Real Estate

Cash rate spikes to highest level in 11 years

Cash rate spikes to highest level in 11 years

Yet another interest rate rise today has spiked the cash rate to 4.1% - its highest level in 11 years and the 12th such lift in 14 months.

The Reserve Bank of Australia's (RBA) latest rate rise of 0.25% sees the cash rate above 4% for the first time since April 2012, when it dropped to 4.25%.

This year also saw the start of a decade of declining rates.

In comparison, today's RBA announcement once more dropped the hopes of a nation largely resigned to such raises.

And unsurprisingly, the culprit of this latest hike is again the nation's stubbornly high inflation - a point highlighted in the Australian Bureau of Statistics' (ABS) latest consumer price index (CPI) on May 31.

The CPI figure was too high for the RBA, rising this time to 6.8%, in the 12 months to April after a 7% figure in the March 2023 quarter.

Plus, on the back of this figure came the Fair Work Commission's decision on Friday to lift award wages by 5.75%, and minimum wages by 8.6%, from July 1, 2023.

"Further increase ... to provide greater confidence"

As he said in his May cash rate announcement, RBA board governor, Dr Phillip Lowe, again said today that he wasn't happy with the inflation figure - even though it had passed beyond its peak.

Dr Lowe also mentioned that Australia should expect more such increases in the near future - but added such rates should give already struggling Aussies extra confidence.

"This further increase in interest rates is to provide greater confidence that inflation will return to target within a reasonable timeframe," Dr Lowe explained.

He went on to admit that he knew high inflation could "make life difficult for people and damage the functioning of the economy."

"It erodes the value of savings, hurts family budgets, makes it harder for businesses to plan and invest, and worsens income inequality," Dr Lowe said.

Productivity, wages growth and employment

Some conditions in the market offer a little positive respite - but not many and in general, the nation's economic growth has slowed, according to Dr Lowe. 

Labour market conditions have eased but still remain "very tight", said Dr Lowe.

"The unemployment rate increased slightly to 3.7% in April and employment growth has moderated," he added.

"Firms report that labour shortages have eased, although job vacancies and advertisements are still at very high levels."

At the same time, Dr Lowe said the annual increase in award wages was also higher than it was last year. 

Cash rate spikes to highest level in 11 years
According to Phillip Lowe, firms report that labour shortages have eased, although job vacancies and advertisements are still at very high levels.

We need more rate rises: economists

Even before today's announcement, some economists were pushing for another rate rise - and plenty more after today, to boot.

Economists told the Australian Financial Review (AFR) on Monday that the past year's rate hikes hadn't done enough to cool the economy, especially when it came to reconciling wage growth and business profits.

Centre for Independent Studies' chief economist, Peter Tulip, told AFR that the central bank had not done enough to tame inflation and restore balance in the economy.

Thus, the latest rate increase was both inevitable and desirable, he said.

“A front-loaded increase in interest rates will get the RBA closer to its unemployment and inflation targets quicker, so is desirable,” Dr Tulip said.

“If you don’t tighten enough, then you risk inflation expectations getting untethered, and hence, a big increase in unemployment later.”

"Rate rise may take steam out of housing market"

The Mays mix of economic data created another ‘line-ball’ call for the outlook in the cash rate, according to CoreLogic's head of residential research, Eliza Owen.

She added that uncertainty around interest rate decisions was being enhanced by a "housing market dichotomy".

"Established home and residential land values do not directly feed into the CPI housing indicator but there may be upside risk to inflation from rising home prices, due to potential wealth effects," Ms Owen said.

"The minutes of the RBA's May board meeting noted rising asset prices prompted the RBA to revise forecasts for consumption growth a little higher.

"The June statement acknowledges house prices are rising again."

Rental prices are also still high yet there are weaknesses in other facets of housing market activity such as badly-needed building approvals, Ms Owen said.

"New dwelling approvals plunged -8.1% in April, to the lowest level since April 2012 .... (with) a higher interest rate environment deterring the supply of new housing," she noted.

Ms Owen said today's rate spike could further lessen the steam in Australia's housing market - but it may only do so a little and in the short term.

She also encouraged homeowners and potential buyers to keep their chins up, as the housing market - like many economic trends - had defied expectations since the pandemic. 

Also helping juxta-position the past year's rate hikes was continued strong demand from the overseas migration boom; a slow return to pre-pandemic household sizes in Aussie capital cities; and persistently low levels of advertised supply, she explained.

"So, (today's) hike may only serve to take some steam out of the recovery trend in housing values - rather than reverse recent gains," Ms Owen said.

The RBA's next monthly cash rate announcement - and the first one for the 2024 financial year - will be on Tuesday, July 4, 2023, at 2.30pm AEDT.

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