Interest rate anxiety and the domino effect on mortgage holders

By Maria Irene

In a climate of growing economic concerns, Australia braces for what could be the 13th consecutive interest rate hike, a move that’s causing anxiety among mortgage holders. The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), led by Michele Bullock, is due to convene on Melbourne Cup Day to contemplate a quarter percentage point rate increase. This comes after inflation surprised analysts by climbing 1.2% in the third quarter of 2023, exceeding market expectations of a 1.1% rise.

Despite a minor relief with the annual inflation rate dropping from 6% to 5.4%, the underlying numbers remain unsettling. The trimmed mean, a key indicator of core inflation, followed suit with a quarterly increase of 1.2%. All eyes are now on the RBA as it prepares for its upcoming meeting, which, if resulting in another rate hike, would stretch the financial capacity of mortgage holders across the nation.

The larger narrative at play is Australia’s population surge and its cascading impact on multiple sectors. The exponential growth in population numbers has intensified the demand for housing and basic amenities. However, supply chains have failed to keep up, ushering in a perilous housing and rental crisis, along with a steep incline in homelessness. Moreover, the ABS reports a 5.6% annual increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI), marking consistent rises for the past three months. This population swell has not only led to inflationary pressures but also has trickled down to operational costs for businesses, forcing them to cut back on employees or freeze wages, thereby accentuating the unemployment crisis.

Economists and market watchers have sounded the alarm bells. ANZ Bank openly expressed its concerns and anticipates a cash rate increase to 4.35% by the RBA in November. Tarric Brooker, journalist and analyst, points out that high CPI rental price inflation is not a fleeting concern but something that will plague Australians for an extended period. He argues that the Albanese government has unwittingly given landlords excessive leverage to continue boosting rents indefinitely.

Interestingly, Warren Hogan, a macro economist, vehemently argues that the issue is domestic inflation. He dismisses the roles of global factors, supply chains, or oil prices as secondary contributors. Hogan also notes that without various government interventions, such as subsidies in energy, childcare, and rents, the inflation figures would be even more alarming.

Adding a sliver of silver lining, Stephen Koukoulas, adviser to PM Albanese, highlights that Woolworths reported falling prices in key areas like fruit, vegetables, and meat, suggesting a moderate trend in food inflation, thanks to lower input costs. However, this does little to assuage the looming concerns around the overall inflationary pressures and its consequences on various strata of the Australian society.

In the larger global context, China’s economic frailty, underscored by a weakening real estate market and rising fiscal deficit, signals that the situation is not just an isolated local phenomenon. The Chinese government’s recent moves, including a significant rate cut and a 1 trillion Yuan sovereign bond issuance, indicate a looming recession risk that could have far-reaching implications.

So as Australia prepares for the RBA’s next move, policymakers and stakeholders must confront these multifaceted challenges head-on. Balancing population growth, curbing inflation, and ensuring the welfare of all citizens will require nuanced strategies that extend beyond mere interest rate hikes. Given the current domestic and international economic climate, Australia is at a crucial crossroads, and the decisions made now will reverberate through its future.

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