New Zealand Dollar May Rise as RBNZ Maintains Hawkish Rhetoric

Fundamental Forecast for New Zealand Dollar: Neutral

  • Soft 4Q CPI Fuels Dovish Shift in Markets’ New Zealand Policy Bets
  • NZ Dollar May Rise as RBNZ Rhetoric Maintains Hawkish Overtones
  • Help Find Key New Zealand Dollar Turning Points with DailyFX SSI

Deterioration in the outlook for monetary policy sent the New Zealand Dollar sharply lower last week. The currency fell nearly 2.6 percent on average against its leading counterparts, making for the worst five-day performance since August 2013. A dismal set of CPI figures was a leading catalyst behind the selloff. The benchmark year-on-year inflation rate fell to 0.8 percent in the fourth quarter, missing economists’ expectations for a print at 0.9 percent and marking the weakest reading in 1.5 years. The outcome weighed heavily on interest rate expectations: a Credit Suisse gauge tracking the priced-in 12-month policy outlook now shows investors are leaning toward easing for the first time since December 2012.

The markets will not have to wait long to see if their newfound dovish outlook holds water as the RBNZ prepares to deliver its policy announcement in the week ahead. The priced-in probability of a change in the baseline lending rate this time around is nil. Economists generally agree: all 15 of them polled by Bloomberg predict the central bank will stay put at 3.50 percent. That will place the spotlight on the policy statement accompanying the rate decision, with traders readying to comb through the document for language telegraphing where Governor Graeme Wheeler and company intend to steer from here.

December’s RBNZ statement was interpreted to be decidedly hawkish. Mr Wheeler seemed sanguine about weakness on the export side of the equation, citing strong domestic demand. Growth was seen at or above trend through 2016, which the RBNZ chief said meant that “some further increase in [interest rates] is expected to be required.When the Kiwi dutifully rallied on the statement, Wheeler seemed at a loss, saying in the press conference following the policy announcement that he was surprised at the currency’s reaction. For their part, market participants seemed surprised at his surprise, wondering what policymakers thought a currency ought to do if not advance when the central bank signals tightening ahead.

Looking ahead to January’s outing, this could make for a curious outcome. New Zealand economic news-flow has continued to improve relative to consensus forecasts since December’s meeting, according to data from Citigroup. This has occurred even as the price for the country’s dairy exports – the largest component of the external sector – slid to the lowest level since August 2009. That suggests December’s narrative about domestically-led growth remains largely unchanged. Meanwhile, Statistics New Zealand – the government agency that produces CPI figures – chalked up the fourth-quarter slump to sinking oil prices. If the RBNZ dismisses ebbing price growth as transitory on this basis (much like the Federal Reserve, for example), their hawkish posture may remain unchanged.

Such an outcome will clash with the markets’ dovish-leaning sentiments, sending the Kiwi sharply higher.

One might suspect the RBNZ would play to investors’ leanings and encourage depreciation considering its long-standing duel with the exchange rate. In fact, it has become difficult to remember a month in which policymakers did not bemoan the “unjustifiably and unsustainably high” exchange rate in official communications, foretelling “significant depreciation” ahead.Given last month’s surprise at how FX responds to central bank rhetoric however, that may be too fancy a strategy to bet on.