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Westpac pushes back interest rate cut prediction in stark warning to Aussie borrowers

The Commonwealth Bank is the only of the big four predicting a rate cut in September.

Westpac economists have pushed back their prediction for when the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) will reduce the cash rate. The bank had anticipated a rate cut in September, but quarterly inflation data showed it was "not coming down as quickly as we expected".

Westpac is now predicting the cash rate to remain on hold until the November RBA board meeting. Economists are divided about another potential interest rate hike, but Westpac maintains its stance that won't happen.

Finance expert David Koch told Yahoo Finance that Aussies need to get used to the idea that rate cuts won't come until much later in the year, if at all.

A pedestrian walks past Westpac Banking Corp. logo at Westpac.
Westpac has pushed back its forecast for interest rate cuts. (Source: Getty) (Brendon Thorne via Getty Images)

“I think people have got to get used to the fact that interest rates at these levels are not high," the Compare the Market economic director said.

"In terms of history, this is sort of a normal level for interest rates. It's a shock coming from basically zero to where we are now but it's just been getting back to normal.

“While we would all love to have much lower interest rates, that only ever happens when the economy is in a terrible position. If we were to go back to ultra-low low rates now we'd be in a depression."

Westpac's move puts them in line with predictions from economists at ANZ and NAB.

Commonwealth Bank is the only of the big four banks that still anticipate a drop in September, but said risks do skew toward a November move.

Judo Bank chief economic adviser Warren Hogan had predicted rate cuts to start in 2025, but now thinks there will be "at least" two additional rate hikes in August and September.

Three 25 basis point rate hikes would bring the official cash rate to 5.1 per cent – its highest level since 2008.

If that was passed on in full, the move would add a further $374 to monthly repayments for an owner-occupier with a $750,000 variable rate mortgage, according to analysis by Compare the Market.

Westpac chief economist Luci Ellis said fresh inflation data showing growth in the latest quarter added to their concerns the RBA would not cut in September.

"While inflation continued on a downward path in the three months to March, headline CPI and the key trimmed mean measure both printed at 1.0 per cent in the quarter against Westpac Economics’ expectation of 0.8 per cent for both measures," Ellis said.

"Headline inflation on a year-ended basis is now firmly in the 3s, in striking distance of the RBA’s 2–3 per cent target range, but the trimmed mean measure is still at 4 per cent."

Ellis said growth in pharmaceutical prices and insurance costs did not indicate the sticky inflation was being driven by strong consumer demand.

"In fact, consumer demand is not strong but these latest inflation numbers, when viewed alongside a somewhat stronger labour market in the March quarter, probably shift the balance of risks that the RBA will be reacting to," Ellis said.

HSBC chief economist Paul Bloxham agreed that further tightening of monetary policy was possible, noting the RBA may need to update its forecast of hitting its 2 to 3 per cent inflation target in the six months to December 2025.

“There is a risk that they will actually have to lift their policy rate even further,” he said.

Big Four banks’ predictions for 2024:

  • CBA: Three cuts in 2024 with the first in September

  • Westpac: Two cuts in 2024 with the first in November

  • NAB: One cut in 2024 in November

  • ANZ: One cut in 2024 in the fourth quarter

Even if the RBA does cut interest rates, experts have warned the major banks may not pass on any cash rate cuts in full to mortgage holders.