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Holding pattern: Low interest in cutting rates as Reserve Bank meets

Stalling progress on inflation suggests borrowers will have to wait for interest rate relief with the Reserve Bank of Australia likely to stay on hold and cuts unlikely until late 2024, at the earliest.

Jun 18, 2024, updated Jun 18, 2024
Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) Michele Bullock. (AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi)

Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) Michele Bullock. (AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi)

After surging inflation prompted an aggressive round of interest rate hikes in 2022, piling pressure on mortgage-holders, the official cash rate has stayed unchanged at 4.35 per cent since November last year.

All 43 economists polled by Reuters said the cash rate would stay there for a fifth meeting in a row.

The vast majority – 38 of the total – expected no change in the next quarter before cuts began in the final three months of the calendar year.

Only one of the sampled economists expected the next move to be a hike.

While the economy has slowed to a crawl, as seen in the March quarter national accounts, inflation has proved persistent and the jobs market has been taking a long time to weaken.

Westpac senior economist Matthew Hassan said the past six weeks should give the RBA some comfort the economy was evolving as it had expected.

“But it will be looking for a bit more evidence around inflation before it can relax, let alone be confident enough about hitting its inflation target that it can start to shift its stance,” he wrote in a note.

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The central bank has a two-to-three per cent target range for inflation.

Higher interest rates are straining household budgets with monthly home loan repayments about $1,500 higher on a $600,000 loan over 30 years compared to April 2022, before hikes began, based on numbers crunched by comparison site Canstar.

Hardship rates are unsurprisingly on the rise, with Equifax revealing a 21.5 per cent jump in the number of mortgage-holders seeking assistance from lenders.

Small businesses and sole traders are also under pressure, especially in construction and hospitality, with insolvencies at their highest point since 2015.

Nearly half of the 500 small business owners recently surveyed by YouGov on behalf of lender Prospa had either reduced their income or dipped into their personal funds to cover a business expense.

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