution.
  • The Treasurer determines, after consulting the Reserve Bank Board, any amounts to be placed from distributable earnings to the credit of the Reserve Bank Reserve Fund (RBRF), the Bank’s general reserve.
  • The remainder of distributable earnings is payable as a dividend to the Commonwealth.

In 2018/19, the Reserve Bank recorded a net profit of $4,549 million, comprising:

  • underlying earnings of $1,167 million, an increase of $322 million from the previous year. The increase in this component of earnings reflected that interest rates earned on short-dated domestic and US dollar assets were, on average, higher than the previous year
  • valuation gains of $3,382 million. Unrealised gains of $2,970 million were recorded, primarily from the depreciation of the Australian dollar over the year. Realised gains of $412 million were largely the result of sales of foreign exchange in the normal course of managing the portfolio of foreign reserves.

In addition, a sum of $106 million was transferred to distributable earnings, reflecting accumulated valuation gains on the Bank’s office building in Melbourne, which was sold during the year. Earnings available for distribution therefore amounted to $1,685 million, an increase of $1,016 million over the previous year’s result.

 In 2018/19, the Reserve Bank recorded underlying earnings of $1,167 million, an increase of $322 million from the previous year.

 In 2018/19, the Reserve Bank recorded valuation gains of $3,382 million.

Capital, Reserves and Distribution

The Reserve Bank maintains capital and reserves for the risks on its balance sheet. These include the RBRF, which is the Reserve Bank’s general reserve established under the Reserve Bank Act. It also includes various accounting reserves, such as the unrealised profits reserve, which holds unrealised valuation gains on the Reserve Bank’s traded assets, and asset revaluation reserves for non-traded assets. These reserves are detailed below. The Reserve Bank remains in a strong capital position, with total capital and reserves of $28,912 million at 30 June 2019.

Reserve Bank Capital and Reserves ($m)

30 June

2019

2018

Reserves:

Reserve Bank Reserve Fund

14,119

14,119

Unrealised profits reserve

8,830

5,860

Asset revaluation reserve

5,802

5,020

Superannuation reserve

121

338

Capital

40

40

Total

28,912

25,377

Source: RBA

The RBRF is funded from transfers from earnings available for distribution. Its purpose is to provide the capacity for the Bank to absorb losses when it is necessary to do so.

The Reserve Bank Board has a framework to assess the target balance of the RBRF by assessing and appropriately assigning capital to exposures of different risk. The largest potential for loss from the Reserve Bank’s assets comes from market risk, comprising foreign exchange and interest rate risk. The capital assigned to each component of market risk has been derived based on the Bank’s historical experience of loss and stress tests of the balance sheet, which incorporated significant adverse movements in exchange rate and interest rates drawn from historical experience. Since the largest potential for loss is associated with the Bank’s unhedged holdings of foreign exchange assets, materially more capital is assigned to exchange rate risk than to interest rate risk.

Photograph of Philip Lowe at a table signing a piece of paper, surrounded by 3 others seated next to him
Governor Philip Lowe (second from left) signs the Reserve Bank’s Financial Statements in the presence of the Auditor-General for Australia Grant Hehir (third from left), Carla Jago, Group Executive Director, Assurance Audit Services Group, Australian National Audit Office (right) and Reserve Bank Chief Financial Officer Robert Middleton-Jones (left)

While the Reserve Bank has no history of loss from credit risk, credit risk is also incorporated into the capital framework. The capital held against credit risk is currently a small amount, reflecting the quality of assets held by the Bank, the soundness of counterparties with which it deals, the fact that repurchase agreements and foreign exchange swaps are highly collateralised and that it follows a set of very conservative policies for managing credit risk, consistent with its very low appetite for such risk. Capital, therefore, is held only against the Bank’s very small exposures to commercial banks that are not collateralised. This overall approach to credit risk is consistent with the practice of a range of major central banks.

The current balance in the RBRF of $14,119 million met the Reserve Bank Board’s target at the end of 2018/19. Accordingly, the Board views the balance sheet as being very strong and members saw no need to seek a transfer to the RBRF from 2018/19 profits. The Treasurer, after consulting the Board, therefore determined that all earnings available for distribution in 2018/19, a sum of $1,685 million, would be paid as a dividend to the Commonwealth in 2019/20.

The balance of the unrealised profits reserve stood at $8,830 million at 30 June 2019, a rise of $2,970 million from the previous year. This movement largely reflects unrealised valuation gains associated with the depreciation of the Australian dollar. The balance of this reserve is available either to absorb future valuation losses or to be distributed over time as the gains become realised when relevant assets are sold.

Asset revaluation reserves are held for non-traded assets, such as gold holdings and property. Balances in these reserves represent the difference between the market value of these assets and the cost at which they were acquired. The total balance for these reserves was $5,802 million at 30 June 2019, $782 million higher than in the previous financial year, largely reflecting an increase in the Australian dollar value of the Reserve Bank’s holdings of gold.

The balance of the superannuation reserve was $121 million at 30 June 2019.

Details of the composition and distribution of the Reserve Bank’s profits are contained in the table at the end of this chapter.

The Financial Statements (and accompanying Notes to the Financial Statements) for the 2018/19 financial year were prepared in accordance with Australian Accounting Standards, consistent with the Finance Reporting Rule issued under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013.

Composition and Distribution of Reserve Bank Profits

($ million)

Composition of Profits(a)

Distribution of Profits

Payments to Government

Underlying earnings

Realised gains and losses (–)(b)

Unrealised gains and losses (–)

Accounting profit or loss (–)

Transfer to/from (–)

Dividend payable

Payment from previous year’s profit

Payment delayed from previous year

Total payment

Unrealised profits reserves

Asset revaluation reserves

Reserve Bank Reserve Fund

1997/98

1,750

966

1,687

4,403

1,687

−558

548

2,726

1,700

1,700

1998/99

1,816

2,283

−2,773

1,326

−2,349

−1

3,676

2,726

2,726

1999/00

1,511

−708

1,489

2,292

1,489

803

3,000

3,000

2000/01

1,629

1,200

320

3,149

320

−5

2,834

803

676

1,479

2001/02

1,400

479

−11

1,868

−11

−10

1,889

2,834

2,834

2002/03

1,238

1,157

−222

2,173

−222

−2

133

2,264

1,889

1,889

2003/04

882

−188

1,261

1,955

1,261

694

1,300

1,300

2004/05

997

366

−1,289

74

−1,289

1,363

374

964

1,338

2005/06

1,156

4

933

2,093

933

−17

1,177

1,063

320

1,383

2006/07

1,381

72

−2,846

−1,393

−2,475

−3

1,085

1,177

300

1,477

2007/08

2,068

614

−1,252

1,430

27

1,403

1,085

1,085

2008/09

2,150

4,404

2,252

8,806

2,252

577

5,977

1,403

1,403

2009/10

866

−128

−3,666

−2,928

−2,248

−680

5,227

5,227

2010/11

897

−1,135

−4,651

−4,889

−23

−4,866

750

750

2011/12

710

405

−39

1,076

−20

596

500

2012/13

723

−135

3,725

4,313

3,725

588

500

500

2013/14

9,242(c)

790

−640

9,392

−640

−3

8,800

1,235

2014/15

832

2,622

3,434

6,888

3,434

1,570

1,884

618

618

2015/16

1,223

3,389

−1,729

2,883

−1,729

1,390

3,222

1,884

618

2,501

2016/17

960

322

−2,179

−897

−2,179

−4

1,286

3,222

3,222

2017/18

845

−176

3,178

3,847

3,178

669

1,066

1,066

2018/19

1,167

412

2,970

4,549

−2,970

106

1,685

669

220

889

(a) As originally published

(b) Excludes gains or losses realised from the sale of fixed assets that had been held in asset revaluation reserves

(c) Includes the Commonwealth grant of $8,800 million

Source: RBA