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Westpac says second fastest tightening cycle in 30 years to bring rates to 2.6% by year’s end

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Westpac expects a cumulative increase in the cash rate of 250 bps over nine meetings, signalling the second fastest tightening cycle since 1990.

In its latest rate forecast update issued on Thursday, Westpac said the shift toward higher global rates has led it to lift its terminal rate for the Reserve Bank’s (RBA) tightening cycle from 2.35 per cent to 2.6 per cent.

According to the big bank’s chief economist Bill Evans, the RBA will hike rates by 50 basis points (bps) in both July and August, with the August board meeting tipped to respond to what he expects to be a “very unsettling” June quarter inflation report.

“We expect headline inflation to lift 1.5 per cent in the quarter taking annual inflation from 5.1 per cent yr to 5.8 per cent yr. Underlying inflation, as represented by the trimmed mean, is expected to print 1.2 per cent in the quarter for a lift in annual inflation from 3.7 per cent yr to 4.5 per cent yr,” Mr Evans explained.


“We see the risks to these numbers to the upside,” he added.

Admittedly, Westpac’s rates rethink was influenced by the Fed’s recent 75-bp hike, which it believes will be replicated in July.

Locally, the big four does, however, remain “significantly short” of the market’s forecast terminal rate of around 4.5 per cent.

“The 2.6 per cent is broadly in line with the ‘2.5 per cent guideline’ the RBA governor has given in speeches and other commentary,” Mr Evans said.

Earlier this month, Philip Lowe told the ABC that “it's reasonable that the cash rate gets to 2.5 per cent at some point”.

“I say that because the midpoint of our inflation target is 2.5 per cent. So an interest rate of 2.5 per cent in inflation-adjusted terms is a real interest rate of zero, which in historical terms is a very low number. And I would expect that over time we want an average inflation adjusted interest rate to be more than zero,” Dr Lowe said.

Once there, following a cumulative increase over nine meetings of 250 bps, Mr Evans expects the RBA to pause.

“It would be prudent to go on hold to assess the economy’s response,” he said.

“Such a move would be the second fastest tightening cycle since 1990, exceeded only by the 275-bp increase over five meetings in the second half of 1994.”

In fact, according to the chief economist, moving swiftly to reverse an over-stimulatory policy setting and then pausing before moving into the contractionary zone is “the best approach” and one that is “most likely” to avoid the damaging overshoot the bank is forecasting for the FOMC.

As for inflation, Mr Evans is confident that the December quarter will see the peak in both headline and underlying inflation, which he placed at 6.6 per cent and 4.8 per cent, respectively.

He then expects the March quarter inflation report to reveal a closer alignment between demand and supply, which would translate into eased inflation pressure.

But Westpac’s optimism isn’t shared by the markets.

In fact, Mr Evans admitted that markets aren't convinced the RBA can chart this course.

“They would point to the unsustainability of Australia’s cash rate settling 87.5 bps below the federal funds rate,” he explained.

Mr Evans, however, argued that Australia’s “soft landing” will put the RBA in a favourable position, one that will allow it to hold rates steady in 2023 and 2024 as inflation gradually eases back into the 2 to 3 per cent target zone.

Much like its peers, Westpac is convinced the Fed's rapid rate hike will stall the US economy, which will culminate in a "mild recession" in 2023. This too, Mr Evans said, is expected to influence the RBA onto a more steady path. 

Maja Garaca Djurdjevic

Maja Garaca Djurdjevic

Maja's career in journalism spans well over a decade across finance, business and politics. Now an experienced editor and reporter across all elements of the financial services sector, prior to joining Momentum Media, Maja reported for several established news outlets in Southeast Europe, scrutinising key processes in post-conflict societies.