New Zealand Central Bank Maintains Rates at 5.5%

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The Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) held the cash rate at today’s meeting. The central bank warned that interest rates could move higher and the New Zealand dollar responded by surging as much as 1% before giving up most of those gains.

The RBNZ had a hawkish message for the markets, although it did not raise rates at today’s meeting. The message was clearly picked up by the markets, as the New Zealand dollar rose sharply following the meeting.

New Zealand’s inflation rate has been falling and dropped to 5.6% in the third quarter, down from 6.2% in the second quarter. Still, inflation remains well above the RBNZ’s target range of 1%-3%.  Despite high inflation, the markets have priced in a rate cut in mid-2024, and RBNZ Governor Orr decided to send a firm message and push back against speculation of a rate cut.

The rate statement signalled that the cash rate would need to remain restrictive for an extended period (higher for longer) and if inflation was stronger than expected, the RBNZ would likely raise rates. RBNZ Governor Orr bolstered this hawkish message in his post-meeting press conference, noting that the risk to inflation was skewed upwards and expressed concern that inflation remains above the target range.

The RBNZ also revised upwards its projection for the peak rate from 5.57% to 5.69%. This means that the RBNZ is signaling that rates are yet to reach their peak level, which could mean another rate hike early in 2024.

In the aftermath of the RBNZ decision, the NZD/USD currency pair powered higher, climbing as much as 1% and touching a high of $0.6208, its highest level since August 1. NZD/USD has since surrendered most of those gains but is still in positive territory.

The NZX 50, New Zealand’s main stock index, climbed as much as 1.2% on Wednesday prior to the RBNZ meeting, hitting a high of 11,409.2 points. However, these gains were completely wiped out in the aftermath of the meeting and the index closed at 11,235.94, down 1.43 points (0.01%) on the day.

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