What will happen if inflation continues to decline?
Dr Castex: If inflation continues its downward trajectory, the RBA will likely respond by lowering the cash rate. However, new geopolitical developments in the Middle East could potentially impact prices, adding an element of uncertainty to this scenario. There are also other economic indicators to take into consideration, like the unemployment rate, for example.
The cash rate is a crucial tool in the RBA’s monetary policy toolkit, influencing economic borrowing costs. The RBA aims to stimulate economic activity by reducing the cash rate and making borrowing more affordable.
Prof. Foster: Some analysts are predicting fewer rate hikes in the near future. However, we are still far from reaching RBA’s target cash rate range of 2-3 per cent. There are also signs that the labour market is still very tight – that’s one of the indicators the RBA uses to determine whether it can keep pushing rates up without knocking the economy into a visible downturn. I expect we will see more rate hikes this year.
Professor Gigi Foster says that the influx of immigrants, facilitated by government policies, contributes to an escalation in rental prices in Australia. Photo: UNSW.
How will this influence the housing market in Australia?
Dr Castex: In the context of the housing market, a lower cash rate often leads to decreased mortgage interest rates – which may attract more home buyers and potentially exert upward pressure on home prices.
However, it’s important to acknowledge that the relationship between interest rates, inflation and the housing market is multifaceted. While a lower cash rate may contribute to increased housing demand, other factors such as economic conditions, employment levels and global events also shape market dynamics. The RBA carefully considers these variables in its decision-making process, aiming to strike a balance that supports overall economic stability.
Prof. Foster: The steady rise in the price of housing is one of the factors pushing inflation higher in recent years. With the government now bringing in vast numbers of immigrants – especially immigrant students, there is more pressure on the housing component of renting consumers’ baskets than during the COVID era. For people with a mortgage, rising interest rates continue to impact Australians considerably.
While inflation is declining, is it considered low? And what is considered low?
Dr Castex: Not yet. The inflation rate has been on a declining trend, but it’s important to note that the current level is still relatively high compared to the RBA’s target range. As of the latest release, the inflation rate is 3.4 per cent. This figure exceeds the RBA’s target range of 2-3 per cent, indicating that inflation remains elevated.
In assessing whether inflation is considered low, it’s crucial to consider the historical context of the past 10 years. While the recent decline is notable, the absolute level of 4.1 per cent is still considerably higher than the upper bound of the RBA’s target. Generally, an inflation rate within the 2-3 per cent range is conducive to price stability and economic growth. The RBA monitors these trends closely to ensure that inflation remains within this target band.
Prof. Foster: Definitely not. The primary reason we are in this inflationary situation is that the Australian government poured cash into the economy after putting it into suspended animation during the COVID era. Supply chains were disrupted, fiscal stimulus was distributed liberally to households and businesses without the economic activity there to soak it up, and the RBA delayed raising rates. Now we’re feeling the consequences of all those mistakes.
How will a low inflation rate impact everyday Australians?
Dr Castex: A high inflation rate reflects an overall price increase and higher economic uncertainty, and we’ve been observing this trend since 2020. When the inflation rate is high, it can impact everyday Australians in several ways. If our income is not adequately adjusted to match the rising cost of living, it may result in a decline in real consumption. In practical terms, individuals and households may need help to afford the same quantity of goods and services, such as reducing purchasing power for everyday items like apples and bananas.
Prof. Foster: The RBA has a target 2-3 per cent inflation rate for a reason: it’s the level at which the economy hums along without people having to think too hard about rising prices and what they mean for contracts, weekly budgeting or anything else, but still while generally feeling upbeat about the economy, and acting accordingly. We need to see a sustained and steady lowering of the inflation rate before the RBA and Australia, more broadly, can adopt a more reassured stance.