NZers adjustment to higher rates about 80% complete: RBNZ

New Zealanders with mortgages are about 80% through the process of transitioning to higher interest rates, Chris McDonald, the Reserve Bank's manager of system monitoring and analysis told parliament's finance and expenditure committee.

That's up from about two-thirds the way through in early November when the Reserve Bank published its latest financial stability report, McDonald said.

The banks have been well able to manage the process but RBNZ is watching what's happening in the labour market, he said.

Generally speaking, most home owners don't get into difficulty in paying their mortgages while they're employed.

The RBNZ has raised its official cash rate (OCR) from 0.25% to 5.5% since October 2021 and one-year mortgage rates, the most popular fixed term, have risen from about 2.2% in early 2021 to between about 7.3% and 8% for most borrowers.

Financial stability general manager and deputy governor Christian Hawkesby said house prices have stabilised after coming down a long way and are now “within our range of measures of sustainability.”

However, activity in the market has picked up and that could be a leading indicator of where house prices are headed, Hawkesby said.

Former finance minister Grant Robertson asked about the impact of immigration on house prices.

Governor Adrian Orr said it is a concern that immigration is at record levels at a time when housing construction is slowing and that could have an “over-sized” impact on house prices.

Several committee members expressed concern about rising insurance premiums and potential inability to get insurance at any price in the wake of significant events such as last February's Cyclone Gabrielle which devastated parts of the North Island, particularly Hawkes Bay.

Orr said the central bank is talking to insurers and banks and "making sure they're awake at the wheel.

Asked about the take-up of hardship programmes that banks offer, Orr said RBNZ didn't monitor hardship programmes specifically, but that while arrears were rising from very low levels, they're still well below the levels of a decade ago.

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