Australian households are yet to feel the full impact from the Reserve Bank’s tightening cycle on mortgage repayments, with economists tipping the first half of 2024 to be the most challenging for consumers.

Several economists in TheAustralian Financial Review’s quarterly survey said the September quarter was too early to assess the full impact of a cash rate at 4.1 per cent and the rollover of mortgages from fixed rate to variable rates.

Commonwealth Bank chief economist Stephen Halmarick said the final three months of 2023 and the first quarter of 2024 would be when households on variable rates would be likely to feel the maximum impact from the fastest monetary tightening in a generation.

The central bank this week kept the cash rate on hold at 4.1 per cent for July but flagged that further increases would be needed in the coming months to get inflation back to the RBA’s 2 per cent to 3 per cent target. It has added four percentage points of rate increases since May 2022. ‘‘There is a large volume of fixed rate mortgages expiring in the second half of 2023 and there is a similar three-month lag between when a fixed rate mortgage expires and the new variable rate mortgage interest rate is paid,’’ Mr Halmarick said.

Despite CBA’s forecasts showing the cash rate to peak at 4.35 per cent in August, he expects tighter financial conditions for households in the December and March quarters.

KPMG chief economist Brendan Rynne agrees, saying. ‘‘A greater proportion of households who have been relatively shielded from cash rate increases to date will have rolled off their fixed rate contracts by the end of the first quarter of 2024 . The September quarter is when this starts to gather pace, but it peaks during the first half of 2024.’’

Barrenjoey economist Jo Masters said households were already in the toughest period, citing the second and the fourth quarter of 2023. Inflation remains high and there are expectations that mortgage repayments are set to increase.

For December 2023, she expects trimmed inflation to slow to 4.3 per cent, the same as the survey’s median forecaster.

Ms Masters said there was ‘‘no doubt’’ that the household sector was being squeezed, but she said that ‘‘the pain is not evenly spread across the sector’’.

‘‘Highly leveraged households are being confronted by high interest costs, while those with no debt and high savings – typically older Australians – are benefiting from higher interest income and rental income,’’ she said.

Judo Bank economic adviser Warren Hogan said for those looking to the labour market to measure the health of the economy, the ‘‘real fright’’ would be when job losses started in the fourth quarter of 2024.

He predicted Australia’s unemployment to rise to 3.9 per cent in the December quarter, before going to 4.5 per cent in the June quarter of 2024.

‘‘The extent of the job losses will determine how much of a fright the broader household sector gets,’’ Mr Hogan said. ‘‘If people are worried enough by the extent of the slowdown in economic activity and the loss of jobs that comes with it, then we should expect to see a risk in precautionary saving.’’

MLC Asset Management senior economist Bob Cunneen said households would feel the pain over at least three quarters into halfway through 2024 amid ‘‘the crushing impact of high interest rates and surging rents and electricity prices’’.

‘‘Households face little choice but to cut spending given these cost pressures while the weaker labour market and renewed weakness in housing prices will caution even those who have some savings buffers,’’ he said.

QIC chief economist Matthew Peter said the worst phase for households was already behind them. He acknowledged that many households would convert to variable rates in the September quarter but he said ‘‘real disposable incomes will be supported by increasing wages, a slowing in the rate of inflation and support from government subsidies’’.

He expects trimmed inflation to slow to 4.4 per cent in the December quarter before further dropping to 3.3 per cent in June 2024.