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Reserve Bank tipped to pause interest rates at final meeting of 2023

Interest rates could begin to fall in 2024

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The Reserve Bank is tipped to deliver Australian families a Christmas reprieve from interest rates increasing, with economists predicting a pause at the final meeting of the year this week.

Central bankers will meet on Tuesday to decide whether to double up on their increase last month or to pause the cash rate target for two months until their next meeting in February.

An increase would raise the target to 4.6 per cent – the highest since 2008 – and add another $78 to typical repayments on a $500,000 25-year home loan (on top of $1200 in earlier increases).

But 82 per cent of economists surveyed by Finder believe households will escape that fate, predicting the RBA will pause rates in December to await inflation data in the new year.

And about half think the current 4.35 per cent target is where the cash rate will peak.

Westpac chief economist Luci Ellis said there hadn’t been enough new data on the economy since the November meeting to justify a December rise. Though that didn’t mean rates had peaked.

“The RBA is still ready to raise rates further if it sees further upside surprises on inflation,” Ellis said.

“It has no tolerance for more delays in the return to the inflation target. So February is still live, but we don’t see them moving in December.’’

Other forecasters, meanwhile, think an increase in December is possible, or even probable.

Oxford Australia head of macroeconomic forecasting Sean Langcake said the September-quarter inflation figures that justified the November rate increase were strong enough to justify two interest rate hikes before 2024.

“There’s still a very strong case out there for tighter conditions to get inflation on a trajectory they’re more comfortable with,” he said.

A second rate hike before Christmas would be tough to swallow for millions of families, who are navigating higher rates of mortgage stress and rising costs for essentials such as electricity.

But RBA boss Michele Bullock has reiterated the bank won’t hesitate to increase rates further, saying last week that families (generally) are actually coping “fine” with higher mortgage bills.

Indeed, many economists still think the RBA will raise rates again, if not in December then in 2024. Mathew Tiller at LJ Hooker Group said the next batch of inflation data would be key.

“Inflation continues to ease, as indicated by the latest monthly CPI data, with the effects of previous rate rises beginning to impact households,” he said.

“The upcoming release of quarterly CPI data at the end of January 2024 will be crucial in determining whether interest rates have reached their peak.”

Expert opinion converged on a December pause after monthly CPI figures released last week showed headline inflation had eased to 4.9 per cent in October, a fresh low in recent years.

But those figures are weighted towards goods, not services, Langcake said, meaning that the area of concern for price growth may not have shown up properly in the headline figures.

Underlying inflation, which the Reserve Bank watches closely because it strips out price volatility, was higher than this at 5.3 per cent.

“There are disinflationary pressures out there, but what’s the path from the next part of the disinflationary cycle back towards the inflation target?” Langcake said.

“There’s good reason to think it’s going to be slow and tough going, and the RBA has very little tolerance to push that [timeline] out any further.”

UNSW Sydney senior lecturer Dr Nalini Prasad also predicted a hike in December, saying inflation pressures remained strong.

“The RBA has signalled that they are worried about services inflation. That continues to be strong,” she said.

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