By Praveen Menon
WELLINGTON (Reuters) -The fresh outbreak of the coronavirus in New Zealand is not a “game changer” yet and there is no pressure to act on monetary policy, a senior central bank official said on Monday, as authorities struggle to contain the spread of the Delta variant.
“At this stage we don’t see it as a game-changer in the sense that our underlying economic analysis and views should be thrown out of the window and we should start again,” the Reserve Bank of New Zealand’s (RBNZ) Chief Economist Yuong Ha said in a phone interview with Reuters.
“It’s not like we were 12 months ago,” he added.
However, Ha said the outbreak of the highly transmissible Delta variant in New Zealand has raised some economic uncertainty.
Last week, the RBNZ delayed raising rates https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/new-zealands-snap-covid-lockdown-casts-doubt-over-expected-rate-hike-2021-08-17 after the country was put into a COVID-19 lockdown following the outbreak, although policymakers flagged tightening was on the cards before the year was out.
“Of course Delta, given how contagious and transmissible it is, may cast some amount of uncertainty, but …. our assessment that monetary policy stimulus should be removed at some point still sits behind our thinking at this stage,” he said.
The Delta-driven outbreak has now widened to 107 cases from just a handful a week ago. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a three-day extension https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/new-zealands-delta-outbreak-tops-100-cases-2021-08-23of the nationwide lockdown to midnight on Friday.
The country has recorded just over 2,600 confirmed coronavirus cases overall and 26 COVID-19 deaths.
New Zealand’s successful elimination of COVID-19 fired a hot economic recovery and stoked inflation, which had prompted analysts to forecast at least two hikes before year-end. But the latest COVID-19 outbreak has led many analysts to push out their tightening calls, with the market pricing a 60% chance of a hold at the RBNZ’s next meeting on Oct. 6.
Employment numbers have surprised on the upside recently and are even stronger than pre-COVID levels, and labour shortages are also getting worse.
When asked if pressure was growing on RBNZ to act on policy, Ha said: “I don’t think so. I think we are in a really good position in terms of optionality.”
Ha said the central bank has learnt from previous lockdowns that demand and household spending tend to bounce back quite quickly especially given the level of fiscal support that’s also been activated at present.
“So that gives us the confidence that the patterns we saw in the past will be repeated,” he said.
Ha said the currency was a useful “shock absorber” so there was no concern around how the New Zealand dollar is behaving from the stand point of monetary policy.
“The currency is performing as it normally has done.”
The New Zealand dollar was steady on the day, fetching $0.6846 and above the 9-1/2-month low of $0.6807 reached Friday.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)