Reserve Bank of Australia has raised interest rates by a quarter-percentage point and said further tightening will be needed, sending the currency and government bond yields higher.
At its first meeting of the year 2023, the Reserve Bank lifted the cash rate by 25 basis points to 3.35 per cent. It also increased the interest rate on Exchange Settlement balances by 25 basis points to 3.25 per cent.
This is the highest interest rate level since September 2012, in a widely-anticipated decision. It was the ninth consecutive hike since policymakers embarked on their tightening cycle in May.
“The board expects that further increases in interest rates will be needed over the months ahead to ensure that inflation returns to target,” RBA Governor Philip Lowe said in a statement.
The Australian dollar jumped to trade at 69.40 US cents, while three-year bond yields climbed 15 basis points to 3.25% and stocks erased gains to drop 0.5%.
It is, however, moderating in response to lower energy prices, the resolution of supply-chain problems and the tightening of monetary policy. It will be some time, though, before inflation is back to target rates. The outlook for the global economy remains subdued, with below-average growth expected this year and next.
In Australia, CPI inflation over the year to the December quarter was 7.8 per cent, the highest since 1990. In underlying terms, inflation was 6.9 per cent, which was higher than expected. Global factors explain much of this high inflation, but strong domestic demand is adding to the inflationary pressures in a number of areas of the economy.
Inflation is expected to decline this year due to both global factors and slower growth in domestic demand. The central forecast is for CPI inflation to decline to 4¾ per cent this year and to around 3 per cent by mid-2025. Medium-term inflation expectations remain well anchored, and it is important that this remains the case.
The Australian economy grew strongly over 2022. The central forecast is little changed from three months ago, with GDP growth expected to slow to around 1½ per cent between 2023 and 2024. The recovery in spending on services following the lifting of COVID restrictions has largely run its course and the tighter financial conditions will constrain spending more broadly.
The labour market remains very tight. The unemployment rate has been steady at around 3½ per cent over recent months, the lowest rate since 1974. Job vacancies and job ads are both at very high levels but have declined a little recently. Many firms continue to experience difficulty hiring workers, although some report a recent easing in labour shortages.
As economic growth slows, unemployment is expected to increase.
The central forecast is for the unemployment rate to increase to 3¾ per cent by the end of this year and 4½ per cent by mid-2025.
Wages growth is continuing to pick up from the low rates of recent years and a further pick-up is expected due to the tight labour market and higher inflation. Given the importance of avoiding a price-wages spiral, 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.
“The Board recognises that monetary policy operates with a lag and that the full effect of the cumulative increase in interest rates is yet to be felt in mortgage payments. “
There is uncertainty around the timing and extent of the expected slowdown in household spending.
Some households have substantial savings buffers, but others are experiencing a painful squeeze on their budgets due to higher interest rates and the increase in the cost of living.
Household balance sheets are also being affected by the decline in housing prices. Another source of uncertainty is how the global economy responds to the large and rapid increase in interest rates around the world. These uncertainties mean that there is a range of potential scenarios for the Australian economy.
The Board is seeking to return inflation to the 2–3 per cent range while keeping the economy on an even keel, but the path to achieving a soft landing remains a narrow one.
“The Board expects that further increases in interest rates will be needed over the months ahead to ensure that inflation returns to target and that this period of high inflation is only temporary.”
In assessing how much further interest rates need to increase, the Board will be paying close attention to developments in the global economy, trends in household spending and the outlook for inflation and the labour market. The Board remains resolute in its determination to return inflation to target and will do what is necessary to achieve that.