The Reserve Bank (RBNZ) has increased the Official Cash Rate to 1% from 0.75% - and is forecasting that the OCR will need to go a lot higher yet, to well over 3% - during the next three years.
The RBNZ indicated that it was "a finely balanced decision" whether the OCR should have been increased now by 50 basis points - but it has opted for 25 basis points.
RBNZ Governor Adrian Orr has also announced plans to reduce its holding of Government bonds, both through allowing the bonds to mature - and through "managed sales". It's planned to sell about $5 billion worth of bonds per fiscal year to Treasury's New Zealand Debt Management arm.
Wednesday's OCR decision from the RBNZ was the first of seven to be made by the central bank this year, with economists increasingly of the belief that the rates will be hiked by 25 basis points at each review - which would take the OCR up to 2.5% by the end of the year.
Such an expectation is in the face of growing inflationary pressures, with the annual rate of inflation having hit 5.9% as at the end of December 2021.
The RBNZ is now expecting inflation to hit a peak of 6.6% in the March quarter before gradually reducing. It doesn't, however, see inflation returning to its 1% to 3% target range until June 2023.
In commenting on the deliberation of the RBNZ's Monetary Policy Committee over Wednesday's decision and whether to move the OCR up by 25 or 50 basis points, the bank said "many members saw this as a finely balanced decision".
"...Weighing the options, the Committee came to a consensus to increase the OCR by 25 basis points. The Committee also affirmed that it was willing to move the OCR in larger increments if required over coming quarters."
Such a comment will fuel market expectation that the RBNZ may well in future at some stage throw in a 50 basis point rise, something that it had earlier fairly explicitly suggested it would not do.
The Kiwi dollar rose 40 basis points following the OCR announcement, reaching US67.7 cents.
One of the much-watched features of each release of an RBNZ Monetary Policy Statement is its projection of likely future OCR levels.
Economists had expected that the central bank would review its rates 'track' upwards this time from the previous forecasts made in November 2021 - that forecast an OCR high point of 2.6%.
In the event the latest forecasts have come in higher than economists were picking - with the RBNZ projecting an OCR of 3.4% by early 2025. This suggests it views inflation as staying 'stronger for longer'.
By implication that could mean mortgage rates being higher for longer as well.
The RBNZ is forecasting the OCR to hit 2.2% by the end of this year - which does suggest that it will likely raise rates in most, if not all, of its rate reviews during 2022.
BNZ's head of research Stephen Toplis said the RBNZ appears to be "setting the market up for a 50 basis point increase in its cash rate at the May 2022 MPS".
"It clearly wasn’t ready to pull the trigger now given the uncertainties that abound."
ASB chief economist Nick Tuffley said, the RBNZ’s forecasts were "hawkish".
"The Statement showed a need to lean much harder against inflation than in the November Statement, and with some added concern expressed about the risk of high inflation becoming embedded."
The RBNZ bought $54 billion of New Zealand Government Bonds between March 2020 and July 2021 as a part of its Large-Scale Asset Purchase (LSAP) programme, designed to put downward pressure on interest rates.
This is the statement from the Reserve Bank:
The Monetary Policy Committee today increased the Official Cash Rate (OCR) to 1 percent. The Committee also agreed to commence the gradual reduction of the Reserve Bank’s bond holdings under the Large Scale Asset Purchase (LSAP) programme - through both bond maturities and managed sales.
The Committee agreed it remains appropriate to continue reducing monetary stimulus so as to maintain price stability and support maximum sustainable employment.
The level of global economic activity is generating rising inflation pressures, exacerbated by ongoing supply disruptions. The pace of global economic growth has slowed however, due to the general elevated uncertainty created by the persistent impacts of COVID-19, and clear signals that monetary conditions will tighten over the course of 2022.
In New Zealand, underlying economic strength remains in the economy, supported by aggregate household and business balance sheet strength, fiscal policy support, and continued strong export returns. However, some short-term economic disruption is expected given the current growing COVID-19 health challenge. The high vaccination rates across New Zealand will assist significantly to reduce this disruption.
Economic capacity pressures have continued to tighten. Employment is now above its maximum sustainable level, with a broad range of economic indicators highlighting that the New Zealand economy continues to perform above its current potential.
Headline CPI inflation is well above the Reserve Bank’s target range, but will return towards the 2 percent midpoint over coming years. The near-term rise in inflation is accentuated by higher oil prices, rising transport costs, and the impact of supply shortfalls. These immediate relative price movements risk generating more generalised price rises, especially given the current domestic capacity constraints.
The Committee agreed that further removal of monetary policy stimulus is expected over time given the medium-term outlook for growth and employment, and the upside risks to inflation.
This is the record of the Monetary Policy Committee meeting:
The Monetary Policy Committee discussed developments affecting the outlook for monetary policy. Global economic activity experienced a robust recovery in 2021. The pace of growth is expected to slow, weighed down by resource and production constraints.
Global inflation is expected to peak during 2022 and then moderate, as supply disruptions are gradually resolved. However, global inflation is currently higher, and expected to ease more gradually than anticipated in the November Statement.
The Committee noted that central banks are now looking to increase interest rates sooner and by more than anticipated in the November Statement. The rise in global interest rates has resulted in a fall in the New Zealand dollar, as interest rate differentials have narrowed. Bond and equity prices have been more volatile of late, in part due to the shift in monetary policy expectations and a rise in geopolitical tensions. The Committee noted that asset valuations had been boosted by very low interest rates, and that higher interest rates may dampen these valuations in future.
The New Zealand economy has been resilient in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic to date. Export prices have remained high, supported by the solid international economic recovery. Domestic spending and investment have also been robust. However, conditions have been very difficult for some businesses, especially in service industries.
The recent emergence and spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant is expected to further disrupt economic activity in the near term. People’s ability and willingness to work and spend will be strongly determined by near-term health outcomes.
The Committee reconfirmed that house prices in New Zealand are above their sustainable level, but are expected to ease over time. They noted that house prices had begun to ease, with monthly falls in December and January. Mortgage lending growth has also slowed. Government regulatory and tax policy changes, and high rates of residential building are expected to slow house prices. Higher mortgage interest rates will also play a role in the transition of house prices toward a more sustainable level over coming years.
Resource constraints are evident in the economy, and will be exacerbated by further disruptions from the Omicron outbreak. Employment is above its maximum sustainable level. The Committee noted that there has been some upward pressure on nominal wages, as expected, consistent with the tight labour market. They also noted that wage growth continues to lag CPI inflation.
The Committee discussed the outlook for net migration to New Zealand with the international borders being reopened in stages over coming months. The impact on labour supply is uncertain in the near term, but a positive inflow is expected over time as border flows return to normal. The Committee noted that net migration is assumed to increase slowly, helping to gradually ease skill shortages.
Annual CPI inflation has increased largely as expected in the November Statement, reflecting domestic capacity constraints and higher prices for imported goods, in particular oil. The Committee noted that annual inflation is expected to peak in early-2022, and then ease over the course of the year, returning to within their target range in mid-2023. The Committee agreed that further removal of monetary stimulus is necessary to achieve their Remit.
The OCR remains the Committee’s preferred tool for implementing monetary policy, and the impact of additional monetary policy tools is considered when determining the level of the OCR. With regards to the latter, members noted that the Funding for Lending Programme (FLP) window closes this year. They also noted that the cost of bank funding from the FLP is rising in line with the OCR.
The Large Scale Asset Purchase (LSAP) programme was introduced in March 2020, providing significant stimulus and supporting the functioning of the bond market. Purchases under the programme were halted in July 2021.
The Committee agreed that managing down the Bank’s holdings of these bonds was now consistent with their monetary policy objectives. Members also agreed that managed sales of bond holdings, in addition to not investing the proceeds of maturities, was most consistent with achieving their mandate over time (further details below).
The Committee discussed the extent of monetary tightening required to meet their price stability and maximum sustainable employment mandate. In doing so, the Committee applied their least regrets framework, noting that the most significant risk to be avoided at present was longer-term inflation expectations rising above the target and becoming embedded in future price setting.
It was agreed that more monetary tightening was needed than signalled in the November Statement. The Committee confirmed that the outlook for a higher OCR at the end of the projection horizon was a balanced reflection of the likely path of interest rates.
The pace at which monetary stimulus should be reduced was discussed by the Committee. Members agreed there were many factors to assess, balancing the need to reduce monetary stimulus with many uncertainties. They considered the balance of risks and noted that the behavioural responses of household and businesses in the face of higher interest rates would be important for the appropriate pace of tightening.
The Committee agreed that while higher interest rates are necessary, households and firms may have become more sensitive to interest rate changes as their debt levels have risen. Members also noted that a significant proportion of mortgages will be reset at higher interest rates over calendar 2022.
The current Omicron outbreak will lead to economic disruption and may weigh on consumer and investor confidence in the near term. Health outcomes will be important, in particular how these impact the supply capacity of the economy and level of demand.
While government spending and investment remains strong, the impulse to growth from fiscal support is now ebbing and will wane.
The recent signs of slowing in demand for housing was discussed by the Committee, which noted that house prices may fall further. The Committee agreed that higher interest rates were consistent with house prices becoming more sustainable. They also noted the Bank’s recent policy adjustments to support the stability of the financial system, including tightening of loan-to-value ratio restrictions last year and ongoing changes to improve the capital adequacy of banks. The Committee acknowledged that some recent, more highly-leveraged, borrowers may be financially stretched in a higher interest rate environment.
When deciding whether to move the OCR up by 25 or 50 basis points, many members saw this as a finely balanced decision.
When considering the case for a 50 basis point increase, the Committee noted the high starting point for inflation and the drift upwards in measures of inflation expectations. The Committee agreed that maintaining stable longer‑term inflation expectations near the mid-point of their target would greatly assist their purpose.
When considering the case for a 25 basis point increase, members noted that interest rates had already increased significantly late last year, and are expected to continue rising as the OCR is progressively increased. They also noted that conditional on the outlook, the OCR is expected to peak at a higher level than assumed at the November Statement. In addition, sales of the Bank’s LSAP bond holdings may put some upward pressure on longer-term interest rates. Members of the Committee were conscious of broader uncertainty in the midst of the current Omicron wave.
Weighing the options, the Committee came to a consensus to increase the OCR by 25 basis points. The Committee also affirmed that it was willing to move the OCR in larger increments if required over coming quarters.
On Wednesday 23 February, the Committee reached a consensus to:
- Increase the OCR to 1 percent.
- Not reinvest the proceeds of any upcoming LSAP bond maturities.
- In addition, direct the Reserve Bank to sell nominal New Zealand Government Bonds and Inflation-indexed New Zealand Government Bonds to New Zealand Debt Management at a rate of $5 billion per fiscal year, commencing in July 2022, provided it remained consistent with the Bank’s monetary policy objectives, and subject to market conditions.
- Hold the Local Government Funding Agency bonds until maturity.