Inflation worries economists

Economists are worried about inflation that has remained stubbornly high at 7.2% in the year to December.

That is the same level as in the year to September and only marginally down on the 7.3% in the year to June.

The independent economist Cameron Bagrie is one who fears inflation could remain persistently high for some time.

He says, for example, fuel prices have been coming down internationally but for New Zealand, there is more to it than that.

“What we also know is that as soon as the Government takes off the fuel subsidy, then what is going to happen to diesel prices, what is going to happen to petrol prices?” he asked a webinar of mortgage professionals.

Bagrie went on to say the rate of inflation would definitely come down over this year, but there was a question mark over whether it would be fast enough.

“The longer we see inflation in excess of 5%, the more we start to see changing pricing behaviour (in the wider economy). Five becomes the new two. And if five becomes the new two, then watch out for what the Reserve Bank is going to need to do. It won't be pretty.”

Bagrie said there were some encouraging signs, but there were other problems such as food prices which rose 11.3%, and that was what people noticed far more than a number put out by Stats NZ.

In other comment, the senior economist at Westpac, Satish Ranchhod, drew attention to the domestic rate of inflation, which was 1.5% for the quarter and 6.6% for the year, and was “underpinned by large increases in construction costs as well as the rise in rents.

“Wage pressures will be adding to the prices for many domestically produced goods and services.”

Ranchhod noted the domestic rate was twice the pace of the past two decades and was of special interest to the Reserve Bank.

ASB economists spoke of a “large bow wave of inflationary pressure” and forecast another 75 point rise in the Official Cash Rate (OCR) next month.

Jarrod Kerr of Kiwibank expressed surprise at the level of imported inflation but noted a high level of domestic inflation as well, and he forecast a 50 point jump in the OCR.

Broken down further, Stats NZ said housing and household utilities were the largest contributor to the increase, with the cost of building a new house increasing 14% in the 12 months to December 2022, down from a 17% increase in the year to September.

After housing and household utilities, Stats NZ said the next largest contributor to the annual increase were food prices, followed by transport.

It said quarterly inflation was 1.4 %, with similar drivers to the annual rate.

Non-tradable inflation - or domestic price rise rises - were 6.6 % for the year and tradable inflation was 8.2 %.

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