Monetary Policy in New Zealand – what the OCR means.

The Monetary Policy Committee of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) operates monetary policy in New Zealand through adjusting the official cash rate (OCR). The OCR was introduced in March 1999, and is reviewed 7 – 8 times a year. The recent amendment to the Reserve Bank’s legislation sets up a Monetary Policy Committee that is responsible for a new dual mandate of keeping consumer price inflation low and stable, and supporting maximum sustainable employment. The agreement continues the requirement for the Reserve Bank to keep future annual CPI inflation between 1 and 3% over the medium-term, with a focus on keeping future inflation near the 2% mid-point.

Through adjusting the OCR, the Reserve Bank is able to substantially influence short-term interest rates in New Zealand, such as the 90-day bank bill rate. It also has an influence upon long-term interest rates and the exchange rate. In theory this is what the impact should be:

Higher interest rates = contractionary effect which leads to lower inflation and less employment growth

Lower interest rates = expansionary effect which can lead to higher inflation but more employment growth.

However the Reserve Bank of New Zealand acknowledge that it is a very complex mechanism as interest rates impact the aggregate demand through various channels – C+I+G+(X-M) – and over varying time periods.

On a normal day consumers, producers, government etc undertake financial transactions involving the commercial banking system. At the end of each day they need to ensure that their accounts balance but some registered banks may find that they are short of funds following the net aggregate result of these transactions, while others may find that they have substantial deposits.

Commercial banks that are have positive balances can leave this money with the Reserve Bank overnight. They receive the OCR on deposits up to a threshold level, and then receive the OCR less 1% for the remainder. Commercial banks that have a negative balance can borrow overnight from the Reserve Bank at an overnight rate of the OCR plus 0.5%. Therefore if you use the current OCR rate of 1% you get this situation. Remember that 50 basis point = 0.50% and 100 basis points = 1.00%.

Banks have the option (and incentive) of borrowing from each other, and using the Reserve Bank as a last resort. In doing so, both parties gain as the lending and borrowing rate tends to mirror the OCR (given the level of competition in the banking market). Those banks with excess deposits can then receive an overnight rate close to one percent (rather than a zero interest rate on any funds over the threshold level). Those banks who need to borrow funds can do so at around the OCR rate, rather than at 1.50 percent. The interest rate at which these transactions take place is called the overnight interbank cash rate see graph below.

Source: Grant Cleland – Parliamentary Monthly Economic Review – Special Topic – October 2019

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