Happy Holidays from the RBA: no rate hike for December

RBA governor Michele Bullock December 2023 interest rate decision cash rate hold

After breaking the rate hold with a hike in November, the “data dependent” Reserve Bank of Australia has decided to leave the official cash rate on hold at 4.35% for December. For homeowners, this means there is no official rate hike for the holiday season. 

Last month’s rate hike brought the cash rate to a decade-high due to hotter-than-expected inflation. But with the Monthly CPI cooling off once more, the RBA has left interest rates steady to see how the November rate hike affects the economy – and by extension, home loans

“The impact of the more recent rate rises, including last month's, will continue to flow through the economy,” explained RBA governor Michele Bullock in a post meeting statement. 

“High inflation is weighing on people’s real incomes and household consumption growth is weak, as is dwelling investment. Holding the cash rate steady at this meeting will allow time to assess the impact of the increases in interest rates on demand, inflation and the labour market.”

Indeed, economists at Australia’s Big Four banks – Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, NAB, and ANZ – all agreed today’s RBA decision would be another rate hold. The cash rate is in deeply restrictive territory: all future hikes need to be precisely timed and justified by economic data, or else the RBA risks tipping the economy over into recession

The main inflationary enemy at the moment is sticky household spending and an unemployment rate that has refused to budge more than ten or twenty basis points in a while. (Yes, unfortunately, higher unemployment is one of the RBA’s goals). 

RBA governor Michele Bullock has been refreshingly candid that not all rate hikes are created equal: each decision from the RBA will impact some Aussies more than others. However, the general welfare of Australian society is the RBA’s mandate, and so decisions are made with the entire country in mind. 

“Overall, Australians are generally coping with these changed circumstances,” explains Mozo interest rates expert Peter Marshall.

“But it does gloss over the fact that there are many people who are doing it really tough, who’ve had to make significant changes to their lifestyle and their priorities to be able to cope financially.” 

Interest rates are a blunt tool, but they are pretty much the only tool the RBA has. So, given the RBA’s task of managing inflation, I think what she said is honest and something that we probably hadn’t heard directly from the previous governor [Philip Lowe].”

While today’s rate hold decision is a bit of good news for Australians this Christmas, every RBA rate hold is a hawkish one. As soon as inflation misbehaves, we can expect a rate hike. 

“Whether further tightening of monetary policy is required to ensure that inflation returns to target in a reasonable timeframe will depend upon the data and the evolving assessment of risks,” said Bullock.

“In making its decisions, the Board will continue to pay close attention to developments in the global economy, trends in domestic demand, and the outlook for inflation and the labour market. 

“The Board remains resolute in its determination to return inflation to target and will do what is necessary to achieve that outcome.”

Mortgage repayments may not rise much over the holidays, but household spending may. If it does, all eyes will fix on the RBA’s first meeting for 2024. 

RBA interest rate predictions for 2024

RBA governor Michele Bullock December 2023 interest rate decision cash rate hold

The RBA’s next decision will be in February 2024. The central bank doesn’t meet in January. Westpac chief economist Luci Ellis warns Aussies that the February meeting is ‘live’, meaning that if inflation proves too strong over the holidays, the RBA could very well hike in its first decision in 2024. 

Indeed, NAB expects a rate hike in early 2024: an additional 0.25% would put the cash rate peak at 4.60% for this cycle. Both Westpac and NAB expect interest rates to come down in late 2024, roughly a year after today’s December meeting. 

However, the key takeaway is that 2024 will not have the same pace of monetary policy tightening that 2022 or 2023 had. The RBA will slow down and take each decision gradually. 

It doesn’t hurt that in 2024 the RBA will meet fewer times. Instead of their usual 11 meetings, the board will only meet 8 times a year from now on – you can check out the RBA 2024 meeting calendar for more details.

Will banks change home loan rates after the December RBA decision?

Interestingly, the extended rate hold in 2023 did not mean home loan interest rates stayed the same. On the contrary, lenders made plenty of adjustments to individual home loan offers, for fixed home loans and variable home loans alike. 

There are still some lenders who haven’t passed along the November RBA rate hike, either, so there could still be plenty of rate changes coming through over the summer. 

We’ll track which lenders have changed rates as word comes in. To see how your lender compares, visit our home loan comparison page.

Read last month's Reserve Bank interest rates update.

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