‘Low tolerance’ for slower return to target: RBA

A Melbourne Cup Day interest rate hike is a live possibility if inflation proves harder to bring to heel than the Reserve Bank of Australia first thought.

The minutes from the October cash rate call suggested board members were feeling a little more cautious about the path for inflation than was let on in the statement released straight after the meeting.

The October meeting, the first under the leadership of new governor Michele Bullock, resulted in the fourth month in a row of rates kept steady at 4.1 per cent.

This followed an aggressive series of 12 interest rate hikes targeted at fast-rising consumer prices.

Inflation has since moved past its peak but the minutes revealed an RBA alert to risks threatening its game plan for bringing prices back within the target band by late 2025.

The central bank has kept the door open to more interest rate hikes in recent communications and has now spelt out the conditions it needs for more action.

“The board has a low tolerance for a slower return of inflation to target than currently expected,” the minutes read for the first time.

In favour of a possible hike, slow progress on services inflation and higher petrol prices were both highlighted as risks, with the latter a concern because it can shift household expectations of inflation.

The recovering housing market was also highlighted as a threat given households tend to spend when they feel wealthier.

The case for keeping interest rates on hold was little changed from earlier communications and centred on the lag time between interest rate hikes and their impact on the economy.

The board was also aware that it had not taken in enough new data to justify a change of strategy.

Between now and the November call, the central bank will have fresh inflation data, new jobs market figures and an updated set of staff forecasts to consider.

ANZ economist Adam Boyton said the September quarter consumer price index would need to come in “uncomfortably high” and the labour market would need to show “signs of strength” to trigger another rate hike.

The bank’s economists are sticking with their forecasts for an extended pause at 4.1 per cent for now.

“Risks of RBA action appear to be rising, however,” Mr Boyton said.

National Australia Bank economists expect the central bank to hike once more in November based on their inflation projections.

Commonwealth Bank is also leaning towards the RBA staying on hold from here but is ascribing a 40 per cent probability to a rate hike in November.

Petrol prices remain a source of uncertainty for the inflation outlook.

CommSec economists Craig James and Ryan Felsman said wholesale fuel prices had fallen sharply in Australia, which should flow through to the petrol pump.

But international oil prices could push higher again if there is any escalation of Israel-Hamas conflict beyond the Gaza Strip, they said, which could fan worries about Middle Eastern crude supplies.

Inflation expectations, which are sensitive to fuel price movements, moved a little higher last week as tracked by ANZ and Roy Morgan.

The weekly survey revealed a 0.2 percentage point lift in inflation expectations to 5.3 per cent.

The four-week moving average ticked up a little from 5.2 per cent to 5.3 per cent.


Poppy Johnston
(Australian Associated Press)


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