Hedge Clippings | 07 July 2023
A New Financial Year - Same Old Inflation Story
"Poor old Philip Lowe" - as described this week by the opposition finance spokeswoman, Senator Jane Hume - and we agree!
Philip Lowe is a convenient scapegoat for inflation, and if or when it occurs, for a recession, and the government is happy for that to be the case, even as the RBA hit the pause button this week. The reality is that Lowe's got both hands tied behind his back, and only has monetary policy to "head" off inflation, just like his counterparts at the Bank of England and the US Federal Reserve, who are facing much the same challenge. Except they're not about to lose their jobs!
Chalmers and Albanese have promised to announce later this month if Lowe's tenure is up in September, and if not, who will replace him. Their failure to back him as incumbent suggests two things: Firstly, he won't get the job, and secondly, that works well for them, as it avoids the government's responsibility for doing anything (or should that be nothing) to fight inflation.
So while government ministers and panels of economists are happy to take pot-shots at Lowe and the RBA, they can change their mins, and forecasts on a month to month basis. We'd love to analyse their past forecasting track records going back a few years. How many of them would have agreed with Philip Lowe in 2020 (mid COVID) and 2021 (pre Ukraine), given the then prevailing circumstances, that interest rates were unlikely to rise until 2024?
As for how slowly it's taking the RBA's 13 rate rises to date, totaling over 4%, to slow the economy, and thus tame inflation, part of the reason can be seen in the chart below, which shows the actual increase across all mortgages of less than 2% after adjusting for those on fixed terms. Australians preference for variable rates is greater than home owners overseas, with the US number showing why the US economy and employment is so resilient.
According to the 2021 census only 35% of Australian homes are owned with a mortgage, and 31% are owned outright, and 30% rented. Of those with a mortgage, only a small proportion will have "maxed out" their borrowing limit in the past few years. Add to that, research from PEXA shows that over 25% of houses bought in 2022 in NSW, Victoria, and Queensland were bought for cash. So while mortgage stress (and now rental stress) are daily news fodder, higher interest rates aren't biting too hard in the majority of households.
What will slow consumer discretionary spending will be a combination of inflation itself (particularly for those affected by interest rates), and consumer sentiment and confidence. And while the R word is not yet a reality, and unemployment remains at historically low levels, that's not really happening.
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