The Reserve Bank (RBNZ) has lifted the Official Cash Rate (OCR) from 0.25% to 0.50%, as expected by financial markets.
This is the first time the RBNZ has raised the rate in seven years. The RBNZ is among a small group of central banks to start tightening monetary conditions after loosening them a lot at the onset of COVID-19.
The RBNZ's Monetary Policy Committee said, "While the economy contracted sharply during the recent nationwide health-related lockdown, household and business balance sheet strength, ongoing fiscal policy support, and a strong terms of trade provide confidence that economic activity will recover quickly as alert level restrictions ease."
It noted current COVID-19 restrictions are creating a different set of policy challenges than in 2020.
"Demand shortfalls are less of an issue than the economy hitting capacity constraints given the effectiveness of Government support and resilience of household and business balance sheets," the Committee said.
"While some capacity bottlenecks are likely to be short term, there is a risk that these become more persistent as we transition to a COVID-19 endemic state of the world."
The Committee agreed rising capacity pressures would feed through into higher inflation, hence its decision to hike the OCR.
"Employment is expected to remain at around its maximum sustainable level," the Committee said.
It noted "further removal of monetary policy stimulus is expected over time, with future moves contingent on the medium-term outlook for inflation and employment".
The RBNZ's Funding for Lending Programme remains in place until the end of 2022. Retail banks are able to effectively borrow newly-created money from the RBNZ, at the OCR, via the programme. It's designed to help banks keep interest rates suppressed.
The management of the RBNZ's Large-Scale Asset Purchase (LSAP) programme also remains unchanged. The RBNZ is no longer trying to expand the size of its balance sheet by buying large amounts of government bonds to put downward pressure on interest rates.
The Committee will next review monetary settings on November 24, when it will release a longer statement and hold a press conference.
Reaction: 'More hawk than kōtuku'
ASB chief economist Nick Tuffley said the statement was "more hawk than kōtuku (white heron)".
The RBNZ, a couple of weeks ago, compared its approach towards monetary policy to that of a kōtuku, saying it would take "small considered steps".
"For the time being, the RBNZ does not see the lockdown to date as materially altering the outlook," Tuffley said.
"However, the outlook is fluid, and the extent and duration of COVID restrictions is highly uncertain. It is possible there will be more economic scarring that does change the outlook sufficiently that the RBNZ does temper its views on how quickly or far it needs to lift the OCR."
ANZ chief economist Sharon Zollner said, "Risks around growth (particularly near-term) are to the downside, but inflation risks are to the upside. That’s awkward - and a global theme.
"As has been the case for some time, the risks are skewed towards something coming along to derail the RBNZ’s hiking cycle before its completion, despite extremely strong inflation pressures.
"Our OCR forecast continues to be follow-up hikes in November and February, and then a cautious series of hikes taking the OCR to 1.5% by August next year...
"Foreign exchange markets reacted quickly [to the OCR decision], with the Kiwi dollar spiking around 25 basis points higher before retreating lower. Today’s OCR increase puts another 25bps of carry on the table for the NZD. That may not sound like much, but it is important against currencies like EUR and JPY, where cash rates are still negative and likely to remain that way for some time.
“However, if we do see forward expectations for the OCR adjust lower over coming weeks, that could begin to weigh on the NZD, especially against currencies like the USD and GBP, with the Federal Reserve and Bank of England both inching close to withdrawing stimulus.”
BNZ head of research Stephen Toplis was fairly hawkish.
"We had been concerned the RBNZ’s August forecasts might have been based on the concept of New Zealand moving into a Level 1 type status based on the elimination of COVID," he said.
"If this had been so, contemplating a COVID-endemic environment might well have caused the RBNZ to get nervous about future moves. But the RBNZ put this concern to bed by formally acknowledging it expects to see endemic COVID.
"On this basis, there is no need for folk to assume the Bank will hit the panic button if COVID spreads, as it inevitably will.
"Of course, if COVID disruptions impact the Bank’s medium-term view on inflation and employment then it will react, but the key here, and the RBNZ highlighted this, is the medium term. No longer is the Bank on emergency settings, it’s now back on the path of traditional central banking."
Monetary Policy Review statement in full:
The Monetary Policy Committee agreed to increase the Official Cash Rate (OCR) to 0.50 per cent. Consistent with their assessment at the time of the August Statement, it is appropriate to continue reducing the level of monetary stimulus so as to maintain low inflation and support maximum sustainable employment.
The level of global economic activity has continued to recover, supported by accommodative monetary and fiscal settings, and rising vaccination rates enabling a relaxation of mobility restrictions. While economic uncertainty remains elevated due to the prevalent impact of COVID-19, cost pressures are becoming more persistent and some central banks have started the process of reducing monetary policy stimulus.
New Zealand’s public health settings are also evolving as domestic vaccination rates rise. The higher the vaccination rate, the less virus-related disruption there will be to New Zealand’s economic activity over coming years.
The current COVID-19-related restrictions have not materially changed the medium-term outlook for inflation and employment since the August Statement. Capacity pressures remain evident in the economy, particularly in the labour market. A broad range of economic indicators highlight that the New Zealand economy has been performing strongly in aggregate.
While the economy contracted sharply during the recent nationwide health-related lockdown, household and business balance sheet strength, ongoing fiscal policy support, and a strong terms of trade provide confidence that economic activity will recover quickly as alert level restrictions ease. Recent economic indicators support this picture.
However, the Committee is aware that the latest COVID-19 restrictions have badly affected some businesses in Auckland and a range of service industries more broadly. There will be longer-term implications for economic activity both domestically and internationally from the pandemic.
Headline CPI inflation is expected to increase above 4 percent in the near term before returning towards the 2 percent midpoint over the medium term. 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 shocks risk leading to more generalised price rises. At this time, measures of core inflation and medium-term inflation expectations remain close to 2 percent.
The Committee noted that further removal of monetary policy stimulus is expected over time, with future moves contingent on the medium-term outlook for inflation and employment.
Summary Record of Meeting
The Monetary Policy Committee discussed economic developments since the August Statement. The Committee noted that the level of global economic activity has continued to recover, supported by rising COVID-19 vaccination rates in many countries, a gradual relaxation of mobility restrictions, and continued monetary and fiscal support. However the near-term outlook for global growth has weakened somewhat due to the spread of the Delta variant, fuel shortages, and rising risks to the Chinese economy. Considerable uncertainty exists regarding the longer-run economic impacts of COVID-19.
Global inflation has increased due to ongoing supply bottlenecks, resulting in higher costs. These supply disruptions and labour shortages are affecting productive capacity. At the same time demand is recovering causing pressure on prices. Global inflation has also been pushed higher in the near-term by rising energy prices. In part this reflects transition costs associated with climate change. In response to signs that inflation pressures are becoming more persistent, some central banks have started the process of reducing monetary policy stimulus.
The Committee noted that recent domestic economic data suggest that prior to the country re-entering lockdown in August, the New Zealand economy was starting from a strong aggregate position, and capacity pressures were building. The economy is expected to have contracted sharply as a result of the recent COVID-related restrictions, although by less than the first national lockdown in the second quarter of 2020.
The Committee noted that near-term growth will remain volatile, and will depend on the speed and extent to which public health restrictions are eased. However, the experience of last year suggests that timely Government support for business and jobs is effective at cushioning the near-term impact on economic activity.
Early data suggest that business and consumer confidence remained robust during the latest lockdown. Some customer-facing businesses in Auckland and a range of service sectors are experiencing more acute stress. Reflecting the tightness of the labour market, firms have sought to hold on to employees, in some cases supported by wage subsidies. Employment opportunities appear to have remained firm.
As in the global economy, rising demand alongside capacity constraints is contributing to higher domestic inflation. Cost pressure in New Zealand has been accentuated in the near term by higher oil prices, supply shortfalls and rising transport costs. This is expected to result in CPI inflation rising above 4 percent in the near term, before returning towards the 2 percent midpoint of the target band over the medium term. Core inflation remains near the target mid-point.
The Committee noted significant uncertainty about how changes to public health settings, border restrictions, and rising incidence of COVID-19 in the community will impact on economic outcomes as the response to the pandemic evolves. Achieving high vaccination rates will be crucial to reducing the ongoing disruption that COVID-19 has on people and the economy.
The Committee agreed that there will be longer-term implications for economic activity both domestically and internationally from the pandemic. The Committee will be watching closely how the economy adjusts to the ongoing disruption from endemic COVID-19 and the balance of pressure on demand and supply.
As required by their Remit, members assessed the impact of monetary policy on the Government’s objective to support more sustainable house prices. The Committee noted the Reserve Bank’s assessment is that the level of house prices is currently unsustainable. Members noted that a number of factors are expected to constrain house prices over the medium term. These include a high rate of house building, slower population growth, changes to tax settings, and tighter bank lending rules. Rising mortgage interest rates, as monetary stimulus is reduced, would also constrain house prices to a more sustainable level. Members noted a risk that any continued near-term price growth could lead to sharper falls in house prices in the future.
With regard to the stance of monetary policy, the Committee noted that the current restrictions are creating a different set of policy challenges than in 2020. Demand shortfalls are less of an issue than the economy hitting capacity constraints given the effectiveness of Government support and resilience of household and business balance sheets. While some capacity bottlenecks are likely to be short term, there is a risk that these become more persistent as we transition to a COVID-19 endemic state of the world.
The Committee agreed that rising capacity pressures would feed through into inflation. Employment is expected to remain at around its maximum sustainable level. Members concluded that monetary policy stimulus will need to be reduced to maintain price stability and maximum sustainable employment over the medium term.
The Committee agreed to further reduce the level of monetary stimulus at this meeting by increasing the Official Cash Rate (OCR) to 0.5 percent. The Committee noted that further removal of monetary policy stimulus is expected over time, with future moves contingent on the medium-term outlook for inflation and employment.
On Wednesday 6 October, the Committee reached a consensus to increase the OCR to 0.5 percent.
Reserve Bank staff: Adrian Orr, Geoff Bascand, Christian Hawkesby, Yuong Ha
External: Bob Buckle, Peter Harris, Caroline Saunders
Observer: Caralee McLiesh
Secretary: Chris Bloor