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Get ready for a rate rise on Cup Day, but could there be more?

Peter Switzer
26 October 2023

Interest rates are on the rise again following a worse-than-expected inflation number. You can blame rising petrol prices, thanks to the self-interested behaviour of Vladimir Putin and OPEC+, as well as Australia’s lack of housing that has kept rents rising.

But the news could be bleaker for interest rate worriers, as some economists are tipping rate rises in November and December!

I don’t like predicting what the Reserve Bank board will do with rates, but just like my 2GB colleague Ben Fordham, people always ask me what I think the RBA will do on the first Tuesday of the month. The reason why I don’t like predicting rate moves is because I’m qualified to tell you and the RBA what should happen to rates, but I’m not an expert on the minds of new RBA boss Michele Bullock and her board.

This is what my academic training and over 30 years of media commentary on our economy tells me should happen. I think the RBA has raised rates enough and demand is dropping, but cost pressures are driving this inflation. So, the RBA raising rates has two effects.

The first effect is the impact of higher rates depressing demand for those with variable rate home loans. The second effect is that it raises costs to businesses and landlords who, if they can, will raise prices and rents, which adds to inflation.

Unfortunately, the RBA and economists know that all the central bank really has at its disposal to bring inflation down from its current 5.2% to the 2-3% band (which Bullock wants) is the interest rate lever.

I think monetary policy is slower to impact the economy because a lot of people are still to migrate off fixed rate home loans to variable ones, so the pullback on spending that should help prices and inflation fall won’t show up until early 2024.

Bullock also knows that if she follows the script of economists tipping a rate rise on Cup Day and then on the first Tuesday in December, she could really hurt the economy’s growth more than she wants.

The AFR’s Michael Read looked at the view of chief economist Phil O’Donaghoe at Deutsche Bank, who’s tipping two rate rises over the next two months. “Today’s CPI outcome lays the groundwork for what we expect will indeed be a material upward revision to the inflation outlook in the RBA’s upcoming November Statement on Monetary Policy,” he said.

Read looked for the impact of two cash rate rises on those with home loan debt and the news is tough reading for mortgagees. “Were the cash rate to hit 4.6 per cent, a household with a $750,000 loan would pay $1,930 more a month on its mortgage than in May last year, according to RateCity,” he revealed.

That’s $23,160 over a year. The only good news I can deliver on that shocking revelation is that if the RBA raises twice in two months, the economic slowdown that will show up next year will mean rate cuts will come sooner than we currently think, and job losses will be more than economists are predicting.

What Ms Bullock also knows is that this 7.2% lift in petrol prices added a quarter of a percent to the jump in inflation between July and September. The ABS says inflation rose by 1.2% over the quarter, so if OPEC+ hadn’t restricted supply and petrol prices hadn’t risen, then the inflation number would’ve been 1.2% minus 0.25%, which would’ve been 0.95%. This number wouldn’t have made economists confidently predict that rates have to rise.

I think they’re right when they predict that the RBA will raise rates on Cup Day, but I don’t think there’ll be another this year. That said, my preferred option would be to see no more rate rises because hikes in petrol prices, which are up about $12 a week for a typical household, act like a rate hike.

The ABC’s Ian Verrender talked to AMP’s chief economist Shane Oliver about the $12 a week rise in the price of petrol, and this is what he said: “$12 a week less is available for spending elsewhere, which in turn, will likely reduce underlying inflation pressures and add to the risk of recession".

Bullock knows this and it’s why she shouldn’t even think of two more rate rises. However, one on Cup Day is looking like a pretty good bet!

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