Archive | Economy

Inflation hits zero for quarter, 1.7% for year

The consumers price index (CPI), which hadn’t shifted more than half a percent in any quarter since September 2013, rose by 1% in the March quarter this year, and then stopped on zero in the latest quarter to June.

Since that 0.9% rise in September 2013, which bumped the annual movement up to 1.4%, the index has been as good as zero while property inflation has raged. But that’s eased off now as well, and the annual rate of CPI inflation has fallen back from 2.2% to March, down to 1.7% to June.

Statistics NZ the latest shift, seasonally adjusted, was a 01% decline.

Statistics NZ senior manager Jason Attewell said: “Household basics like rent, food & electricity all hit consumers’ pockets harder this quarter. Offsetting these price rises were falls in domestic airfares & petrol prices – which fell on average by 4c/litre.”

Housing-related prices continued to increase, up 0.8% from March to the June quarter, and to 3.1%/year. Prices for newly built houses excluding land rose 1.8% this quarter. Regionally, Auckland had the largest increase in the June quarter (up 3.0%), followed by Canterbury (up 0.8%) & Wellington (up 0.5%). Seasonally higher prices for electricity (up 1.5%) were the second highest contributor for the housing group. Housing rentals rose slightly (up 0.4%), held down by a 1.6% fall for Canterbury.

Attribution: Statistics NZ tables & release.

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The migration debate: Which way forward?

Statistics NZ will publish the monthly migration figures this Friday and, on recent trends, the net inflow is likely to be just over 72,000/year. The Labour Party believes it can cut that by 20-30,000/year by enforcing rules more tightly.

Gareth Kiernan.

On Friday, economist Gareth Kiernan warned that cutting the number sharply could cause a slump. Mr Kiernan’s premise seemed to be that more migrants were needed to service the needs of more migrants, and that cutting the number of migrants would take away the workforce needed to service those extra migrants.

His second point was not about migrants but about the behaviour of the Reserve Bank. His slump would arise not so much from cutting immigration but from the central bank ignoring changes in the economy and raising interest rates anyway, thus harming the economy.

All political parties agree that immigrants should add to New Zealand, not detract, and the Government’s critics take that a step further, saying the direction “export education” has taken, toward low-level learning & backdoor entry to permanent residency status, should therefore be curtailed.

Who builds our houses?

The first irony in New Zealand’s immigration debate is that many of the companies building much-needed houses in Auckland are owned by immigrants, often with investor support in Hong Kong or China.

You could say that, without so many immigrants from Asia, the input of these Chinese builders wouldn’t be needed. However, 2 of New Zealand’s biggest housing companies through decades, Universal & Neil, have been Asia-owned for years. A third, GJ Gardner, is an Australian franchise. Would New Zealand have built as many houses as it has in recent years without that foreign input?

How to get voters to switch – or not

The second irony is that, since 1972, no party (or party in coalition) has held power beyond 3 consecutive terms, but Labour & the Greens appear determined to hand National a fourth term because they haven’t enunciated policies which will pull voters to them from outside their bases.

As I was writing this, a new campaign call for support arrived in my inbox from the Greens. In the middle of its worthy aspirations was this sentence: “To do this, we need to you.”

We all make mistakes, but I read that puzzling sentence shortly after trying to wade through the party’s verbiage on migration, which read more like a call to support refugees and close the door to people the party doesn’t like, notably rich people.

Under policy point 5, Selecting voluntary migrants, I took greatest delight in point 4, which followed a statement that “people shouldn’t be able just to buy their way into Aotearoa”:

  1. Tighten up on scams in which overseas millionaires buy up NZ property by making business-development promises that they don’t keep. We will do this by
  2. Using a 3-year provisional visa for investor migrants
  3. Undertaking annual audits of investor migrants’ businesses via extended case management, paid for by the business being audited
  4. Ensuring that the audits include checks for viability, sustainability & desirability and are undertaken by immigration officials, an accountant & a marketing consultant. These audits, prepared independently, together with a police report & any complaints, will form the basis of the decision.

I’ve always found the chip-on-shoulder view of life is as distorted as the silver spoon version, and bludgeoning aspiring Kiwis with this vengeful kind of red tape doesn’t seem a good way to make friends.

Labour acknowledges migrant heritage, but…

The Labour Party acknowledges New Zealand’s immigrant heritage in its policy, but says National, in its 9 years heading the Government, “has failed to make the necessary investments in housing, infrastructure & public services that are needed to cope with rapid population growth. This has contributed to the housing crisis, put pressure on hospitals & schools, and added to the congestion on roads.”

Labour, in government, had an immigrant spike in 2003-04 – unannounced, unmanaged and, because local councils had no warning of the influx, they weren’t prepared to cope with it. The economic boost helped the party get re-elected in 2005. National’s spike of the last 3 years has gone for longer, but both have left large infrastructure deficits and speculation-promoting price escalation as direct consequences.

Labour reckons it can cut net immigration by 20-30,000/year.

That’s going to happen anyway as soon as Australia gets back on to what had been assumed to be a never-ending economic growth path, so the immigration cut in New Zealand could go deeper, reducing the net inflow to 10-20,000/year.

Australians thought wrecking the economy was beyond the ability of any politician, but finally they found a couple who could do it. However, the mining sector is looking more positive by the day and “the lucky country” will soon be just that again, and thereby thoroughly inviting to thousands of New Zealand tradesmen.

When those tradesmen start to head west again, New Zealand will once more be left pondering how to fill the gaps. Kneejerk responses aren’t an effective alternative to sound long-term policies, but kneejerk is where the migration debate has headed.

GST sharing rebuff was an opportunity missed

The National government’s unwillingness to share gst windfalls from the rise in tourist numbers made it plain that the governing party’s floundering was exasperating business people around the country; an opposing party that offered a raft of constructive new economic policies incorporating changes to tax distribution could have lifted its vote immensely.

Slump talk

Mr Kiernan, Infometrics’ chief forecaster, thrust his tuppence-worth into this policy abyss on Friday, when the economic forecasting company’s latest predictions indicated gdp growth would slip below 2%/year this year – before any further help downward from politicians slashing migration.

The threatened migration clampdown would lead to an economic slump, he wrote, adding: “New Zealand’s economic growth is being constrained by shortages of labour in key areas, and this problem will become more widespread if there is a significant & rapid tightening in migration policy following this year’s election”.

Slower near-term growth in construction activity & household spending would cut growth, he said.

“Although growth is forecast to rebound during 2018, that pick-up is contingent on the continued supply of labour provided by foreign migrants coming to New Zealand for work, on which businesses have become increasingly dependent.

“High levels of immigration have undoubtedly contributed to stresses around infrastructure & the housing market, particularly in Auckland. But employment growth of more than 1%/quarter over the last 18 months demonstrates the need for workers across the economy.

“Without these inflows of foreign workers & returning New Zealanders, businesses would have struggled to meet growing demand, and cost pressures would be even more intense in areas such as the construction & tourism sectors.”

Mr Kiernan’s warning invites the question: If the number of immigrants falls, so too will demand, and the economy should become more manageable, supposedly enabling a catch-up in the supply of infrastructure & houses. A slowdown, yes, but a damaging slump?

Mr Kiernan said cutting immigration this year would have negative repercussions for economic growth during 2018 & 2019, constraining activity through higher labour costs: “The inflationary risks associated with these cost pressures would also be likely to compel the Reserve Bank to raise interest rates sooner than would otherwise be the case.

“Given the slowdown already occurring in sales activity & house price growth, this potential cocktail of rising interest rates mixed with a government clampdown on migration would be lethal.

“Even with modest increases in interest rates from mid-2018, medium-term growth in household spending will be constrained by high debt levels, which have climbed from 146% to a record high of 167% since 2012.

“Faster lifts in mortgage rates & debt-servicing costs would threaten a jump in forced house sales, hastening a correction in the housing market and hammering consumer confidence.”

Those supposed consequences look like consequences of not adjusting policy to match changed conditions.

Mr Kiernan said the surge in migration over the last 4 years could have been more carefully managed, thereby preventing the housing market imbalances from becoming so critical. But, although he expected net immigration to gradually ease over the next 5 years, “a cautious approach is needed to avoid replacing one lot of problems in the economy with a completely new set. Ultimately, high migration levels are a positive reflection on New Zealand’s economic performance. We’ve been able to attract & retain workers in this country because our growth over recent years has outpaced that in other developed economies.”

Not quite true. A high proportion of immigrants have been low-level students-come-menial workers who have held bottom-rung wages down. At the same time they have increased demand for services, and for housing.

While I’ve said Labour hasn’t enunciated policies that would pull voters from other parties, elaborating on how a reduction in immigration would be done – and what it would achieve for other groups – would rebalance the political scales.

Links to party immigration policies:
NZ First
TOP (The Opportunities Party)

Attribution: Infometrics release, party policies.

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Net migrant inflow just short of 72,000/year

The net inflow of migrants dropped slightly from April to May and fell 36 short of 72,000 for the year to May, according to Statistics NZ’s monthly figures released yesterday.

Statistics NZ also released a study yesterday of migrants from other countries using the easier entry to New Zealand as a backdoor way of getting into Australia (link below). That flow spiked in 2001, when Australia changed its welfare rules, and has fluctuated since.

The present rise in net immigration began in 2014 and the net inflow has doubled since then.

The annual net inflow hit 71,885 in April and rose to 71,964 in May, but the net inflow for the month of 3117 was down from April’s 3406.

Compared to last year’s figures, the monthly net inflow was up by 79 on last year and up by 3532 on the previous year.

The number of migrants arriving on student visas has dropped by 4000 to 23,700 for the year, principally affecting migration from India, which dropped by a net 4681. Net immigration from the UK jumped by 2592 to 6534 for the year, and from South Africa by 1801 to 4729. The net inflow from China was up by 551 to 10,218 for the year.

Net migration into Auckland for the month was 1899 (1493 last May), and for the year 36,270 (31,623).

Statistics NZ paper, 22 June 2017: Backdoor entry to Australia

Attribution: Statistics NZ tables & release.

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Fed lifts rate again

The US Federal Reserve decided overnight to raise its federal funds rate to a range of 1-1.25%.

The central bank dropped its target range to 0-0.25% in December 2008 and held it there for 7 years. In December 2015 it lifted the target range to 0.25-0.5%, and raised it again in December 2016 & March 2017, each time by 25 basis points.

One member of the bank’s open market committee, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis president Neel Kashkari, wanted to hold the rate today. The vote to raise was 8-1.

The bank expects to start a “balance sheet normalisation programme” this year, by gradually decreasing reinvestment of principal payments to reduce its holdings of Treasury securities.

The committee said it expected economic conditions would “evolve in a manner that will warrant gradual increases in the federal funds rate; the federal funds rate is likely to remain, for some time, below levels that are expected to prevail in the longer run. However, the actual path of the federal funds rate will depend on the economic outlook as informed by incoming data.”

Attribution: Bank release.

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Reserve Bank raises question of new debt:income loan limits

The Reserve Bank published a consultation paper yesterday seeking feedback on serviceability restrictions such as debt:income (DTI) limits on loans being added to its macro-prudential toolkit.

The notion immediately drew fire, but the bank said it wanted feedback from stakeholders on alternatives as well. The 3 questions:

  • the risks posed by high debt:income lending and the potential for a debt:income limit or similar policy to ameliorate these risks
  • alternative policies under the Reserve Bank’s control and how they would compare to a debt:income limit, and
  • desirable design features for any debt:income policy and the potential costs & benefits.

The bank has outlined its views on these issues in the consultation and said it wouldn’t implement a debt:income policy in current market conditions, but that it considered debt:income limits could be a useful option in the future.

The consultation paper includes a cost:benefit analysis for a debt:income policy and found there could be significant net benefits.

Feedback closes with the bank on Friday 18 August.

Property Institute warning

Property Institute chief executive Ashley Church repeated his warning that such limits on mortgage lending “would have the potential to do significant damage to the Auckland housing market & the wider New Zealand economy”.

Mr Church said a similar policy introduced in the UK in July 2014 theoretically restricted a buyer to a mortgage that didn’t exceed 4.5 times their annual earnings, but it wasn’t compulsory for banks to impose it and it only applied to a section of the market: “The Brits wisely chose to use this tool as a way to protect those who were at most risk of a market crash rather than as a blunt tool to curb house price inflation. But our Reserve Bank already has that ability in the form of the LVR restrictions – so you’d have to question why they would want this tool unless they want to kill the market – something they’ve repeatedly tried, and failed, to do.” 

Mr Church says the probable consequences of such a policy would be disastrous: “The number of new homes being built – the very thing that Auckland needs most – would plunge as the number of people earning enough to build or buy them would dwindle to a trickle. So the policy could very well kill off the one thing that can fix the Auckland housing crisis – the construction of new homes.”

He said the policy would also lead to a dramatic increase in rents over a relatively short space of time as property investors looked for ways to increase income so they could buy more property: “In an environment where every extra dollar enhances borrowing power, landlords will want to maximum rentals and they’ll be able to do it because the Reserve Bank policy will exacerbate the current housing shortage.”

Mr Church said a debt:income policy could also:

  • create a further barrier to young people looking to buy their first home, “a prospect already made almost impossible by the Reserve Bank clampdown on loan:value lending”, and
  • restrict or eliminate the ability of small business owners to use the equity in their home as security for cashflow, potentially putting thousands of small businesses at risk.

Mr Church said recent house price inflation in Auckland was the result of strong demand and a severe lack of supply, and that the Reserve Bank’s efforts to artificially slow down demand had made the situation much worse.

Reserve Bank says loan:value restrictions have worked

The Reserve Bank introduced loan:value ratio restrictions in 2013 to mitigate the risks to financial system stability posed by a growing proportion of residential mortgage loans with high loan:value ratio (ie, low deposit or low equity loans).

The bank said in its summary of the new paper: “This increase in borrower leverage had gone hand in hand with significant increases in house prices, particularly in Auckland. The Reserve Bank’s concern was the possibility of a sharp fall in house prices, in adverse economic circumstances where some borrowers had trouble servicing loans. Such an event had the potential to undermine bank asset quality given the limited equity held by some borrowers.”

The bank said it believed loan:value ratio restrictions had been effective in reducing the risk to financial system stability.

The bank has produced evidence in its paper that a debt:income limit “would reduce credit growth during the upswing and reduce the risk of a significant rise in mortgage defaults during a subsequent severe economic downturn.

“A debt:income limit could also reduce the severity of the decline in house prices & economic growth in that severe downturn (since fewer households would be forced to sharply constrain their consumption or sell their house, even if they avoided actual default). The strongest evidence that these channels could materially worsen an economic downturn tends to come from countries that have experienced a housing crisis in recent history, (including the UK & Ireland.”

Link: Consultation document: Serviceability restrictions as a potential macroprudential tool in NZ

Attribution: Bank & Property Institute releases, bank paper.

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State sector efficiency is next Productivity Commission target

The Productivity Commission will undertake an inquiry into how the state sector can effectively measure & improve productivity in core public services, with a final report scheduled for August 2018.

The Government has asked the commission to provide advice on:

  • how to measure efficiency of the health, education, justice & social support sectors, at both sector & service levels
  • the appropriate role of these measures in public sector performance frameworks, and
  • any capability, culture or systems issues that will support agencies to measure, understand & improve productivity.

The commission said yesterday the Government spends about 2 thirds of its total budget on health, education, justice & social development: “This inquiry is an opportunity to provide practical, evidence-based advice about how to measure the efficiency of these services and improve services for all New Zealanders.”

The commission will publish an issues paper first.

Terms of reference

Attribution: Commission release.

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Migrant tide turning?

You could sense an almost imperceptible turning of the tide: the net inflow of migrants slipped by 47 for the year in the rolling 12-month count released by Statistics NZ on Friday.

After 3 years of substantial rises every April from a negative 28 in 2013 to a gain of 2424 and up by 500 more in each of the next 2 years, the flow stopped.

The change occurred in Auckland too – up another 1788 in April, but that was only 92 more than in April last year; the previous April the rise had been by 352. Auckland was up another 4282 over 12 months to a net inflow of 35,864, but that annual growth was down from 5476 the previous year.

It becomes a political question: the Government has 3-plus years of economic growth from the migrant tide in the bag, and that growth will continue. And although the Government’s not the dictator of personal travel preferences, will an easing of the inflow in the 4 months to the election change public perceptions that record immigration has been a highly negative influence?

The immigrant flow rose again, as it’s done every April since 2012, this time by 261 to 8637. The emigrant flow had been decreasing, but this April it rose by 308 to 5231.

The immigrant flow for the year rose by 5110 to 129,779 – that’s over 45,000/year more than in each of the 3 years 2010-12, and a 3-year supply in 2 years. On the other side of the equation, emigration peaked at 87,813 in 2012 and slumped to about 57,000 over the last 3 years. In the latest 12 months, it was 57,894, up by 1325 on the previous year.

The net inflow in April was 3406 (3453 the previous April), and the net inflow for the year was 71,885 (68,110 the previous year).

Australia & the 5 big inflows

Exits to Australia peaked at 53,904 in the August 2012 year, and the net outflow was running at around 40,000 in that period. Now the flow each way is about 24-25,000 – in the latest 12 months, 24,680 out & 25,460 in for a net gain of 780, down from 1721 the previous year.

The other 5 big net inflows are from China, India, the Philippines, the UK & South Africa.

For the 12 months to April, the net inflow from China was up at 10,225 (9615 the previous period), India’s was sharply down at 7792 (12,218), the Philippines was down at 4532 (5151), the UK was well up at 6439 (3891) and South Africa was also well up at 4749 (2730).

NZ citizen moves

The net outflow of NZ citizens was up in April compared to the 2 previous years, but nowadays you’re looking at very small numbers – 1025 in April (2067 in, 3092 out; the net outflows the previous 2 years were 960 & 969). For the year, the net outflow continued to slide, dropping from 3560 to 1406. In 2012 that outflow was a net 39,491; it dropped by 5000, then 20,000, in the next 2 years.

The annual inflow of non-citizens, at 97,810 in the last 12 months, was 36,000 more than in 2012. 24,519 non-citizens departed, the highest annual figure since 25,825 left in 2012. Net immigrant numbers have grown from a low of 32,416 in the April 2010 year to 73,291 in the latest 12 months.

For Auckland, arrivals have been up by 5000 in each of the last 2 years, rising from 47,868 to 52,870 to 57,885. Departures have been stable in a range 21,288-22,021. The net inflows to Auckland over those 3 years were 26,106, 31,582 & 35,864.

Attribution: Statistics NZ tables.

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Maiden flight over Shanghai portends new trade shifts

A week after being installed as US president in January, Donald Trump ordered a review of 2 aircraft purchases – fighter jets from Lockheed Martin Corp and Air Force 1 presidential aircraft.

The price of the Lockheed F-35s has dropped – probably wisely given a Bloomberg report that Mr Trump preferred a Boeing competitor – and Mr Trump appears to be getting along fine with Boeing.

Both companies fit into Mr Trump’s ‘Make America great again’ & ‘Buy American’ campaigns. Still, he & his country might like to consider a newcomer to aircraft manufacturer, at least for passenger planes: the great currency manipulator, China.

State-owned Comac (the Commercial Aircraft Corp of China Ltd) gave its C919 short-medium-range commercial trunk airliner its maiden flight over Shanghai on Friday. The plane’s all-economy-class layout has 168 seats, hybrid class 156 seats, with a single aisle. The basic version is designed to cover a range of 4075km, the enhanced version 5555km.

Comac has designed the C919 as a direct competitor for Boeing’s 737 and the European Airbus A320. The one other potential competitor, Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp of Japan, said in January it had pushed first delivery back from mid-2018 to mid-2020 for its much smaller (78- & 92-seat versions) MRJ (Mitsubishi regional jet).

I happen to think the US has been a far greater currency manipulator for far longer than China, and that it’s also been a trade bully since the time of the Boston tea party in 1773. Neither of the Asian aircraft developments had anything to do with Mr Trump in their evolution, starting well before his elevation, but the trade-pressuring president might like the price tag of the C919, put at $US50 million – under half the price of the Boeing 737 or Airbus A320.

That’s especially so if the US Federal Reserve starts to raise its funds rate, which would have an immediate, sharp impact on US Government debt.

China is also looking at African nations as buyers of its new aircraft which, in economic relationship terms, would raise the profile of the China-sponsored Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China & South Africa). And it would naturally look to Asia for buyers.

It’s the kind of economic event that carries far greater weight than tough political talk because it offers a concrete alternative for trade, leads to more value-creating innovation & research and – whether wall builders like it or not – advances trade and spreads wealth.

It’s akin to a sister venture of the revived Silk Road across Asia to Europe and the new Maritime Silk Route, which will run around to several new Chinese-financed ports & rail links along the north-eastern African coast, portending greater international networks.

BBC, 5 May 2017: China’s first big passenger plane takes off for maiden flight
Bloomberg, 17 February 2017: How close to Trump is too close for Boeing?
Bloomberg, 27 January 2017: Trump’s Pentagon chief orders F-35 jet, Air Force 1 review
Bloomberg, 20 October 2014: Mitsubishi Aircraft unveils Japan’s first passenger jet
Comac, C919
Mitsubishi, 23 January 2017: MRJ’s latest development status

Earlier stories:
1 May 2016: Propbd economic update Sun1May16 – Rethinking boundaries, Silk Road unity
World property T2Jun15 – Stepping stones across Central Asia

Attribution: Company website, BBC, Bloomberg, Mitsubishi.

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Fed holds funds rate

The US Federal Reserve’s open market committee stuck overnight to the 0.75-1% target range for its federal funds rate.

In its statement issued this morning, the US central bank said: “The stance of monetary policy remains accommodative, thereby supporting some further strengthening in labour market conditions and a sustained return to 2% inflation.”

The committee said it would maintain its policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt & agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities and of rolling over maturing Treasury securities at auction, “and it anticipates doing so until normalisation of the level of the federal funds rate is well under way. This policy, by keeping the committee’s holdings of longer-term securities at sizable levels, should help maintain accommodative financial conditions.”

Link to full statement: Federal Reserve issues FOMC statement

Attribution: Bank release.

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Reserve Bank releases capital adequacy issues paper

The Reserve Bank published an issues paper today on regulation of banks’ capital adequacy.

It’s seeking feedback by Friday 9 June and will follow up with detailed consultation documents on policy proposals & options for each of 3 components later this year, with a view to concluding the review by the first quarter of 2018.

Deputy governor Grant Spencer foreshadowed the broad-ranging capital review in March, in a speech in which he compared the average housing risk weights of large banks in 6 countries.

New Zealand was clearly the most heavily weighted towards housing at 28.3%, followed by Australia at 23.5% (and its bank overseers also tightening the reins), then a long way back to Denmark 13.9%, the UK 11.7%, Canada 7.2%, Sweden 6.8%.

The Reserve Bank aims to identify the most appropriate capital adequacy framework, taking into account experience with the current framework & international developments.

The review will focus on the 3 key components of the current framework:

  • The definition of eligible capital instruments
  • The measurement of risk, and
  • The minimum capital ratios & buffers.

Paper sets out 2 sides

In its issues paper summary, the bank said it recognised the need to balance the benefits of higher capital against the costs, but set out 2 sides to the argument: “It is expected that a higher level of capital would reduce the probability & severity of bank failures and would smooth out credit cycles.

“But banks typically argue that capital is a costly source of funding and that if they had to seek more of it they would need to pass on costs to customers, leading to reduced investment & growth.

“There has been debate about the extent to which these costs reduce national welfare. In one view the capital levels of banks are inefficiently low because of implicit government guarantees of creditors or other incentives. Raising the minimum capital requirement restores efficiency by reversing the implicit subsidy to bank shareholders, and in this way improves overall welfare.

“A growing number of academics, most notably Anat Admati from Stanford University & Martin Hellwig from the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods (as well as some regulators) have argued that the costs to society as a whole of higher capital are very low and that capital requirements should be much higher than they are now.

“These authors are associated with the ‘big equity’ view and are distinguished by the extent to which they see significant increases in capital as being possible without net negative economic impacts.

“Empirical studies have attempted to quantify the costs & benefits of increasing capital requirements, and to determine the optimal capital ratio which has the greatest net benefit. In the more mainstream studies the Reserve Bank has considered so far, a typical optimal ratio is about 14%, but estimates do vary widely (the range is roughly 5-17%). The Reserve Bank will continue to review & assess these studies, but also welcomes the views of submitters on this issue.”

The bank said that, at this early stage of the review, it hadn’t formed a view on the final calibration of capital requirements, but said it was likely to take into account the studies it had seen, as well as empirical evidence.

Review of the capital adequacy framework for registered banks
Grant Spencer’s March speech

Attribution: Bank release.

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