The long predicted February cash rate cut from the Reserve Bank (RBA) has been thrown into doubt, with economists split on when the next one will be.
Data released yesterday revealed Australia's unemployment rate fell to 5.1% in December, down from 5.2% in November.
The figures had many economists eating an increasingly familiar flavour of pie (humble) and wiping theoretical egg off their faces, with most predicting a rise to 5.3%.
This prediction, coupled with apparent poor retail sales over Christmas (which did not eventuate), had the majority of economists agreeing that February would see Australia's cash rate cut to a record 0.50%.
Prior to the unemployment figures being released, the chance of a cut hovered around 60%; this has now been revised to 25%.
So when will the RBA cut, if at all?
The table below displays a selection of variable-rate home loans on offer, featuring a low-rate pick from each of the following three categories: the big four banks, the top 10 customer-owned banks, and the larger non-banks.
Base criteria of: a $400,000 loan amount, variable, principal and interest (P&I) home loans with an LVR (loan-to-value) ratio of at least 80%. The product and rate must be clearly published on the Product Provider’s web site. Introductory rate products were not considered for selection. Monthly repayments were calculated based on the selected products’ advertised rates, applied to a $400,000 loan with a 30-year loan term. Rates correct as at 03 April 2020. View disclaimer.
No February rate cut
Firmly in the February 'hold' camp are Westpac, Commbank and ANZ.
Westpac Chief Economist Bill Evans said the unemployment rate decrease wasn't unprecedented but it was still enough to give the RBA reason to hold rates.
"Over the last five years there have been six occasions when the unemployment rate has fallen in back to back months by a total of 0.2% or more," Mr Evans said.
"However, it is sufficiently strong a signal for the Board, which has emphasised the labour market as a key policy driver, to opt for a deferment of the rate cut process pending further information."
Mr Evans said that 2020 would still see two cash rate cuts from the central bank, and the second would see the introduction of quantitative easing.
"Westpac now expects that the Reserve Bank will delay its next cut in the cash rate to April with the final cut to 0.25% occurring in August."
CommSec Chief Economist Craig James said the job market is in better shape than generally assumed and expected no change in the cash rate come February.
"The hope is that the job market will continue to tighten, and this will serve to push up wages and prices," Mr James said.
"The Reserve Bank can stay on the sidelines for now. But clearly the level of interest rates is already super-stimulatory."
ANZ rounded out the big four supporters of a hold in February.
Head of Australian Economics David Plank tweeted that ANZ had changed their call following the unemployment figures and no longer expected a February cut.
We’ve changed our RBA call following the good news in the December employment report. RBA no longer expected to cut in February. https://t.co/XV6tyIsuLr— David Plank (@DavidPlank12) January 23, 2020
February rate cut
NAB remains all alone in holding firm on its prediction of a February cash rate cut.
Director of Economics Tapas Strickland conceded that the unemployment numbers made a cut less likely, but said the RBA remained some way away from its goals.
"As for the jobs figures, the further improvement in the unemployment rate will be a welcome development for the Reserve Bank and markets moved swiftly to reprice the chances of a February rate cut, now around a 25% chance compared to 60% previously," Mr Strickland said.
"While no doubt the timing of rate cuts for H1 2020 is less certain given the solid jobs figures, the RBA still remains some distance away from full employment and we still expect the RBA to cut rates in February as it downgrades its growth outlook on soft consumer data, amid ongoing labour market spare capacity and little inflationary pressure."
Attention turns to inflation
All eyes now look towards the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) release of December quarterly inflation figures on 29 January.
The RBA has repeatedly its goal is getting inflation to 2-3%, with the index currently sitting at 1.7%.
Mr Evans said it's unlikely the new data will see the RBA hit its desired target.
"We expect that the Inflation Report, on January 29, will print 0.36% for the trimmed mean pushing the annual rate down to 1.5% from 1.6% – well short of the 2–3% target inflation range."
CommBank agreed and said most economists expect the data to show inflation well contained below the RBA's target.
The entire market was not considered in selecting the above products. Rather, a cut-down portion of the market has been considered which includes retail products from at least the big four banks, the top 10 customer-owned institutions and Australia’s larger non-banks:
- The big four banks are: ANZ, CBA, NAB and Westpac
- The top 10 customer-owned Institutions are the ten largest mutual banks, credit unions and building societies in Australia, ranked by assets under management in November 2019. They are (in descending order): Credit Union Australia, Newcastle Permanent, Heritage Bank, Peoples’ Choice Credit Union, Teachers Mutual Bank, Greater Bank, IMB Bank, Beyond Bank, Bank Australia and P&N Bank.
- The larger non-bank lenders are those who (in 2019) has more than $9 billion in Australian funded loans and advances. These groups are: Resimac, Pepper, Liberty and Firstmac.
Some providers' products may not be available in all states. To be considered, the product and rate must be clearly published on the product provider's web site.
In the interests of full disclosure, Savings.com.au and loans.com.au are part of the Firstmac Group. To read about how Savings.com.au manages potential conflicts of interest, along with how we get paid, please click through onto the web site links.
*The Comparison rate is based on a $150,000 loan over 25 years. Warning: this comparison rate is true only for this example and may not include all fees and charges. Different terms, fees or other loan amounts might result in a different comparison rate.
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