The priceless coincidence of two major news events occurring within an hour of each other yesterday had the nation’s top journalists jockeying relentlessly in their favourite pursuit: tenuously-linked punnage, and plenty of it.

Here’s a sweep through some of the top placegetters.

Even before the event, online journos found it difficult to rein themselves in.

Chris Zappone, WA Today:

“Rate rise a good bet”

The Reserve Bank is widely expected to raise interest rates tomorrow just half an hour before the running of the Melbourne Cup – with banks likely to pass the costs on to borrowers soon after.

All bets on rates rise, ABC News Online:

The race that stops a nation is not expected to stop the Reserve Bank from lifting rates again today. Last Melbourne Cup Day the Reserve Bank slashed the cash rate by three-quarters of a percentage point.

When the Reserve Bank saluted, ABC News Online was quick out of the gate. Here’s Michael Janda:

The 25 basis point rise in interest rates was a safe bet on Cup Day, but economists think the Reserve Bank may pause in December.

Janda reprised the rhetoric in a subsequent comment piece:

Perhaps the ANZ was hoping that squeezing its rate rise announcement in between the RBA’s decision and the start of the Melbourne Cup would help it pass relatively unnoticed — if that was the case it does not appear to have been a winning strategy.

Crikey‘s Glenn Dyer also had the inside running:

If only picking the Cup winner could have been so easy.

The easiest call in town was a rate rise from the Reserve Bank today and the Martin Place mob delivered, on the nose at 2.30 pm.

Odds-on maybe, but a winner is a grinner.

Soon after, Punch editor David Penberthy weighed in:

For the second time in as many years, the Reserve Bank has helped cement the banking community’s reputation as a cuddly bunch of warm-hearted funsters by using Melbourne Cup Day to stick it to home-owners.

Bankers sprint to lift rates

Just weeks after lifting mortgage rates by 0.25 percentage points, the big four banks and the Reserve Bank have done it again. Yesterday they added another $46 a month to the cost of servicing a $300,000 mortgage, and there is no end to the rises in sight.

But the newspaper commentariat were just warming up.

Ross Gittins, Sydney Morning Herald:

“Four on the trot, but time to pull the reins before Christmas”

This is becoming a most un-Australian habit. For the fourth year in a row the Reserve Bank has trespassed on the hallowed turf of Cup day to introduce a sordid note of commerce.

On three out of four of these intrusions its decision has been to raise the official interest rate. We must hope this doesn’t reveal a state of dyspepsia in a board denied its Cup luncheon fun.

Christian Kerr, The Australian:

“Hurdles ahead in race for Lodge”

The gates flew open in the middle of the afternoon and out raced the bank economists followed closely by the interest groups, with the pollies bringing up the rear. The Reserve Bank had just raised rates.

Even though all the obvious “first Tuesday in November” gags should be sent off to the knacker’s yard, it’s impossible to scratch the turf metaphors.

For there’s a bigger and richer race on, The Lodge Steeplechase, run on a long track that ends at the next election. For the government, two rate rises on the trot is a sign of an economy that is up and running again.

Tim Colebatch, The Age:

“Few aftershocks in inevitable rise”

The Melbourne Cup result was Shocking, but there were no shocks from the Reserve Bank yesterday. It gave exactly what we expected, a second successive rate rise, with no fuss.

It was so predictable that most of yesterday’s statement by governor Glenn Stevens was identical to his release last month announcing the first rise. His message to us is: the course is set, nothing has changed.

Peter van Onselen, The Australian:

“Liberals jockey for poll position”

How appropriate that on Melbourne Cup day, Newspoll confirmed that the one-horse race of federal politics has again become a two-horse race. The Coalition’s two-party vote surged to 48 per cent, making the conservatives competitive.

Terry McCrann, Herald Sun:

Glenn Stevens has developed something of a penchant for making history.

In 2007 he became the first Reserve Bank governor to raise interest rates in the middle of an election campaign; and even more sacrilegiously – or these days should that be, seculegiously – is now the first to announce a rate rise just before they jumped in the Melbourne Cup.

Unfortunately though for omen punters, it wasn’t quite shocking enough. Now if it had been 50 points the winner would have started favourite and the bookies would have been well and truly skinned.

Everyday reporters wrote their own ticket:

Antonia Magee, Herald Sun:

On Melbourne Cup day, the central bank opted against scaring the horses – going for a 0.25 percentage point rise rather than the 0.5 tipped by some economists.

Kathryn Welling, Manly Daily:

New rate not shocking

Saddle up for the second interest rate rise in as many months. With odds shorter than yesterday’s Melbourne Cup favourite, the Reserve Bank of Australia increased the official cash rate by 0.25 per cent to 3.5 per cent.

The New Zealand Herald:

Financial markets had priced a 25 basis point rise at short odds on Melbourne Cup day.

The rise made a quadrella of November rate movements by the central bank after 25 basis point increases in 2006 and 2007 followed by a 75 basis point cut last year.

Russell Quinn, WA Business News:

Macquarie also included Alcopop and Changingoftheguard in the top three positions, with actual place-getters, Crime Scene and Mourilyan rated at nine and 10 respectively.

Despite this Nostradamus-like forecasting from the investment bank, it seems the only safe bet for Melbourne Cup Day was backing an official 25 basis point rise in official interest rates to 3.5 per cent from the Reserve Bank of Australia, which was announced prior to the horse’s jumping from the gate.

Even some foreign raiders were cashing in, quoting Crikey:

Gwen Robinson, Financial Times:

Coming on the same day of Australia’s biggest annual horse race, the Melbourne Cup, the Reserve Bank of Australia’s interest rate decision on Tuesday – unlike picking a Cup winner – was “the easiest call in town”, as Crikey puts it.

Craig James from CommSec weaved some magic into his daily economic update:

“Favourite home: RBA lifts rates by 25 basis points”

The Reserve Bank certainly hasn’t sought to frighten the horses with the latest rate hike.

Mark Hawthorne at The Age reported on the high-powered fillies trotting around the corporate tents:

“Executives are off and racing”

It’s meant to be the race that stops the nation, but the corporate world rarely breaks stride for something as trivial as a sporting event, even if it is the Melbourne Cup.

But perhaps the best scripts were made for TV. Let’s elope with a packed TV field, led by Tony Jones on ABC Lateline:

It was the surest bet of the Melbourne Cup Day and the Reserve Bank paid out as expected.

Dana Robertson, ABC Lateline:

Kevin Rudd’s Cup Day flutter hit the jackpot. But for the nation’s homeowners, the first Tuesday in November brought no such luck.

At today’s meeting, the Reserve Bank board decided to lift rates by one quarter of one per cent to 3.5 per cent. It’s the second month in a row there’s been a 25 basis point lift and many racegoers are punting that it won’t be the last.

The next big bet is on when the Reserve Bank will move to lift rates again. Economists are divided over the chance of a rise in December. But with no meeting scheduled for January, the odds are shortening for another rise the month after.

BILL EVANS: I think the rate hikes will be concentrated in the first half of the year, and by then it’ll be pretty clear that the Australian economy doesn’t need any higher interest rates.

The punters won’t be alone in hoping so.

Chris Uhlmann, ABC 7:30 Report:

The stories of this day were told in numbers. The nation might stop for the Melbourne Cup, but the Reserve Bank was on the move. The cash rate’s been nudged up another quarter of a percentage point to 3.5 per cent.

Juanita Phillips, ABC News:

The race that stops the nation didn’t stop the big banks. They put on an astonishing turn of speed to pass on today’s interest rate rise.

In the end the RBA opted for a smaller rise of 25 basis points so as not to frighten some of the horses as one economist put it. But a warning that this rise won’t be the last certainly frightened some of the punters enjoying Melbourne Cup festivities.

Mark Simpkin, ABC News:

At least one happy punter had something to celebrate. But not everyone was a cup day winner. The Reserve Bank is slowly reining things in…but the screen jockeys are divided about whether this means another interest rate rise next month…the ANZ bolted out of the gate..within minutes of the Reserve’s announcement it said it would pass on the rate rise in full.

Andrew Robertson, Lateline Business:

The safest bet in town today wasn’t Shocking winning the Melbourne Cup, but the Reserve Bank continuing to tighten monetary policy. Another rate rise had been well-flagged; the only question was the size: a quarter of a percentage point or a half?

Murray McCloskey, Channel 10 News:

It was the one sure thing on Cup Day, another interest rate hike, as the banks jumped quickly out of the gates taking just minutes to pass on, in full, a quarter of per cent rate rise…concern about interest rate rise didn’t stop punters having a Cup Day flutter…but the outcome was not all that shocking for cashed-up backers the cup winner.

But the transcript that really had Crikey‘s champagne corks popping came courtesy of Stephen Long, who was clearly champing at the bit to insert as many punterly puns as possible into his two-minute package.

Stephen Long, ABC Radio:

“Nothing Shocking: RBA hikes rates”

Before the race that stops the nation came the rate that stops inflation.

Shocking won the cup but there was nothing shocking in the Reserve Bank decision, announced half an hour before the race.

So well sign-posted was the rise that only the blind or comatose could have missed it and no doubt there’s a few of them after the race day lunches.

….

For Kevin Rudd the political race gets harder too. Yes, Australia is the best performing economy in the advanced world but from here on its citizens are likely to face rising interest rates and a rising jobless rates in tandem.

But that wasn’t worrying the Prime Minister today. In the other big race he backed the winner — and wasn’t he celebrating.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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