Economist warns Kiwis becoming over-accustomed to high inflation, making Reserve Bank's job harder


Economists are concerned people are becoming over-accustomed to high inflation, making it even harder for the Reserve Bank to contain.

It comes as US inflation shows signs of easing and by more than expected, dropping from just over 8 percent to 7.7 percent in October.

In New Zealand, it is a different story with inflation expected to ease much more slowly.

ASB chief economist Nick Tuffley said there was a growing risk high inflation was changing people's behaviour in an unhelpful way.

"If we all think inflation's going to be slightly higher in the future than what it has been, then we are going to be pushing much harder for a bigger wage increase as an employee. As an employer we're going to be more understanding of those arguments, more likely to give those big pay increases," he said.

Battling people's beliefs that high inflation would persist made the Reserve Bank's job of containing inflation under 3 percent that much harder, Tuffley said.

"All those sorts of behaviour changes feed inflation and make it much harder for the Reserve Bank to lean against."

Meanwhile, Westpac economists expect inflationary pressures to hit home as more and more people refix mortgages at higher rates.

Its latest Economic Overview, out today, said pressure on prices and wages meant the odds of a soft landing for the New Zealand economy were getting slimmer.

Westpac senior economist Satish Ranchhod said many borrowers had yet to feel the impact of higher interest rates.

"A lot of people are factoring in those high inflation numbers but rather than coming through directly in their spending they're trying to push for bigger increases in wages," he said.

"That's a normal thing for any household to do but when we see it happening right across the economy it can really give life to that inflation story meaning that inflation stays higher for longer."

Ranchhod said he would expect both consumer spending and demand for workers to soften over the next year.

Westpac acting chief economist Michael Gordon said persistently high inflation meant that the Official Cash Rate (OCR) was expected to rise further to a peak of 5 percent in 2023.

"While the Reserve Bank fared better than most in recognising the need for action, the scale of the inflation problem means that it has still found itself on the back foot."

Monetary policy always took some time to have its full effect on the economy, Gordon said.

Economists expect the Reserve Bank to keep up the pressure - ASB and Westpac expect a hefty 75 basis point hike in the OCR later in November.