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FURTHER official interest rate rises could choke off consumer spending and grind the economy to a halt, economists warn.

Herston Economics chief economist Clifford Bennett says if the Reserve Bank raises the cash rate to five per cent by year’s end, the economy would “grind to a standstill”.

The current cash rate is 4.25 per cent, after the RBA lifted the rate by a quarter of a percentage point on Tuesday in an effort to further rein in expansionary pressures.

It was the fifth monthly interest rate rise by the central bank since October last year.

“If the cash rate gets to 5 per cent … the domestic economy will grind to a standstill,” Mr Bennett said.

“We’re seeing in the Sydney press examples of them having to choose between buying groceries and paying their electricity bill and the added burden from the RBA is completely unwarranted, unnecessary and unwanted.”

RBA governor Glenn Stevens said it was appropriate to raise the cash rate towards its long-run average given that “the risk of serious economic contraction

Most economists say the average long-run cash rate is around 5 per cent.

Nomura Australia economist Stephen Roberts said rising interest rates meant consumers were paying a greater proportion of their income in servicing debt.

Data compiled by the central bank showed that when the cash rate was 3.75 per cent at the and of the December quarter of 2009, the average household was paying more than 10 per cent of its income, minus taxes and some other regular payments, on interest payments.

When the cash rate topped 18 per cent in December 1989, the average household was spending just under nine per cent of its income on interest payments.

The figures also show that in December quarter of 1989, household debt was slightly less than half household yearly income.

Twenty years later it was equal to one and a half times an average household’s yearly income.

“That data is from fourth quarter (2009) and you have to remember we’ve had two more interest rate rises already,” Mr Roberts said.

He said a lower interest rate of 3.75 per cent to 4 per cent would be more appropriate given the current difference between the cash rate and the interest rates of major lenders.

Official economic data now points to a slowing economy, with building approvals, employment and retail sales data for March all coming in under market expectations.

Mr Bennett said the data suggested Australia’s economic performance post the global financial crisis was weaker than first thought.

“When you look at the domestic economy, there are patchy elements,” he said.

“There are storm clouds on the horizon.”

Source  :  www.news.com.au

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The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) left interest rates on hold at 3 percent as predicted.                                                 reserve_bank_400

A  survey by AAP had expected the RBA to leave the cash rate at the lowest since 1960.

Treasurer Wayne Swan said last weekend that it was obvious that rates will rise, while Minister for Financial Services, Chris Bowen, warned yesterday that rates can’t stay low forever.

Some economists believe the first rate rise could come this year, but the general view is that rates will remain on hold until the middle of next year.

In a statement released after the announcement, governor Glenn Stevens said the risk of “severe contraction” in the Australian economy had abated.

“Economic conditions in Australia have been stronger than expected a few months ago, with both consumer spending and exports notable for their resilience,” the statement says.

“Measures of confidence have recovered a good deal of ground.”

The statement adds: “The board’s judgment is that the present accommodative setting of monetary policy is appropriate given the economy’s circumstances.

“The board will continue to monitor how economic and financial conditions unfold and how they impinge on prospects for sustainable growth in economic activity and achieving the inflation target.”

 

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The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA)  is due to announce its decision on interest rates at 2.30pm (AEST) on Tuesday.
The economists surveyed by AAP said the cash rate will remain at a 49 year low of three per cent after the central bank’s board meeting on August 4.

“The RBA appears to have no intention of reducing the cash rate any further,” said Matt Robinson, an economist with Moody’s Economy.com. reserve_bank_400

“I think a housing market bubble is starting to form, and given the sentiment that governor Stevens expressed in his speech to the Australian Business Economists, that is something that the RBA is watching and that would be a reason for them to maybe hike interest rates earlier.”

There were doubts about whether the RBA would be deterred from raising rates if unemployment continued to rise.

The RBA has kept the cash rate at 3 per cent for three consecutive months.

Michael Turner, an economist with financial markets research group 4Cast, said the prospect of rising unemployment would mean the cental bank could keep rates steady until well into 2010.

“We’re still of the opinion the worse is yet to come and things look better now than they did a couple of months ago, which is why we’re now calling it on hold (in August) rather than going lower,” he said.

“But we still think there’s enough of a story in the lack of utilisation in the economy at the moment that price pressure might be moderate enough at 3 per cent.

“We’re currently chewing on a rate rise in 2010 at the moment. It’s possible, but not until late 2010.”

If you look at the split in the market or the way the debate was being conducted it was very much the idea that the RBA isn’t going to hike because they never have while the jobless rate has been rising.

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