Official cash rate left unchanged

The Reserve Bank has left the official cash rate unchanged at its record low of 2.5 per cent.

In the latest economist survey there was 42 per cent support for an increase in the OCR from 2.5 to 2.75 per cent today and 19 per cent support for an even higher rate.

Support for keeping rates on hold today dropped to 39 per cent from 55 per cent when the bank last reviewed the OCR six weeks ago.

New Zealand's economic expansion has considerable momentum. Prices for New Zealand's export commodities remain very high, especially for dairy products.

Consumer and business confidence are strong and the rapid rise in net inward migration over the past year has added to consumption and housing demand. Construction activity is being lifted by the Canterbury rebuild and by work in Auckland to address the housing shortage. Continued fiscal consolidation will partly offset the strength in demand. GDP grew by 3.5 per cent in the year to September, and growth is expected to continue around this rate over the coming year.

While agricultural export prices are expected to come off their peak levels, overall export demand should benefit from improving growth in the global economy. However, improvements in the major economies have required exceptional monetary accommodation and there remains uncertainty about the timing of withdrawal of this stimulus and its effects, especially on emerging market economies.

Annual CPI inflation was 1.6 per cent in 2013, and forward-looking measures of firms' pricing intentions have been rising. Construction costs are increasing and risk feeding through to broader costs in the economy.

At the same time, there appears to have been some moderation in the housing market in recent months. The high exchange rate continues to dampen inflation in the traded goods sector, but the Bank does not believe the current level of the exchange rate is sustainable in the long run.

While headline inflation has been moderate, inflationary pressures are expected to increase over the next two years. In this environment, there is a need to return interest rates to more-normal levels. The Bank expects to start this adjustment soon.

The Bank remains committed to increasing the OCR as needed to keep future average inflation near the 2 per cent target mid-point. The scale and speed of the rise in the OCR will depend on future economic indicators.

Graeme Wheeler is set to deliver the Reserve Bank's quarterly Monetary Policy Statement on March 13.

NZIER economist Kirdan Lees said earlier this week that waiting until March to lift rates would give Wheeler the chance to use a full suite of communication tools - including a monetary policy statement, press conference and select committee testimony - to tell the public why interest rates need to go up.

"But the economy is building up steam. Business confidence is soaring, consumers are ready to spend and the Canterbury rebuild will pressure inflation higher over 2014 and beyond. Loan-to-value restrictions also need help to slow the pace of house price rises in Auckland," he said.

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