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Homeowners and borrowers are eager for interest rates to come down.

Over the last 2 years, interest rates have skyrocketed. The average 1-year rate has gone from 3.5% to 7.3%; a massive 3.8% increase.

A borrower with a $500,000 mortgage will now pay an extra $273 a week if they pay it off over 30 years. That’s why economists and borrowers are keen to pick where interest rates will go.

One way you can get a sense of where interest rates may go is by looking at the Reserve Bank’s OCR track. This is the Reserve Bank’s forecast of where they may take the OCR in the future.

If the OCR falls fast, then banks will decrease their mortgage interest rates quickly. If the OCR stays high, mortgage interest rates will remain higher for longer.

The OCR track comes out every 3 months and has been released consistently since 2016.

Currently, the forecast suggests that the OCR won’t fall substantially until mid-2025. But does the Reserve Bank always do what it says it will do?

To find out, I’ve taken the bank’s forecasts and compared them with what the Reserve Bank actually did.

Within 6 months, the bank tends to stick to what it said it would do. At that point, they are usually within 0.15% of their forecast.

But over time the bank deviates further and further away from the OCR track. After a year, on average, they’re 0.8% away from what they said they’d do.

To put that in context, if the bank says that in a year’s time the OCR will be 3%, half the time the OCR will be between 2.2% and 3.8%.

This is exactly what the Reserve Bank should be doing. Their goal is to tackle inflation. Their remit is to keep inflation between 1 – 3% in the medium term. That should be easy to do, except for the fact that new things happen every day.

In the last 3 years we’ve had a pandemic, runaway inflation and floods. We’ve had immigration stop, start, and explode.

The Reserve Bank needs to weigh up all the factors and then respond. So it’s unsurprising that the Reserve Bank changes course as new facts emerge.

That’s why the Reserve Bank dropped the OCR in 2019 and 2020, even though the year before they said they would increase it.

In mid-2022, they quickly raised the OCR to 5.5%, even though they previously forecast a peak of 2.6%.

If the Reserve Bank stuck to its guns, blindly following their own forecast, we’d criticise them for not being adaptive. So the fact that they change tack isn’t surprising.

But, while unsurprising, this number crunching is interesting when we apply it to the Reserve Bank’s current forecast.

The Reserve Bank says they’ll keep interest rates high all year. But the money markets are pricing in significant cuts. They think the Reserve Bank will reduce the OCR faster than the bank is currently saying.

Could that happen? Yes. If the Reserve Bank’s record holds, the OCR could be between 4.9% and 6.4% in a year. Right now, the OCR is more likely to fall than increase.

So, there is a good chance the Reserve Bank will throw out its forecast and bring down the OCR sooner than expected. But they will only change tack if the right new facts emerge.

They’ll want to see inflation coming down and coming down fast. If inflation falls faster than expected, the OCR will come down quicker than the Reserve Bank currently says. If, on the other hand, inflation sticks around, the Reserve Bank’s current track becomes more likely.

The next inflation data comes out on January 24. According to their most recent forecast, the Reserve Bank thinks inflation will fall to 5%.

But, if inflation comes out lower than that, or if the economy remains weak, the Reserve Bank will do what they do. They’ll change course, and the OCR will likely come down sooner than what they’re currently saying.

That’s good news for interest rates, borrowers and the housing market.

Ed solo

Ed McKnight

Our Resident Economist, with a GradDipEcon and over five years at Opes Partners, is a trusted contributor to NZ Property Investor, Informed Investor, Stuff, Business Desk, and OneRoof.

Ed, our Resident Economist, is equipped with a GradDipEcon, a GradCertStratMgmt, BMus, and over five years of experience as Opes Partners' economist. His expertise in economics has led him to contribute articles to reputable publications like NZ Property Investor, Informed Investor, OneRoof, Stuff, and Business Desk. You might have also seen him share his insights on television programs such as The Project and Breakfast.

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