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THE market odds have moved firmly against an interest rate rise by the Reserve Bank in February.

The sharp change in direction, which began on Tuesday after the central bank revealed its December 1 meeting minutes, accelerated yesterday following a speech by RBA deputy governor Ric Battellino.

Mr Battellino signalled that rates could stay on hold when the RBA next meets in February, saying the “overall stance” of monetary policy was “back in the normal range”.

His comments, at the Australian Finance & Banking Conference in Sydney, surprised the markets, triggering a slump in the Australian dollar to below US90.

Last night the dollar was hovering around US89.70.

Financial market betting on a 25-basis point rate hike in February retreated from a 67 per cent chance to 45 per cent.

Mr Battellino said that although the cash rate still seemed “unusually low” at 3.75 per cent, monetary policy was back “in the normal range” because the current level of deposit, housing and business lending rates made the cash rate equivalent to a “before the crisis” level of 4.75 per cent.

“Taking these considerations into account, it would be reasonable to conclude that the overall stance of monetary policy is now back in the normal range, though in the expansionary segment of that range,” he said.

The deputy governor’s remarks were made half an hour after the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed economic growth in the September quarter was weaker than expected.

The national accounts showed GDP edged up just 0.2 per cent in the three months to September, half the pace of growth expected by the market, for an annual rate of 0.5 per cent.

The main drag on growth was a slump in exports which coincided with a jump in imports.

However, demand from households, businesses buying more equipment and government investment was solid.

ANZ acting chief economist Warren Hogan said the GDP figures indicated there was little urgency to get official interest rates back to a neutral setting, adding that Mr Battellino’s comments had “dealt a solid blow” to the prospect of substantial gains in the cash rate over coming months.

“Put another way, the emergency setting for interest rates has now been removed and policy will be adjusted as and when required by economic conditions,” he said.

Westpac chief executive Gail Kelly told reporters after the bank’s annual meeting in Melbourne yesterday that the RBA was likely to raise rates “very carefully” in 2010.

However, she said the official cash rate was not quite yet at a “normal” level.

Mrs Kelly said she remained cautious about the economic outlook while the bank’s chairman Ted Evans said a “V-shaped” recovery for Australia was unlikely.

“It will be a long recovery and that’s what our plans are based on,” he said. 

Source  :  www.news.com.au

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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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Treasurer Wayne Swan has taken aim at Australia’s biggest home lender, labelling it selfish for lifting its mortgage and business lending rates.  swan_rudd_hand_400

Other banks have refused to rule out following the Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s (CBA’s) surprise decision to lift its home and business loan rates by 10 basis points to offset higher funding costs.

The opposition said the government’s huge debt burden was putting pressure on interest rates, while a prominent market economist said it may force the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) to cut the official rate again to counter any impact from CBA’s move.

CBA said it took Friday’s decision “reluctantly”, but at a standard variable mortgage rate of 5.74 per cent, up from 5.64 per cent, it was still the lowest on the market.

The rate hike will add $18 a month to repayments on a $300,000 home loan over 25 years.

The bank said it had absorbed as much of its additional funding costs for as long as it could.

“Unfortunately, we have seen the bank’s wholesale funding costs remain high and continue to increase as previous long term funding matures and is replaced with new funding at significantly higher cost,” CBA group executive of retail banking services Ross McEwan said in a statement.

Such reasoning drew no sympathy from the treasurer.

There are ups and downs when it comes to those decisions over time, but there are few decisions I can think of that are more selfish than this one,” Mr Swan told reporters in Brisbane.

“I think Australians, rightly, will be furious with the Commonwealth Bank.”

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd echoed those sentiments during a speech to a business lunch in Brisbane.

“We are all in this together – businesses, workers, government and the Reserve Bank – and today’s decision by the Commonwealth Bank runs counter to this nationwide effort,” Mr Rudd said.

The other three major banks – ANZ, National Australia Bank and Westpac – said their rates were constantly under review.

NAB said it had no current plans to raise its home loan rate but noted “all Australian banks” had been incurring significantly higher funding costs for some time.

Opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey said the government was putting pressure on interest rates by running up a huge debt.

“Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan feigned outrage about this interest rate increase, yet they are directly responsible for it,” Mr Hockey told reporters in Sydney.

“This is the beginning. You will end up with higher interest rates directly as a result of the spending binge of the Rudd government and the massive debt they are accruing.”

Home buyers may be enjoying the lowest mortgage rates in 41 years, but have already missed out on about 30 to 40 basis points of the RBA’s total 425 basis points of official rate cuts, with banks refusing to pass on the cuts in full because of the cost of funding.

For small businesses it has been even worse, being short changed by about 140 basis points.

The CBA’s decision comes in a week that saw massive boosts to both consumer and business confidence, as well as data showing sustained growth in home lending – sucked in by low mortgage rates and a more generous first home owners grant.

April mortgage data showed loan demand has grown for seven straight months to a 14-month high, as well as record demand from first home buyers and the strongest interest from investors in nearly two years.

It also showed that the banks have cornered more than 92 per cent of all loans – a 33-year high.

Westpac chief economist Bill Evans said CBA’s decision could well be countered by another cut by the RBA.

“If it does have an impact, particularly on confidence in the housing market, which has been the most encouraging source of recovery in the Australian economy, it may bring a rate cut back on the table at the Reserve Bank,” Mr Evans told Sky News

Source  :  www.thedaily.com.au

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