High inflation likely to lead to another 50bp OCR hike

Mixed views on inflation forecasts; but many agree another 50 basis point OCR hike is to come.

The cost of filling the grocery trolley will continue to rise fast for the rest of the year, according to most economists.

They only disagree on the degree of change.

Their comments follow Stats NZ's release of the March quarter price growth number at 1.8%.

That put annual growth of the Consumers Price Index (CPI) at 6.9%, which was the highest rate for 30 years.

Although it was marginally short predictions of more than 7%, it is still more than double the Reserve Bank's supposed maximum, and will add to a chorus of protest that the cost of living is becoming way too expensive for many families.

Despite that, Westpac economists see a chink of light in the gloom.

“Inflation will remain elevated for some time yet,” they wrote.

“However, it’s looking likely that the March quarter will prove to be the peak in the current inflation upswing.”

They argued some cost pressures, such as a doubling in international oil prices, had already been passed through into output prices.

And while some price rises in the quarter were very large, such as food at 3.1% and construction at 3.5%, other items such as appliances rose less than expected.

However this small crumb of comfort was not enough to change their forecast of a 50bp rise in the OCR in May.

And the principal economist at Infometrics, Brad Olsen, does not offer even the small ray of hope that Westpac does.

He thinks there is still some more inflation to come, and yesterday's rate could have been higher but for a Government wave of the wand.

“Part of the reason why yesterday's rate wasn't seven-point-something was that the Government artificially lowered that number by borrowing $350 million a quarter for fuel tax relief,” Olsen said.

“The worry is that if the Government does (remove that tax relief) then you could see inflation go higher.”

And Olsen had some information from the horse's mouth, and it wasn't good news.

“The conversations we continue to have with businesses indicate that there are more rises to come.”

More important, Olsen added, was that he did not expect to see inflation come down very quickly.

However, firm action by the Reserve Bank could reduce this pressure, and he too is forecasting a 50bps rise in the OCR in May.

ASB is also forecasting another 50 point jump in the OCR.

It says inflation might slip below its current 6.9%, but will remain over 5% for all of this year.

The bank's senior economist Mark Smith notes the rise in the CPI was slightly less than forecast, and he credits a slightly lower than expected rise in tradeable prices for that result.

“But this should reverse in the coming quarters as New Zealand opens up,” he said.

Smith said both annual tradable and non-tradable inflation hit multi-decade highs and showed how broad based the inflationary pressures were.

“The multifaceted sources of price increases continue to highlight the risk of high inflation outcomes proving to be persistent” said Smith.

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