RBA Holds Firm as Inflation Moderates: Navigating the Bumpy Road Ahead

Despite recent market expectations, the RBA’s next move is more likely a rate cut than a rate hike.

At their May meetings, both the U.S. Federal Reserve (Fed) and the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) decided against adopting the more hawkish policy stance that markets had priced in. This restraint sparked a rally in bond markets following the meetings and indicated that the threshold for any future rate increases is higher than some market participants anticipated.

Central banks exercise caution in the face of inflation surprises

Despite encountering stronger-than-anticipated jobs and inflation data this year, both the Fed and the RBA have maintained a cautious approach, contrary to market expectations of further rate hikes.

The decisions of these central banks were influenced by several key factors:

  • Balanced mandate considerations: As inflation moderates, both central banks are adopting a more balanced approach in fulfilling their dual mandates of price stability and full employment. This balanced focus is crucial now that inflation, though reduced, remains above target levels (see chart below).
  • Stable inflation expectations: Despite the fluctuations in short-term inflation rates, longer-term inflation expectations—both market-based and surveyed—have remained remarkably stable. This consistency in expectations for long-term inflation is a vital element in the central banks' current policy stance, allowing them to adopt a wait-and-see approach.
  • Contraction in inflation drivers: The factors driving inflation are increasingly focused on specific sectors like housing, which are influenced more by supply-side issues than by broad economic demand.
  • Pause in disinflation: Although the process of disinflation has paused, there has been no significant resurgence in inflation rates, allowing central banks the flexibility to maintain current interest rates without tightening further.

The chart shows the US PCE Core year-over-year and the RBA trimmed mean year-over-year. It highlights that although underlying inflation has come down a lot over the past year, it remains above target in both the US and Australia.

Future rate movements: What investors should watch

The nuanced approach of the Fed and RBA suggests that while additional rate hikes remain a possibility, their likelihood is lower than many fear. The central banks' current priority appears to be the preservation of employment gains rather than combating inflation aggressively. This scenario tilts the balance towards maintaining current rates or potentially cutting them should economic conditions deteriorate, offering a strategic advantage for bond investors.

Investment strategies in a high-rate environment

With interest rates remaining elevated, their impact on the economy is significant and likely to suppress any immediate need for further hikes. This situation offers investors a chance to lock in higher yields and potentially benefit from future rate cuts being priced into the market. Bond funds are currently offering an attractive yield ranging between 5% and 6%, presenting a compelling case for investment.

In summary, the cautious approach by the Fed and RBA reflects a complex balancing act between fostering economic stability and managing inflationary pressures. While the journey back to the inflation target will likely be uneven and challenging, we believe that the RBA’s next move remains more likely to be a rate cut than a rate hike.

Find out more about how to access today’s attractive opportunities in bonds here.

The Author

Aaditya Thakur

Portfolio Manager, Australia and Global

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