The Reserve Bank in its November Financial Stability Report noted four key risks that New Zealand’s financial system faces:
* high levels of indebtedness in the dairy sector
* the imbalances in the housing market,
* the potential effects of a slowdown in the Chinese economy,
* the banking systems reliance upon offshore funding.
Since the Financial Stability Report was published, risks in the dairy sector have increased due to the reduction in the current season’s forecast payout. International dairy prices are about a third less than they were a year ago, as a result forecast sector returns for the 2014/15 season are much less than the previous season. Fonterra’s latest Global Dairy Trade auction undertaken in early May reported a further 3.5 percent fall in international dairy prices on a trade weighted basis. The Reserve Bank warns that forced sales of farms could rise if dairy payouts remain low, though farmers would go to great lengths to keep paying their loans. Many highly indebted farmers are facing negative cash flow and lower milk prices will only accentuate the problem.
The graph below shows the actual milk price payouts for the largest New Zealand dairy companies for the last five seasons, along with the forecast payout figure for the current season.
Source: Monthly Economic Review May 2015 – NZ Parliamentary Review
Although the Official Cash Rate was left at 2.5% today there is still a belief amongst many economist that growth and inflation will prove stronger than forecast and that, as a consequence, interest rates need to be rising now to offset these risks. Stephen Topliss of the BNZ used the famous economist J K Galbraith to describe the frame of mind of Reserve Bank of New Zealand.
“In the short term it is far better to be consistently inaccurate than inconsistently accurate. To err consistently is almost as good as being right”. J K Galbraith
RBNZ has remained steadfast that the strength in the New Zealand dollar and tightening fiscal policy will have offset the inflationary concerns associated with rising domestic demand, in general, and the housing market, specifically. Moreover, the Bank continues to believe that its recently implemented LVR restrictions will have a significant dampening impact on activity and house price inflation. With that in mind, the Bank has consistently stated that it would not raise the cash rate in 2013 and that it would start the process in 2014, with a relatively aggressive follow through.
I was fortunate enough to attend the Institute of Directors breakfast where RBNZ Governor Graeme Wheeler was the guest speaker. He spent a lot of time focussing on the overvalued NZD and that keeping the OCR low is a an effort to weaken its value. He did mention that the RBNZ has intervened in the FX market by buying foreign currency with NZD – supply increases therefore value should drop. In assessing whether to intervene in the exchange market, the RBNZ apply four criteria.
1. Is the exchange rate at an exceptional level,
2. Whether its level is justifiable,
3. Is intervention consistent with monetary policy, and
4. Are market conditions conducive to intervention having an impact.
This last factor is especially important given the volume of trading in the Kiwi. In the most recent survey – April 2010 – by the Bank for International Settlements, the Kiwi was the tenth most traded currency in the world with daily turnover of spot and forward exchange transactions totaling around USD $27 billion.
“We can only hope to smooth the peaks off the exchange rate and diminish investor perceptions that the New Zealand dollar is a one-way bet, rather than attempt to influence the trend level of the Kiwi.” Graeme Wheeler – RBNZ Governor
See the graph below for the value of the NZD after his speech.
Just published on their website, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand has prepared a short video explaining inflation. The video, featuring the Bank’s Head of Economics, John McDermott, explains how inflation is measured and how it manifests itself in everyday life. It also explains the importance of maintaining price stability. Well worth a look.
There has been numerous mentions in the media about the need to reduce the strength of the NZ$. RBNZ Governor Graeme Wheeler outlined some of these in a recent speech. He identified the following policy responses:
1. Lowering Interest Rates
By lower interest rates you may reduce pressure on the exchange rate as long as the new rate is uncompetitive to those in other countries. However a one-off reduction in the interest rate which conflicts wtih the policy of the central bank’s inflation target could lead to expectations of a subsequent reversal. Examples of when it hasn’t work:
Australia – since the end of 2010 RBA cut its official cash rate by 1.75% – no significant impact on the AUS$.
Japan – on the other hand the Yen actually appreicated by over 30% between February 2007 and November 2012 when the interest rates was lowered to 0 – 0.1%.
Switzerland – The Swiss Franc appreciated by 20% between Jan 2010 – July 2011 despite interest rates being lowered between 0 – 0.75%
2. Intervening in the Foreign Exchange Market
The RBNZ have 4 criteria it uses to decide whether to intervene in the foreign exchange market.
1. Is the exchange rate at an exceptional level?
2. Is its value justified?
3. Is intervention justified with current monetary policy?
4. Are market conditions conducive to achieving the desired outcome?
Global exchange rate turnover is between US$4 -5 trillion per day and it is estimated that the NZ$ is the 10th most traded currency in the world. The RBNZ has indicated that it is prepared to intervene but can only attempt to smooth the peaks of the US$ – NZ$ exchange rate.
3. Quantitative Easing – printing money.
This has been adopted by the US central bank in response to teh global financial crisis. However New Zealand was not exposed to risky investments to the extent that other countries were. New Zealand’s challenges are different from those in the US, Euro zone etc. The printing of more money would put upward pressure on inflation, especially asset prices, and ultimately lead to higher interest rates.
4. Cap the exchange rate – the Swiss experience
The Swiss National Bank spent had some success in capping the Swiss franc to the Euro – SFr 1.2 – 1 euro. This woud be very risky for New Zealand – Swiss lost approximately
NZ$35bn in the process. New Zealand would need to intervene to the same extent and the interest rates would need to drop to 0% also. The capping would amount to quantitative easing which with 0% interest rates would be inflationary.
Graeme Wheeler finished up by saying:
The New Zealand economy currently faces an overvalued exchange rate and overheating house prices in parts of the country, especially Auckland. The Reserve Bank will be consulting with the financial sector next month on macro-prudential instruments. These instruments are designed to make the financial system more resilient and to reduce systemic risk by constraining excesses in the financial cycle. They can help to reduce volatile credit cycles and asset bubbles, including overheating housing markets, and support the stance of monetary policy, which could be helpful in alleviating pressure on the exchange rate at the margin.
Just covering the labour market with my A2 class and New Zealand at present gives some good examples of labour market imperfections. You would think with the commencement of the major rebuild in Christchurch would have positive effects on the New Zealand labour market. Economists had forecast unemployment to drop below 6% at the end of 2012 however the December quarter had the rate at 6.9%. The Westpac Economic Overview came up with some reasons as to why employers have been reluctant to take on more labour.
1. Employers are increasing the hours that labour is working rather than taking more on. After the GFC a lot of employers kept labour but reduced their working hours so when the economy starts to grow there is a tendency for them to increase the working hours rather than employing new staff.
2. There has a lack of geographical mobility as workers have been reluctant to move away from areas of New Zealand that have weak growth to those that require more labour – eg. Canterbury. Since late 2010 job vacancies in Christchurch have increased dramatically and employers have found it increasingly difficult to find labour = wages have risen faster in Canterbury than most of New Zealand. The RBNZ reported that this two-speed labour market is suffering from the lowest matching efficiency – the speed with which job vacancies and additions to the labour force translate into jobs. This implies higher wages and higher unemployment than normal.
3. The high NZ$ make imported capital cheaper and there has been an increase in a firms’ intentions to invest in plant and equipment (form overseas) but a reluctance to spend money on new buildings or labour.
The BNZ Markets Outlook looked at reasons why Graeme Wheeler, the RBNZ Governor, might keep a ‘steady as she goes’ attitude to Thursday’s OCR review. Below are some thoughts as to why he could be swayed to increase or decrease the OCR rate.
With all that said it is expected that Graeme Wheeler will leave the OCR unchanged at 2.5%.