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[WELLINGTON] New Zealand's central bank kept its benchmark interest rate at a generous 2 per cent on Thursday, remaining an outlier in a world of ultra-low or negative interest rates, but the high New Zealand dollar and tepid inflation may soon spur it to cut.
Economists polled by Reuters had widely expected the Reserve Bank of New Zealand's decision, with only one of the 18 surveyed expecting a rate cut.
The RBNZ left the door wide open for a cut later this year, knocking the New Zealand dollar off a two-week high to 0.7316 versus 0.7374 ahead of the decision. It has since pared some of those losses and is trading at 0.7364.
The decision came hot on the heels of the Bank of Japan overhauling its policy focus and the US Federal Reserve standing pat at ultra-low interest rates.
ASB Senior Economist Jane Turner noted the RBNZ preferred to amend rates in tandem with the publication of its monetary policy statement, which it does four times a year, with the next statement due in November.
"It gives them the ability to provide more context," Ms Turner said, adding that the RBNZ would only have opted to cut on Thursday if there was a marked change from the August review.
Economists also said the central bank had been unlikely to cut on Thursday after the economy grew at its fastest clip in two years and dairy prices have pushed higher over August.
Markets are now pricing in a 70 per cent chance the Reserve Bank of New Zealand will cut rates in November after Governor Graeme Wheeler reiterated on Thursday that further easing would be needed versus a 56 per cent chance before the decision.
"Monetary policy will continue to be accommodative. Our current projections and assumptions indicate that further policy easing will be required to ensure that future inflation settles near the middle of the target range," said Mr Wheeler in a statement.
The reiteration of the phrase "will be required" has cemented expectations for further rate cuts, said BNZ Senior Economist Stephen Toplis.
"One can only assume that the RBNZ intends reducing the cash rate by 25 points to 1.75 per cent when it delivers its Nov 10 Monetary Policy Statement," he said.
New Zealand's central bank is mandated with keeping annual inflation at between 1 per cent and 3 per cent. It is currently running at 0.4 per cent.
Mr Wheeler noted on Thursday that annual CPI inflation was expected to weaken in the September quarter, but was tipping a rise after that to reflect "the policy stimulus to date".
New Zealand's central bank has cut rates twice this year to the current record low of 2 per cent.
He said, however, that while long-term inflation expectations were well-anchored at 2 per cent "the sustained weakness in headline inflation risks further declines in inflation expectations."
The central bank has consistently said a decline in inflation expectations would spur it to action.
Mr Wheeler also continued to underscore the central bank's dissatisfaction with the high exchange rate and noted that weak global conditions and low interest rates relative to New Zealand's were putting pressure on the export and import-competing sectors.
"A decline in the exchange rate is needed," he said.