Hedge Clippings | Friday, 12 August 2022
Following last week's rate increase of 0.5% by the RBA, and the inevitable flow-on from the big banks, various sections of the media made a song and dance about how much higher mortgage rates are likely to go, and how much stress that's going to put on homeowners, and thus push the economy into a recession. This week therefore, it is worth taking notice of comments by the CEO's of the CBA and ANZ, both of whom are more optimistic than the economic doomsayers. Given that between the two of them they have their fingers on the pulse, or at least the numbers of the bank statements of half the population, they should know.
ANZ's Shane Elliott thinks an Australian recession is "extraordinarily unlikely", while Matt Comyn doesn't believe there will be widespread mortgage defaults within CBA's home loan book.
Given the sensitivity to any interest rate increases from the record lows of the past few years, the facts would appear to support Comyn's view that the RBA will only need to raise official rates twice more, once by 0.50%, and a final 0.25% before Christmas. 40% of CBA's mortgage customers have fixed loans, and most won't be affected for another 18 months. Added to this almost 80% of CBA's borrowers are ahead with their payments, and around one third are two years ahead. Finally, the CBA, along with other banks, have been tightening mortgage eligibility for a while in anticipation of higher rates.
As we see it, the biggest risk for homeowners is that property prices fall significantly (say more than 20%), whereupon banks, who have a habit of wanting an equity top up from their stretched borrowers, demand just that. Hopefully this time around prices won't fall that far, or if they do, banks will hold their nerve.
Meanwhile, the above scenario (official rates to be limited to 2.75% or say 3% as a maximum) relies on inflation peaking and therefore falling into the RBA's "transient" category. It's well accepted that to date, rather than being wages driven, much of the inflationary pressure is either climate based (fresh fruit and veg for example), caused by supply chain disruption, and/or energy prices, thanks to the war in Ukraine. As noted last week, there's probably a number of opportunistic price rises by some businesses being slipped in there as well.
As a result, Australian equity markets have continued to rally after their EOFY sell off, which particularly hit last year's winning peer group of small and mid cap managers, and their funds, which judging by the results below rebounded strongly. Even cryptocurrencies have stabilised, which has seen Bitcoin back above $24,000 from below $19,000 in early June. Equity markets seem to have ignored the war in Ukraine, as they did with this week's ramping up of action, and rhetoric, by the Chinese leadership over Pelosi's visit to Taiwan.
Coupled with the effects of climate change in Europe, which is threatening further supply chain disruption as the Rhine and Danube rivers become un-navigable in places, macro issues such as the threat of an all out war between China and the US (and allies) would put everything more in perspective. Except that the markets, by and large, seem to be ignoring the storm clouds.
At their peril.
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