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Reserve Bank closer to hitting pause on rate hikes

The Reserve Bank is moving closer to hitting "pause" on interest rate rises as households struggle with rapid-fire increases to borrowing costs.

But governor Philip Lowe says further tightening of its monetary policy is still likely to ensure high inflation is only temporary.

In a speech following the 10th consecutive rise in the official cash rate, Dr Lowe said the RBA board discussed the timing of putting rate rises on hold and the financial pain being felt by borrowers during its last meeting.

"We discussed the lags in monetary policy, the effects of the large cumulative increase in interest rates since May and the difficulties that higher interest rates are causing for many households," he said.

"We also discussed that, with monetary policy now in restrictive territory, we are closer to the point where it will be appropriate to pause ... increases to allow more time to assess the state of the economy."

Dr Lowe also recycled his toned-down phrasing about the potential for further monetary tightening from his Tuesday statement on the March rate decision.

Analysts have speculated a recent evolution in the RBA's language - from flagging further interest rate rises in the coming months to less-specific plans for tighter monetary policy - gives the central bank space to pause or hike just once more.

Ahead of the April meeting, the board will need to digest more data on employment, inflation, retail spending and business conditions and sentiment.

Dr Lowe said the board had a "completely open mind" about April and if key data collectively built the case for a pause, the RBA was prepared to hold.

But NAB markets economist Taylor Nugent said the data would need to be a lot softer than expected to make the case for stopping the rates rises given the governor expected more measures will be needed to stem inflation.

He said if employment rebounded from the seasonal factors that likely influenced a weak January result, a hike in April is likely.

"A pause in April or May is a real possibility, though NAB continues to see the RBA hiking in April and May, taking the cash rate to 4.1 per cent," Mr Nugent said.

Commonwealth Bank economists are also sticking with their base case - one more hike in April - despite the "less hawkish" tilt adopted by the governor.

The central bank has been lifting interest rates since May last year to tackle inflation, which came in at 7.8 per cent in the December quarter - its highest level since 1990.

But the monthly consumer price index, which is still experimental and can be volatile month to month, showed inflation falling from 8.4 per cent in December to 7.4 per cent in January.

Dr Lowe said the monthly result needed to be viewed cautiously but the one percentage point decline was "very welcome" as were promising signs of a slower rate of goods price inflation.

He said it was still possible to return inflation back to within its two-three per cent target range without causing a spike in unemployment.

"We could be knocked off that narrow path but our ambition is to bring inflation down within a reasonable time and to preserve many of the gains in the labour market."