It seems slow and steady is still winning the race when it comes to the cash rate, with the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) announcing yesterday that the record low 0.1% figure was on hold for the 15th consecutive month.
The central bank’s first cash rate announcement for 2022 comes on the back of plenty of rumours about when it will increase the record low rate.
But in his Monetary Policy Decision statement, RBA governor Dr Philip Lowe maintained patience was key to ensuring the best possible outcome for Australia’s economy.
Dr Lowe said while inflation had picked up faster than the RBA had expected, it still remained lower than in many other countries and was being affected by the recent COVID Omicron outbreaks, higher prices for petrol and newly constructed homes, and supply chain breakdowns.
“The headline CPI inflation rate is 3.5% (but) in underlying terms, inflation is 2.6%,” Dr Lowe explained.
“The central forecast is for underlying inflation to increase further in coming quarters to around 3¼ per cent, before declining to around 2¾ per cent over 2023 as supply-side problems are resolved and consumption patterns normalise.”
Dr Lowe reiterated that with all these points to consider, the RBA Board wasn’t prepared to increase the cash rate until actual inflation sat sustainably within its 2%-3% target range.
“While inflation has picked up, it is too early to conclude that it is sustainably within the target band,” he said.
Dr Lowe was pleased with the state of Australia’s labour market, which he said had recovered strongly, as well as the unemployment rate, which dropped to 4.2% in December.
“The RBA’s central forecast is for the unemployment rate to fall to below 4% later in the year and to be around 3¾ per cent at the end of 2023,” he said.
Property experts cautiously positive
The real estate industry is generally satisfied with the RBA’s first cash rate decision for 2022.
Dr Lowe admitted that while housing prices have risen strongly, the rate of increase has eased in some cities.
CoreLogic research director Tim Lawless concurred, explaining that while housing values continued to rise, the pace of this growth was gradually softening across most capital cities.
This is despite a small uptick in housing values last month when CoreLogic’s national measure of housing values rose by 1.1%.
While this figure was an increase of 10 basis points compared to December when the national index was up 1%, five of our eight capital cities recorded only a slight upward change to their monthly growth rate.
“Values are still broadly rising, but nowhere near as fast as they were in early 2021,” Mr Lawless said.
He pointed to the cost of new housing and higher rents as the key drivers of the higher core inflation reading over the December quarter.
However, this data was an indication of a stronger than forecast economic environment in 2022, he said, with the RBA itself acknowledging that key measures of the economy were performing better than expected.
We could see the RBA’s inflation and labour market mandates being met earlier than expected,” Mr Lawless explained.
He added that cash rates could still increase in 2022, despite the RBA’s insistence in December that this was unlikely to happen before 2023.
“A growing chorus of economic commentators are forecasting a rate rise later this year and financial markets have the first lift fully priced in by mid-year,” Mr Lawless said.
Even the chance that the cash rate may rise sooner than expected is a “downside risk to housing”, he said.
“Previous analysis from CoreLogic shows a strong inverse correlation between movements in the cash rate and housing values, albeit with the strongest correlation based on a lag,” he explained.
“But other factors are also likely to influence the trajectory of housing values.”
These factors include credit policy, which may tighten later this year, and housing affordability, Mr Lawless said.
“Also, although labour markets have tightened substantially, there is little evidence of a material flowthrough to wages growth,” he explained.
However, Mr Lawless added that several possibilities could help to offset a significant downturn in the property market as the result of a cash rate increase.
“As the economy strengthens and labour markets tighten, the risks around mortgage stress or default should lessen,” he explained.
“Open international borders will also help to support demand, initially from a rental perspective but in the longer term, for home purchasing as well.
“Additionally, housing inventory levels remain remarkably low across most jurisdictions which is adding some support for housing values.”
What’s next for mortgage holders?
Firstly, with low interest rates potentially continuing well into 2022, there’s never been a better time to pay off your mortgage as swiftly as possible.
Alternatively, as Lending Loop recently recorded, you may want to consider refinancing your loan to achieve the best possible deal.
Also consider that even when the cash rate starts rising, changes to your mortgage won’t happen overnight with Mr Lawless explaining that it will take time for interest rates to normalise once they start rising.
This in turn will provide a low cost of housing credit for awhile.
Finally, remember that as we said at Christmas, no one has a crystal ball to ensure the future holds great things for you and your loan.
But we can give you great advice on what road to take with your loan in 2022.
We won’t even insist you stop buying a morning coffee!
So give us a call today at Lending Loop.