RBA slashes interest rates to 0.25pc in emergency cut amid coronavirus pandemic

The Reserve Bank has cut interest rates to a record low 0.25 per cent and announced extraordinary measures to help prevent a coronavirus-driven recession.

Key points:

  • Australia’s economy continues to deteriorate as panicked investors wipe billions of dollars of value off local stock market
  • The RBA will buy Australian government bonds as part of its first-ever quantitative easing program
  • The Government also announces investment of up to $15 billion to enable smaller lenders to support consumers and small businesses

The RBA will buy Australian government bonds as part of its first-ever quantitative easing program, and provide a three-year funding facility to provide cheap loans for Australian banks.

Australia’s economy continues to rapidly deteriorate, and panicked investors have wiped billions of dollars of value off the local stock market.

In turning to quantitative easing, the central bank is using a lever that it has not used even during some of the worst catastrophes in recent history, including the global financial crisis and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Just before the announcement, the Australian dollar plunged to its lowest level since October 2002, trading at 55.08 US cents.

The currency has lost 20 per cent so far this year.

Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe said the bank would hold the cash rate at 0.25 per cent “until progress is being made towards full employment and it is confident that inflation will be sustainably within the 2-3 per cent target band”.

Dr Lowe said the cash rate could be at this level for some years as it was expecting significant job losses.

The latest rate cut was “a substantial easing of monetary policy” and brought the cash rate in line with a number of other countries as a result of actions by the US Federal Reserve, the Bank of England and the Reserve Bank of New Zealand.

“Before the coronavirus hit, we were expecting to make progress towards full employment and the inflation target, although that progress was expected to be only very gradual,” he said.

“Recent events have obviously changed the situation.”

“We are likely to be at this level of interest rates for an extended period.”

Dr Lowe said he was not able to provide an updated set of economic forecasts because “the situation is just too fluid”.

“But we are expecting a major hit to economic activity and incomes in Australia that will last for a number of months,” he said.

“We are also expecting significant job losses.”

RBA to also provide $90 billion in funding to SMEs

The Reserve Bank board typically only meets on the first Tuesday of every month, but with global stock markets in panic because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it held an emergency meeting on Wednesday.

The RBA said it would also provide at least $90 billion at 0.25 per cent over three years to banks if they lend that cash to small and medium-sized businesses. This is similar to an initiative announced by the Bank of England last week.

It came as the Morrison Government announced an investment of up to $15 billion to enable smaller lenders to continue supporting Australian consumers and small businesses.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said it would “enable customers of smaller lenders to continue to access affordable credit” and would complement the RBA’s $90 billion term funding facility.

Mr Frydenberg said the Government’s debt agency, the Australian Office of Financial Management, would provide the $15 billion through wholesale funding markets used by small banks and non-bank lenders.

Enabling legislation would be introduced into Parliament next week.

The RBA is moving in the footsteps of other world central banks, including the US Federal Reserve, in buying up government bonds and encouraging consumer spending by printing more money and pumping it into the economy.

Scale of job losses to depend on how flexible employers are

Dr Lowe said the scale of job losses would depend on the ability of businesses to keep workers on.

“We saw during the global financial crisis how flexibility in working arrangements limited job losses and this benefited the entire community,” he said.

It could take time for employment to rise but getting to a 4.5 per cent unemployment rate was a “reasonable estimate” of what he saw as full employment in Australia.

The Reserve Bank would want to see that rate, and be within its inflation target, before changing its position on interest rates, he said.

“I’m really looking forward to those days,” he said.

Dr Lowe hoped that by the end of the year anyone who had lost their job during this crisis would get that job back.

“We are clearly living in extraordinary and challenging times,” he said.

“As our country manages this difficult situation, it is important that we do not lose sight of the fact that we will come through this.”

“At some point, the virus will be contained and our economy and our financial markets will recover.”

RBA willing to do ‘whatever it takes’

Some economists have called on the RBA to do more to save the economy.

Dr Lowe said he would not speculate on other measures, but “nothing’s off the table”.

“We are in extraordinary times, and we are prepared to do whatever is necessary to make sure … the supply of credit is there for Australian businesses and households,” he said.

“We feel like at the moment we’ve done enough. If it turns out not be the case, there are other measures we can consider.

“We will do whatever is necessary … to get us through this difficult period.”

He said the Australian dollar had been the great shock absorber for the economy.

The RBA would not, for the time being, intervene in the foreign exchange market, but would be prepared to if the situation worsened.

In the meantime, there was very close policy coordination between the Australian Government, the Australian Treasury, the Reserve Bank and Australia’s financial regulators.

APRA and ASIC both stand ready to assist institutions to work through regulatory issues arising from the virus, he said.

The Council of Financial Regulators was meeting again on Friday, and would also meet with the largest lenders to discuss how they could support their customers.

Lowe wants Australia ‘well placed’ when pandemic is over

Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe delivers an address to the National Press Club in Sydney.


Dr Lowe said for now the RBA would not be purchasing bonds directly from the Government, but operating in the secondary market.

The RBA was not seeking to have the three-year yield identically at 25 basis points each and every day.

“How much we need to purchase, and when we need to enter the market, will depend upon market conditions and prices,” he said.

“It may also take some time for yields to fall from their current level to 25 basis points.”

All this was so that “when the health crisis recedes, the country is well placed to recover strongly”.

The bank had already slashed the rate to 0.5 per cent earlier this month.

Commonwealth Bank chief executive Matt Comyn said the bank had expanded support for small businesses and households in response to the RBA announcements.

“We recognise that this is a very concerning time for our customers and the community,” he said.

“These are unprecedented times, and they call for unprecedented measures.”



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Reserve Bank slashes official interest rates by 50 basis points!

There was some great news for all home owners and buyers last week when the Reserve Bank  cut official interest rates by 50 basis points to 3.75%.  With most economists’ predicting a cut, the larger than expected move to 3.75% will be a pleasant surprise to all households and businesses.

The move comes after weak economic data, including inflation, housing and manufacturing figures, influenced economists to predict a slash in the official cash rate.

For most mortgage holders and prospective buyers, this is great news! It will potentially cut repayments on a $300,000 mortgage by $125 per month, which will be a big help to all first home buyers and homeowners.

That being said, all of the major banks have once again played their usual game of cat and mouse and in the end failed to pass on the full rate cut. Don’t despair though, as there are some things you can do about it, which I’ll touch on later.

In terms of interest rates, CBA will drop it’s standard variable rate by 40 basis points to 7.01% from Friday, May 11.

The move by the CBA betters the deal offered by NAB, which only passed on 32 basis points from its borrowing rates. What will particularly sting NAB depositors is that they will be hit with the full Reserve Bank cut of 0.50 points, suffering a slide in their earnings from 4.15% to 3.65%.

Westpac has dropped its home loan rate by 37 basis points from 7.46% to 7.09% and at present remains the least competitive of all the major banks.

ANZ, who currently sits at 7.42%, will announce it’s intentions on May 11 in line with it’s new policy on distancing itself from RBA regulation by announcing it’s decision on interest rates on the 2nd Friday of every month.

The Treasurer, Wayne Swan, has labelled the move “an insult to hard-working Australians”.

“Customers with a mortgage or small-business loan will rightly feel short-changed,” he said.

Both the NAB and Westpac have posted bumper first-half profits last week with Westpac’s cash profit coming in at $3.195 billion.  ANZ also lifted its first half profit by 1% to $2.92 billion but said margins in its Australian business are declining.

Mr Swan also had this to say, “NAB and all the major banks are booking huge profits. Customers shouldn’t hesitate to ditch any bank that takes them for a ride with decisions like this.”

What should you do next?

In terms of what you should do right now, there are only 3 options:

  1. Act now: Click here to start a conversation with Salt Finance to assess what options are available to put yourself in a better place.
  2. Assess your position: If you are unsure, click here for a more general overview and get my advice on what your approach should be depending on your specific situation.
  3. Do nothing: If you’re already receiving more than 1% below the major banks standard variable rates and have no impending finance requirements or intentions to fix. Otherwise, click here

For more information these 3 options, please read my following article What should I do about the latest RBA rate drop?

I hope you have found this helpful. Please feel free to leave your comments or questions or alternatively, email me directly at marco@saltfinance.com.au

Marco Cipri