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RBNZ's McDermott says OCR cut possible if wage and price setting pressures settle at lower levels; RBNZ also watching for signs of weaker demand due to dairy price slump and high NZ$

RBNZ's McDermott says OCR cut possible if wage and price setting pressures settle at lower levels; RBNZ also watching for signs of weaker demand due to dairy price slump and high NZ$
John McDermott, Assistant Governor, RBNZ

By Bernard Hickey

Reserve Bank Assistant Governor John McDermott has delivered a speech on the inflation outlook and monetary policy that talked in more detail about the conditions that might force the Reserve Bank to cut the Official Cash Rate.

McDermott told the Waikato Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Waikato branch of the Institute of Directors in Hamilton that the Reserve Bank would ensure monetary policy remained stimulatory to support growth above its potential, "to help lift inflation back to target."

The tone of his comments are more dovish than those made by Governor Graeme Wheeler on March 12. Since then inflation data has shown annual inflation of 0.1% in the year to March, which is well below the Reserve Bank's 1-3% target band, and the New Zealand dollar has risen 4% on a Trade Weighted Index basis.

McDermott said in the speech titled "The dragon slain? Near zero inflation in New Zealand" that the near-zero inflation rate was mostly due to low tradables inflation, caused by the slow global economic recovery, the high exchange rate, and the recent sharp falls in oil prices.

"Is this another slain dragon?" he asked about the low inflation currently. "I do not believe so; the dragon is merely sleeping," he said.

McDermott said there was little the bank could do in the short term to influence inflation and some of the factors would prove temporary, including lower oil prices.

“At present, the Bank is not considering any increase in interest rates," McDermott said, echoing the formal outlook adopted on March 12, but the commentary around that was more conciliatory towards rate cuts, and less aggressive about rate hikes.

"Before considering any tightening in monetary policy we would need to be confident that increased capacity utilisation and labour market tightness was generating, or about to generate, a substantial increase in inflation," he said.

“Evidence of weakening demand and domestic inflationary pressures would prompt us to consider lowering interest rates. There are some areas of uncertainty surrounding the outlook for capacity pressures, including the lingering effects of the recent drought in parts of the country, fiscal consolidation, lower dairy incomes and the impact of the exchange rate on export and import substitution industries."

McDermott said the bank was also assessing the outlook for tradables inflation that is being dampened by global conditions and the high exchange rate.

"The fact that the exchange rate has appreciated while our key export prices, such as dairy, have been falling, is unwelcome," he added.

The bank remained vigilant in watching wage bargaining and price-setting outcomes.

"Should these settle at levels lower than our target range for inflation, it would be appropriate to ease policy," he said, adding future adjustments in the OCR would depend on the evolution of inflationary pressures in both the traded and non-traded sectors.

Flatter Phillips Curve?

McDermott went on to discuss whether the Phillips curve, which looks at how inflation pressures pick up as the amount of spare capacity in the economy reduces. The size of the 'output gap', which measures the speed of economic growth above or below the economy's potential output, is a key determinant of the direction of longer term inflation. McDermott said the output gap was currently positive at around half a percent of potential output.

"Monetary policy is currently supportive, which should help to drive the output gap higher in coming quarters and generate the additional inflation to return to the target midpoint," he said.

However, the bank had noticed some indicators, including unemployment, were consistent with a negative output gap and hence lower inflationary pressure.

"The subdued nature of the actual increase in domestic inflationary pressure raises the question of whether the output gap is having a smaller influence on actual inflation than it has in the past. In other words, has the slope of the Phillips curve become flatter?," he asked.

The anchoring of inflation at low levels represented a success for New Zealand's monetary policy framework, but was also a challenge.

"With a flat Phillips curve it becomes more difficult for the Reserve Bank to influence inflation by affecting the demand for resources and the size of the output gap," McDermott said.

"The current flatter Phillips curve could mean that the positive output gap is exerting less inflationary pressure than we currently believe, slowing our eventual return to target midpoint," he said.

Watching inflation expectations

McDermott then pointed to falling inflation expectations and that the wage setting and price setting behaviour was closely linked to current and past inflation experiences, rather than future expectations.

"If price and wage setting is very backward looking, the temporarily low headline inflation from falling petrol prices could become more widely entrenched," he said.

Longer term measures of expectations were currently consistent with the mid-point of the Reserve Bank's 1-3% target, but market based measures had fallen sharply.

"The level of these other measures are consistent with inflation expectations at or just below the target midpoint of 2 percent, but all highlight the downward direction over the past year," he said.

Economist reaction

ASB Chief Economist Nick Tuffley said the speech did not indicate any change in the Reserve Bank's approach, but reinforced the risks of a change were more for a cut than a hike. Tuffley saw a 25% chance of a cut this year.

"The RBNZ doesn’t have a lot of leeway left with its inflation target: if a return to the 2% inflation target mid-point came under question then a lower OCR has a green light," Tuffley said, pointing in particular to the bank's comments about the 'unwelcome' rise in the New Zealand dollar despite falling dairy prices.

"We see the NZD as the more immediate catalyst for an OCR cut, particularly if it was to lift further and materially change the inflation outlook," he said.

Westpac Chief Economist Dominick Stephens said his first impression was the speech was more dovish.

"The case for rate cuts was more fleshed out," Stephens said.

"As well as the risk of consumers and businesses falling into a low-inflation mindset, the speech noted that signs of weaker domestic demand and inflation pressures could prompt a cut," he said.

"This included a menu of factors that are already on the horizon - drought, low dairy prices, fiscal consolidation, and the high exchange rate."

Stephens said the Reserve Bank could scratch the 'up' part of the 'up or down' phrase from its monetary policy statement when it next announces its decision on April 30.

(Updated with more details, reaction)

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22 Comments

Oh dear. They really do not have a clue:

"The fact that the exchange rate has appreciated while our key export prices, such as dairy, have been falling, is unwelcome," he added.

The bank remained vigilant in watching wage bargaining and price-setting outcomes.

Perhaps they should be watching the Aussie Reserve Bank instead. As a once in a hundred year commodity boom fades away I wonder what follows? Presumably a once in a hundred year bust. The Aussies will be forced to keep cutting rates as the months and years go by.

Why are the RBNZ so slow and behind the curve? If they had put rates up in a timely manner they would not have stoked the Auckland housing bubble and so could act in a timely manner to cut rates at the same time the Aussies do. Do we need a currency board system instead of these well meaning but wrong headed RBNZ types?

As a once in a hundred year commodity boom fades away I wonder what follows? Presumably a once in a hundred year bust. The Aussies will be forced to keep cutting rates as the months and years go by.

Only as long as the economy retains DM status - once designated an EM sovereign entity the money lenders will demand interest rates north of 10 % - witness Brazil etc

put rates up? are you cwaaaazzyy? do you really want to collapse the tradeables sector? you know small NZ businesses?

The rest of NZ isnt seeing such house gains. You live in Nelson? last time I looked house prices were stagnant or dropping? Want to make that worse?

you know small NZ businesses?

hmmm - the majority of whom are cost plus plus markup merchants

Indeed that is what say a plumber is, or software developer if you want to look at it that way.

I was also thinking of average size dairy farmers expecting individual incomes around the $20,000 bracket while Fonterra employs 576 senior staff earning over $160,000 and 17 earning more than $1 million a year in the last financial year.

Check out Auckland Council, over 1200 staffs are earning over 100K

Petrol retailer margins are another pernicious marked up cost:

.....the area of importer margins, the amount available to retailers to cover transport, distribution and retailing costs, as well as their profit margins. This has risen from a low of 15c a litre in 2008. Just before Christmas last year, it stood at 39.4c, higher than at any time since September 1990, when it was 48.68c, measured in inflation-adjusted dollars.
The upward trend has continued whether international fuel prices were high or, as recently, plunging. The petrol companies have made little attempt to justify it. Popular concern about whether prices were falling quickly enough served, in fact, as a useful smokescreen. The only ruffling of their feathers occurred early this year when the Energy and Resources Minister, Simon Bridges, said he was watching petrol retailers' margins closely. At the same time, however, he rejected a Labour Party call for a select committee inquiry into fuel prices, which would have turned up the heat a notch.
Read more

it's a gas...and a rip-off.

Never drive a gas guzzler. It only encourages them.

Fuel is up at the pumps markedly today, down at the futures market, markedly today.

I suggest a boycott of the major franchises. Might at least keep the others honest and increase their turnover, hence lower their expectations. But no...complacency will win and you can always put it on the credit card......eh. That is what borrowing is for....innit.

Please exclude those who's major markets established over 15 years of toil into the UK and Europe have seen their margins totally destroyed by current FX rates.

Oh well - no inflation and zero export returns - I suppose that is one outcome that keeps
the chattering class in cheap new cars and 50" TV's....

Just waiting for the current account blow out that will surely follow.

you mean ppl who actually make something? as opposed to those who expect high interest rates for no work and no risk? surely you jest.

Fantastic news. Bring those OCR cuts!

That looks like a big change in policy. the Q is what brakes will the RB insist on (to contain Auckland) to go with it.

No brakes steven. Buy property?

The calipers have fresh seals, the rotors have just been skimmed and the new pads are being unwrapped right now. Let's see what the RBNZ bring property investors in the next 8-10 weeks. I'm predicting good stopping power evidenced by squeaky landlords.

"Is this another slain dragon?" he asked about the low inflation currently. "I do not believe so; the dragon is merely sleeping," he said.

We all know who the sleeping dragon is, dont we?

Why everybody fails to see that it's not NZD increasing its value but everyone else decreasing it?

NZD is historically at its highest level against EUR for example due to the EU QE,
but against USD it's at the same level as the average in 2011..

Want to be competitive in exports? be able to sell for less? Then burst the bubble that affects land prices, houses and generally all industry and cut production costs.

It's a mistake trying to lower the OCR. It will add more fuel to stock markets, more debt, more house prices increases (further drop later), and it will scare away some foreign investments. And if everybody does the same.. then what?

Want to create some inflation? Burst the bubble so people can actually spend some money in productive economy.

At the end the big problem in NZ is precisely its overpriced assets. The price of ha is now one of the highest in the world.

Lowering the price of money to be able to keep increasing the debt to "afford" keeping the current assets prices will only delay the problem, not solve it.

Stop punishing savings and rewarding debt.

MJ, yr opening sentence refers, Their greed for free money (debt ie. someone elses) and pining for the pre GFC days renders them incapable. And that's how NZ has become a low wage economy and one of the most expensive places on earth to live.

An OCR cut by the end of the year.

Bring on the OCR cuts! Stop worrying about Auckland house prices and start thinking about the manufacturers/exporters in the regions who are being slaughtered by the high dollar. We provide a lot of employment- at the moment!

Relax, immigration is at an all time high. This will put downwards pressure on wages hence exporters will save on labour costs and voila! They are competative again. See - no probs. Yes bring on the OCR cuts!

Can just imagine my workers reaction if I went and said to them "Your wages are going down tomorrow"!!