Weak expectations and accountability

The Reserve Bank released the results of its Survey of Expectations yesterday afternoon  – aggregated responses from 60 or so relatively informed participants.  For some reason, this quarter they have separated the release of the survey of household inflation expectations, which is now apparently not due until next week.

After the release of the previous results in August I wrote a post that provided a fairly downbeat assessment of the information in the two surveys, a little in contrast to the commentaries I saw at the time from market economists.

I’m a participant in the survey, and had actually revised many of my responses up a little from those I provided in August.  But my reading of the results suggests that the respondents as a group are about as downbeat as they were in August.  In particular, there is little sign of any sustained pick-up in inflation expected over the next year, despite the repeated Reserve Bank rhetoric.

This isn’t going to be a long post, but just a few highlights:

First, respondents expect the economy to do no more than limp along, beneath capacity, for the next two years.  The unemployment rate is expected to stay at or above 6 per cent throughout, and GDP growth of 2.2 per cent and 2.4 per cent is expected in next two years.  Those would be fine growth rates for Japan, with a slightly falling population, but New Zealand’s population growth was estimated at 1.9 per cent in the year to June 2015.   There doesn’t look to be much per capita growth envisaged by respondents, even with the lagged effects of monetary policy easing, unless respondents are expecting quite a sharp reduction in the net migration inflow.

Second, inflation expectations remain very subdued. Fortunately for the Reserve Bank, two-year ahead expectations have done no more than reverse last quarter’s slight bounce, and are still at 1.85 per cent.  But one year ahead expectations are only 1.5 per cent, and expectations for the second six months of the one year period (beyond the immediate “noise” of oil price fluctuations) are no higher than those for the first half.  In the whole period since the recession started in 2008 only once have those second six month expectations been materially lower than they are now,     Respondents still appear to loosely believe that the Reserve Bank is aiming for 2 per cent, but they aren’t seeing any signs that suggest the Reserve Bank will get it there soon.  Since the various core inflation measures are 1.5 per cent at most, at best they seem to envisage a continuing undershoot.

inflation expecs

Third, respondents don’t appear to expect much more of an OCR cut.  Even a year ahead, respondents expect the 90 day bill rate to be 2.79 per cent, probably not even consistent with a full expectation of the OCR being cut to 2.5 per cent.

However, the survey also asks respondents about their expectations for monetary conditions, both currently and a quarter ahead and a year ahead.  Each respondent can decide for themselves what counts for assessing monetary conditions –  the exchange rate, the OCR, equity prices, retail lending rates, LVR restrictions, or whatever.  Since the survey began in 1987 there have only been two quarters when respondents thought conditions were easier than they are now.  But typically when respondents think conditions are easier than neutral they don’t expect that state to last for long –  looking a year ahead they typically expect things to tighten.  For the last year or so that hasn’t been the case.  The extent of the extra easing isn’t large, but the fact that is expected at all in unusual.  It is not a sign of confidence that the Reserve Bank has yet got on top of things.   Expectations a year ahead are for looser conditions than they’ve expected at any time since this question was first asked in 1999.

expected mon con.png

The OCR is still 25 basis points higher than it was at the start of last year (as are the floating retail rates the Bank reports).  Over that period, inflation expectations (at least measured by this survey) have fallen by about half a percentage point.  Inflation expectations implied by the spread between indexed and conventional government bonds appear to have fallen a bit further (to only around 1.3 to 1.4 per cent).  So real short-term interest rates are at least 75 basis points higher than they were at the start of last year.  Why? For what?

Since that time, we’ve seen little or income growth, little real per capita GDP growth, the unemployment rate stop falling and start climbing, and inflation continue (on a core basis) to be well below the 2 per cent target midpoint (focal point) that the Governor explicitly signed up to only three years ago.

As I noted in my post yesterday about Stan Fischer’s speech, effective accountability in any area of life isn’t just about talk: it  has to imply that there is potential for adverse consequences for the independent decision-makers themselves. As in any area of life, a single mistake is usually not a safe signal of anything much.  But established patterns of error must raise more serious questions if the much-vaunted accountability is to have any real meaning.   This is looking quite like a repeated pattern of errors, compounded by a reluctance to acknowledge errors or to learn from past mistakes.

7 thoughts on “Weak expectations and accountability

  1. Readers may be interested to know that only two weeks ago, UK economist Adair Turner, former chairman of the Financial Services Authority, made the case for Overt Monetary Financing (OMF) i.e. debt-free money creation ex nihilo by the state-owned central bank for spending by the government, according to its democratic mandate, directly into the economy.

    The title of the speech was: “The Case for Monetary Finance – An Essentially Political Issue”.

    It may be read at http://www.imf.org/external/np/res/seminars/2015/arc/pdf/adair.pdf

    IMHO, this is what New Zealand needs right now, to dramatically lift economic activity and boost employment. The correct amount of such stimulus, contrary to what is believed by the woefully ignorant Minister of Finance and his fellow cabinet colleagues, as well as their Treasury and RBNZ boffins, would not be inflationary!

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  2. What I neglected to add in my previous comment was that IMHO, our real economy (the part of it that generates real wealth — not just artificially inflating asset prices — is so sluggish right now because the trading banks are not creating enough money, i.e. making enough new loans, for real wealth producers. Let us not forget that trading banks need willing, creditworthy borrowers before they can grant new loans. Sure, lowering the OCR would generate more such willing borrowers, but that would also fuel the real estate market — this is the bind that the governor of the RBNZ is in, and his and his colleagues’ own ignorance is keeping him in that bind. Blind in the bind, so to speak!

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    • The RBNZ needs to stop looking at property as an excuse to damage the rest of the economy. There was a reason why they stripped out land prices out of the CPI index in the 1990s because the property market will do what the property market needs to do in order to get more houses built.

      For developers to build they need a profit margin. The lower interest rates go the more likely you would see more development occuring and more houses being built. Holding up interest rates just prevent the normal cycle of development to occur. Property development is wholly dependent on debt. Therefore the maths is quite easy, the higher interest rates are the less profit and therefore the less building activity.

      As long as there are LVR controls in place then bank stability is not an issue. Bank stability becomes an issue only when the RB moves interest rates up too fast.

      Not too sure who in their right minds would stop a fast moving train by jamming the tracks with a concrete barrier and that is what happens whenever the RB starts the interest rates move upwards. Too fast up and too slow down and you can pretty much expect the economy to derail, crash and burn.

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  3. didn’t I read yesterday or the day before that Stats. reckoned our population had increased by 90,000 this last 12 months and that was 2%. If so then the RBNZ is wrong again at 1.5% to july 2015.

    Hopeless would be what we should call their ability to do anything with accuracy.

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  4. Not tourists to any great extent, but yes the population estimates will include those groups. But it doesn’t affect the point. If the population is growing at 2% (foreign students – our export industry – or locals) and the economy is growing at, say, 2.2%, it is a pretty dismal performance.

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