Tag Archives: Reserve Bank of New Zealand

Dairy debts make NZ Banks vulnerable

New Zealand dairy farmers are making banks worried about their ability to keep up with their mortgage payments. Four recent issues haven’t helped the cause:

1. Falling produce prices making it harder for farms to service debt
2. Mycoplasma bovis cutting productivity and profitability of the sector
3. Regulatory changes  – restrictions on foreign ownership and therefore reducing the value of dairy farms
4. Environmental regulations – increasing operating costs for farms

Whilst the last two might improve the long-term sustainability of the dairy sector they could reduce the profitability of highly indebted farms and their equity buffers.

Banks are closely monitoring about 20% of their dairy farm loans because of concerns about the borrowers’ financial strength. Although a dairy downturn is unlikely to threaten the solvency of the banking system, it does weaken their position if there is another external shock like another GFC. Bank lending in the dairy sector has been consistent over the last few year years but the proportion of loans on principal and interest terms has increased from 6% in January 2017 to 12% in March this year.

Although the average mortgage for most farm types has decreased in dollar value over the past six months, the average mortgage amount increased in the dairy farms – see graph below. The average mortgage for dairy farms is the highest at $5.1 million for the first time since the survey began in August 2015.

The table below shows the average current mortgage by sector over the years shown. Dairy farmers continue to hold the largest proportion of mortgages in excess of $2 million. They are also more likely to have a mortgage over $2 million – 62.5% of all dairy farms – and $20 million – 3.4% of dairy farms.

Source: Federated Farmers of New Zealand – Banking Survey – May 2018

Lower milk payout a concern for Reserve Bank.

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.

Milk price payouts for the largest New Zealand dairy companies – $ per kgMS

Dairy Payout NZ Firms

Source: Monthly Economic Review May 2015 – NZ Parliamentary Review

RBNZ – Steady as she goes.

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.

NZ CPI forecast

NZD drops after RBNZ Governor speech

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.

NZD post speech

Inflation – A thief in your wallet. RBNZ video.

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.

What to do about an overvalued exchange rate?

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.


Why is New Zealand’s labour market still weak?

NZ Unemp  empJust 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.

To cut, increase or status quo – that is the question.

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.

OCR up or down

With all that said it is expected that Graeme Wheeler will leave the OCR unchanged at 2.5%.

Unemployment worries for New Zealand economy

Figures out today show that the unemployment rate increased by 0.5% from the previous quarter to 7.3% – see ASB Bank graph.. This was a concern considering the market expectation was a reduction of 0.1% to 6.7%. The main fall was in Auckland where employment fell by 2% and this should mean that new Reserve Bank Governor Graeme Wheeler will hold off on any increase until late next year. A reduction in the OCR is unlikely unless there is further deterioration on overseas markets.

Remember the types of unemployment

Frictional – The unemployment that inevitably results from the process of job-seeking. It will exist under conditions of generally so-called full-employment conditions (see employment, full), but it is not precisely clear what proportion of total unemployment can be called frictional.

Structural – Unemployment arising from changes in demand or technology which lead to an oversupply of labour with particular skills or in particular locations. Structural unemployment does not result from an overall deficiency of demand and therefore cannot be cured by reflation, but only by retraining or relocation of the affected work-force, some of which may find work at low wages in unskilled occupations.

Cyclical – Demand-deficient unemployment occurs when there is not enough demand to employ all those who want to work. It is a type that Keynesian economists focus on particularly, as they believe it happens when there is a disequilibrium in the economy.

Seasonal – Some workers, such as construction workers or workers in the tourist industry, tend to work on a seasonal basis. Seasonal unemployment tends to rise in winter when some these workers will be laid off, whilst unemploymnet falls is summer when they are taken on again.

AS & A2 – Global and New Zealand Update for November exams

It is important that you are aware of current issues to do with the New Zealand and the World Economy. Examiners always like students to relate current issues to the economic theory as it gives a good impression of being well read in the subject. Only use these indicators if it is applicable to the question.

Indicators that you might want to mention are as follows:

The New Zealand Economy
The New Zealand economy expanded by 0.6 percent in the June 2012 quarter, while economic growth in the March quarter was revised down slightly to one percent. Favourable weather conditions leading to an increase in milk production was a significant driver of economic growth over the June quarter. The current account deficit rose to $10,087 million in the year ended June 2012, equivalent to 4.9 percent of GDP. Higher profits by foreign-owned New Zealand-operated banks and higher international fuel prices were factors behind the increase in the deficit during the year. Unemployment is currently at 6.8% but is expected to fall below 6% with the predicted increase in GDP. Annual inflation is approaching its trough. It is of the opinion that it will head towards the top end of the Reserve Bank’s target band (3%) by late next year.

The Global Economy
After the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) the debt-burdened economies are still struggling to reduce household debt to pre-crisis levels and monetary and fiscal policies have failed to overcome “liquidity traps”. Rising budget deficits and government debt levels have become more unsustainable. The US have employed the third round of quantitative easing and are buying US$40bn of mortgage backed securities each month as well as indicating that interest rates will remain at near zero levels until 2015. Meanwhile in the eurozone governments have implemented policies of austerity and are taking money out of the circular flow. However in the emerging economies there has been increasing inflation arising from capacity constraints as well as excess credit creation. Overall the deleveraging process can take years as the excesses of the previous credit booms are unwound. The price to be paid is a period of sub-trend economic growth which in Japan’s case ends up in lost decades of growth and diminished productive potential. The main economies are essentially pursuing their own policies especially as the election cycle demands a more domestic focus for government policy – voter concerns are low incomes and rising unemployment. Next month see the US elections and the changing of the guard in China. In early 2013 there is elections in Germany. The International Monetary Fund released their World Economic Outlook in which they downgraded their formal growth outlook. They also described the risk of a global recession as “alarmingly high”.