Former Economics Editor of the NZ Herald

Interest-rate rise looking ever more distant

Governor Alan Bollard is tipped to keep the OCR on hold. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Governor Alan Bollard is tipped to keep the OCR on hold. Photo / Mark Mitchell

A distinctly overcast international outlook and a stubbornly high dollar are expected to keep the Reserve Bank on hold when it reviews the official cash rate on Thursday.

In the latest Reuters poll of 18 economic forecasters, all expect the bank to leave the OCR unchanged at 2.5 per cent.

But among the big four New Zealand-based banks there is an unusually wide range of views about when it will start to raise it, ranging from the March quarter next year (Bank of New Zealand), the June quarter (ASB), the September quarter (Westpac) to not until 2014 (ANZ).

The money market is pricing a better-than-even chance of a cut over the year ahead.

The exchange rate is around 5 per cent stronger on a trade-weighted basis than the bank assumed it would be in its June forecasts.

The terms of trade, a measure of export prices relative to import prices, has fallen 7 per cent from its peak in the June quarter last year but the exchange rate, far from falling to compensate, has appreciated 5 per cent.

ANZ chief economist Cameron Bagrie expects the Reserve Bank's projections will still show a slight tightening bias, "but we would not be surprised to see the implied first hike pushed back still further [from the June 2013 quarter in the last monetary policy statement]".

In particular the Reserve Bank would be wary of pushing up the transtasman cross rate, which had offset to some degree a high kiwi/US exchange rate.

Bagrie said it was hard to envisage the bank being completely out of step with the US Federal Reserve or the Reserve Bank of Australia.

"The Fed is about to push out their guidance on [the timing of] rate hikes, and go for more quantitative easing, and the market is leaning towards the RBA cutting rates," he said.

"To be pitching a story of the RBNZ raising rates is a bit of a stretch. The risk profile has shifted."

ASB chief economist Nick Tuffley said data from China had continued to soften, and there was growing concern about the sustainability of Australia's mining boom, with prices for iron ore, nearly a quarter of its exports, having fallen by 24 per cent last month alone.

On the home front fiscal policy has veered from tail wind to head wind, and inflation expectations remain well anchored.

The housing market is warming up, underpinned by low mortgage rates.

The Real Estate Institute reported sales volumes in August up 16 per cent on August last year, and a national median house price up 4.2 per cent.

Westpac chief economist Dominick Stephens said the Reserve Bank would take some comfort from the fact prices were not rising rapidly outside the hotspots of Auckland and Canterbury and that credit growth remained slow.

- NZ Herald

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