RBA surprises with 0.25% rate increase – half what the market expected – amid global downturn concerns

- October 4, 2022 2 MIN READ
Reserve Bank
The RBA in Sydney. Photo: Simon Thomsen
The Reserve Bank of Australia has lifted its cash rate target by 25 basis points to 2.6%, its sixth monthly increase in a row.

But the surprise was that most analysts expected another 50-point increase, but the central banks board opted for half that figure.

From record low of 0.1% set in 2020 in response to the Covid pandemic, the RBA has now increased the cash rate by 0.25%, 0.5%, 0.5%, 0.5% 0.5% and now 0.25% again at every monthly meeting since May. They’ve been the first increases in 11 years.

RBA governor Philip Lowe cited increased uncertainty in the global economy “which has deteriorated recently” as a key reason behind the board’s decision, along with how household spending in Australia responds to the tighter financial conditions amid higher inflation as another uncertainty, because the full effects of higher interest rates had yet to be felt in mortgage payments.

“Consumer confidence has also fallen and housing prices are declining after the earlier large increases,” he said.

“Working in the other direction, people are finding jobs, gaining more hours of work and receiving higher wages.”

Lowe pointed to “large financial buffers” in many Australian households, with the saving rate still remaining higher than pre-pandemic levels.

“Today’s further increase in interest rates will help achieve a more sustainable balance of demand and supply in the Australian economy. This is necessary to bring inflation back down,” Lowe said

“As is the case in most countries, inflation in Australia is too high. Global factors explain much of this high inflation, but strong domestic demand relative to the ability of the economy to meet that demand is also playing a role.”

ausbiz anchor David Scutt believed the smaller increase is a sign that the central bank will keep rates higher for longer.

The Governor said the Board expects to increase interest rates again, forecasting CPI inflation to be around 7¾% over 2022, increasing the months ahead, before falling to a little above 4% during 2023 and around 3% over 2024, at the top of its target range.

“The size and timing of future interest rate increases will continue to be determined by the incoming data and the Board’s assessment of the outlook for inflation and the labour market,” Lowe said.

Lowe noted that wages growth is continuing to pick up from the low rates of recent years, although it remains lower than in other advanced economies where inflation is higher.

“Given the tight labour market and the upstream price pressures, the Board will continue to pay close attention to both the evolution of labour costs and the price-setting behaviour of firms in the period ahead,” he said

Keeping the economy “on an even keel” while reigning in inflation is a narrow path to balance and “clouded in uncertainty”, Lowe added.

The RBA also increased the interest rate on Exchange Settlement balances by 25 basis points to 2.5%.

Key lenders have yet to respond to the RBA’s latest decision to lift rates.