The Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) on Thursday held rates at a record low 1.75 percent and new Governor Adrian Orr said the next move might equally be a cut or a hike as inflation remains stubbornly subdued.
“The direction of our next move is equally balanced, up or down. Only time and events will tell,” Orr said in a statement accompanying his first monetary policy decision since he took the helm in March.
Investors reacted by pushing the New Zealand dollar to a five-month low of $0.6937, from $0.6990 before the statement.
“We expect to keep the OCR at this expansionary level for a considerable period of time,” Orr added. “This is the best contribution we can make, at this moment, to maximizing sustainable employment and maintaining low and stable inflation.”
The decision was closely watched as economists and investors sought to discern how Orr would handle a new policy goal of “maximizing sustainable employment” alongside traditional inflation targeting.
The bank also trimmed its inflation forecasts a little to the 2 percent mid-point of its target band by the fourth quarter of 2020, a quarter later than previously predicted.
“The market has taken it a little bit on the dovish side,” said Sharon Zollner, senior economist at ANZ in Auckland.
Dealers had thought there was a risk the new governor would take a more hawkish tone than his predecessor.
“Rates are on hold for a long time to come because there is no signs of broad based inflation across the economy,” Zollner added. ANZ expects rates to be on hold until August next year.
Orr had inherited the same tepid inflation that had forced his predecessors to hold the official cash rate steady since slashing it to its current record low in late 2016.
New Zealand’s annual headline inflation slowed to just 1.1 percent in the first quarter, just within the RBNZ’s target band, but well below the midpoint of 2 percent.
Meanwhile, first-quarter unemployment slid to an eight-year low of 4.4 percent, meaning that Orr could afford to push the bank’s new employment goal to the periphery when making interest rate decisions.