An unexpectedly sharp slump in food prices saw price inflation drop 0.2% in the last three months of 2012.
Today's consumer price index figures were expected to show a flat result. It has been negative or flat in four of the last five years for the last three months of the year, and the only exception was the year GST was hiked from 12.% to 15%.
The quarterly result takes annual inflation to 0.9%, just below the Reserve Bank's target band of 1-3%.
That may lead to calls for a longer "hold" by the Reserve Bank, amid growing talk of when governor Graeme Wheeler will start lifting the official cash rate from its present level of 2.5%.
Offsetting that is the fact the bank has to set the OCR based on calculations of what inflation and the wider economy will be doing in about 12 to 18 months, and also that the OCR is currently at stimulatory levels.
The "trimmed mean" for the index – that is, the price inflation figure with the more volatile elements stripped out of it – showed an annual increase of between 0.9% and 1.3%.
Housing and household utility prices were the main upward pressures in the last three months of 2012, rising 0.6%, mostly because of higher prices for new houses, rentals and property maintenance services.
Prices in the smaller transport group also rose 0.6%.
Food prices fell 1.8% for the quarter, due to seasonal falls in prices for vegetables, which fell 16%. Furniture prices fell 6.2% for the three months to December 31, and telecommunications prices slid 1.7%.
Over the year, the main price increases were housing and household utilities, up 3.0%, and alcoholic beverages and tobacco, up 5.3%, mostly due to hikes in excise taxes.
Within those groups, electricity prices was the largest contributor, up 5.2%, followed by local government rates, up 4.3%, new houses, up 3.1%, and house rentals, up 2.4%.
Prices which fell over the year were fresh milk, down 9.5%, telecommunications services, down 5.7%, and audio-visual services, down 17%.
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