Reserve Bank governor Graeme Wheeler has hosed down speculation he is minded to cut the official cash rate any time soon, say economists.
Last week he moved the bank's guidance from a tightening bias to neutral, indicating that the next move in the OCR could be up or down, depending on the emerging flow of economic data.
In his annual speech to the Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce yesterday, he said there were important reasons why a period of OCR stability was the most prudent option.
Westpac chief economist Dominick Stephens said speculation of imminent OCR cuts had been building for a week or two in some corners of the financial markets.
"We suspect that some market participants wrongly interpreted last week's OCR review as a gate-opener to imminent cuts."
The speech had poured cold water on that speculation, Stephens said.
Wheeler said the annual inflation rate was expected to be below the bank's 1 to 3 per cent target band "and could be negative for a period during 2015".
But the bank regarded the drop in oil prices as a temporary influence on inflation and positive for economic activity. If oil prices remained around US$50 a barrel it would boost household disposable income by about $600 a year, he said.
Even with a sizeable positive supply side shock such as a fall in the price of oil, a cut in interest rates could be appropriate if there was enough capacity in the economy to accommodate additional demand.
But Wheeler said New Zealand had a positive output gap (indicating excess demand), net inward migration and the labour force participation rate were at record levels, and both business and consumer sentiment were strong.
"In addition, we have already seen some effective easing of credit conditions with declines in fixed-rate mortgages, at a time when we have financial stability concerns about accelerating house prices in Auckland."
House price inflation is running at nearly 11 per cent in Auckland and he said much more needed to be done to address housing shortages in the city, which had increased over the past year to between 15,000 and 20,000 dwellings.
Wheeler noted how stretched house prices had become relative to incomes by historical standards.
"And the more that house prices get out of line with historic relativities, the greater the risk of a sharp correction, leading to financial instability."
In a hint of further regulatory moves, he said the Reserve Bank would continue to monitor "the role that the banking system may be playing in contributing to pricing pressures in the housing market".
Wheeler noted calls for an interest rate cut.
Easing could be warranted if domestic demand deteriorated and domestic price pressures abated further, perhaps as a result of drought or a worsening in external economic conditions. The international environment had become more risky and uncertain, he said, and he expects financial markets to remain volatile.
With long-term bond yields so low in many countries, the main mechanism for expanded quantitative easing to work was likely to be through exchange rates, raising the risk of international tensions if that materially affected market shares.
Although the New Zealand dollar has eased against the US dollar and on a trade-weighted basis, the Reserve Bank still regards its level as unjustified, in light of export prices, and unsustainable, in light of long-term economic fundamentals.
"These comments are a signal the Reserve Bank is not seriously contemplating cutting the OCR at this point, despite the flurry of moves in other countries," said ASB chief economist Nick Tuffley.
Deutsche Bank chief economist Darren Gibbs took the speech to reinforce the message that, on the basis of the available information, the most likely outcome is that the OCR will remain on hold this year.
"We see no likelihood of the Reserve Bank easing at the March monetary policy statement as the market had begun to contemplate," he said.