22 Jan 2014

Chance of January interest hike

10:30 am on 22 January 2014

The chances of an imminent interest rate hike have been boosted by the worse-than-expected December quarter inflation figures but most economists still believe the central bank will wait until March.

Statistics New Zealand on Tuesday released figures showing the Consumers Price Index rose 0.1 percent in the three months ended December, taking the annual rate to 1.6 percent.

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Photo: RNZ

Economists' median forecast was for a 0.1 percent decrease in the quarter, while the Reserve Bank's forecast was for a 0.2 percent decline.

ASB Bank chief economist Nick Tuffley said he believed the central bank would wait until mid-March, when it releases its next monetary policy statement, to raise the rate.

"I do think, though, that this outcome has slightly increased the odds of a January rate increase. I'd put the odds at about one in four, and that's up a little bit from what I would have thought beforehand," Mr Tuffley said.

The economy was generally showing a bit more momentum, with a lot of the indicators of capacity pressures all appearing relatively benign, he said.

"One complication for the Reserve Bank is strength of the New Zealand dollar. It's already higher than what the Reserve Bank had been anticipating, and if we did see interest rates go up in January it would turbo charge that strength that we're seeing in the New Zealand dollar.

"In a lot of ways, that's not helpful for some segments of the New Zealand economy, where they are already facing competitive challenges because of the high exchange rate."

First NZ Capital economist Chris Green said the market was pricing in a 50 percent chance of a rate hike next week.

Mr Green said the inflation numbers raised the likelihood but he rated the chances of an early hike at between 30 and 35 percent.

Manufacturing body says interest rate rise premature

The Employers and Manufacturers Association meanwhile says the Reserve Bank should not raise interest rates.

Chief executive Kim Campbell says inflation is not a serious problem and warns New Zealand has not put all of its economic problems behind it.

"Remember this recovery is not everywhere in New Zealand, it doesn't affect everybody there are lots of people still in Struggle Street.

"It just seems to me the banks are talking up this interest rate because they make more money out of it."

He says the economic recovery is being driven by the Christchurch re-build and dairy and the benefits stemming from those two areas of economic activity are not evenly spread.

Mr Campbell says higher interest rates will raise the dollar and make life harder for exporters.