OCR rise on hold for now

An interest rate hike pause will give homeowners a chance to reassess their mortgage choices....
An interest rate hike pause will give homeowners a chance to reassess their mortgage choices. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Interest rates are likely to remain on hold until at least March, when the Reserve Bank may lift its official cash rate after an extended pause in its monetary policy tightening cycle.

Home owners with mortgages coming up for renewal will have longer to decide whether to fix or float their new home loans.

Economists say last week's labour data, dairy price weakness and a persistently strong New Zealand dollar are key factors in keeping the OCR at its current 3.5% until next year.

Earlier, economists were expecting a rise in December to 3.75%.

Housing prices and sales are also likely to come in below Reserve Bank forecasts.

Westpac chief economist Dominick Stephens said yesterday floating mortgage rates usually worked out to be more expensive for borrowers than short-term fixed rates, such as the six-month rate.

However, a floating rate might still be the preferred option for those who required flexibility in their repayments.

''Among the standard fixed rates, we have no clear favourite.

"Shorter-term fixed rates, such as the six-month or one-year rate, are currently low but are expected to rise over the coming two years.''

Opting for the three or four-year rate would require higher payments up front but would help the borrower if the Reserve Bank did follow through with an extensive OCR hiking cycle, he said.

At this stage, it was not clear which option would result in lower average mortgage payments over the life of the loan.

Banks sometimes offered ''specials'' on particular fixed terms.

They were usually good value, Mr Stephens said.

Yesterday, major banks were offering one-year fixed rates of either 6.05% or 6.09%, two-year deals were at 5.99% and three-year rates were 6.65%.

ASB chief economist Nick Tuffley said the interaction between dairy prices, the dollar and interest rates suggested something would have to give.

In the absence of a substantial rebound in global dairy prices, or a substantial fall in the dollar, interest rates would have to remain stimulatory for longer than ASB had expected.

A longer pause in the Reserve Bank's tightening cycle would buffer the New Zealand economy from lower dairy prices and continued strength in the dollar, he said.

Recent inflation results suggested the Reserve Bank had time on its side.

The latest labour market data showed a continued moderation in construction labour cost growth in Canterbury, despite strong construction employment.

''This suggests capacity pressures in Canterbury are not translating to as much cost growth as initially feared.''

Annual headline inflation remained in the bottom half of the Reserve Bank's 1% to 3% target band.

''Both we and the Reserve Bank do not expect inflation to reach the 2% midpoint target until mid-2015,'' Mr Tuffley said.

Mr Stephens said dairy prices continued to tumble in Fonterra's latest auction but the recent bout of weakness could no longer be pinned on recovering global supplies.

Instead, it seemed to be because of weaker Chinese demand - more cautious consumers and a resulting build-up of milk powder stocks in Chinese warehouses.

There was no doubt the downturn in dairy prices would mean pain for New Zealand's rural economy, he said.

For the Reserve Bank, that had to be balanced against developments in the more domestically focused parts of the economy.



At a glance

• Lower interest rates for longer

• Official cash rate on hold till March

• Special offers from banks usually good value

• Retail spending data out this week



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