When the Reserve Bank lifts interest rates next Tuesday and again either in December or February, you can blame the lazy, fat, rapacious State Governments — especially in NSW and Darwin — for waving through outsized price rises for gas, electricity and water.
Forget all the barking from the interest rate hounds in the finance commintariat about “rate rise looms, perhaps half a per cent” and focus on the fact that nearly all the 1% rise in the cost of living for the September quarter can be blamed on those higher utility charges, especially for electricity.
The housing group of costs was the major influence in driving the rise: housing costs jumped 2.9% in the quarter, the highest by far.
And the Australian Bureau of Statistics had no doubt when it said in its commentary:
“The housing group recorded the largest positive contribution due to strong rises for all expenditure classes. The most significant contributor was the increase in electricity prices across seven capital cities, most notably in Sydney and Darwin.
“The most significant price rises this quarter were for electricity (+11.4%), automotive fuel (+4.0%), water and sewerage (+14.1%), deposit and loan facilities (+3.0%) and house purchase (+1.1%).”
While it said the “most significant offsetting price falls were for other financial services (-2.3%), vegetables (-5.6%), fruit (-5.4%), pharmaceuticals (-4.4%) and audio, visual and computing equipment (-2.2%)”.
“Over the 12 months to September quarter 2009, the housing group rose 5.5%, with the main contributors being rents (+6.2%), electricity (+15.6%), water and sewerage (+14.9%) and house purchase (+1.7%).”
Over half that 5.5% rise came from the September quarter’s 2.9% jump.
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In some states those utilities are state owned (NSW for example), in others they are privately controlled (Victoria, for example). But in every state the Government or a so-called independent pricing review tribunal or organisation vets price rise applications and either allows them, or rejects them.
Consumer price inflation was up a bit stronger than expected in the June quarter at 1%, giving an annual rate of 1.2%, but that is not the true picture. That is double the 0.5% rise in the June quarter, when the annual rate was 1.5%. And much of the rise is down to the higher power, gas and water charges waved through by the states.
As we saw in the Producer Price figures on Monday, many of those price rise applications were approved (in NSW it’s part of rebuilding the broken finances of the power business prior to privatisation).
The ABS said then that the biggest influence on the rise in the final stage PPI was “mainly due to price increases in electricity, gas and water (+12.1%)”. That helped boost (along with the higher bakery costs) the domestic final stage PPI by 1% in the quarter.
The Reserve Bank’s preferred measures, the Weighted Median and Trimmed Mean both rose at a slightly slower rate than the headline figure in the quarter up 0.80%. But for the 12 months to September, both were up 3.8% and 3.2% respectively. That’s down the levels in the June quarter, but not by quite enough to calm the nervy folk at the RBA.
So, according to most of the rate chasers in the markets, 0.25% looms as the most probable size for RBA’s Melbourne Cup day rates announcement. But with the cost of living running hot, a 0.50% rise “to send a message” to business and state governments can’t be ruled out.