Reserve Bank Hold Official Cash Rates

Statement by Reserve Bank Governor Grant Spencer:

The Reserve Bank today left the Official Cash Rate (OCR) unchanged at 1.75 percent.

Global economic growth continues to improve, although inflation and wage outcomes remain subdued. Commodity prices are relatively stable. Bond yields and credit spreads remain low and equity prices are near record levels. Monetary policy remains easy in the advanced economies but is gradually becoming less stimulatory.

The exchange rate has eased since the August Statement and, if sustained, will increase tradables inflation and promote more balanced growth.

GDP in the June quarter grew broadly in line with expectations, following relative weakness in the previous two quarters. Employment growth has been strong and GDP growth is projected to strengthen, with a weaker outlook for housing and construction offset by accommodative monetary policy, the continued high terms of trade, and increased fiscal stimulus.

The Bank has incorporated preliminary estimates of the impact of new government policies in four areas: new government spending; the KiwiBuild programme; tighter visa requirements; and increases in the minimum wage. The impact of these policies remains very uncertain.

House price inflation has moderated due to loan-to-value ratio restrictions, affordability constraints, reduced foreign demand, and a tightening in credit conditions. Low house price inflation is expected to continue, reinforced by new government policies on housing.

Annual CPI inflation was 1.9 percent in September although underlying inflation remains subdued. Non-tradables inflation is moderate but expected to increase gradually as capacity pressures increase. Tradables inflation has increased due to the lower New Zealand dollar and higher oil prices, but is expected to soften in line with projected low global inflation. Overall, CPI inflation is projected to remain near the midpoint of the target range and longer-term inflation expectations are well anchored at 2 percent.

Monetary policy will remain accommodative for a considerable period. Numerous uncertainties remain and policy may need to adjust accordingly.

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7% mortgage rates could collapse housing market

In its May Financial Stability Report the Reserve Bank of New Zealand reveals the results stress tests designed to assess the vulnerability of households to service their mortgages if rates rise.

It’s findings show a high number of owner-occupier households would be under financial stress if rates jump, which could collapse the housing market as defaults rise as demand weakens further.

The central bank considered a 7% mortgage rate, close to the average for a 2-year loan over the past decade, and a 9% rate which it says is “extreme but still plausible.”

At a 7% rate, the bank estimates that 4% of all borrowers (6% of the total stock of mortgage debt) and 5% of recent borrowers (9% of total) would be unable to manage their essential expenses. A further 9% of all borrowers would have only a small buffer for discretionary spending.

At a 9% mortgage rate, 7% of all borrowers and 19% of recent borrowers would be unable to manage.

“While the LVR restrictions have increased the banks’ resilience to any fall in house prices, a significant share of housing loans are being made at high debt-to-income (DTI) ratios. Such borrowers tend to be more vulnerable to any increase in interest rates or declines in income,” said RBNZ Deputy Governor Grant Spencer.

The report warns that Auckland’s mortgage borrowers are at a higher vulnerability to increased rates with 5% in the city estimated to be unable to meet essential expenses at a mortgage rate of 7% compared to 3% elsewhere.

With high levels of New Zealand’s homeowners vulnerable to mortgage rate rises, the central bank forecasts that a sharp and unexpected hike in rates could see defaults increase, consumption cut, and homes being sold to pay debts.

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