Consumers sensitive to actual and prospective rate moves: Westpac's Matt Hassan

Consumers sensitive to actual and prospective rate moves: Westpac's Matt Hassan
Consumers sensitive to actual and prospective rate moves: Westpac's Matt Hassan

Interest rates remain a hot button issue for Australian consumers, the mortgage belt in particular.

Most recently, the weakening in sentiment in Jun-Sep last year highlighted once again just how sensitive consumers are to actual and prospective rate moves.

The period coincided with increased rates on investor and ‘interest only’ loans following macro-prudential measures from APRA. It also coincided with increased media speculation about the potential for a rate tightening cycle from the RBA. Headline sentiment slid about 4% through mid 2017, registering its lowest read for the year in Aug, with sentiment amongst consumers with a mortgage sinking to an 18mth low.

Notably, actual consumer spending also stalled flat in the quarter, showing that, against a backdrop of weak income growth, high debt levels and risking risk aversion, this sort of sentiment pull back can have an immediate impact on spending decisions.

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Consumers sensitive to actual and prospective rate moves: Westpac's Matt Hassan

We get a specific read on consumer views on interest rates from our biannual question on mortgage rate expectations. The Feb update shows consumers are less hawkish than in Aug last year. The simplest summary measure – the net % expecting rates to rise – declined to 65.1 from 68.2 in Aug, the highest level since Jun 2011, prior to the RBA commencing its current, extended easing cycle. The Feb read is still well above the 43.5 avg since we started running the question in 2010.

Allowing for a clear ‘upward bias’ to consumers’ mortgage rate expectations, history suggests the Feb expectations read is roughly consistent with a 10bp rise in mortgage rates over the next year.

That is a less hawkish view than both current market pricing (+23bps) and the average economist cash rate forecast (+16bps) despite both markets and economists lowering their near term calls on rates. Westpac Economics continues to expect no change in official rates over 2018 and 2019. However, the hawkish tilt to expectations suggests rate concerns will continue to be a dampening influence on consumers' housing market decisions.

Matthew Hassan is senior economist with Westpac.

 

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Low Interest Rates Matthew Hassan

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