Someone had to be first, and it turns out that it's Australia. The Reserve Bank of Australia has raised its benchmark cash rate by 25 basis points to 3.25%. No longer are rates at a half-century low down under.
"Economic conditions in Australia have been stronger than expected and measures of confidence have recovered," RBA advised in a press release accompanying the rate hike. "Overall, growth [for Australia] through 2010 looks likely to be close to trend." Nonetheless, the labor market in the country remains weak, the bank acknowledged. But as RBA reasoned: "With growth likely to be close to trend over the year ahead, inflation close to target and the risk of serious economic contraction in Australia now having passed, the Board’s view is that it is now prudent to begin gradually lessening the stimulus provided by monetary policy."
There will be more reports of rate hikes in the coming months and years. But it starts here. The question now is timing and magnitude. How soon will rates rise and by what degree? And when will the big central banks in the global economy follow suit? And, of course, there's the $64,000 question: What will be the impact on the global economy and markets?
Questions, questions, always more questions. The only constant: It's always a different set of questions.
But for now, a milestone has been reached. The Great Decline in rates is over. We've known that was coming for some time, of course. Now begins the inevitable sequel.
Risk, in short, is a perennial, albeit in an ever-changing state.