The Reserve Bank is not about to upset the applecart heading into next week’s federal budget, with the central bank widely expected to leave the cash rate unchanged for a while yet.
While governor Philip Lowe has repeatedly warned the next movement in the cash rate is likely to be up, financial markets see only a 50/50 chance of a move by February next year.
Dr Lowe has also raised concerns about rising household debt, but new figures suggest demand for mortgages and loans is not getting any worse.
The Reserve Bank’s own data released on Monday shows while overall credit demand grew by 0.5 per cent in March – the largest rise since July last year – at an annual rate of 5.1 per cent it is below where it was when the cash rate was last cut in August 2016.
Commonwealth Bank economist Gareth Aird said given the governor’s bias to raise interest rates in the future it does mean the cost of borrowing money is not going to get any cheaper.
‘On that basis, and with lending standards to households looking more likely to be further tightened than loosened, credit growth could be expected to continue to ease over 2018,’ he said.
‘Ultimately any slowdown in credit will weigh on dwelling prices and consumption.’
The central bank will hold its monthly board meeting on Tuesday where economists expect it to keep the cash rate at a record-low 1.5 per cent.
However, there is a group of academics and economists that believe it would make sense for the Reserve Bank to be raising the cash rate faced with a potentially generous budget on May 8.
‘An expansionary budget will heighten the need for an interest rate increase,’ Timo Henckel, a lecturer at the Australian National University’s Research School of Economics, warns.
Dr Henckel chairs the ANU’s ‘RBA shadow board’, which includes academics, economists and former central bank board members.
The ‘shadow board’ attaches a 51 per cent probability for the need to raise the cash rate when the central bank board meets on Tuesday compared to 49 per cent who still believe holding the rate steady is the appropriate setting.
Even if there is not a rate rise this week, it puts a 76 per cent chance of it happening in the next six months.
The last time there was an increase in the rate was in November 2010.