The Reserve Bank today left the Official Cash Rate unchanged at 3.5 percent.
Trading partner growth in 2015 is expected to be similar to 2014, though the outlook is weaker than anticipated last year. Divergences continue among regions, with growth in China, Japan and the euro area easing in recent quarters, while growth in the US has remained robust.
World oil prices have fallen 60 percent since June last year, which will boost spending power in oil importing economies but reduce incomes for oil exporters. The oil price decline, together with uncertainties around the transition of US monetary policy, has led to an increase in financial market volatility.
The lower oil price will have a significant impact on prices and activity in New Zealand. The most direct and immediate effects are through fuel prices, with the price of regular petrol falling from a national average of $2.23 in mid-2014 to $1.73 currently. This will increase households’ purchasing power and lower the cost of doing business.
Annual economic growth in New Zealand is above 3 percent, supported by rising construction activity and household incomes. The housing market is showing signs of picking up, particularly in Auckland. However, fiscal consolidation, the reduced dairy payout, the risk of drought, and the high exchange rate will weigh on growth.
While the New Zealand dollar has eased recently, we believe the exchange rate remains unjustified in terms of current economic conditions, particularly export prices, and unsustainable in terms of New Zealand’s long-term economic fundamentals. We expect to see a further significant depreciation.
The high exchange rate, low global inflation, and falling oil prices are causing traded goods inflation to be very weak. Non-tradables inflation remains moderate, despite buoyant domestic demand and an improving labour market. Headline annual inflation is expected to be below the target band through 2015, and could become negative for a period before moving back towards 2 percent, albeit more gradually than previously anticipated.
In the current circumstances, we expect to keep the OCR on hold for some time. Future interest rate adjustments, either up or down, will depend on the emerging flow of economic data.