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Australia’s Reserve Bank Raises Rates by Most in 22 Years

The Reserve Bank of Australia lifted interest rates by a shock 50bps on Tuesday and warned that more rises are coming as it struggles to keep a lid on surging inflation.


The Reserve Bank of Australia raised interest rates by 50bps at its meeting on June 7.
The Australian central bank hiked interest rates by 50 basis points on Tuesday in a shock move to try to rein in surging inflation. File photo: Reuters.

 

Australia’s central bank lifted interest rates on Tuesday by the most in 22 years and warned that more tightening is coming as it struggles to keep a lid on surging inflation.

Its sudden hawkish move stunned markets and sent the Aussie dollar soaring.

Wrapping up its June policy meeting, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) lifted its cash rate by 50 basis points to 0.85%, wrong footing investors who had wagered on a move of either 25 or 40 basis points.

“Given the current inflation pressures in the economy, and the still very low level of interest rates, the Board decided to move by 50 basis points today,” RBA Governor Philip Lowe said in a statement.

“The board expects to take further steps in the process of normalising monetary conditions in Australia over the months ahead.”

The central bank had already lifted rates by a quarter point in May, the first increase since 2010, and many had thought it would stick to quarter-point moves. The last time it hiked by more was in early 2000.

 

ALSO SEE: Australia Central Bank No. 2 Quits to Join Green Energy Group

 

 

 

Consumer Inflation at 20-Year Peak

Investors sent the local dollar up 0.4% to $0.7223, while yields on three-year bonds shot up 16 basis points to 3.27% and levels not seen since early 2012.

Futures shifted to price in the real risk of another 50 basis point rise in July and rates around 1.5% by August following the release of inflation figures for the second quarter, which are expected to be red-hot.

Consumer price inflation hit a 20-year peak of 5.1% in the first quarter and could well approach 6% this quarter amid rising costs for energy, food, rents and home building.

“Higher prices for electricity and gas and recent increases in petrol prices mean that, in the near-term, inflation is likely to be higher than was expected a month ago,” Lowe warned.

 

Hard Winter Ahead

In just his third week in office, Treasurer Jim Chalmers warned Australians inflation would get worse before it got better and to brace for a “difficult and expensive” winter.

Chalmers promised some cost-of-living relief would be included in a budget due in October, centred on child care and health. The Labor government ousted the Liberal National coalition in an election in late May, inheriting almost A$1 trillion ($718.70 billion) in debt and endless budget deficits.

With inflation looking set to stay high for longer, investors are wagering the RBA will have to raise rates to near 3% by the end of the year making it easily one of the most aggressive tightening campaigns on record.

Most economists had doubted rates would rise that far given house-hunting Australians are sitting on A$2 trillion in mortgage debt making them very sensitive to borrowing costs.

House prices have already begun to slip in Sydney and Melbourne following a stellar run in 2021, and consumer sentiment is back to the depths of the pandemic.

“Consumer sentiment has never been this low at the beginning of an RBA tightening cycle,” noted Gareth Aird, head of Australian economics at CBA.

“It was also the first time house prices have fallen at the start of a cycle, and house prices matter,” he added. “Pushing rates too high too quickly runs the risk of prices correcting sharply lower in the near-term which would have a ripple effect through the economy.”

 

• Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard

 

ALSO SEE:

Australian Central Bank Warns of More Interest Rate Rises

 

Housing Prices in Australia Fall Amid Rate Hike, Rising Costs

 

US Senate Confirms Caroline Kennedy as New Australia Envoy

 

 

Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years and has a family in Bangkok.

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