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NZ Wheeler jolts market with OCR cut reminder

Property Here - Thursday, March 14, 2013

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The New Zealand dollar dropped by about 1 US cent and swap rates fell after the Reserve Bank warned a surging kiwi for no good reason may force a rate cut, and said it doesn't plan to budge on the official cash rate this year.

The kiwi dollar sank as low as 81.63 US cents from 82.60 cents immediately before the statement, and recently traded at 81.82 cents. That's the lowest level since Nov. 22.

Reserve Bank governor Graeme Wheeler kept the OCR at a record low 2.5 per cent for a 16th straight meeting, blaming the overvalued currency and deteriorating drought for "creating difficulty in much of the country."

If the exchange rate climbs "for reasons not justified by New Zealand's economic fundamentals, all other things equal, this would lead to a lower-than-expected OCR," he said in the overview and key policy judgements section of today's statement.

If that "overshooting" in the currency continues, it creates "scope for a reduction in the OCR," Wheeler told media in Wellington.

That's due to cheaper imports reducing inflation and a stronger currency diminishing demand for exporters. Conversely, a sharp fall would also prompt a policy response.

The Reserve Bank sees the currency staying above 75 on the TWI until the June quarter next year, having previously seen it falling below 73 by the end of this year.

"A key factor on the dovish side was a bigger emphasis on the potential for OCR cuts in response to the NZD remaining at recent levels for 9 months longer than the RBNZ has factored in," ASB chief economist Nick Tuffley said in a note. "Today's statement appears delivered with an intent to bring a bit more balance back into markets, by reminding that OCR cuts are a possibility and the NZD is not a one-way bet upwards."

The central bank expects the 90-day bank bill, often seen as a proxy for the OCR, to start increasing in June next year, before accelerating in 2015 and rising to 4 per cent the following year. It had previously projected the rate staying on hold until December this year, rising to 3.3 per cent in March 2015.

Traders see 22 basis points of cuts over the next 12 months, based on the Overnight Interest Swap curve.

Two-year swap rates dropped 8.5 basis points to 2.83 per cent after the release.

David Croy, head of global markets research at ANZ New Zealand, said analysts lowered their expectations for interest rates based on the central bank's 90-day bank bill rate forecast.

ANZ is picking a rate hike in the first half of next year.

Dominick Stephens, Westpac Banking chief economist, said the fall in swap rates could lead to a drop in mortgage rates.

"That will stimulate the housing market further - an unhelpful development for the RBNZ," he said.

Local property prices rose 7.6 per cent last month on increasing sales numbers, according to Real Estate Institute figures. New Zealand's property market gains have been driven by a lack of supply in its biggest city, Auckland, and as the Canterbury rebuild gets underway.

"House price inflation is increasing and the bank does not want to see financial stability or inflation risks accentuated by housing demand getting too far ahead of supply," Wheeler said.

The Reserve Bank estimates house prices increased in real terms at an annual pace of 6 per cent last year, and will rise 6.2 per cent and 3.6 per cent this year and the next.

"There is considerable uncertainty around these projections given the nature of supply and demand imbalances in the regional housing markets," the bank said. "We will closely monitor house prices for any signs of feed-through into consumer price inflation."

The bank expects New Zealand's economy to grow at an annual pace of between 2 per cent and 3 per cent in the coming years on the $30 billion Canterbury rebuild and lift in residential investment. In the December forecast it projected annual growth of between 2.5 per cent and 3 per cent over the next two years, largely on the back of the Canterbury rebuild.

That growth will be hampered by the drought across much of the North Island, which is sapping the tail-end of the agricultural production season, and the government's spending cuts which will amount to 3.2 per cent of gross domestic product over the next four years.