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7 Oct 2022 - Hedge Clippings |07 October 2022



Hedge Clippings | Friday, 07 October 2022

For the past 60 years Bob Dylan, arguably the greatest musical influence of our time, has delivered classical and songs, and with memorable lines.  None more so than one from one of his earlier works, Subterranean Homesick Blues, which included the line "You don't need a weather man to know which way the wind blows." Admittedly, much, if not all, of the rest of the song's meaning, remains a mystery to most, us included, but (with apologies for the YouTube ad) the video clip was also an early classic.

Hedge Clippings frequently struggles with the equivalent when it comes to predicting the direction of the economy, and interest rates (and therefore property prices) although maybe it is easier with the benefit of hindsight. However, as the chart below shows the RBA's management of the cash rate seems to have been a case - with a few exceptions - of alternating between pressing the accelerator hard to the floor, followed by slamming on the brakes.

The RBA's media release following their monthly meeting is a master of understatement, but often it is the last sentence which tells which way the wind is really blowing. In March 2020 the RBA dropped its cash rate target to an unprecedented 0.25% with the following comment: "The Board will not increase the cash rate target until progress is being made towards full employment and it is confident that inflation will be sustainably within the 2-3 per cent target band." It's worth noting that back then the objective was to create some inflation...

In November of the same year, the RBA eased further to an even more unprecedented rate of 0.10% with the comment: "Given the outlook, the Board is not expecting to increase the cash rate for at least three years... and is prepared to do more if necessary."  Oops! Where was the weatherman that time?

To be fair to the accelerator/brake analogy, history shows that the cash rate stuck at 1.5% from August 2016 to May 2019, before it declined again through to November 2020 to bottom, and stay at 0.10%. That was until May this year, when it rose by 0.25%, followed by four consecutive increases of 0.5%, and then this week's increase of 0.25%, taking the cash rate to 2.6%.

Tuesday's RBA media release finished with this: "The Board remains resolute in its determination to return inflation to target, and will do what is necessary to achieve that." It goes without saying that the board's intention is to now reduce inflation to 2-3%, which they expect to achieve (just) in 2024.

Part of where we're going with this is not to say the RBA's job is easy, but that the resultant effect of easing or tightening are pretty inevitable (if not immediate) on the economy, and particularly housing prices. To repeat or borrow Dylan's words, when it comes to property prices, "you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows". It stands to reason - actually supply and demand - that a prolonged period of easy money, especially with little or low unemployment - will result in an increase in property prices.  Equally, the lower the interest rate, and the longer it lasts for - or in the RBA's case their November 2020 expectation for "at least three years" - the stronger will be the increase.

While money was easy and housing prices were rocketing, the RBA and media were concerned about housing affordability. Now, with interest rates and repayments rising, and property prices falling, there are dire warnings of mortgage stress and the potential for foreclosure.

So which way is the wind blowing at the moment? This week's rise of only 0.25% against the expectations of 0.50%, although unlikely to be the last in this cycle, did signal a significant shift in the RBA's thinking that this time the peak cash rate should be no more than 3.25%.

That of course assumes that inflation declines. And sometimes that weatherman is not so predictable.

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