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Printed: 29 May 2024 5:53 AM


12 Apr 2024 - Hedge Clippings | 12 April 2024



Hedge Clippings | 12 April 2024

It was only a couple of months ago that the "market" (i.e. bond traders and economists) was firmly of the opinion that the US Federal Reserve would cut interest rates up to six times this year - starting about now. Fast forward to "now" - actually last Wednesday - and the market views that the cuts, or possibly cut, (singular) won't arrive until much later in the year, possibly not until November. Some - including former US Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers - warned that the next move might even be up, not down.

The cause of this market re-think were the US CPI numbers for the 12 months to March which rose by 3.5% over the past 12 months, up from 3.2% in February, having previously peaked at 9.1% post COVID back in 2022. Excluding volatile items such as food and energy it left core inflation unchanged at 3.8%, but for a market that was hoping for, (but not expecting) a reduction, this was not the news they were looking for.

Aside from higher food and fuel prices, the strength of the US economy, and the jobs market in particular, is not helping the Fed's task of cutting rates following their next meeting on the 1st of May. Over 300,000 jobs were added last month in the US, the largest gain in almost a year, against expectations of just 200,000 resulting in a jobless rate of 3.8%. In turn, this cast doubts on the argument that continued high US interest rates of 5.25% to 5.5% would damage the economy. Simply put, it seems that while the Fed is concerned about inflation above 2%, the average consumer is not - or is at least dealing with it, particularly if they have a job, which most do.

Much the same logic applies in Australia, albeit the numbers are a little different.  December quarter CPI was 4.1%, and on a monthly basis in the 12 months to February it had dropped to 3.4%, although excluding volatile items such as fuel, fruit and vegetables etc., it was higher at 3.9%. Unemployment is low at 3.8%, or seasonally adjusted 3.7%. The RBA's cash rate is at 4.35%, and with some inflationary pressures coming through from recent wage decisions, higher oil prices, and July's Stage lll tax cuts, prospects for a rate cut aren't looking too good.

However, looking at the latest Housing Finance figures for February, this doesn't seem to be holding most borrowers back. Year on year, total housing finance rose 13.3%, with investors leading the charge up 21.5%, versus owner occupiers at 9.1%. However, all this is likely to do is confirm, or continue, the chronic housing shortage in Australia, as evidenced by the Building Activity statistics released this week. On an annual trend basis to December the number of total dwellings commenced fell by -15%, and the number completed fell by -2.4%.

Meanwhile net overseas migration rose by 518,000 in 2023. As such, that level of increase will keep the economy growing (as it has done for decades), make the RBA's inflation target of 2.5% harder to achieve, and underpin, if not continue, to increase property prices.

As in the US, while sections of the media and social services point to high inflation, maybe the average consumer is learning to live with it, and just get on with life.

In turn that can lead to entrenched inflation, above the RBA's target, hard to achieve - a situation they're keen to avoid.

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