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RBA to extend interest rates pause in October as Michele Bullock takes the reins

RBA boss Michele Bullock said the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East could slow global growth.

RBA boss Michele Bullock said the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East could slow global growth. Photo: AAP

The Reserve Bank is slated to pause interest rates again in October when it meets on Tuesday, with economists predicting central bankers will look past a recent rise in petrol prices.

Another pause would see the cash rate target remain at 4.1 per cent, where it has stood since June, and spare millions of home owners another painful increase in their monthly mortgage bills.

More than $1100 has already been added to monthly repayments on a typical $500,000, 25-year home loan under previous hikes since May 2022, when the target was just 0.1 per cent.

Every economist surveyed by Finder last week expects rates to be paused again in October, but about half think there will be another hike this year.

Commonwealth Bank economists said rates will remain on hold, though the RBA will “retain its tightening bias” and will be alert to inflation risks over the final months of 2023.

“Looking at the data flow since the September meeting and the path ahead … the best course of action for the RBA will be to continue the pause seen in the cash rate since the June board meeting, maintaining a rate of 4.1 per cent,” CBA chief economist Stephen Halmarick said.

Monthly inflation data published last week showed progress on easing price growth has stalled somewhat, largely because petrol prices have soared lately after a rebound in global oil prices.

But while high petrol prices are likely to persist, Oxford Australia head of macroeconomic forecasting Sean Langcake doesn’t think it will be enough to push the RBA out of rate pause mode.

“It’s not the kind of thing that would provoke an interest rate move – it’s a classic one to look through,” he said.

Major forecasters still anticipate that rates will remain on hold until next year as inflation eases, with the RBA having indicated a willingness to let growth fall slowly over an 18-month period.

Westpac chief economist Bill Evans said another interest rates pause on Tuesday is a “certainty” after central bankers held rates in August and September.

“A move in October would be very surprising,” Evans said.

“That does not preclude the board from continuing to consider the two options – an increase of 0.25 per cent or hold rates steady.

“After describing the decision in June as “finely balanced” the board has described the “on hold” decision as the “stronger one” in subsequent meetings – indicating a clear preference for the pause option.”

ANZ economists Madeline Dunk and Adelaide Timbrell said retail sales data for August released last week, which was widely described as soft, supports the RBA continuing its interest rates pause.

That’s because the RBA has been attempting to engineer a slowing in the economy with higher rates, something that is now well under way.

“Monthly [retail] sales have grown less than 3 per cent this year, highlighting that the current economic environment is clearly sapping households’ appetite to spend,” they said.

“We expect growth to remain soft for the remainder of 2023. We do, however, think spending will lift in 2024 as real household disposable income growth returns.”

EY chief economist Cherelle Murphy also expects a pause in October, but said the “RBA will be ready to pounce” if productivity doesn’t improve and services inflation remains too high.

As previously explained, central bankers fear that services prices will derail their inflation plans if wages growth picks up without higher productivity.

But evidence of such an eventuality has been scarce in recent months as wages growth has remained relatively steady (though elevated).

“Current data are unfolding closely enough to the central bank’s forecasts that the board shouldn’t have to lift rates further,” Murphy said.

The RBA will hand down its October interest rates decision on Tuesday at 2.30pm.

It will be the first rate decision delivered by new RBA governor Michele Bullock, following former boss Philip Lowe’s term ending in September.

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