NZ Herald business editor at large

Reserve Bank could hold rates for two years

Reserve Bank Governor Graeme Wheeler arriving for his press conference in Wellington, August 2016 . New Zealand Herald photograph by Mark Mitchell.
Reserve Bank Governor Graeme Wheeler arriving for his press conference in Wellington, August 2016 . New Zealand Herald photograph by Mark Mitchell.

Reserve Bank Governor Graeme Wheeler is expected to move his lips when he delivers his Monetary Policy statement on Thursday, but not much else.

There is virtually no chance of any change in the official cash rate and focus has turned to the odds of any change at all in 2017.

With the New Zealand economy humming and a lift in the fourth quarter consumer price index sending inflation back in to the Reserve Bank's target band (of 1-3 per cent), financial markets have started pricing in a rate hike later this year.

But the consensus view of local economists is that this remains unlikely.

"A full hike is now priced in by November, and certainly an OCR at record lows has become harder to justify," said ANZ's Cameron Bagrie.

"But we doubt the RBNZ is ready to fully embrace that view yet."

In fact, some like Kate Hickie at Capital Economics and ASB's Nick Tuffley are picking it may also stay on hold through 2018 as well.

International events- including the economic influence of Donald Trump - continue to hold significant sway.

The cost of borrowing offshore has risen for local banks, pushing retail rates up. This has afforded the Reserve Bank some breathing space as monetary conditions tighten without the need for them to hike the official cash rate.

Meanwhile, despite anticipated interest rate rises in the US the greenback has been subdued by Trump uncertainty. That has led to a higher than expected kiwi dollar. The kiwi traded above US73c last week.

That strength further reduces the chance of a rate hike in the foreseeable future.

In the US there is increasing uncertainty about the expected stimulatory effects of a Trump presidency which, if and when they eventuate, may be offset by the negative effects of increased trade tension and global uncertainty.

The three rate hikes that the US Federal Reserve has signalled this year are far from certain.

There is some anticipation that the bank will lift its inflation expectations mildly and that it may shift its long term rate track slightly to reflect the reduced likelihood of any further cuts.

"The inflation outlook has firmed since the November MPS," writes ASB's Tuffley.

"This should offer a greater degree of comfort for the RBNZ, with a reduced risk of inflation remaining uncomfortably low in the near term. But there are still a number of risks to the downside for inflation, key among which is the impact of new US President Donald Trump's economic and trade policies on NZ."

Given the international uncertainty, the disconnect with market pricing and the risk of further fuelling hike expectations, local economists are all picking Wheeler to take an extremely cautious approach to the wording of his statement.

"Balanced", "neutral", "a straight bat approach" - the commentators are in danger of running short of ways to describe just how little they expect the Governor to give away on Thursday.

- NZ Herald

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