The 0.1% inflation rate in New Zealand has largely been attributed to the 50% drop in oil prices since the start of last year – see chart. Although oil prices are referred to as a volatile item they have been low for sometime and are expected to remain subdued. Lower fuel costs have reduced prices for services such as air travel, and have dampened prices on shop floors as the distribution costs for retail items have declined.
However low inflation doesn’t just reflect movements in the price of oil. Even excluding petrol prices, inflation has been below 1% for most of the past year, and it’s set to remain low through 2016. The weak inflation figure has also been due to the low global inflation holding prices down and with the trend likely to continue for some time given the deterioration in global trade and widespread falls in commodity prices. Add to this the slowing growth of the Chinese economy and with its importance to global growth (see chart) you have a serious threat of deflation. This is particularly a concern if the Chinese authorities decide to further devalue their currency – the Renminbi. The RBNZ will have a tough job ahead of it to generate a sustained increase in inflation.