Interest Rates – where are they headed now?

Opinion piece by Adrian Stagg

This is a question on many peoples lips right now and in truth it hasn’t been too far out of mind for at least the past 3+ years. I recall a fair amount of discussion in mid-2013 about potential interest rate rises anytime soon. Of course, as we all know now, they didn’t happen.

So, still without the aid of a crystal ball, the question remains. Where are they headed now and what will be the effect on the property market?

For mine, I do think that there is a greater chance of interest rate rises now than back in 2013, but not by much. If they do occur at all, they will be modest in my view  – 25 basis points at most – for the following reasons.

 The Aussie Dollar

The value of the Australian dollar [at 75 cents US+ ] is still higher than preferred by the RBA and most Australian exporters, and any rise in the official interest rates would likely push it up – the RBA wants to see it go the other way.

 Housing Affordability

On the home front the issue of housing affordability, which has been around for some time now, is unlikely to be ignored for much longer. Both major political parties recognize that, although they have a different approach to offering solutions.

It seems that the RBA also recognizes the problem and has made public fiscal policy [rather than monetary policy] suggestions as to how the problem can be solved, at least partially. This suggests a reluctance on the RBA’s part to use monetary policy – read interest rate increases.

I think this issue will still be around at the next federal election. What’s more, it mostly applies to just Sydney & Melbourne. The huge increases in property prices that have occurred in those cities have not occurred elsewhere with many parts of the country still depressed. Interest rate increases will not only exacerbate that making any recovery difficult, they will also potentially cripple large numbers of borrowers in Sydney & Melbourne. This wouldn’t be the first time that large parts of the country have been held hostage by the goings on in Sydney & Melbourne.

Official rates Vs Bank rates

In recent years, the major banks have shown a preparedness to move on rates without the lead of the RBA. I believe that there is a greater chance of this occurring than official interest rate increases. In fact it’s not entirely unlikely that the RBA reduces rates, particularly if there are wholesale changes in fiscal policies relating to tax treatments of Super, negative gearing and capital gains.

Banks are facing some small increases in offshore borrowing costs as world markets adjust which they may [will] seek to pass on if market conditions allow. Never the less Banks are currently offering steep discounts on their standard variable rates to volume quality borrowers and they will continue to do so to protect market share despite what the published headline rate is in my view. So increases may be in name only.

 To Fix or not to Fix?

Just a week or so ago I received an attractive offer to fix interest rates on some of my loans. I can only speak from my own experience but in my memory over more than 20 years the only times I’ve been approached to fix loans was just before interest rates fell. Could that be the case again this time? My thoughts on fixed interest rates haven’t changed since my comments made in July 2014 and I’m pleased that I didn’t jump into fixing my rates then. [the comments following  that article are especially pertinent]