Two major topics discussed in the Reserve Banks 39-page September Monetary Policy Statement (MPS) are inflation and interest rates. In June, the Bank forecasted inflation to be 4.5% this year. The latest forecast from the Bank expects inflation to be 0.7% lower at 3.8%. Additionally, the Banks 2011 inflation forecast has been reduced from 2.9% to 2.4%.
The lower inflation forecasts are not out of the blue given the lower economic growth projections announced by the Reserve Bank. Factors attributable to the muted inflation pressures include: weaker consumer demand, basically non-existent lending growth, unemployment figures at over 5%, reductions in house prices and deleveraging.
The Bank stated that it will look through the impact on inflation as a result of the increase in GST, the Emissions Trading Scheme, plus other related tax changes. The Bank forecasts that an additional 2.7% will be added to inflation as a result of these former factors, with the Consumer Price Index crowning at 4.8% in June 2011. Taking aside these factors, the underlying inflation rate would be 2.1%.
It is important to note the following stern warning delivered by the Bank in the September MPS. If the factors mentioned above begin to influence individuals behaviour, then the Bank will move quickly to increase interest rates. Price setting will be monitored, as will wage negotiations and surveys of inflationary expectations to gauge if there is evidence that the bump in inflation is becoming ingrained. If this is the case, it can be expected that fast and material increases in the Official Cash Rate (OCR) will follow.
Regarding interest rates, the theme is the same as with economic growth and inflation lower for longer. Unlike the June MPS, the Bank now expects interest rates to rise a lot more slowly. This links back to the Banks cuts to GDP and inflation estimates. The June MPS forecasted interest rates to rise 3.1 % over the next two years, up from the then current level of 3.0% to 6.1% by the end of 2012.
According to the September MPS, the Bank now estimates interest rates to rise by only half as much. 90-day bank bills are forecast to increase from their current 3.2% to be 4.1% in December 2011 an increase of just 1.4%.
If you have a floating mortgage, this reduction in the increase of estimated interest rates will be good news. Although, as the Bank does point out in the September MPS, it expects to increase the OCR over the next few years, the pace and extent of these increases will be lower than forecast in the June MPS.