‘Tide has turned’: Banks start to cut fixed rates

Banks have started cutting fixed interest rates on home loans in an attempt to win customers seeking certainty on their repayments, as markets bet the Reserve Bank will respond to slowing inflation by reducing official rates later this year.

Macquarie, AMP Bank, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank and the Bank of Queensland are among lenders that cut certain fixed rates across various terms during December and January, with cuts ranging between 0.1 percentage points and 0.76 percentage points, according to comparison website Mozo.

Almost no new lending in December was on fixed rates according to CBA economist Stephen Wu.

It comes as the figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show inflation easing, consumer spending softening and unemployment rising, increasing the case for the Reserve Bank to begin cutting rates, or at least keep interest rates on hold this year.

St George Bank economists on Thursday said financial markets were pricing in 0.65 percentage points of RBA rate cuts by the end of 2024, up from less than 0.50 percentage points earlier in the week.

Mozo research and compliance manager Peter Marshall said fixed rates were starting to become more competitive in response to strengthening expectations of a rate cut.

“Banks are starting to become more confident that the next change in the cash rate will be a cut, and probably more than one cut,” he said. “When setting fixed rates, banks try to look ahead, and implement anticipated future changes into their fixed rates. As they become more confident of cuts later this year, fixed rates will start to fall even further.”

Marshall also said lenders had started implementing relatively small increases to variable rates on new loans in the past two months. He said the lowest variable rates were now at about 6 per cent, while more fixed rates were beginning to fall below the 6 per cent mark, especially for two-to-three-year terms.

With rates expected to fall, virtually all new borrowers and those refinancing their home loans have been opting for variable rates lately.

In a note this week, CBA economist Stephen Wu said almost no new lending in December was at fixed rates. While more than 40 per cent of new loans were at fixed rates during the first two years of the pandemic, he said since the Reserve Bank began their hiking cycle in May 2022, only 7.5 per cent of new loans were written at a fixed rate.

RateCity director of research Sally Tindall said there was “no question the tide has turned” with fixed rates.

“In the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen more cuts to fixed rates,” she said, noting a number of factors driving the fall, including demand from borrowers. “The appetite for fixing among borrowers could not be lower,” she said. “It’s the lowest proportion in a while.”

Tindall also said it was largely a function of people predicting rate cuts as early as this year.

“Cash rate cuts are almost a certainty,” she said. “And fixing your home loan rates and getting it wrong is often worse than choosing a variable rate and getting it wrong,” she said.

Tindall and Marshall said the rates set by lenders were also a function of competition and how much they wanted to grow their loan books.

“Those wanting more customers will be more aggressive,” Marshall said.

Tindall said the latest Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) data released this week showed ANZ was still leading the way in home loan growth, while Macquarie was also charging ahead.

“CBA is growing their loan book, but they’re still losing market share,” she said.

Tindall said RateCity’s database showed that in the last month, only eight lenders had hiked at least one advertised fixed rate, while 15 had cut at least one fixed rate, but noted fixed rates still had a way to fall.

“The lowest fixed rate on our database right now is 5.48 per cent for a 3-year term, while the lowest variable is just 0.27 percentage points higher at 5.75 per cent. Two standard RBA hikes would change this equation in an instant, provided the lender passed on any RBA cuts in full, although that’s never a given,” she said.

From Sydney Morning Herald

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