Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Scene-setter for tomorrow's RBNZ decision

Tomorrow we get the latest Official Cash Rate (OCR) review from the Reserve Bank, so by way of a scene-setter here's my latest calculation of the overall tightness or looseness of monetary policy, as measured by the Monetary Conditions Index (the MCI), which combines the impact of interest rates (90 day bills) and the exchange rate (the TWI) into one summary index number. If the MCI is all news to you, there's an older post about it here.

This time round I've just shown the last 10 years and a bit, including my estimate for October (based on bills at 2.9% and the TWI at 72.9).

The latest consensus from polls of economists is that the Bank will leave the OCR alone at 2.75% tomorrow - a change from an earlier view that another 0.25% cut was almost a certainty. The main reason appears to be that the economic forecasters are placing quite a bit of weight on the keep-the-powder-dry bit in the Governor's recent speech where he referred to "the need to have sufficient capacity to cut interest rates if the global economy slows significantly".

It's possible too that the recent improvements in business and consumer confidence, and robust results from the BusinessNZ/BNZ surveys of manufacturing and services, mean that the RBNZ doesn't need to be in such a hurry to provide some extra stimulus to the economy, which seems to be coming out of its dairy-price-slump attack of the glums.

Me? I can see some value in hanging about till the next Monetary Policy Statement on December 10 and getting a better bead on the economy, and what's six weeks in the great scheme of things anyway, but for what it's worth I'd cut tomorrow.

For a start, there's been that recent sharp rise in the TWI: the Kiwi dollar is up by nigh on 7% in overall value from its low point on September 23. And as the MCI graph shows, that move in the exchange rate has been enough to take the overall bite of monetary policy onto the tighter side of neutral. You can't keep fiddling with interest rates every time the dollar ducks and dives - which is why the MCI was abandoned as a policy tool - but equally you can't be completely indifferent to overall monetary policy being tightish when it actually needs to be loosish. The big picture here is that we (like many other countries) have been undershooting our inflation target: monetary policy needs to move into a modestly stimulus/inflationary space. Standing pat won't get us there. If it's steady tomorrow and a cut in December, no great harm done. But there needs to be a cut sometime soon, and especially if the Kiwi dollar keeps strengthening.

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