The PM should not talk on where he wants the currency

September 30th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The New Zealand dollar has slumped US1 cent after the Reserve Bank revealed a currency intervention of more than half a billion dollars during August.

But the Prime Minister says the currency remains far above ‘‘Goldilocks’’ fair value level of about US65 cents.

The kiwi dropped from US78.3c to US77.3c late this afternoon after new figures were released showing the Reserve Bank sold $521m of its New Zealand dollar holdings in August, a massive jump from July when it sold only $2m.

Economists said the central bank had put its money where its mouth was. The Reserve Bank was ‘‘shorting’’ the dollar when it was high and when it was expected to fall and would be happy with the latest fall, economists said. The scale of the intervention was seen as ‘‘material’’ and involved the most selling of the New Zealand dollar since 2007.

However, while the currency has fallen heavily this month, down more than US6c, it only dropped about US2c during August when the central bank was actually selling.

The kiwi had already fallen earlier today after Prime Minister John Key, a former currency trader, said the dollar was too high and the “Goldilocks” level (not too high or too low) would be about US65c.

“I happen to actually support the view that the Governor has that the exchange rate is over valued, so if they have intervened, it would be a matter for them, but it would seem fairly logical,” Key told reporters this afternoon.

I don’t think the PM should comment (even if in support) on decisions of the Reserve Bank Governor. I tweeted:

I would prefer if the Prime Minister did not think aloud about what the Reserve Bank should do.

Matt Nolan at TVHE blogs:

Given their standing and thereby ability to seemingly signal intervention in markets, the prime minister and finance minister really need to keep quiet about policy where there is an independent body involved – as it both creates volatility and indicates that such things are a more political issue.  I was pissed off when Cullen did this, pissed off when Key has done it in the past, and I’m pissed off hearing it now.  I don’t care if someone asked the frikken question, part of central bank independence is having fiscal authorities show a bit of discipline with their comments.

It is a bad precedent. We are lucky we have had strong Governors who can stand up to the Executive (as happened with LVRs), but we may not always have such people in the future.

Crampton and Nolan on Greens spending claims

August 25th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Matt Nolan at TVHE blogs:

This one is genuinely disappointing as it seems to be an almost explicit misinterpretation of Budget forecast figures.

The numbers for claiming falling real expenditure come straight from the Treasury forecasts here, but are then deflated.  This sounds good on the face of it, and people do this all the time.  However, it ignores that there is both unallocated spending, and allowances for additional spending in future Budgets – both which largely get allocated to Health and Education on the day.

It is an “open” secret that the Health and Education numbers work this way – as both Labour and National want to announce increases in spending on these items on the day. [Note: It is just like “tax cuts to get rid of fiscal drag” – political marketing all the parties do].

In that context, saying that the real value of spending is going to fall on these items is empty rhetoric.

It is almost a lie.

Eric Crampton also explains:

So what do we have here? For each line, we have the expenditures by spending area. For example, health rises from $12,368m in 2009(actual) to $15,274 in the 2018 forecast. BERL then goes and deflates that by expected inflation; the Greens then claim that there’s a real cut in spending.

Now take a look at the line reading “Forecast for future new spending”. That’s the line where Treasury makes its best wink-wink-nudge-nudge guess as to future operating spending announcements, some of which it’s possibly already had to cost for future government policy announcements, and some of which will be based on expectations of future inflation adjustments.

When BERL runs its inflation adjusted accounting on Core Crown Expenditures, it finds a 9.9% nominal and 2.8% real spending increase over the next three years. That total Core Crown Expenditures categoryincludes the future spending increases. Those future spending increases have not been allocated across spending categories. If it were allocated proportionately across all categories, the weighted average of the different categories’ increases would wind up being 2.8% real. But BERL doesn’t assume that. It just takes each line from the BEFU and inflation adjusts it while ignoring the forecast future new spending.

This sort of manipulation does not help the credibility of BERL or the Greens. They knew they were being misleading.

Matt Nolan on the living wage

February 13th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Matt Nolan blogs at TVHE:

Let me start this by underlying everything with a certain point – living wages are idiotic if our concern is to make sure that the worst off in society have a sufficient income.  By imposing a “price floor”, you are ensuring that there are a group of people who can’t get jobs and will get hurt – unions don’t care because they don’t represent the unemployed, but I find it morally abhorrent.  You want a minimum standard of living for societies worst off – have a minimum income, it’s as easy as that.

A minimum income scheme, which has merits, would need a radical reshaping of the tax and welfare systems.

Let’s take someone working full time at $19hr.  What does this person earn pre-tax $39,420pa (this excludes benefits which they are targeting to increase it further). What is nominal GDP per capita.  $47,157pa.

So either we have a society where different types of labour, and different peoples requirements for income (eg a 18 year old and a 57 year old), aren’t terribly different and so people shouldn’t get paid very differently – and as a result the potential worker who “offers the least” may well still get hired – or this will lead to higher unemployment and cut backs in hours for these people.  Who won’t get hired in this sort of situation – people that are risky to hire or haven’t developed skills yet.  So the young, the vulnerable, those that have been out of work.

I just think it is daft to claim an 18 year old with no experience living at home needs to be paid the same as a 45 year old with 20 years experience who is supporting a family and mortgage.

I mean I swear to god unions, and their determination to get what they want without thinking about the consequences for other people, makes me sick.  There are people who struggle, and as a society I think we should try to help them – part of this is ignoring faux research by unions, and making sure that we actually push government to sufficiently redistribute to the poorest

Instead so many on the left and unions support paying welfare to millionaire parents. That is because they are really just about growing the size of the state that they tend to live off.

Economics for Bloggers

December 1st, 2011 at 2:49 pm by David Farrar

Matt Nolan blogs at The Visible Hand in Economics. He works professionally as an economist.

Matt is providing free briefings for the blogging community on the international and domestic economic situation. It’s a great opportunity to learn a bit more about what is happening. Matt will cover:

  • An overview of what’s going on in Europe, what we need to keep an eye out for, and how it will impact on New Zealand generally,
  • A discussion of “rebalancing” in New Zealand,
  • What’s going on with food prices and what it means for us,
  • The growing problems in the labour market,
  • A social “minimum income”.

There’s also a general Q+A at the end. There are presentations in Auckland and Wellington. Details are:

Auckland – Friday December 2, 3pm

Meet at MORE FM reception on Level 2, 239 Ponsonby Rd.

Wellington – Saturday December 10, 12pm

 Meet outside 109 Featherston St.

I hope to make the Wellington one. Should be very useful and informative.

Nolan on ETS

May 27th, 2010 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Economist Matt Nolan blogs:

People see this and then they say “global warming isn’t real” or “we are too small to impact on global warming” and then they say “NO ETS!”.  However, this isn’t the point of the ETS.

The ETS is a scheme to raise the funds to pay for our Kyoto Liability.  Even if you don’t believe in global warming, we have a liability that is based on carbon emissions.  As a nation, either people who produce the carbon pay for it – or everyone pays for it through higher taxes.

So here in lies the question – do we want higher prices for carbon goods or lower incomes because of higher taxes?  Given that the liability is a function of the amount of carbon we produce, it follows that pricing carbon on the basis of this will lead to the “best” solution – no matter what political party you support.  I know that National, Labour, and the Greens all understand this – so if you guys could like, explain it to the ACT party, and then like, explain it to the public, I’ll be very happy

Let the howls of outrage begin.

Adult Community Education Benefits

February 23rd, 2010 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Three good posts on Adult Community Education. First Matt Nolan at TVHE fisks a PWC report:

In a report the is often used to justify ACE spending, the net benefit of adult community education (for 409,000) was stated to be between $4.8bn and $6.3bn annually – giving a total return of $54-$72 per $1 invested (see page 48).  Wow, really – if I could get that sort of return I would be investing in adult community education for sure.

A 50:1 to 70:1 return on every dollar spent is of course beyond implausible. I am surprised PWC allowed their name to be associated with such a nonsense report.

Bill English was quoted as saying that on the basis of the report “we would spend $10 billion on adult and community education and would have an economy that is twice the size it currently is”

Nolan looks at how they have mixed up public and private benefits:

Now the factors that are policy relevant are NOT private benefits – these help determine the market price.  They are benefits that stem from some third party, uninvolved in the transaction, gaining some benefit from the individual taking an adult community course.  And they are not “fiscal externalities” (ht Offsetting Behaviour).  So the policy relevant factors are:

  • Increase in direct income:  No
  • Savings in government benefits:  No
  • Marginal increase in individual income:  No
  • Increase in income from self-confidence:  No
  • Reduction in family violence:  No
  • Savings for health:  No
  • Savings from crime reduction:  Potentially, partially
  • Increased community involvement by individual:  No
  • Higher income taxes:  No

So eight of the nine benefits are private, not public. The one public benefit is a possible reduced crime rate. But PWC have assumed that anyone doing an ACE course instantly has a 50% less chance of committing a crime. Yep – attending one Moroccan cooking course, and you are 50% less crime likely.

Dave Guerin at the very good Education Directions blog looks at the future of ACE:

The ACE market will be reshaped, rather than destroyed, because there is so much demand for such education. In 2008 there were 140,000 ACE students (EFTS unavailable)  in schools and 78,000 ACE students (4,000 EFTS) in TEIs (MOE). Enrolment numbers have been boosted by significant government subsidies and by the availability at schools of physical and business infrastructure to run community education programmes, but people still want this type of education. The subsidies are now largely gone and many schools have dropped their programmes, but there are new opportunities.

In the absence of nationwide coverage by subsidised school providers, I expect that private ACE co-ordinators will spring up. They won’t get the same administrative  support from schools, but equally they won’t be bound by the collective employment agreement or be treated as an add-on to the school’s main business. There are still plenty of empty school rooms at night to rent at low cost too. Prior to schools getting so involved in community education, there was a thriving private market in ACE-type courses and I would expect many of the previous school-based tutors to explore new models. There are bound to be several viable models out there for ACE delivery.

If ACE does produce such huge private benefits as 50:1, there will indeed remain great demand for ACE courses – even if one has to pay say $50 for it.

Eric Cramption looks into where the nonsense about a 50% reduction in crime rate comes from, if you do an ACE course. He finds:

So folks taking adult ed courses are assumed to have a 50% reduction in their chances of committing a crime. PWC cites a 1999 working paper as evidence; a 2004 AER piece by the same author has the crime reduction associated with high school graduation as being less than half that figure (14-26%). This latter study uses a far more cautious identification strategy: changes in minimum age of dropping out of school as instrument for completion rates. And note that the numbers cited are for HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION, not for taking a night course in Indian cooking.

Remind me to never get PWC to do a report, if I want it taken credibly.

Thank God for the Internet where we can get some solid analysis of these ever growing number of crappy reports, justifying whatever the commissioning party has asked for.

More on monetary policy

November 26th, 2009 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Matt Nolan blogs:

Monetary policy at heart isn’t about “unemployment” or “output” or “the exchange rate” (which is a relative price).  Monetary policy is about money, it is about the supply of money, it is about the price level and inflation.  The “interest rate” is merely an instrument central banks use to control the money supply and keep “inflation stable”.  By keeping inflation stable we increase certainty and we help make sure that money remains a good indicator of the relative value of REAL goods and services.

The idea that we should mess around with this to tinker with other things misses the point – if our exchange rate is funny, unemployment is high, or output is below potential we have to ask “what issues in REAL economy are causing this”.  Monetary policy in itself is irrelevant – monetary policy IS about money, it IS about inflation, it IS about expectations regarding these nominal variables, it IS NOT about real economic variables.

I am not saying that monetary policy hasn’t moved real variables – but in a world where monetary policy IS solely focused on inflation and consistent expectations is a world where monetary policies impact on the real economy is at its best.

It worries me greatly that Labour have abandoned support for a bipartisan monetary policy consensus.

Reaction to Labour’s monetary policy u-turn

November 20th, 2009 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Matt Nolan translates what Labour is proposing:

Labour goals were:

  1. a stable and competitive exchange rate;
  2. reduced interest rates for businesses and home owners;
  3. continued priorities of price stability and low inflation;
  4. to guard against expectations of price rises.

So, with goal 1 they want to reduce the flexibility of NZ$ prices, which will lead to higher unemployment and a worse allocation of resources.  Furthermore, they want to keep the dollar low which implies subsidising exporters to the cost of households in the short-term.

With 2 they want to punish savers.

And with 3 and 4 they want to contradict themselves – as by limiting price flexibility and holding the exchange rate and interest rates down they WILL drive an increase in inflation expectations, dump price stability, and remove any chance of a low inflation environment.

Nolan on commun currency

August 24th, 2009 at 10:52 am by David Farrar

Matt Nolan at TVHE looks at the pros and cons of a common currency with Australia.


  1. Lower transaction costs.  As Aussie is our main trading partner this is a biggie.
  2. Removes exchange rate risk for trade between nations, both in terms of relative prices and account reporting.
  3. Prevents damage from exchange rate verring from fundamental level.
  4. Makes trade protectionism more difficult.
  5. Added I would also add that, in this case, having the Aussie dollar will reduce the risk premium we have to pay for credit


  1. Can’t use monetary policy to compensate for region specific shocks – dairy price crashes and we can’t use a lower interest rate to help buffer the fall.  This is the primary concern.
  2. Can’t use inflation to lower public debt – our monetary policy is now determined by Aussie.  However, we don’t do this so it doesn’t matter.
  3. As fiscal policy is independent it can cause issues with splitting “seigniorage revenue“.  With a low inflation target this is not a biggie at all.
  4. Speculative attacks prior to the union.

I have not checked myself, but understand it has been very rare for the NZ Reserve Bank to be increasing interest rates while the Australian RB is lowering them, and vice-versa.

Hence it seems to me the pros rather outweigh the cons.

Correlation vs Causation

April 15th, 2009 at 8:00 am by David Farrar

Matt Nolan at TVHE rips into an academic who claims higher mortgage rates lead to higher house prices, confusing correlation and causation.

Blog Bits

November 25th, 2008 at 5:07 pm by David Farrar
  1. Busted Blonde has a post on domestic violence and how she spent several years in an abusive relationship. Go read it, and make sure you show it to any friends who need to read it.
  2. Adam Smith blogs on the Giles cartoons. As a child I loved Giles cartoons, and every year could not wait for the annual. Grandma was my favourite character. For those who never saw them, you missed out on classics.
  3. Matthew Hooton makes the case for an Upper House.
  4. Steven Price reviews two decisions by the Advertising Standards Authority.
  5. Matt Nolan wants some better statistics from the Government.

Inflation Expectations

September 1st, 2008 at 7:00 pm by David Farrar

Matt Nolan at TVHE has some nasty grpahs of inflation expectations. This convinces me the Reserve Bank lowered rates too soon.

Calculating Tax Cuts

May 23rd, 2008 at 10:39 am by David Farrar

The Deloitte team who were behind me in the lockup gave me a copy for the blog of their Deloitte Tax Cut Calculator (now on their website) which is an excel spreadsheet.

It not only shows you how much your tax will be in Oct 2008, April 2010 and April 2011 but also what the same tax would be in Australia.

They have also calculated how much you need to earn to be paying less tax in NZ than Australia. It used to be $1,571,922 but now life gets better in NZ at merely $1,284,992.

The Visible Hand in Economics has also links to three other calculators

  1. Infometrics which gives you the annual and weekly reduction in tax and percentages
  2. Labour, which includes WFF for the breeders 🙂
  3. NZIER which has an Excel spreadsheet

Worth remembering that the annual figure for Oct 2008 will be half that, as it only applies for half the year.

NZIER helpfully also shows you what your tax would have been in 2000 in both NZ and Australia. So if you are on $100,000 you would have been paying the same tax in 2000 ($22,057 in NZ and $22,446 in Australia). In 2010 it will be $30,588 and $26,569 respectively. This assumes 3% wage growth.

Matt Nolan at TVHE also looks at the impact of both tax cuts and huge spending increases on inflation. He thinks it is possible inflation may hit 5%, which would suggest interest rates staying high for a while yet.