OCR moves to 3.5%

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

OCR

The good news for home owners with a mortgage, or aspiring ones, is that the indications are that there will be no further OCR rises for this year, at least.

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OCR goes to 3.25%

June 12th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

OCR

As widely expected, the Reserve Bank has lifted the official cash rate from 3.00% to 3.25%. To put things in context, I’ve graphed the level of the OCR from 1999 to today. It is still significantly below the early 2000s, let alone the mid 2000s.

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What 0.25% means

March 14th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

As was inevitable, the official cash rate went up to 2.75% yesterday. Having interest rates go up makes it hard for those with mortgages and increases the cost of borrowing for businesses. But the alternative is letting inflation get out of control, which really harms people on low and fixed incomes. High inflation will not in the long term lift economic growth.

If someone has a $400,000 mortgage 25 year mortgage, then an extra 0.25% on a say interest rate sees the weekly repayments go from $594 to $608 a week. So one increase doesn’t impact a lot, but many of them will.

2.75% is still a historically very low rate. In 2008 the ocr peaked at 8.25%. An ocr of 8.25% might see mortgage rates of 11.75% which has weekly repayments at a staggering $954 a week.

 

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Danger Will Robinson, danger

October 14th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The ODT reports:

However, Mr Cunliffe said today he had an “open mind” about whether the OCR should instead be set by a monetary policy committee.

He told TV3’s The Nation there were some good arguments for a monetary committee – including that a range of views would be on the table when decisions were made.

Mr Cunliffe said the matter was being considered by Labour’s shadow finance minister, David Parker, and any decisions would be signalled before next year’s election.

One point of detail to consider was whether the committee should have external members representing the likes of unions and exporters.

“If you had someone like a leader of one of the main business lobbies or a manufacturer or an exporter, then they would have a first-hand understanding of the impact of overvalued exchange rates on exporting, which is a critical issue for New Zealand.”

He denied a monetary committee would be a radical change, saying it would still make independent decisions subject to the objectives of the Reserve Bank legislation.

An internal committee would not be a radical change, and could be beneficial.

A committee where the Government appoints union mates to it, so they can gerrymander interest rates to give economic growth a short-term steroid type fix, is a radical change and absolutely undermines the independence of the Reserve Bank.

Is there anything off the table in terms of pay off for unions? Giving them a vote on setting interest rates is madness. Totally against that. Also against a business lobby having a vote on interest rates.

Saying such a move would leave the bank independent is Orwellian double-speak.

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A key point the Greens gloss over

October 11th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Russel Norman has blogged at Frog Blog:

The Treasury released papers last week recommending that the Reserve Bank move towards a committee structure for making future decisions on the Official Cash Rate (OCR). New Zealand is now alone in relying on a single person – the Reserve Bank Governor – to set the OCR. No other country in the developed world leaves such an important decision to one person.

Treasury gave the following reasons for why it supports the move to a board/committee governance structure:

Note the use of the term board/committee. The difference may seem unimportant, but it is not.

There are two seperate but related issues.

  1. Should the RB Governor solely determine the OCR
  2. If a group should determine it, is the group appointed by the Reserve Bank or appointed by Ministers of the Crown?

There are pros and cons for the 1st issue. You may lose the ability to hold the Governor accountable if he (or she) is not the decision maker, but as Treasury has pointed out there is greater security in shared decision making.

But even if you accept (1), the details of (2) are vital.

To re-ignite this important debate publicly, I’ve drafted new law in the form of a member’s bill to make this simple, uncontroversial change to the Reserve Bank’s governance structure along with the timely publishing of board minutes – another standard practice elsewhere in the OECD that improves the transparency of the Reserve Bank’s decisions.

Dr Norman’s bill would see the Reserve Bank Board set the OCR. The Board are appointed by Cabinet, and his proposal would allow Ministers to appoint people to the Board with a view to lower the OCR, even if it is inflationary, to help the Government out with a short-term growth issue. It would weaken the independence that we currently have.

The Reserve Bank itself noted in a review that in most countries with decisions by committee, the members are mainly internal. Dr Norman’s bill would see the decision made by external people only.

Treasury in their advice say:

There are several ways to construct a Committee; we are focussing on just using senior RBNZ staff to form the Committee to deal with concerns about conflicts of interest and difficulties in finding many experts to serve on the Committee.

An internal bank committee is a very different beast to the RBNZ Board which is appointed by Ministers. The Greens have tried to gloss over this key difference and make it look like Treasury are in support of their bill – which isn’t quite the case.

Having said that if Dr Norman’s bill is drawn, I would support it going to select committee. The issues are worth a parliamentary debate. I can be persuaded in favour of change – but not if the committee responsible for the decisions is the RBNZ Board, as that would be inappropriate and reduce the independence of the Reserve Bank.

 

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Armstrong on Labour and Reserve Bank

October 6th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

Not wanting to compromise the bank’s independence, Key had to accept the bank’s right to write the restrictions in its own terms.

Not so Labour. Cunliffe made vague noises about not interfering with the bank’s independence. But he intimated a Labour government would effectively instruct the bank to have regard for first-home buyers by writing that requirement into the policy targets agreement that a new government signs with the bank soon after taking office.

Cunliffe’s stance reflects his intention to give Labour a more bolshie image. He is exploiting the fact that Opposition parties can promise more than governments can. And he knows interest rates are likely to rise before the election.

But Cunliffe has to be careful. With Labour also committed to making the Reserve Bank take heed of exchange rate fluctuations, Cunliffe has to avoid leaving the impression that Labour’s answer to every economic problem is to fiddle with the Reserve Bank’s mandate – and thereby neutering the institution in the process.

I think it is clear the Reserve Bank will cease to be an independent entity under Labour. It will be back to the 70s.

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Obsolete coins and notes

October 4th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

A reader, David Buckingham, has sent me a copy of an OIA request he made to the Reserve Bank asking how many obsolete coins and notes have they received in the last three years. The Reserve Bank will still take old currency, even when no longer legal tender. In fact a couple of years ago I did a clean up of old coins at my place and took them to the reserve Bank who direct credited the value to my bank account.

What is surprising is how many old notes and coins are out there. Here is the number of coins and note returned from 2011 on:

  • 1c coins – 142,276
  • 2c coins – 154,760
  • 5c coins – 1,789,596
  • $1 notes – 25,285
  • $2 notes – 41,330

But the RBNZ is still getting some pre-decimal currency is. They also have received:

  • 10/- notes – 167
  • £1 notes – 187
  • £5 notes – 188
  • £10 notes – 8

And some old coins:

  • Halfpennies – 7,080
  • Pennies – 13,352
  • Threepennies – 90,676
  • Halfcrowns – 31,320

Amazing how long old currency stays in circulation.

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Reserve Bank decision making

October 3rd, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Hamish Rutherford at Stuff reports:

The Treasury lobbied for the governor of the Reserve Bank to be stripped of the right to solely decide on interest rate decisions, saying it created risk of “poor judgment”.

When Alan Bollard confirmed that he would stand down from the role last year, senior Treasury officials wrote to Finance Minister Bill English suggesting decisions on the official cash rate (OCR) should be made by a committee, rather than having the decision rest solely with the governor.

“Internationally it is usual to have a committee approach, with a range of possible committee structures,” senior analyst Renee Philip wrote last year, adding that the role of the Reserve Bank had broadened.

“The current single-decision-maker approach poses risks, such as a greater risk of poor judgment by a future governor than with a committee.

This is a worthwhile debate to have.

As I understand it, the Reserve Bank does have a committee that discusses the official cash rate settings, but it is advisory not decision making. One could have it as the official decision maker. It wouldn’t change the decisions, but would give some greater certainty. However it might reduce the accountability of the Governor, as he or she is the one who can be sacked if underlying inflation persist outside the agreed target range.

BNZ, Westpac, NZIER, Infometrics and Berl economists appeared to back the idea of a decision-making committee.

According to the Treasury, BNZ feedback was that a “committee internal to [the Reserve Bank] would ensure against risk of a future rogue governor”.

The Green Party said the advice of the Treasury aligned with its position.

No, it doesn’t. The Greens have said they want a committee to decide, but there is a key difference with Treasury advice. Treasury have said (and most international models are like this) that the committee should comprise senior staff of the Reserve Bank – ie be an internal committee.

The Greens want an external committee where they and/or sectoral interests such as unions, farmers and manufacturers have representatives on the committee. That has considerable danger.

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Herald on Labour’s home loan policy

September 26th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

Labour’s new leader appears to think he can manage New Zealand’s financial system better than the Reserve Bank. If he was in power now, he says, he would not allow the bank to include first-home buyers in its mortgage lending restriction to take effect from next week.

The bank is about to limit the amount of lending that retail banks can do on deposits of less than 20 per cent of the price of the house. It is acting out of concern that banks are becoming too exposed to the risk that another house price bubble will burst, causing prices to fall. If that were to happen, the consequences for banks might be costly but for low-equity first-home owners it could be catastrophic.

The little equity they have amassed could be wiped out, leaving them owing the bank more than their house is worth.

If that sounds bad enough, other policies espoused by David Cunliffe would make their position even worse. If elected, he says, Labour would exempt first-home buyers from the new lending limits until its capital gains tax took hold and its low-cost house building programme took effect.

Nothing would be more likely to bring about a fall in house prices than a capital gains tax and an increase in state housing. If Mr Cunliffe had the interest of first-home owners at heart he would not only limit their access to low equity loans, he would do so well in advance of his other proposals.

So Labour is joining the Greens in promoting policies to leave home owners with negative equity!

When it announced the proposed restriction the Prime Minister made it known the Government wanted an exemption for first-home seekers. The bank was unmoved, pointing out that first-home buyers were about 30 per cent of low-deposit borrowers and they had to be included if the measure was to be effective.

John Key gave way, deferring to the bank’s expertise in its statutory jurisdiction. The bank’s so-called independence in these matters has been in the bedrock of New Zealand’s economy for nearly 30 years. In that time its independence has been respected by both major parties in government and when they were in opposition.

Labour’s finance spokesman, David Parker, believes the party could exempt first-home seekers without removing the Reserve Bank’s independence; his new leader appears not to care whether the bank’s role is compromised or not.

The independence of the Reserve Bank has been a critical element of our economy. We should be very worried about promises to over-ride its decisions by politicians.

Mr Cunliffe needs to be very careful in this area. As the leader of one of the main parties, his utterances could be damaging to long-term confidence in the economy well before he threatens to be in any position to act.

It is hard to believe he would carry out the promise to over-ride the Reserve Bank’s independence to exempt first-home seekers, if only because of the obvious risk to their equity. He was looking to score an easy political point.

Anything that makes it harder for first-home seekers to get finance is bound to be superficially unpopular, as proven by a poll at the weekend. Political leaders who withstand this pressure and respect the Reserve Bank’s independence deserve more credit for it than Mr Key has received.

Governments are all-powerful in this country, it would be easy to weaken the bank’s legislated jurisdiction and do untold damage to our economy.

Mr Cunliffe’s stance is a worry.

Basically Labour are campaigning on cheap and easy credit – the very thing that caused the global financial crisis. We should be very wary.

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LVR restrictions

July 16th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The Reserve Bank is expected to forge ahead with controversial restrictions on home loans within the week – and there will be no exceptions for first home-buyers.

A banking source said banks were told on Friday to prepare for restrictions which will impose a 12 per cent ”speed limit” on their total new lending going on low equity mortgages.

That will effectively halve the amount of high loan-to-value (LVR) lending that the banks are currently doing, making it much harder to get a mortgage with a deposit of less than 20 per cent.

The source said the Reserve Bank’s restrictions were much more extreme than had been anticipated.

”My understanding is that all the efforts of Government to slow them down on the decision have not been successful,” they said.

Prime Minister John Key had previously suggested the Government would work with the central bank to agree on some sort of ”carve-out” for first-home buyers.

The source said tensions between the two parties had grown as Reserve Bank governor Graeme Wheeler refused to back down.

The Reserve Bank has consistently said that creating exceptions for first-home buyers, small business owners or others, would dilute the strength of the tool.

As an independent organisation, the Reserve Bank’s sole focus is maintaining financial stability in the banking system.

This policy, like most, will create winners and losers.

It should reduce pressure on house prices, as demand will drop following less credit being available. This will benefit those wanting to buy a home that can get credit.

The losers will be those who will be unable to get a mortgage as they don’t have enough of a deposit, and they will have to remain renting for longer. Also current owners could be seen to be losers as their houses won’t appreciate so much.

LVR limits have been widely criticised by the banking and brokerage industries, who have a vested interest in unfettered lending, as well as independent groups like Consumer NZ.

Even the Reserve Bank has admitted that people are likely to sneak around the rules by borrowing a deposit from family, or lower-tier lenders.

Once the limits are imposed, banks will cherry-pick borrowers with the best credit ratings, saving histories and account conduct.

If the reserve Bank does go ahead, it will be interesting to see how effective the policy is.

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NZIER on who should set the cash rate

June 25th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

NZIER have published this note:

The Greens’ idea to use the Reserve Bank Board to make monetary policy might improve decision-making but using a board designed to represent industry, risks compromising the Reserve Bank’s independence and the goals of monetary policy.

So they’re saying collective decision making may be better, but not if those deciding are not independent.

Responsibility for monetary policy rests solely with the Governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand. Twenty-five years ago, monetary policy was tied to the neck of one person to maximise accountability for inflation targeting. Today most countries have adopted inflation targeting but use a board rather than a single person to set interest rates.1

Groups tend to make better decisions than individuals by using a wider range of information. That often leads to less extreme decisions.2 And decision-making by groups is more effective because members of the group contribute a greater variety of perspectives.3

I would note it can lessen accountability though.

Recently the Reserve Bank of New Zealand set-up an internal Governing Committee, comprising the Governor, Deputy Governors and an Assistant Governor, as a group to assist decision-making.

These innovations help the Reserve Bank form better decisions from a wide range of information and perspectives. That means the distinction between a single decision-maker and decision-making by a board is blurred by current Reserve Bank practice. 

So we expect better monetary policy from a board rather than a single person. But given the way policy is currently set these gains are unlikely to be large.4

In other words, the decisions are in practice collective ones.

Moving to a board structure has practical implications. We agree that like elsewhere in the world, releasing the minutes and voting record of the committee improves transparency.

Agreed.

But already New Zealand has a very transparent central bank. According to one measure, New Zealand ranks as the second-most transparent central bank globally.5 Publishing the board minutes is helpful but the Reserve Bank of New Zealand does not have a transparency problem. 

But let’s not pretend there is a huge problem.

It’s not clear what making the decision-making board more representative of the wider economy might achieve.

If the problem is improving decision-making, NZIER’s view is the Reserve Bank already receives considerable input from all parts of the economy as part of its regular information gathering process.

Including exporters and manufacturers on a decision-making board seems targeted towards a solving a different perceived problem: changing the objectives of monetary policy.

But good monetary policy is not about promoting exports: it’s about targeting inflation.
Ultimately, monetary policy is a technical activity. So any decision-making board needs the professional advice and experience of career economists that understand the economy.

Basically the proposal is an attempt to change the purpose of monetary policy by stealth.

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Who should set the cash rate?

June 21st, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Greens have proposed that the Reserve Bank Board should set the official cash rate, not just the Governor. It’s a reasonable debate to have, but one that seemed familiar. I was sure the issue had been canvassed in the past as part of an independent review. I asked Don Brash if my recollection was correct and he responded:

David, you are almost correct. Cullen asked Lars Svensson to conduct a comprehensive review of the whole monetary policy framework. At the time, in 2000, Svensson was a leading monetary policy academic, at Yale from memory. Being Swedish, he had the advantage of being from a country regarded as “moderate” in political terms and, like New Zealand, a country very dependent on trade, with a floating exchange rate. He has since become one of the Deputy Governors of the Swedish central bank. 

He gave the New Zealand framework top marks, describing it as “world’s best practice”, but he did say that he thought that having all monetary policy decisions vested in the single person of the Governor was risky. (Fortunately for me, he said I had done a good job!) He suggested that instead monetary policy decisions should be taken by a small internal committee of senior RB staff – not by the board of (outside) directors because of the potential for conflicts of interest. Both the Treasury and the non-executive directors of the Reserve Bank recommended that New Zealand stick with the single decision-maker model because that makes it easier to pin the blame if monetary policy doesn’t deliver what the Policy Targets Agreement (the agreement between Minister of Finance and Governor) requires to be delivered.

It is a fair point, that if you make the decision a joint one by the Board, it makes it harder for there to be accountability for any failure in monetary policy.

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Loan to value ratios

June 20th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Prime Minister John Key was adamant yesterday the Reserve Bank and retail banks could find a way to exempt first-home buyers from proposed restrictions on low-deposit home loans.

At his post-Cabinet press conference, Mr Key said he supported the move by the Reserve Bank that would see banks limit how much of its new mortgage lending could be made on high loan-to-value ratios (LVRs).

He indicated any measures negotiated would be unacceptable if they penalised first-home buyers at the expense of speculators and property investors.

“Yes I accept absolutely and endorse the view that the banks should be forced to use this as a legitimate tool.

“I don’t think it should be a tool that is used to write high LVR ratios for a bunch of rich people, and lock out a whole lot of first-home buyers.”

I’m not so sure it is as easy as the Reserve Bank or the PM thinks. First let’s look at how big the “problem” is.

lvr

 

This data is from the five major NZ banks.

So the top three lines are all mortgages with LVRs below 80%.  They comprise four fifths of the total mortgages, and this was much the same in 2008.

There has been virtually zero growth in high LVR loans (over 90%) since 2008 despite there being solid growth in the housing mortgage market.

Essentially, of the approximate $185 billion of housing lending in NZ currently around $150 billion worth of it has an LVR of under 80%.

I think both the RBNZ are the Government somewhat over egging the problem and the need for LVRs.

We also have to be careful of the possibilities of unforeseen consequences. Restrictions on how much a bank can loan to home buyer may mean that they seek unsecured funding, rather than secured funding. This actually happened in Sweden, and actually works to decrease financial stability.

The proposed policies work fairly well in housing markets when there is an over-supply. But in NZ the problem is more an under-supply.

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Reserve Bank intervenes in currency markets

May 8th, 2013 at 3:23 pm by David Farrar

NBR reports:

The Reserve Bank says it intervened in foreign exchange markets in an attempt to drive the kiwi lower. It gave no details of the size of the intervention.

The kiwi tumbled to 83.90 US cents from 84.48 cents before governor Graeme Wheeler’s comments were telegraphed at the finance and expenditure select committee in Wellington. The trade-weighted index dropped to 77.71 from 78.17.

The comments come after Mr Wheeler said in a briefing for the six-monthly financial stability report today that the currency was “significantly overvalued”.

“That intervention will not materially change the level of the exchange rate but could take potentially the tops off rallies,” Mr Wheeler told the committee. “In terms of activity, there’s been an intervention.”

The size of the bank’s action would show up on its balance sheet, deputy governor Grant Spencer told the same meeting.

This is an independent decision of the Governor. It has happened once or twice before. I am skeptical of the ability of the Reserve Bank to move the level of the NZ dollar in the long-term as our reserves are much smaller than others. However if they have correctly calculated that the currency is over-valued, then they may take the edge off the dollar without it costing taxpayers money.

As I have said previously, I think the issue is more the weakness of the US dollar and the Euro, not the strength of the Kiwi.

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Lending rules

February 28th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins at Stuff reports:

Rules aimed at taking some of the heat out of the housing market and providing greater financial stability could be agreed as early as the middle of the year, Finance Minister Bill English says.

Those rules are likely to include requiring home buyers to have bigger deposits.

Good for landlords as tenants will stay tenants for longer as they save for a deposit!

In a speech to a business audience in Auckland today, English said the Reserve Bank would consult over the next few weeks on proposals giving it a greater ability to influence the amount of lending done by banks and other financial institutions.

These might include requiring lenders to:

* Restrict high-loan-to-value ration lending in the housing sector.

* Hold additional capital on their balance sheet as a buffer during an economy wide credit boom.

* Hold additional capital against loans in specific sectors if risks emerge in those sectors

All well motivated, but my concern is unforeseen consequences.

ANZ chief economist Cameron Bagrie said the mid-year target date suggested “there’s been a lot more thought gone into getting monetary policy a few more mates”.

He was not a fan of rules on the loan-to-value ratio of mortgages, saying it was “akin to throwing a rock into a creek.

“You will find the water gets around the rock.”

Indeed.

Bagrie cautioned against action that might restrict the flow of credit, and said the criteria for using the instruments being proposed needed to be very clear.

He described the housing market as “frothy”, and doubted it was heading into bubble territory.

While some action was needed on the demand side if there was a desire to take heat out of the property market, action also needed to be taken on the supply side given the shortage of houses.

Absolutely. The supply side is key.

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Graeme Wheeler

June 27th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

James Weir at Stuff reports:

Reserve Bank Governor-in-waiting Graeme Wheeler was once touted as a potential World Bank president and gained fame for telling his boss, Paul Wolfowitz, to resign during what was seen as a civil war at the World Bank.

Wheeler’s appointment to take over at the central bank when Alan Bollard steps down on September 25 was welcomed yesterday, even though many had expected deputy governor Grant Spencer to win the top post.

Spencer may be disappointed and it is not clear if he will stay at the central bank, given Wheeler may serve at least one, possibly two, five-year terms. Wheeler has a strong international reputation, especially in world financial markets.

He takes over what is arguably one of the most important roles in the economy as the sole final decisionmaker on monetary policy: what to do with official interest rates and when.

I’ve only heard good things about Wheeler, and from all accounts he should prove to be an excellent Reserve Bank Governor. It is a very important role, and one that can come under considerable political pressure also.

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Bad John

March 7th, 2011 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

On Breakfast this morning:

Corin: On the cost, 15 billion dollars now Treasury is saying, and 1.5% of GDP, does that make a cut in the official cash rate, some help for monetary policy, pretty much essential this week?

John: Well that’s a matter for the Reserve Bank Governor, and it’s for him to decide and him alone to decide what happens on Thursday …

And that’s where ideally the sentence should stop. But the transcript continues:

but certainly the markets have factored in a likely cut in the official cash rate, and you’ve gotta say lower interest rates probably help the country, but that ultimately is a matter for the Governor

That is a subjective view that lower interest rates help the country. They don’t help long-term if they lead to excessive inflation.

On this case I agree with the PM, but the difference is I am not the PM. By making those comments, we have a possible headline that if Bollard does not lower interest rates that the “PM thinks Governor is not helping New Zealand”.

I’m a bit of a purist. I beleive there are only four people in New Zealand who should not express a view on what the Reserve Bank Governor should do – that is the Minister of Finance, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and the Shadow Finance Minister. They are all his current or future effective bosses, and any comments from them puts pressure on the Governor – even if unintended.

Also politically commenting is not wise. If the Governor happens to do what you say, then there is a suspicion he was pressured to do so. If the Governor does not do what you say, then the media will paint it as a row.

The bottom line is that while the public like having a Prime Minister who will answer questions on almost every issue and subject – potential changes to the official cash rate should be one you don’t answer except to say :”It is a matter for the Governor”

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Editorials 11 June 2010

June 11th, 2010 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald talks OCR:

Money markets expect this tightening by way of small steps to prompt an official rate of 4 or 4.25 per cent by this time next year, and further increases to about 5 per cent by the end of 2011.

We should not, says Governor Alan Bollard, expect the rate to rise as far as the 8.25 per cent peak of the previous cycle.

Hopefully not, but several things could knock the ship off course. One is rising inflation, the central bank’s core concern.

I think the OCR will increase beyond 5%.

The Press also talks OCR:

Now, however, as recovery begins to look more robust here and among New Zealand’s main trading partners, the central bank must consider again the prospect that inflation will spike outside its target 1 to 3 per cent range. The move yesterday was modest – only a quarter of a percentage point – but it is an indication that the bank is determined to keep inflation expectations under control.

Some manufacturers and exporters have suggested that moving now on interest rates is premature. Manufacturers and exporters, like politicians and indeed all borrowers, never welcome interest rate rises, but the criticism in this case is unwarranted. The Reserve Bank under Alan Bollard has hardly been hawkish on inflation. A sign of this is the fact that, in an effort to balance competing forces during the boom years, the bank allowed inflation to nudge outside its prescribed limits three times in the space of six years. At the moment, inflation in the future is a possibility.

I still think the range should be 0% to 2%, so a midpoint of 1% is targeted.

The Press focuses on the Foreshore & Seabed negotiations:

Last year, the Government announced it wanted to restore the right of Maori to seek customary title in court, and acknowledge the foreshore and seabed not already in private title as public domain. It held nationwide hui, with Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson at each one. Though that impressed Maori, they did not like the “public domain” concept. They want ownership in iwi hands, the foreshore and seabed being inalienable.

Again I remind people that the Court of Appeal merely said that an Iwi could try and claim title in court, not that they would get it. They also said one would have to show unbroken usage since 1840. That is a world of difference away from saying Iwi own the entire foreshore & seabed.

What the Maori Party thinks at this point is not clear – it definitely wants the Foreshore and Seabed Act repealed but might be having to weigh up pleasing the ILG against pleasing an increasingly implacable prime minister.

As Mr Key found over the Tuhoe/Urewera matter, it is hard to placate Maori without upsetting many Pakeha or to ameliorate Pakeha fears without upsetting many Maori. He might have to reluctantly accept that the Foreshore and Seabed Act has to stay on the books.

That is an option. Another is to simply repeal the FSA and let Iwi test their claims in court.

And the ODT chides North Korea:

The jury appears to be out on the exact state of mind of the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, variously regarded when healthy as either cunning like a fox, borderline mad or just pathologically nasty.

It is rumoured that he suffered a destabilising stroke some 18 months ago and, at 68, is ailing. Consequently, the world’s only hereditary communist dictatorship seems to be gearing up for succession to the “Dear Leader”.

Cuba is looking hereditary also. Ironic that communism was meant to be a fight against inherited privilege.

Had there been serious evidence anywhere else in the world that a submarine of one sovereign nation had arbitrarily sunk a warship of another, in what appears to be an entirely unprovoked incident, the clamour for retaliation or justice would have been deafening.

This is my concern. You reward North Korea for being well mad.

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OCR now 3.5%

January 29th, 2009 at 9:32 am by David Farrar

ocrjan09

I remember the days when a 50 basis point drop was a big thing. Now we have 150 point drops that are in line with expectations.

This should start to push mortgages back into the affordable category for more people.  Of course depends where retail rates go.

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Brash defends Reserve Bank Act

December 7th, 2008 at 5:13 pm by David Farrar

Don Brash writes an op-ed in response to Finlay MacDonald’s call for politicians, not the Reserve Bank, to be in charge of determining interest rates. Brash responds:

He then goes on to argue that “plenty of people” see this act “as a relic of failed economic dogma, well past its due date for reform”, although he mentions only two people by name – Jim Anderton and that well-known economist Winston Peters.

Need more be said.

He links the Reserve Bank Act and similar legislation elsewhere to the current financial crisis.

Whatever the cause of the current crisis, nobody that I know of seriously suggests it was caused by our Reserve Bank, or other central banks, focusing monetary policy on keeping inflation under control by keeping interest rates too high. Indeed, there are many observers who believe that the trigger for the current crisis was interest rates in the US being kept too low for too long, with the result that banks were encouraged to lend to a large number of borrowers of very marginal creditworthiness.

Excellent point.

First, the central banks of virtually all developed countries – certainly the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and the countries of the European Monetary Union – have removed monetary policy from the day-to-day influence of politicians. Why? Because experience over decades has shown that politicians have a tendency to manipulate monetary policy for their own political advantage, to the economic cost of their countries.

I can’t comprehend why anyone would want Rob Muldoon setting interest rates again.

Fourth, nothing about New Zealand’s experience since we reached price stability in 1991 suggests that focusing monetary policy on keeping average prices stable damages growth or employment. We’ve had some of the best growth in our history over the past 16 years, and, until recently, we had the lowest level of unemployment in the developed world.

Exactly. Emperical evidence is overwhelming that you can have low unemployment with monetarist policies. Likewise overwhelming evidence that you can eliminate protectionist trade barriers and have low unemployment.

Fifth, while dropping interest rates can stimulate economic activity in the short-term, all countries have learnt from bitter experience that, in the longer-term, using interest rates to try to get faster economic growth results only in damage to economic growth, as inflation makes it harder to interpret the price signals coming from the market. Sustainable economic growth ultimately depends on increasing output per person employed in other words, on productivity and tolerating higher inflation does nothing to achieve that goal. If it did, Zimbabwe (with high inflation) would be enjoying fantastic economic growth and high living standards, and the United States (with low inflation) would have poor growth and low living standards.

Whatever the problem is, high inflation is never the answer.

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OCR drops 1.5%

December 4th, 2008 at 9:19 am by David Farrar

Look at that baby drop. The Governor is not giving much away about further drops, but I think we can expect at least 50 more basis points next year.

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PM on OCR

December 2nd, 2008 at 8:47 am by David Farrar

The Herald quotes John Key:

“We’ll be looking, like others, to see what the Reserve Bank governor does on Thursday but we would be anticipating significant rate cuts,” he said.

I’ve noticed that as Opposition Leader, John would often predict or even suggest what the Reserve Bank will do with the official cash rate. It was an annoying habit in Opposition, but a bad habit to keep going in Government.

In some ways the PM is just stating the obvious. Even the stupidest first year economics student knows that the Reserve Bank will cut the cash rate on Thursday. The only debate is by how much.

So, to be fair, when the PM says he is anticipating significant rate cuts – he is speaking literally – he is anticipating cuts, like everyone else.

But he is not like everyone else. He is the Prime Minister. And it is unwise to carry on a commentary on what you think the Reserve Bank Governor will do, when you hold that job. Because sooner or later it will be interpreted as pressure. It will be seen as trying to indirectly instruct the Reserve Bank – even if that is not the intention. It will one day generate negative headlines when the PM predicts one thing, and the Reserve Bank goes the other way.

Here’s my preferred responses for a PM on what the Reserve Bank will do:

Well the Reserve Bank makes it own decisions on the cash rate, and I don’t think it is helpful for me to speculate – I’ll leave that to the bank economists.

As I said above, it isn’t a big issue this time, because it clearly wasn’t a comment to pressure the Reserve Bank – it was stating the obvious. But in future the circumstances may be different, and best to bury a bad habit early – in my opinion.

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OCR drops 100

October 23rd, 2008 at 10:04 am by David Farrar

The Reserve Bank has dropped the Official Cash Rate by 100 basis points, as many had predicted.

This is the biggest ever single movement – previous moves had been as high as 50 basis points but never a 75 or a 100 before.

The Governor says:

“With weaker short-term growth and sharply lower oil prices we now expect that annual CPI inflation will return to the target band of 1 to 3 percent around the middle of 2009. However, we still have concerns that domestically generated inflation (particularly in labour costs, local body rates, electricity prices and construction costs) is remaining stubbornly high.

The domestic inflation is what causes the risk of stagflation.

“Consistent with the Policy Targets Agreement, the Bank’s focus will remain on medium-term inflation. Should the outlook for inflation evolve as projected we would expect to lower the OCR further. However, the timing and extent of OCR reductions over the coming months will depend on evidence of actual reductions in domestic cost pressures as well as how the global financial developments play out.”

I can think of some domestic costs that could be reduced!

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The economy

October 8th, 2008 at 7:44 am by David Farrar

News that the Reserve Bank of Australia has dropped their official cash rate by a huge 100 basis points gives some inidcation of how weak various economies are.

NZIER released their quarterly survey of business confidence yesterday. On the basis of it they predict the recession will last for at least another two quarters. A net 32% of firms have reported a decline in trading activity and a net 13% expect trading activity to fall further in the next three months.

It is in that context, and the decade of deficits announced by Michael Cullen on Monday, that National have modified their tax package which will be announced later today. This is both necessary and responsible. The public want a tax package that takes account of the last few weeks, let alone the last few months.

The scary thing with the PREFU numbers is they were finalised five weeks or so ago, so do not include the latest shocks from the US. As the Herald says:

Party leader John Key yesterday admitted that the pre-election opening of the books by the Treasury showed a picture that was much worse than he had expected.

“We’d always expected a slowdown, but I don’t think anyone saw deficits for 10 years and such a deterioration in the accounts.”

The economic and fiscal update showed cash deficits forecast to reach $7 billion and budget deficits for the next 10 years. …

No-one at all was expecting it to be that bad.

Also behind the decision is the fact that the forecasts revealed by the Treasury this week do not take into account the tumultuous events of the past month, in which banks have collapsed, the US Government has approved an enormous bail-out deal for Wall Street, and the flow of credit internationally has virtually seized up.

Who knows where it will end. Now this is no reason not to have tax cuts at all – they are important as one factor in lifting economic growth. But some caution around size and timing is essential.

Prime Minister Helen Clark yesterday cast doubts on National’s statement that it had scaled down its tax cut plan.

“I believe they over-promised on their tax package and they are now using the excuse of the books to try and talk down expectations,” she said.

I am tempted to call the PM a moron for that comment, but I know she is not a moron so all I’ll say is she is playing dumb. If she really thinks a decade of deficits is simply an “excuse” then she is in la la land.

But here is what is really interesting. We have seen National says “Yes we will modify our plans in wake of the financial crisis” while Labour says it is not going to change anything. Dr Cullen ruled out any change to tax or spending in the PREFU lockup. At most they might delay some of WInston’s new bureaucrats. Labour are happy to have ten years of deficits and debt rising from under 20% to 30% of GDP.

Labour have had it easy for the last nine years. They have never had to make tough decisions, and now the economy is in reecession they have no idea and no plan as to what to do to prevent a decade of deficits. Their biggest problem for the last decade has been what new schemes to dream up to spend our money on – hey lets put a billion more into Working for Families, no no lets buy some trains for a billion, no no let’s give pensioners free bus trips, no no let’s give public servants a pay rise but only if they join the PSA etc etc.

Because the economy, helped by strong commodity prices, has been so strong they have been able to say no to measures that would boost labour productivity and economic growth. Many of these measures (such as RMA reform) will be unpopular with some lobby groups, so why bother to take the heat, when hey we have enough money without such reforms.

But now Labour has run out of money. They are content to run ten years of deficits. They are not willing to take any hard decisions about lifting our economic growth, let alone paring back any of their spending schemes.

We’ll hear later today what National’s plan is. I think it will be measured, significant and popular. It will of course be attacked by Labour and the unions. National could announce the second coming, and Labour and the unions will attack it. Hopefully at some stage, somone may ask Labour what their plan is? Their plan is to not change tax rates and not change spending significantly. Their plan is a decade of deficits.

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A 50 point drop

September 11th, 2008 at 10:33 am by David Farrar

The Reserve Bank has dropped the cash rate a full 50 basis points from 8.00% to 7.50%.

Reserve Bank Governor Alan Bollard said: “The New Zealand economy is experiencing a marked slowdown, led primarily by the household sector. The outlook for the global economy has deteriorated further in the wake of continued financial market turmoil. In addition, the New Zealand business sector is coming under pressure from both rising costs and falling demand. While domestic activity is likely to pick up late this year as a result of personal tax cuts, increased government spending and rising rural incomes, we expect a prolonged period of household sector adjustment and below-average growth.

I almost feel sorry for Bill English, if he becomes Minister of Finance in a few weeks.

I also remain concerned that inflation will remain too high for years to come.

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