24 Jun 2020

Reserve Bank expected to hold interest rates

6:27 am on 24 June 2020

The Reserve Bank is expected to hold interest rates steady a little longer to give banks plenty of time to adjust to negative interest rates.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand

File photo. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The central bank's waded in with a major rate cut, bond buying, and other measures to support the banking system and economy from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The RBNZ has committed to keeping the cash rate at 0.25 percent until March next year, despite the occasional call to bite the bullet and move below zero.

The chief executive of the mortgage brokerage firm, Squirrel, John Bolton, said the property lending market had remained resilient thanks to the central bank's moves.

"We've had a 200 to 300 percent increase in the level of first home buyer inquiry coming through, so there is plenty of demand in that part of the market, even post Covid-19."

Bolton said if the cash rate did fall below zero, it is unlikely to have much of an impact on mortgage lending rates.

"Banks don't have a lot of wiggle room in terms of their funding costs.

"So I would expect [that] any further reduction in the OCR, whilst it might drop mortgage rates, it won't be substantial."

The chief forecaster at the consultancy Infometrics, Gareth Kiernan, supported the measures the Reserve Bank had taken to keep interest rates low.

He expected the central bank will later try and talk down the dollar and government borrowing costs.

But Kiernan also thought the central bank needed to signal to banks that a negative official cash rate was a possibility in the future, so they had time to update their operating systems to cope with the possibility of negative interest rate numbers.

RNZ contacted all the big banks to find out what measures had been put in place to deal with negative interest rates.

While most did not respond in time, Kiwibank issued a statement which said it didn't expect retail rates to household borrowers to move into the negative.

"Kiwibank has been working constructively with regulators to prepare for the possibility of a negative OCR and negative wholesale interest rates, noting that we do not expect retail rates going into negative territory."

It said it is focusing on tax and accounting treatment as well as changes to the terms and conditions for different wholesale banking products.

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