RBA declines to speculate on rate peak

A senior Reserve Bank of Australia official has declined to speculate how high the cash rate might get, particularly at a time when the country and the global economy faces an unusually volatile set of circumstances.

RBA assistant governor for economics Luci Ellis told a conference in Sydney inflation around the world has spiked, Australia has a very tight labour market, but real wages are declining at the same time.

In addition, Ukraine and Russia remain at war and parts of China are in lockdown tackling COVID-19, which is causing supply disruptions.

“Making a prediction in the light of so many events just seems inappropriate,” Dr Ellis said in answer to a question following her address to the Urban Development Institute of Australia 2022 national conference.

The RBA hiked the cash rate earlier this month, the first increase in more than a decade.

“The board has already said there’s more from here but we will be watching the data and the evidence very carefully and working out what the appropriate action is,” she said.

Economists are expecting a cash rate increase of between 25 and 50 basis points when the RBA board meets on June 7.

On housing, Dr Ellis said the desire seen during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic for more space further from the office might wane over time as memories of lockdown start to fade.

Also not everyone who sought a “tree change” in the regions will find that to be the right choice in the long term.

But the expectation is that construction of new homes will remain solid for the next couple of years.

“This is likely to still be enough to keep the housing stock growing faster than the population,” she said.

That said, all the signs point to a residential construction industry that is at capacity and cannot run down its pipeline of work any faster, and this has nothing to do with land availability or governments approving enough homes.

“We hear from liaison contacts in the construction industry that delays are common,” Dr Ellis said.

“Normally, a detached home takes about six months to build. Currently, they are telling us that it is averaging around nine months.”

Some of these delays relate to supply-chain disruptions around the world impinging on a range of building materials, especially steel and timber but including everything from tiles to appliances.

“Availability of labour is also an issue, especially in Western Australia, but this is not specific to construction,” she said.

Dr Ellis expects the short-term fillip to demand from initiatives such as HomeBuilder and other temporary support measures will work its way out of the pipeline.

“As interest rates increase, the boost to demand from the current low interest rates will also wane and the shifts in demand stemming from the pandemic will have worked their way through,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Australian Bureau of Statistics will over the next week release a series of economic figures that contribute to the overall national accounts result on June 1, kicking off on Wednesday with March quarter construction data.

Economists’ forecasts point to a 0.9 per cent increase in construction work completed in the quarter, recovering from a 0.4 per cent decline in the previous three months.


Colin Brinsden, AAP Economics and Business Correspondent
(Australian Associated Press)


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