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RBA: Interest Rates Remain Steady After 13 Hikes

Carolane de Palmas | Tuesday 07 May 2024

On Tuesday, May 7th, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) opted to maintain interest rates at their current level of 4.35%. This marks the fourth consecutive monetary policy meeting where the RBA has held rates steady, potentially signalling a pause in the recent cycle of interest rate hikes.

Let’s take a closer look at this decision:

Australia flag

RBA Holds Interest Rates at 4.35%, But Interest Rate Relief Isn’t Imminent 

The Reserve Bank of Australia's (RBA) decision to hold interest rates at the highest level since December 2011 at 4.35% on May 7th. This decision marked a potential pause in the aggressive rate hikes implemented since April 2022. Back then, rates sat at a record low of 0%. However, opinions are divided on whether the RBA has finished raising rates. 

Some believe this might be the peak, while others anticipate further hikes to address inflation that has been stickier than anticipated. The RBA itself acknowledged the uncertainty, stating that "how interest rates evolve from here is uncertain." 

This lack of clarity leaves Australian borrowers in limbo, unsure of whether relief from high borrowing costs is likely to happen soon, which isn't exactly positive for Australian borrowers for several reasons.

How the Rates Might Affect the Economy

Australian homeowners are particularly vulnerable to interest rate hikes because a significantly higher proportion hold variable-rate mortgages compared to other countries. In fact, only Norway surpasses Australia in its dependence on variable-rate mortgages.

Also, like everyone, Australians are struggling with higher interest rates and cost-of-living increases. Reports from the RBA indicate that around 1 out of 20 owner-occupiers on variable-rate mortgages are already spending more than they earn due to these rising costs.

Australian Inflation Is Still Higher than Expected

Inflation remains a concern for the RBA despite showing signs of a slowdown. While consumer prices (CPI) rose by 3.6% year-on-year in the March quarter (down from 4.1% in December), underlying inflation remains higher than headline inflation and has not fallen as rapidly as expected.

This slower-than-anticipated decline in inflation, coupled with an uncertain economic outlook, potentially factored into the RBA's decision to hold interest rates at their current level. 

The central bank is aiming to bring inflation back within its target range of 2-3%, but recent data suggests this process will be challenging. The RBA now expects to achieve that target in the second half of 2025, potentially reaching the midpoint in 2026, which might require interest rates to remain “high for longer”.

The AUDUSD Down After the RBA’s Decision

The Australian Dollar (AUD) took a tumble against its US counterpart (USD) following the Reserve Bank of Australia's decision to leave interest rates unchanged. This came despite a four-day rally for the AUD/USD Forex pair and ongoing concerns about inflation and the economic outlook in the country.

Analysts had anticipated a more hawkish tone from the RBA. However, the central bank's statement lacked the expected forceful language, leading investors to re-evaluate their positions, which potentially changed the overall sentiment and contributed to the AUD/USD's trading downward movement. (Source: The Guardian)

Conclusion

Today’s move from the RBA followed the decision from the FOMC which left interest rates unchanged in a range between 5.25% and 5.5% on May 1st. Later on this week, traders can follow the decision of the Bank of England on Thursday, May 9th, which is also expected to leave its key rates at 5.25%.


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