Steady as she goes: 1.9% inflation tipped for Dec 2017 quarter

Headline inflation is expected to have stayed steady at 1.9% at the end of last year, slightly above the Reserve Bank's forecasts.

Statistics New Zealand will release the latest Consumer Price Index, the official measure of inflation, on Thursday and some of the more volatile components will make some broad contributions.

ANZ senior economist Phil Borkin said he expected inflation of 0.4% for the three months ended December, giving an annual rate of 1.9%.

The Reserve Bank is forecasting 0.3% for the quarter and 1.8% for the year.

The figures on Thursday would incorporate an updated CPI basket and weights as part of the 2017 CPI review, he said.

Among other things, the changes would mean the emphasis on food and the purchase of housing, vehicles and insurance lifted modestly. Lower weights would be put on property maintenance, electricity, petrol and telecommunication services.

``These weighting changes haven't altered our forecast for the quarter but they do shift the risk profile modestly lower.''

A fall could come from a higher emphasis on food prices, for which monthly data was indicating a 1.6% quarterly fall, and a lower weight on petrol, the price of which was estimated to have risen 6.2% in the quarter, Mr Borkin said.

Overall, food prices were expected to have recorded a 0.3% drag on headline inflation and petrol would make a 0.2% contribution.

Other volatile components, such as domestic and international airfares, were estimated to make a combined 0.2% contribution, largely reflecting seasonal forces.

Yet again, the housing group (0.7%) would make a positive contribution, he said.

ANZ expected the purchase of housing component to have risen at a similar pace as it did in September, slightly below the average of the past 12 months.

Household energy was expected to have risen 0.8%
in the quarter, while rental inflation was expected to have held steady at 0.5%.

Outside housing, evidence of a lift in domestic inflation pressures would be tentative at best, Mr Borkin said.

``We retain a view domestic inflation will rise and broaden in time. This is largely predicated on the belief a cyclical low in wage inflation has been seen and, through the combination of skill shortages and Government policy changes, wage inflation will continue to lift.''

It was far from a clear picture, Mr Borkin said.

Other policies, such as the first year of tertiary education being free for students, would have a mechanical offsetting impact.

Together with recent movements in oil prices and the New Zealand dollar, and the fact the ANZ predicted activity growth in the next year or so to be only at trend and not above, it remained a mixed picture.

``It is this mixed picture we suspect will leave the Reserve Bank somewhat cautious and sidelined for some time yet.''


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