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Cuts in the spotlight as RBA reveals its latest interest rate decision

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For the third consecutive meeting, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) has decided to keep the official interest rates steady. This decision, announced after their two-day meeting to assess the economic landscape and inflation progress, did not come as a surprise. Economists had already predicted a hold, with a Reuters poll revealing that all 40 economists surveyed expected the cash rate to remain at 4.35% for March.

Despite the anticipation surrounding the decision, the financial community’s attention was primarily on the RBA board’s statement tone and Governor Michele Bullock’s remarks during the subsequent press conference. These were keenly analyzed for hints about the bank’s future direction.

“The board’s paramount objective is to steer inflation back to the target range within a reasonable period, aligning with our mandate to ensure price stability and full employment,” the RBA stated post-meeting. The statement emphasized the necessity for inflation to consistently trend towards the target before the board could feel assured of its trajectory.

With inflation currently at 4.1%, exceeding the RBA’s 2-3% goal, and recent indicators suggesting a slow return to the target range, the RBA’s cautious stance on any imminent rate changes remains firm. Although February’s meeting left the door open for potential rate increases, the consensus among economists is a downward trajectory for the next adjustment, with timing still under debate.

The bank’s future moves remain flexible, dependent on incoming data and an evolving risk assessment. “The board will monitor global economic developments, domestic demand trends, and the inflation and labor market outlook closely. Our commitment to returning inflation to its target is unwavering,” the bank further noted.

Predictions from the big four banks suggest interest rate cuts might commence in the latter half of 2024, with the Commonwealth Bank and Westpac forecasting a September start, whereas NAB and ANZ anticipate a November initiation.

Adam Boyton, ANZ’s head of Australian economics, noted the possibility of earlier cuts than initially thought, given the quick cooling of inflation. However, he also highlighted the RBA’s likely cautious approach until inflation’s annual change re-enters the target range, expected in the September quarter of 2024.

Boyton also mentioned that the RBA might consider the impact of upcoming income tax reductions starting July 1 and any further spending from the May federal budget before making a move. The RBA’s next meeting is scheduled for May 6, offering a pause for reassessment and further data evaluation.

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