The string of interest rate rises since October is not deterring borrowers from taking out variable rate housing loans, leaving mortgage holders potentially more exposed to higher repayment costs.
The Reserve Bank, in its quarterly Statement of Monetary Policy released today, said fixed-rate housing loans now account for only about 2 per cent of total - the lowest ratio in a decade.
''This share has been well below its decade average of 11 per cent for almost two years, with the result that the share of outstanding loans at fixed rates has declined substantially,'' the RBA said.
Fixed loans mortgage borrowers in the market fell to 4.8 per cent of the total in 2009 from as high as 19.4 per cent in 2007, separate data from the Australian Bureaus of Statistics data and RateCity research show.
Fixed-rate loans, which currently charge an interest rate about 1.5 percentage points higher than standard variable rate loans, demand larger fees for providing borrowers with certainty about monthly costs.
Variable rate mortgages, while offering more repayment flexibility, expose borrowers more directly to Reserve Bank interest rate changes. The RBA has lifted rates six times out of its past seven monthly board meetings - including earlier this week - adding about $300 per month to total repayments for those borrowers holding a typical $300,000, 25-year variable rate mortgage.
Borrowers flocked to the certainty of fixed-interest mortgages during the last cycle of rising interest rates, with the ratio rising to 22 per cent a month over the six months to March 2008.
The average three-year fixed rate mortgage rate was 9.42 per cent in August 2008, according to RateCity. That compares with 7.38 per cent for a standard variable rate today.
''There are still a lot of people out there, still paying these high interests rate for fixed loans,'' said RateCity consumer advocate and spokeswoman Michelle Hutchison.
Being locked in also meant those borrowers missed out on tumbling rates over the past two years when the RBA drove its key cash rate to 50-year lows in a bid to avert a sharp economic slowdown.
Interest rate futures pointed to a rate cut this morning for the first time since August of 2009 as fears unleashed by the sovereign debt crisis in Europe forced central banks reconsider the case for a global slowdown.
As of Friday afternoon, the market was rating the possibility of a rate cut in June by the central bank at a 6 per cent chance - a reversal of previous months when the outlook has been consistently pointed to the prospect of rates to rise in coming months.
The turmoil in financial markets - including steep plunges on Wall Street overnight - has also trimmed the prospect of further rate rises in coming months.
Credit markets are pricing in a cash rate for the RBA of 5 per cent within a year from a current 4.5 per cent.
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