Friday, 26 June 2015

Ultra Vires?

Michael Reddell, ex-RBNZ economist, has wondered whether the RBNZ's LVR rules really fit within its financial stability mandate. I had a piece in the NBR last month wondering the same thing.

Seems we're not alone.
In a briefing for Secretary to the Treasury Gabriel Makhlouf, officials said they agreed with the Reserve Bank that a pick-up on the Auckland housing market "could potentially pose a threat to financial stability" in the coming years.

"However, Treasury has been engaging with the RBNZ to suggest that although we accept that house price changes can have macroeconomic implications, the RBNZ's mandate is focused on promoting financial stability, and therefore the policy proposals should be reframed to focus more clearly on reducing systemic risk rather than asset prices."

The comments appear to suggest the Reserve Bank is being warned that it may be overstepping its role over financial stability, a claim made in recent months by Michael Reddell, a senior adviser to the bank who was made redundant earlier this year.

Reddell said the Reserve Bank's own stress tests released in late 2014 showed the major trading banks could withstand a 50 per cent house price fall in Auckland and 13 per cent unemployment without breaching capital requirements. Some could even continue to pay dividends in that scenario. Nevertheless the Reserve Bank had imposed lending restrictions requiring larger deposits on the ground that rising prices were a risk to financial stability, something Reddell claims the bank had not laid out an argument for.

"What they haven't done is make a compelling case that there's a threat to financial stability of the New Zealand financial system," Reddell said.
Reddell hit the topic again at last night's LEANZ meeting. He blogs on it here - his full talk is worth reading. Jenny Ruth at The NBR (gated) has more.

Meanwhile, the Finance Minister reminds the Reserve Bank that they're meant to keep inflation between 1 and 3 percent; they've been running a bit low.
Mr English’s criticism of Reserve Bank governor Graeme Wheeler’s conduct of monetary policy is a major departure from the government’s customary respect for the central bank’s independence.
“He’s been out of the zone for years now, below the midpoint for quite some time,” Mr English told the Bloomberg news service late last week.
“He’s meant to be following the Policy Targets Agreement,” Mr English said.
The PTA, an agreement between the finance minister and the central bank’s governor, requires the governor to keep inflation between 1% and 3% and to aim for 2% over the medium term.
“That’s the bit I look at and one day somebody will start asking the minister of finance questions about whether he’s actually following the agreement or not,” Mr English said.
That's pretty blunt.

Central Bank independence means independence to choose the appropriate methods, among those they're legislatively empowered to use, to achieve the inflation outcomes they're contracted to produce and to maintain financial stability.

It does not hurt central bank independence to remind them that there are targets they have to achieve. I don't like it when Finance Ministers and Prime Ministers speculate about the appropriate path for interest rates. But they have to hold the Governor to the targets. I think that failed in 2005/6 when Cullen let Bollard run too hot for too long. But I am a bit surprised that English's comments came after Wheeler started cutting interest rates, rather than a few months ago.

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