Westpac's economists have changed their view on when the Reserve Bank will raise interest rates and think there is now a one-in-three chance it could cut the Official Cash Rate (OCR) in the next 12 months.
Westpac Chief Economist Dominick Stephens says the bank's economists had previously forecast the OCR would remain on hold at 1.75% until November next year, with the Reserve Bank beginning raising it slowly after that.
Westpac's change of view comes after the Reserve Bank's latest OCR review and Monetary Policy Statement (MPS) last week. As expected, the OCR was left unchanged at 1.75%, which is a record low and is where it has been since October 2016. However, the MPS pushed out the timing of the next move in the OCR by a whole year since the previous MPS in May. The Reserve Bank's first forecast rise in the OCR is now September 2020, compared with September 2019 previously.
Stephens says Westpac's new forecast is for the OCR to remain on hold until May 2020 and rise slowly thereafter. He said the change in forecast was not driven by a change in the economy and had more to do with the change of leadership at the Reserve Bank.
"An economic slowdown has taken businesses, markets, the RBNZ and the Treasury by surprise," he said.
"But from our perspective, the slowdown is no surprise. In November last year we forecast annual GDP growth in 2018 of 2.4%. At that time, we predicted that the RBNZ would become more dovish when it inevitably downgraded its overly optimistic GDP forecasts. This is all still broadly proceeding as anticipated," said Stephens.
What had changed was the leadership at the Reserve Bank, with Adrian Orr taking over as Governor in March.
"The main reason for the change in the OCR call is what appears to be a change in the RBNZ's behaviour since the new Governor took office," Stephens said.
"Communications have made it clear that the RBNZ is now actively considering OCR reductions and is less inclined towards hikes."
However looking ahead, Stephens believes Westpac's economists may have a more optimistic view on the economy's prospects than the Reserve Bank.
The recent plunge in the NZ dollar, means it's now well below RBNZ forecasts, and June GDP data, due to be released in September, was more likely to be around 1% than the Reserve Bank's forecast of 0.5%, he said. And September quarter inflation was more likely to be around 1.7% compared to the RBNZ forecast of 1.4%.
"In our view, it is more likely that the data will surprise the Reserve Bank on the upside and OCR cuts will be averted," Stephens said.
'A pseudo-stagflationary environment'
Meanwhile BNZ's economists are outlining a raft of difficulties facing the economy.
"New Zealand threatens to move into a pseudo-stagflationary environment," BNZ Head of Research Stephen Toplis says.
"Growth is slowing and we doubt that even the substantial fiscal stimulus that is being delivered will result in a significant increase in the pace of expansion," says Toplis.
However the BNZ economists don't think the Reserve Bank will be in any rush to alter the OCR.
"We see the RBNZ being unmoved for at least the next 12 months," Toplis adds