Australian interest rates

Australian interest rates are set by the Reserve Bank of Australia, an independent body established in 1959. It is guided by an inflation targeting regime that seeks price stability in the 2-3% consumer price index band. The RBA originally also governed prudential policy but following several large scandals and bankruptcies in the late 1990s that role was separated into a discrete entity titled the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority.

The RBA is widely well-regarded despite a recent history of buried corruption allegations and a board of business rent seekers that, in more ethical nations, would not have their hands anywhere near monetary policy levers.

In 1990, Australian interest rates were set at 17.5%. But during the Great Moderation, interest rates consistently fell alongside inflation and oscillated in a band between 1.5% and 7.5%.

Owing to an endowment of resources that proved very attractive to China during the Global Financial Crisis, Australian interest rates did not fall to the lows experienced in other developed markets. Indeed, Australia was the first developed market to raise interest after the crisis though it has subsequently had to lower them again as the commodity boom subsided.

During the 2000s, Australian interest rates began to be influenced by external economic pressures much more than previously. This process was driven by the huge offshore borrowing of Australia’s big four banks in wholesale markets. As their offshore liabilities ballooned, the banks were increasingly exposed to the vicissitudes of far flung markets and investors. This reached a head in the global financial crisis of 2008 when banks faced much higher demands from offshore investors for better risk-adjusted returns, forcing them to break with the Australian cash rate in setting local interest rates.

Ever since, Australian bank have regularly adjusted lending and deposit interest rates unilaterally and independently around the cash rate set by the RBA. These interest rates moves were a constant source of political friction as politicians sought to protect the Australian property bubble.

In 2015, Australian interest rate policy was forced to return to a defacto shared responsibility arrangement between the RBA and APRA. With the lowest interest rates in fifty years, the Australian property bubble inflated to new dimensions even as a global yield trade drove up the value of the Australian dollar, threatening economic growth. Eventually the solution found was to apply macroprudential policy to some mortgage lending so that interest rates could be lowered to take pressure off the currency.

MacroBusiness was the most accurate forecaster on Australia interest rates in the market from 2011 forward. It predicted both the turn in rates downwards in 2011 and has had the most dovish outlook ever since. It also lead the debate around, and implementation of, macroprudential tools in 2014. MacroBusiness covers all apposite data and wider analysis of these issues daily.


Bank levies deliver welcome wake up call to foreign investors

The AFR is whining like a baby today led by former Commonwealth Bank of Australia CFO David Craig: “No international investor has bought a share in an Australian bank for the last month or two as far as I understand,” he says. “Basically the sovereign risk – the fear of what is happening here – has them


Banks tighten spigot on equity mate

Via the AFR: AMP, the nation’s largest financial services group, is banning property buyers using their mortgage as a “piggy bank” for personal spending, escalating lenders’ response to regulatory pressure to rein-in ballooning household debt. It follows Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s decision to crack down on issuing credit cards to property borrowers, also a response


Savers missing out on rate increases?

By Leith van Onselen As banks increase their rates on interest-only and investor mortgage loans, data from Canstar shows that just 15 out of 75 Australian lenders have increased their term deposit interest rates since the last official interest rate cut in August 2016. Steve Mickenbecker of Canstar says term deposit rates have fallen to


No more rainbows for RBA

Via WSJ comes the RBA’s Ian Harper: We’re on target, but to be blunt there is also plenty of evidence that you wouldn’t want to rush this (raising rates).” “There is still plenty of underemployment” and “it is not clear that inflation is rising” “We are not calling the economy dead. Things are recovering nicely.


Westpac on the RBA

From Matthew Hassan: As widely expected, the RBA left the official cash rate unchanged at 1.50% at its July meeting. The Governor’s decision statement was also largely the same as in June with no substantive changes to the key closing paragraphs and other tweaks mostly minor and even-handed in terms of policy implications. Indeed, there


RBA remains firmly in neutral

The RBA statement: At its meeting today, the Board decided to leave the cash rate unchanged at 1.50 per cent. The broad-based pick-up in the global economy is continuing. Labour markets have tightened further in many countries and forecasts for global growth have been revised up since last year. Above-trend growth is expected in a number of


Bendigo rides in with triple rate hike for interest-only

From Bendigo: Managing director Mike Hirst said the changes reflect the requirement to meet the regulator’s expectations while responding to the ultra-competitive owner occupied mortgage pricing market for new lending. “When setting interest rates our bank needs to consider many factors and carefully take into account the needs of our stakeholders including customers, shareholders, staff,


Are banks or the RBA setting monetary policy?

Via UBS: Are the major banks setting RBA monetary policy? The Australian monetary policy regime is shifting. Historically, the almost single driver of monetary policy settings in Australia was the RBA’s cash rate. Indeed, there used to be a very strong causality of RBA cash rate moves with borrowing rates. With 85-90% of mortgages on


Credit growth to stall out completely

Via Macquarie: We estimate that out-of-cycle interest rate hikes announced over the last 12 months reduced overall households’ incomes by ~$5bn. Furthermore a gradual shift from IO to P&I would take off additional $5-10bn from discretionary incomes or savings. However, given the distribution of debt, we estimate that ~60% of the reduction in discretionary incomes


The Fed to RBA: Hike rates and your bubble will bust

From the RBA Shadow today: Australia’s economic outlook remains mixed. The unemployment rate unexpectedly fell to 5.5%, while headline inflation remains well contained. On the other hand, household debt continues to break new records, raising concerns about a possible housing crash in the major capital cities. The RBA Shadow Board continues to advocate a hold-and-wait


APRA about to tighten again?

A speech from Wayne Byers yesterday certainly sets such up (cut to the end for the money quote): WAYNE BYRES Chairman The American Chamber of Commerce in Australia Business Briefing, Sydney 28 June 2017 Thank you for the invitation to speak this afternoon. I intend to talk today about international standards and national interests.1 The intersection


NAB joins specufestor interest-only smash

From NAB: NAB has today announced changes to its variable home loan interest rates, effective Friday 30 June 2017. The following three changes have been announced: The interest rate for owner occupiers making principal and interest repayments will decrease by 0.08% per annum, to 5.24% per annum The interest rate for owner occupiers making interest


Bank protection racket explodes

The conniption begins, from Chanticleer: Bad policy clearly breeds bad policy, as shown by South Australia’s $370 million tax on the big four banks and Macquarie Group. But South Australian Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis has created a problem for himself by aligning his “super profits” tax on the banks with the state’s share of the national