Westpac joins ANZ in raising interest rates

Westpac announced a 0.10% increase to its standard variable home loan rate to 7.46% this evening. The ANZ lifted its variable interest rates for retail mortgages and small business lending by 0.06% to 7.36% following its independent February rate review mid-afternoon. 

ANZ and Westpac now have the highest variable mortgage rates of the big four. CBA's standard variable rate is 7.31%, and NAB's is 7.22%, as at 7pm Friday February 10.

The ANZ bank blamed the rates it has to pay on deposits and higher wholesale funding costs for increasing the variable rate following the RBA leaving rates unchanged earlier this week. 

ANZ CEO Australia Philip Chronican says the decision - effective February 17 - may leave some people "frustrated and even angry but believe Australia needs safe, well-run commercial banks that aren’t a burden on taxpayers and that can continue to lend".

The ANZ bank has reduced its three-year fixed-rate package mortgage by 0.15%.

The Westpac executive Jason Yetton said increasing interest rates was never an easy decision.

"However, our move today reflects the increase in costs of banks raising money.

"While we believe that reducing rates in November and December last year was the right thing to do for our customers and the economy, higher deposit costs and higher wholesale funding costs since then make today’s move necessary.

"Over the past four months intense competition for term deposits has increased their cost to us by around 0.30%, while wholesale funding costs have also risen significantly. For example, unsecured five year funding transactions raised overseas by banks to support lending in Australia are currently priced at around 2.30 percentage points over the benchmark bank bill rate. In June last year equivalent raisings were priced at or around 1.50 percentage points over the benchmark."

He added “it’s the money we raise from customer deposits and from wholesale funding that enables us to keep providing lending support to the economy. As the cost of the money we raise increases, at some point, we have to increase the price of the money we lend.

“We have 5 million depositors and they are benefiting as the interest rates we are offering for both online savings accounts and term deposits are among the most competitive we’ve ever offered and reflect our strong commitment to our Australian customers while lessening our reliance on overseas wholesale funding markets.”

Customers with an average mortgage of $250,000 will see their repayments increase by approximately $16 per month (principal and interest loan).The change in Westpac’s standardvariable home loan rate will become effective on 20 February 2012. It follows a 0.50% ($66 per month for a $250,000 mortgage) reduction in the variable home loan rate through cuts in Novemberand December last year.

In its February Monetary Policy Statement released earlier today, the RBA acknowledged the higher funding cost environment while noting “a general improvement in sentiment over the past month or so” in Europe.

“Over the past month, conditions have improved, with [debt] issuance picking up markedly, but spreads on bank debt are significantly higher than they were in the middle of last year.

“Indeed, some large corporates are now able to raise funds in the capital markets more cheaply than banks with a higher credit rating. These global developments have had an effect in Australia, where there has been a step-up in the banks’ overall cost of funding relative to the cash rate,” said the RBA.

Bill Evans, chief economist at Westpac, says the objective of the RBA statement is to emphasise that "without a significant deterioration in global financial conditions policy should remain unchanged".

"When you assess the various pieces of the Bank's description of the domestic economy – weak employment; rising unemployment rate; subdued retail spending; soft housing market; below trend growth outside mining; scaling back of public investment; building construction subdued; inflation to remain around the mid-point of the target range; policy at neutral, not stimulatory – we see a fairly clear case for policy to move into the stimulatory zone immediately.

"Of course our forecasts as contrasted with the Bank's forecasts clearly suggest that the qualitative descriptions provided in this statement are understating the need for a policy response," Evans says.

The CBA's Michael Workman came to a similar conclusion saying the EU’s debt problems "are still the major downside risk for growth and the major trigger for another RBA rate cut".

Larry Schlesinger

Larry Schlesinger

Larry Schlesinger was a property writer at Property Observer

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