Have interest rate hikes in New Zealand brought any changes?


Summary

  • The political action unfolded in the form of several closely spaced interest rate hikes in New Zealand over a short period.
  • The immediate effect of an interest rate hike was felt in the foreign exchange market for the New Zealand dollar.
  • Some experts suggest that domestic policy measures may not be effective against inflation resulting from international forces.

In the era of COVID-19, central banks around the world have resorted to interest rate hikes to combat inflationary pressures and move closer to normalcy. For New Zealand, the political action unfolded in the form of several closely spaced interest rate hikes in a short period of time. This has left many people worried about the economy and house prices.

Despite the uncertainty, financial confidence is improving among New Zealanders. According to the latest Financial Resilience Index (FRI) from the Financial Services Council, more and more people feel secure about their jobs. At a time when the country is slowly moving towards economic stability, rising interest rates appear to pose serious affordability and consumer spending issues.

Overall, it is difficult to separate the effects of rising interest rates from a whirlwind of growing geopolitical tensions. In the meantime, some direct impacts of an interest rate hike are already visible. These effects can translate into a slowdown in spending over time if policy tightens again.

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NZD and mortgage rates

The hawkish policy stance taken by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) has led to many short-term changes across the economy. Finally, the central bank raised interest rates by 25 basis points, bringing the current interest rate to 1%. While the move was largely expected, it was the RBNZ’s third interest rate hike since the pandemic began.

The immediate effect of an interest rate hike was felt in the foreign exchange market for the New Zealand dollar. The indication of a tightening cycle initially pushed the New Zealand dollar higher as the currency found comfort in rising resource prices. However, it recently fell from new 2022 highs after skyrocketing oil prices threatened the global economic recovery.

Besides the local currency, mortgage rates also reacted to changes in interest rates. Following in the central bank’s footsteps, commercial banks like ASB and Westpac have recently raised mortgage interest rates, but to a lesser extent. Both banks took inspiration from ANZ’s decision to raise mortgage rates to dampen inflation.

Experts suggest that rising mortgage rates are crucial for stabilizing house prices as it could discourage even the wealthiest borrowers from taking out a loan. The effects of these expectations are visible in the easing of real estate prices observed in January, with the drop in sales leading the way.

Fight against inflation

While the central bank’s efforts are focused on controlling the rate of inflation, little effect has been observed so far on consumer prices. Rising consumer prices have become a persistent problem amid supply chain constraints and lack of adequate manpower.

Some experts suggest that domestic policy measures may not be effective against inflation resulting primarily from international forces. Supply bottlenecks developed in global economies require a well-integrated solution with a broader reach.

Meanwhile, other experts say interest rates have a direct impact on investors’ risk and investment appetite. They believe that changes in interest rates can affect consumer spending and inflation. However, recent data suggests that these links have led to a slowdown in stock market activity. Alternatively, the successful recovery of the economy has helped support an improvement in corporate profit margins.

Despite tentative results, the central bank is expected to press ahead with tightening measures in the coming months. Speculation is rife that the RBNZ will undertake a more aggressive tightening of monetary policy and reduce its bond holdings of NZ$50 billion acquired under the large-scale asset purchase program in the coming months. It remains to be seen whether this will be the central bank’s longstanding response to skyrocketing inflation.

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Despite continued headwinds, some experts are predicting up to ten consecutive 25 basis point rate hikes from the RBNZ. However, rising interest rates could hamper economic activity, doing little to control the larger problem of rising inflation. Meanwhile, the outlook for New Zealand’s economy remains uncertain amid the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war, even with adequate political regulation.

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