Money supply

In my post last Friday I highlighted how the Governor of the Reserve Bank had just been making up stuff, and apparently knowingly misleading Parliament, to distract from the Bank’s own responsibility for New Zealand’s current very high core inflation. There may well be a case to be made that central banks did about as well as could reasonably be expected over the last couple of years – “reasonably be expected” here set by reference to the general views at the time of other expert observers (none of whom, admittedly, had chosen to take on statutory responsibility for inflation) but simply making stuff up blaming the Moscow bogeyman helps no one, and detracts from any serious conversation about what went on with inflation – core and headline – and why. To put my own cards on the table, there are many reasons why Adrian Orr should not be reappointed, but the poor inflation outcomes are not the most important of those reasons (of course, a superlative performance on inflation might have covered over a multitude of other sins and shortcomings).

After Friday’s post, someone got in touch to point out that I had not mentioned one other episode in that FEC appearance which could also reasonably be described as “making stuff up” and misleading Parliament. Opposition members were asking questions that included that rather loaded phrase “printing money”, to which Orr responded – apparently in reference to the LSAP – that the Reserve Bank did not create money, that all they did was to lower bond yields, and that banks etc were the people who increased the money supply.

In normal circumstances, the Governor’s comment would not be far wrong. The “money supply” – deposits with financial intermediaries (those included in the Bank’s survey) held by “the public” (ie people and firms not themselves included in the survey) – mostly increases in the process of private sector credit creation. For example, each new mortgage to purchase a house results simultaneously in the creation of either a deposit or a reduction in another mortgage as the house seller deals with the proceeds of the sale. Monetary policy operates typically by adjusting interest rates to influence, among other things, the demand for credit.

Some of the Reserve Bank’s emergency crisis tools don’t have any direct effect on the money supply measures the Reserve Bank compiles and reports. The Funding for Lending programme – a crisis programme that bizarrely is still injecting cheap liquidity now – simply lends money to banks (against collateral). That transaction boosts settlement cash balances held by banks at the Reserve Bank, but those balances aren’t part of “money supply” measures (they are deposits held by one lot of surveyed institutions – banks – at another surveyed institution – the Reserve Bank).

The LSAP is different. If, for example, a pension fund had been holding government bonds and had then sold those bonds to the Reserve Bank. the pension fund would receive payment from the Reserve Bank in a form that adds to that pension fund’s deposits at a bank. Settlement cash balances increase in the process, but so does the money supply (the pension fund’s deposits count in the money supply just the same way that your deposits do). Had the Reserve Bank bought all those tens of billions of dollars of bonds from local banks, the transaction would have boosted only settlement cash and not the money supply measures. But it didn’t. There were plenty of sellers – the Reserve Bank was eagerly buying at the top of the market – and some were local banks, and others were not. And so when the Governor suggested to Parliament that the Bank’s bond-buying did not increase the money supply, he wasn’t really being strictly accurate.

If you are now drumming your fingers are thinking this is all very technical and not really to the point, then in some respects you are correct. We’ve heard a lot about “the money supply” in the last couple of years. Most of it isn’t very accurate, but in many respects the difference doesn’t matter very much. “Money supply” measures (the formal ones referred to above) have not mattered very much to central bankers for decades, and that has been so whether inflation was falling sharply and undershooting inflation targets, or (as at present) proving very troublesome on the high side. The general view has been that money supply measures have not contained consistently useful information about the outlook for inflation, over and above what is in other indicators.

That does not mean – to be clear – that inflation is anything other than a monetary phenomenon for which central banks (and their masters) are responsible. It also does not mean that in extreme circumstances, in which say the government/central bank is flinging huge amounts of money at households without any intention of paying for those handouts now or later through higher taxes, that straight-out government money creation will not be a problem, paving the way for something that could end in hyperinflation. It is simply that specific official measures of the money supply have not proved very useful as inflation forecasters. Decades ago we hoped they did – and money supply growth targets were the rage for a decade or more in some central banks – but they didn’t.

And perhaps you can begin to see why if we go back a couple of paragraphs to the LSAP purchases. If the Reserve Bank purchases bonds from you and me (or our Kiwisaver fund) that will add to the money suply measures the Reserve Bank compiles and reports. If the Reserve Bank instead buy bonds from banks who bank with the Reserve Bank, it won’t add to the money supply measures. Does anyone really suppose there are materially different macroeconomic implications from those two different scenarios? The Reserve Bank doesn’t (from all they have said and written about how they think the LSAP works) and – for what it may be worth – I agree with them. You could add a third scenario, in which the Bank buys a bond from a non-bank entity that itself had bought the bond on credit. In that case, even RB purchasing from a non-bank won’t add to the money supply measures, but will (presumably) reduce any credit aggregates that captured the initial loan.

It might all have been different decades ago when, for example, central banks paid no interest on settlement cash balances, sometimes (as in New Zealand) banks were forbidden from paying interest on short-term or transactions deposits, and where banks were subject to variable reserve asset ratios. That was the world I started work in, but none of that is true today. Money supply measures usually aren’t very enlightening about inflation prospects, and these days neither even is the level of settlement cash balances (since the Reserve Bank pays the full OCR on whatever balances have accumulated). Thus, the LSAP may have been a dumb idea (and a very expensive one so it proved), but not because it may or may not have boosted official measures of the money supply to some extent. The pension fund that sold a government bond and now has bank CD in its books instead is no better or worse off because one asset wasn’t in the money supply official measures and the other one is. Neither are its members.

What matters is (mostly) two things: first, level and structure of interest rates, and second whether or not more purchasing power is put in the hands of public. The LSAP purports to change the former – which it seems was probably what the Governor was trying to claim at FEC the other day – but does not, and does not purport to, change the latter directly.

(By contrast, when for example the government sharply ran down its cash balances at the Reserve Bank and paid out at short notice a huge level of wage subsidy payments, not only did those payments boost the money supply measures (in most cases) but they put more purchasing power in the hands of the private sector (households supported by those payments). That isn’t a comment about the merits or otherwise of the wage subsidy scheme – I thought it was mostly great, directly counteracting what would otherwise have been a huge loss of purchasing power – just a description of how things work technically).

What about some numbers and charts?

This is a chart of annual growth in the Reserve Bank broad money measure

Annual growth rates have fluctuated a lot. There was a surge in the annual growth rate in 2020 (and a 3.5 per cent lift in the month of March 2020 alone, presumably largely reflecting the wage subsidy payments) but (a) it proved shortlived, (b) the peak was still materially below peaks in the 90s and 00s, and c) core inflation in the mid 90s and mid-late 00s did not get near the current core inflation rates (depending on your measure somewhere between 5 and 7 per cent).

For those of you who remember studying money in your economics courses, here is a measure of the velocity of money (in this case, quarterly nominal GDP divided by the broad money stock at the end of each quarter.

This measure of the money supply has been been growing faster than nominal GDP pretty much every year since 1988 (mostly just reflecting the fact that regulatory restrictions on land use have inflated house prices to absurd levels, driving up both money and credit as shares of GDP). You can see a bit of noise in 2020 – the big initial increase in the money supply I mentioned earlier and the temporary sharp reduction in GDP – but two years on there is nothing now that looks unusual.

Here is a chart of the level of broad money, expressed in logs (which means that if the slope of the line is unchanged so is the percentage rate of growth in the underlying series).

Nothing particularly out of the ordinary in money supply developments (on this formal measure) over the last few years.

But for anyone out there who still wants to put some weight on this official measure of the broad money supply, here is the chart of quarterly percentage changes.

Eyeballing it, the most recent three quarters (to September this year) appear to have had the weakest growth since 2009. a period when nominal GDP growth and core inflation falling away sharply. Since I don’t put much weight on money supply measures, as offering anything much about the inflation outlook, I wouldn’t emphasise the comparison myself.

Inflation is primarily a monetary phenomenon, and a national phenomenon (that was why the exchange rate was floated, to make it so), and something for which central banks are responsible and should be accountable. Core inflation has been – and still is – at unacceptably high rates, as a result of choices and misunderstandings by our central bank (their misunderstandings were widely shared, among private sector economists and in other countries, but that does not change the responsibility even if it might mitigate the appropriate consequences for those central bank decision makers). Monetary policy choices matter, a lot. But official measures of the money supply don’t usually shed much additional light, and have not done so over the last couple of years.

Making stuff up and misleading Parliament

Legislatures typically take a dim view of efforts to mislead them or their committees. This is from our own Parliament’s online “How Parliament works”

The Governor of the Reserve Bank seems just not to care, treating Parliament’s Finance and Expenditure Committee with as much contempt, and disregard for basic standards of honesty and care as some juvenile delinquent.

Yesterday the Governor and a couple of offsiders fronted up to the FEC, as they always do, following the release of the six-monthly Financial Stability Report. Were one of a particularly generous cast of mind one might almost have felt a little sorry for the Governor at times: the report was about financial stability not monetary policy, and yet most of the serious questioning was more about monetary policy, and then there was the old game of MPs attempting to get officials to say something (whether on tax, spending, immigration policy or whatever) that helps their party in its partisan jostling, even if such matters were nothing to do with the Bank’s own responsibilities. But Orr is paid a lot of money and given a lot of power, and doesn’t even make an attempt to treat elected MPs – from whose legislation flows his power and his office – with even a modicum of respect. As it was, no one forced him to answer monetary policy questions – he responded to most of them by referring MPs to their internal review of the last five years of monetary policy, to be released next week. But when he chose to answer, he had some fundamental obligation to give straight answers, not trail red herrings and other outright spin (or worse) across the path.

Orr has form. Last December, he fronted up for the Bank’s Annual Review and he and a senior offsider actively misled the committee about senior staff turnover (something that became very clear very quickly). It took a little longer, and an OIA request, to show that he had also actively misled the committee with claims that the Bank had done modelling of its own about the (supposed) climate change threat to financial stability, when in fact they’d done none.

You can watch the full hearing here, or you read an account of the relevant bits here. Orr was on the backfoot over the stewardship of monetary policy – and there is at least an arguable connection to financial stability (more so to individual financial stress) given the cycle in both interest rates and house prices, and the likely cycle in unemployment). There are some things Orr (and the MPC) can and should be held accountable for – floating exchange rates mean that what happens with inflation in New Zealand is largely a New Zealand monetary policy (passive or active) choice – and others that the central bank has never been expected to counter (the most obvious example is the price effect of GST increases, but you could think too of exogenous shocks like sudden oil price changes).

Orr’s first claim in his defence was that New Zealand has one of the “lower inflation rates in the OECD”. That is probably defensible. The ways CPIs are calculated differs across countries but on the headline numbers reported by the OECD for the year to September 2022 there were eight OECD countries with lower inflation rates than New Zealand’s 7.2 per cent (and Australia’s was almost the same at 7.3 per cent). Even if one were to treat the euro-area countries as a single unit (they all have the same monetary policy), the picture doesn’t change much. Not, of course, that we should care too much what inflation rates other countries have when we are so far from target – the exchange rate was floated 37 years ago to give us effective monetary policy independence – but when a bunch of countries have made similar mistakes (not that Orr yet concedes to regretting anything), it is better to be on the less-bad side of the pack.

But not all countries experience the same shocks the same way. Wars, rumours of war, and associated sanctions/boycotts etc have affected energy prices in particular this year. No one has ever expected inflation targeting central banks to prevent the direct price effects of immediate energy price shocks – indeed, mandates (including in NZ) have often explicitly urged central banks to “look through” such effects and focus or core measures and/or any spillover into generalised future inflation).

The CPI ex food and energy is the most commonly used measure for international comparisons of core inflation (not because it is ideal, but because it exists), and is well-suited this year when fuel and (to a lesser extent) food have been in the spotlight in the context of the Russian invasion etc. Some countries are very very heavily exposed to changes in gas prices in particular, and others (notably including New Zealand which for better or worse is not linked into a global LNG supply chain) are not. But here is how CPI ex food and energy inflation for the year to September looked (chart scale truncated – Turkey is worse than that).

New Zealand? Middle of the pack, and almost identical to the numbers for Australia and the United States (a bit higher than the UK, and a lot higher than the euro-area). This is closer to the stuff central banks individually are responsible for.

But this is really just scene-setting. Orr’s most egregious claim – and it was particularly egregious for being repeated twice perhaps 40 minutes apart – was that for New Zealand’s inflation to have been inside the target range now, the Bank would have had to have forecast the Russian invasion back in 2020.

It was just a mind-boggling claim – not that any MP on the FEC seemed to be alert enough to notice. It seemed to be implying that if we abstracted from the direct price effects of the war, inflation would otherwise be in the 1 to 3 per cent per annum target range. But here is what those data show, using the SNZ exclusions covering both fuel individually and fuel and food.

For the year to September, all those exclusion measure of inflation were still in excess of 6 per cent, more than double the rate of inflation envisaged by the very top of the target range.

Oh, and when did the war start? The invasion began on 24 February. The March quarter CPI is centred on mid-February, and all those exclusion measures were already between 5.7 and 6 per cent by then. Before the war began. Now, it is certainly true that oil prices had risen in the preceding months as rumours of war mounted but (a) that wasn’t until late last year, and b) these are exclusion measures (ie excluding the direct effects of higher fuel prices). And the best indicator of domestic cyclical stress – the unemployment rate was already at 3.2 per cent in the December quarter last year (and again in March), also before the war began.

And what about more analytical measures of core inflation here in New Zealand?

For what it is worth, the highest rate of quarterly inflation on these core measures had already been recorded in the March quarter CPI, which (need I remind you) is centred on 15 February (most prices are surveyed mid-quarter), before the war began. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the worst of the (core) inflation was around the time the unemployment rate was falling to its lowest level (at a time when monetary policy was being particularly slow to act – recall that it was not until February that the OCR got back to pre-Covid levels). High core inflation – in annual terms on these measures now between 5 and 7 per cent – is a domestic phenomenon, for which monetary policy is (by default, being the last mover) responsible.

Of course, Orr knows all this (and, linking back to that parliamentary document, ought reasonably to have known it – having chosen to take the job, and accepted the $830000 salary for it). And his staff knew all this. The Governor was appearing at FEC remotely from his office, and it would have been easy for his economics staff to have slipped him a note saying “Governor, you really can’t make those claims about inflation and the war”, but (a) Orr is known to be intolerant of dissent and correction, and (b) if perhaps some brave staffer did slip him such a note, he went ahead and repeated the big and preposterous claim again later in the same appearance.

There are many many reasons why Orr should not be reappointed but simply making out stuff, that he knows – and certainly should know if he holds that job – to be simply false is not one of the least of his offences. Misleading Parliament really should matter, if we care at all about good governance any longer. On the further evidence of yesterday’s performance Orr seems not to. Just imagine if one of the institutions he regulated tried that sort of performance on him.

Profits

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post here, prompted by a paper by the former Bank of England Deputy Governor Sir Paul Tucker. Tucker’s paper was written in the context of the huge losses central banks in many countries, including his own UK, have run up through their large scale asset purchase programmes, especially those undertaken in 2020 and 2021 when bond yields (actual and implied forwards) were already incredibly low. While central banks continue to hold the bonds, the losses are seen every year now as the funding costs on those bond positions (the interest paid on the resulting settlement cash balances) swamp the low earnings yields on the bonds themselves. Bond positions purchased at yields perhaps around 1 per cent are financed with floating rate debt now paying (in New Zealand) 3.5 per cent (a rate generally expected to rise quite a bit further).

Tucker explored the idea that central banks might in future choose not to fully remunerate all settlement cash balances (while still applying the policy rate at the margin), and that if they did not then politicians might in future be reluctant to authorise future LSAPs and associated taxpayer indemnities (this seemed like a bonus to me, but Tucker is a bit more open to the potential of QE generally than I am (for New Zealand). With $60 billion or so of settlement cash injections still in the system (although with other offsets, total settlement cash balances are less than that), there is a lot of money potentially at stake.

My post was pretty sceptical of the idea – it seemed like arbitrary “taxation” by an entity with no mandate and little accountability – and in a Herald article at about the same time I was pleased to see several former colleagues also expressing considerable scepticism. In the wake of my post I had a bit of an email exchange with Tucker and while that didn’t change my mind it did help clarify the importance of reaching a view on whether the LSAP additions to settlement cash balances had resulted in something akin to a windfall boost to bank profits or not. Here is Tucker

Now, reaching a definitive view on a matter like this isn’t easy. Formalised models might even help, although I’m a bit sceptical even they could ever offer anything very definitive, and – in arbitrary taxation at least as much as criminal justice – we might reasonably expect something close to a “beyond reasonable doubt” test to be applied (especially when no one compelled the state to ever do LSAPs at all). You could think of a hypothetical world in which such a windfall might appear to rise – central banks buy the bonds from pension or hedge funds who simply deposit the proceeds with banks and happily (or resignedly) just accept zero interest on the resulting deposits – but it doesn’t seem very plausible. Perhaps there are other hypotheticals, but it still seems a stretch (and we aren’t in the world decades ago where, for example, banks were forbidden from paying interest on transactions balances).

I don’t have the resources or data for the sort of in-depth analysis that might be required if governments and central banks were to be seriously considering the Tucker option. But what do the high-level indicators we do have show? This, inevitably, bleeds into the recent (and annual or semi-annual) ritual in which the political left and the popular media bemoan the profitability of the banking system more generally.

The first increase in the OCR was in October 2021. Until then, settlement balances had been earning 0.25 per cent per annum, so that even if banks had somehow been paying nothing on the counterpart deposits, the amounts involved would have been too small to have shown up in the aggregate data (0.25 per cent per annum on $60 billion is about $150m per annum). But we have aggregate data now up to and including this year’s June quarter.

I’m including some long-term charts here (from the Reserve Bank website data, going as far back as their data go), as background to some comments on bank profitability too.

There is return on assets

return on equity

and the net interest margin (shown on the same chart as the average interest rate earned on interest-earning assets)

It is early days – the much higher OCRs for the September and December quarters may shed more light in some months’ time – but at present there isn’t anything much pointing to windfall earnings, whether directly from the Tucker effect or from the LSAP or other Covid interventions. Returns dipped during the 2020 deep (if brief) downturn, and then seem to have returned to about pre-Covid average levels. If the net interest margin has risen a bit, in the June quarter it was at about the average level for the previous 15 years.

On the other hand, supporters of the Tucker story could point to this chart. It is interesting that interest-bearing liabilities have dropped to a record (over this 30 year period anyway) low but (a) perhaps it is less surprising given that, at least to June, the absolute level of interest rates remained very low (and well below the prolonged period 20 years earlier when the interest-bearing share of total liabilities was also unusually low) and (b) as yet, there is no sign of this reflected in unusually high bank returns (see earlier charts).

Time will tell, but to this point there is no smoking gun, in New Zealand anyway. Tucker does note that (at least in the UK context) windfall returns could be paid away in management bonuses, so that they wouldn’t show up in after-tax profit figures, but (a) that seems more like a UK issues (big bonuses in the City etc) and (b) you would expect to see it showing up in bank disclosures (eg CEO salaries etc) and I’m not aware of any sign it (yet) has.

More generally, what to make of the bank profits story? On a cyclical basis there were reasons one might have expected the last year to have been the best for some time: the economy was extremely overheated, unemployment was extremely low, and although house prices have been falling more recently they only peaked in November last year, having risen to an extraordinary extent over the previous 15 months or so. Banks tend to make lots of money in circumstances like that (and, on the other hand, to do poorly in deep recessions). Perhaps reflecting the abnormal and uncertain state of the Covid world over 2021/22, in fact none of those charts above suggest anything exceptional about bank profitability (at times, really high reported bank profits can themselves be a worrying financial stability indicator – lots of poor quality loans with high upfront fees and/or dodgy accounting can produce very flattering short-term numbers, all while storing up big future losses. Cyclically, the year ahead looks a lot less favourable for banks (as the ANZ CEO noted they are now writing a tiny fraction of the number of new mortgages they were doing at peak) and a recession (with all the attendant reduction in demand for products, reduction in servicing capacity, and outright losses) is generally agreed to be looming.

What about overall average rates of return? When they left aren’t making cyclical complaints, this tends to be where they focus. And of course the return on equity is better than you are going to get on a bank deposit, but it is also a great deal riskier.

One obstacle to analysing the issue in a specifically New Zealand context is that hardly any New Zealand banks are listed on the stock exchange as such, so we don’t have a good read on the value the market puts on them. But the big-4 banks are the dominant players in Australia too, housing lending makes up almost two-thirds of credit in Australia, and Australia has similarly absurd house price to income ratios in its largest cities. Historically, rates of return have also looked quite high

(One might also add that in recent decades the New Zealand and Australian banking systems have been amongst the most stable anywhere).

Then again, the market seems less impressed with the Australian banks than the New Zealand political left are. Price to book value ratios don’t look particularly impressive – for long-established “licence to print money” entities – and of the four big Australian banking groups, in three cases the first time the current share price was reached was well over a decade ago.

We (and Australia) have big banks. When regulation renders house prices absurdly expensive, you need entities that will facilitate very large amounts of debt. Big banks require lots of capital, and on lots of capital lots of money can and should be made. But if the left is so convinced there is money for jam on offer there is a readily accessible market response: buy more shares with their own savings.

Instead, from the party that wants to make us all poorer, force people to live in expensive townhouses, and do all they can to discourage cars and planes (oh, and free speech too), yesterday we got a proposal that there should be an “excess profits tax”. The Green Party’s discussion document is here. I guess it is mostly just political spin to try to keep up the radical left vote, but it really was an astonishingly threadbare document.

For precedent, we are reminded on a couple of occasions that there were excess profits taxes in World Wars One and Two. And since we actually conscripting people – and ordering them into the military or directed service – and restricting all manner of other economic activity probably few people had much problem with that (the idea of “conscripting capital” was (understandably) big on the left in New Zealand. But while the left may like to claim we are now in some “moral equivalent of war”, in fact we are running a market economy in which firms and individuals are free to come and go, invest or not, as they choose. We are also told about windfall taxes on energy companies in Europe at present, but again these are rather more equivalent to an actual wartime situation (very high returns to lower cost renewables producers for example are arising out of the foreign policy choices of governments around the Russian/Ukraine situation).

But nothing in the Greens’ document establishes a serious case for New Zealand now (eg for better or worse we aren’t tied into the global LNG supply chain)

And then there are the basics. This appears early on.

I followed the footnote to be sure I was using the same sources. From the Annual Enterprise Survey

So you can see the $103.3 billion. But you might also note the sharp fall in this measure of profits the previous year (Covid disruption and all that), and the smaller fall the year prior to that. Actual profits before tax on this measure were about 5 per cent high in the 2021 years than in the 2018 years.

And nominal GDP? Well, it was up 17 per cent over roughly the same period (calendar 2021 over calendar 2018).

Then we get charts like this.

I have no idea where any of the lines comes from but note (a) the orange line, which claims to be taken from the AES, has a latest observation LOWER than the one a couple of years earlier, and (b) while the Greens claim that “the graph below demonstrates that profits are already exceeding prepandemic levels; and are several times higher in real terms than in the 1990s” they fail to point out that real GDP is a lot higher than it was in the 1990s too.

How do those ratios look? From the national accounts we have a breakdown between compensation of employees on the one hand and returns to business (including labour income for self-employed operations). Wage and profit shares have ebbed and flowed but nothing about the last few years looks very unusual.

The same data are now available on a quarterly basis, but only since 2016 (and inevitably the more recent observations are subject ot revisions). This time I’ve just shown the two series as cumulative growth rates since 2016

Labour costs and non-labour components of the income measure of GDP have risen over the full period by almost exactly the same percentage (seasonally adjusting through the Covid lockdowns is a real challenge so I wouldn’t pay much attention to those particular quarters).

We are left wondering where all these excess returns the Greens are on about really are. If they mean house prices rising in 2020 and 2021, well of course I can quite understand (and we know they like the idea of a capital gains tax) but……house prices are now falling quite a lot, and excess profits taxes aren’t usually aimed at Mum and Dad (indeed the rest of the document is all about th rapacious capitalists).

One could go on, but I won’t. The Greens seem keener on planning to spend the proceeds of their tax than provide firm analytical underpinnings to it, and of course while feeding the narrative that somehow there is money for jam being left on the table, there seemed to be no mention of countervailing reductions in business taxation if/when there is a deep recession or windfall losses (and in the nature of windfalls, losses are as likely as gains). But why would anyone really be surprised?

The document has this line: “The Green Party considers that record profits during a time of economic hardship for many New Zealanders are immoral and unsustainable”. Except that whether one uses their AES measure, or national accounts measures there isn’t anything very remarkable about profits in recent years – except of course that there is lots of inflation, but even then as that final chart shows returns to labour in total have been growing at about the same rate of returns to providers of other resources.

Rodger Finlay

If you have long since lost interest in my series of posts as to how Christchurch company director Rodger Finlay came to be appointed by the government as a director of the Reserve Bank (in its new governance model where the powers, including bank regulatory ones, rest with the Board) while, it was envisaged, he would keep on as chair of NZ Post, the majority owner of a bank (Kiwibank) the Reserve Bank prudentially regulates and supervises, and the spin around it, feel free to stop here. The title of the post was due warning. But sometimes you have to see things through to the end.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote here about (and excerpted) The Treasury’s incident report about the Finlay affair, and specifically the events that led to the Secretary to the Treasury providing a written apology to the Minister of Finance for the failure of her staff and organisation to explicitly draw to the attention of ministers the conflict of interest issues around Finlay’s appointments, either when he was being appointed to the Reserve Bank Board a year ago, or when Cabinet was agreeing to his reappointment as chair of NZ Post in June this year.

Yesterday I had two more OIA responses. Appointments to SOE boards are on the joint recommendation of the Minister of Finance and the Minister of State-owned Enterprises, and I had asked both ministers for material relevant to Finlay’s NZ Post reappointment (and withdrawal from that post) in June. Megan Woods had been the SOE minister responsible, but she apparently declared a potential conflict of interest, around her personal and professional relationships with Finlay, and so formal responsibility was shifted to Kris Faafoi (as it turned out, by the end of this he was in his last few days in office). Faafoi having left office, his papers on the issue are coming only slowly (early next year I’m told) but The Treasury did yesterday release the papers they had relevant to the appointment process Faafoi was involved in.

Treasury OIA response re acting Minister of SOEs and reappointment of Rodger Finlay as NZ Post chair Oct 2022

and Grant Robertson also provided his response to a similar request, but which also covered contacts with journalists on the Finlay appointments.

MoF OIA response re Rodger Finlay and the NZ Post board Oct 2022

In total there is about 50 pages of material

Taking the Treasury response first, there isn’t a great deal that is new.  The relevant paper to the Cabinet Appointment and Honours (APH) Committee is included in full.  It doesn’t note any conflict of interest issues (but we knew that from the Secretary to the Treasury’s apology and their report) but their description of NZ Post itself is a little surprising.

with no mention that NZ Post is also the majority owner of the 5th largest bank in the country.

I was slightly amused by what was, and wasn’t, kept secret about Finlay’s personal details

and the fussing around in the paper about whether the board was going to be suitably “representative”

But perhaps the point of substance was an email to Treasury officials from Faafoi’s private secretary on 8 June after the APH meeting noting that “Finlay’s reappointment went through APH today with no issues”.

While The Treasury had clearly been remiss in not including the conflict of interest issue in the papers, quite where were ministers (whether those proposing to make the appointment – and especially Robertson – or those deliberating on it)? Did it not occur to any of these people – either then, or when the RB Board appointment was made – to question whether it was really quite right to have someone responsible for bank regulation also chairing the majority owner of a bank. It is hardly as if Kiwibank’s ownership was a secret, and the APH paper does note that Finlay had been appointed as a Reserve Bank Board member (and from the Robertson bundle of documents we find talking points The Treasury had prepared for Faafoi, one (of a handful) of which explicitly states that he has been appointed to the Reserve Bank Board)? Or do conflicts of interest, real or apparent, just not matter to this government?

Most of the interest in the Robertson bundle is in the exchanges by members of his staff with various journalists about the Finlay issue.

But there is also an email exchange on 10 June, the day my first post on the Finlay issue appeared. We know from The Treasury’s incident report that prior to 8 June (the day of the APH meeting) Finlay had approached Treasury suggesting that he could take leave of absence from the NZ Post role until the (then not known to the public) reshuffle of Kiwibank ownership went through – it had initially been planned, so the documents show, to have had this reshuffle wrapped up by 30 June).

Anyway, on 10 June my post went out at about 8:30am (it is in my email inbox at 8:32) and at 9.34am Finlay himself sent a link to the post, without further comment, to four Treasury and NZ Post addressees. At 3:21pm, Treasury is emailing people in the relevant ministers’ offices, cc’ing the NZ Post people

I found it interesting that the official states “This potential concern has been on our radar” – what, just waiting for someone (whether me or another observer) to notice the egregious conflict involved in having the chair of the majority owner of a bank sitting on the governance board of the bank regulator? And so they suggest rolling out what Finlay himself had proposed – that he temporarily step aside from the NZ Post role – and had gone far enough to get the agreement of another director to act in Finlay’s place if ministers were to go with this option.

But that didn’t happen. The Treasury report says Finlay himself called the Minister of Finance, and the Minister took the view that as the potential conflict had been considered when the initial (RB) appointment was made and nothing had changed, there was no reason for Finlay to stand aside. Except, of course, that we know that the advice to Ministers and Cabinet in late 2021 had not mentioned the conflict, and neither had the advice to other political parties when, as the RB Act requires, they were consulted on Finlay’s RB appointment.

It is also pretty extraordinary – and this isn’t picked up in Treasury’s report – that there was no sign that these Treasury officials (or perhaps Finlay) really recognised the character of the Finlay conflict. He could have temporarily stepped aside as NZ Post chair and would still be responsible for bank regulation and supervision around Kiwibank during that period, and almost all regulatory decisions have effects longer than a few months standdown might imply. To address the conflict by means of temporary stand-down it would have to have been the Reserve Bank Board he stood down from, but the Reserve Bank role isn’t even mentioned here, and nor were Reserve Bank officials copied on the emails from either Finlay or Treasury.

And so Cabinet went ahead and on 13 June reappointed Finlay for three years. And on 14 June Finlay wrote declining the appointment.

The first journalist to have asked Robertson anything about the Finlay issue was the Herald’s Jenee Tibshraeny.

At the time of this phone call and email, it was full steam ahead. Cabinet had approved Finlay’s reappointment and the letter of offer was going out.

It took the best part of two days, and multiple reminders, to get an answer out of Robertson.

The delay was convenient as by this time – and against the wishes of the Minister – Finlay had stepped aside, and finally personally resolved the conflict issue. Against that backdrop, the Minister’s answer to the Herald was pretty much active and deliberate disinformation.

The next lot of media inquiries worth mentioning was on 1 July (the day after the rest of the new Reserve Bank Board was announced, including reference to Finlay as “previously” chairing NZ Post. Stuff’s Rob Stock asks Robertson’s senior press secretary

Who, in a series of email exchanges also engages in an active attempt to put the journalist off the trail (pretty sure the government would call this “disinformation” if anyone else was doing it).

First, the Minister was sick and couldn’t comment, but there was no news because Finlay’s term was due to end on 30 June. Stock responds that he didn’t recall either the RB, the Minister or Finlay “mentioning this was the plan for managing the conflict”, to which Bramwell responds disingenuously “I’m not sure if it was the ‘plan’…..you’d have to talk to Mr Finlay about that – or perhaps the RBNZ?”. Stock immediately responds (presumably of attempts to get others to comments) “No comment, not available, talk to Minister”. Whereupon Bramwell (for the Minister) again avoids answering the actual question with this response

Stock must have given up at that point. But if Bramwell’s last response was a non answer, it was nonetheless interesting since (a) it points us to Reserve Bank involvement in the political spin, and b) tells us that the Bank concedes that there may well have been “material conflicts of interest” from 1 July had the government gone ahead with its plans and Finlay not, at the end, done the decent thing.

There is a final rounds of exchanges between Tibshraeny and Robertson’s office at the end of August. These requests came after some earlier OIAs had begun to shed more light. You can read the exchange for yourself. On Finlay, the key question is “How was it ever ok for Rodger to be NZ Post chair and on the new RBNZ Board at the same time? [as the government deisred and intended]. Even [if] this would’ve been within the law [which it was] it surely would not have been within the spirit of the law”. There is never a straight answer from the Minister, just a deflection to the Reserve Bank who, she was told, concluded that “any conflict of interest…could be managed”.

Tibshraeny’s final question is about an issue I was not aware of until she identified it: that Finlay is a director of Ngai Tahu which now owns a 24.94% stake in Fidelity Life Assurance, an insurance company regulated by the Reserve Bank. That deal was not settled until early 2022 but had been agreed on before Finlay was appointed to the Board (and “transitional board”) late last year. That appears not to have been disclosed or discussed when his appointment was made. In Tibshraeny’s final email she notes “So, not great…..”

There have been so many issues to keep track of – including the other new director who when appointed was also on the board of an insurance company that for some reason was not regulated by the Reserve Bank (before there was a belated rethink and he resigned from the insurance company board) – and the Fidelity stake isn’t controlling so that on its own I can’t get too excited about it. But it does tend to speak to a pattern – running across all those involved here – that all that matters is the letter of the law, and nothing at all about the appearances, and the potential for actual or apparent conflicts. Finlay should, right upfront, have identified both the Kiwibank and Fidelity stakes as potential conflicts – and should never have put himself forward if he intended to stay on at NZ Post. In combination, they should have been disqualifying – to The Treasury and to Ministers.

As far as I can see no one emerges very well from this whole saga, with some slight brownie points to Finlay who did after all finally step aside. The Treasury did poorly, perhaps so too did their recruitment consultants, the Brian Roche interview panel (for the RB roles) did really poorly (and that includes the head of APRA who sat on the panel), ministers did poorly (Grant Robertson most of all). No one called stop at any point, and all seemed to be focused (if at all) on the letter of the law rather than the substantive issues that mean it would not be acceptable anywhere to have as director of the bank regulator the chair of a majority owner of a bank.

But if any of these people or groups of people should have stood up and called a halt (before Finlay finally did), so too (and perhaps above all) so should the Governor of the Reserve Bank. the chair of the Reserve Bank Board, and all their attendant senior managers and Board colleagues. Every one of them should have known the conflict was untenable and unacceptable (it was the immediate reaction of a whole bunch of former central bankers after my first post appeared), and quite damaging to the credibility of the institution.

But if you have been following this story since June, you may have noticed that there have been OIA responses, fairly timely ones, from the Minister and from The Treasury, and nothing at all from the Bank (just references to them and their involvement in some of the other documents). It isn’t for want of trying.

On 1 July, the day after the full Board was appointed, I lodged with the Reserve Bank a request for

…copies of all material relating to appointments to the new Reserve Bank Board, including all material relating to appointments to the “transition board”. 

Without limitation, this request includes all papers and other material generated within the Bank (other than of a purely administrative nature), any advice to/from or discussions with The Treasury, and any advice to and interaction with the Minister of Finance or his office on these issues.

It was directly parallel to similar requests lodged with the Minister and with The Treasury (both of whom responded substantively).

On 13 July, one of the many communications staffers got in touch to tell me

We have transferred your request to the Treasury as the information is believed to be more closely connected with the functions of the Treasury. In these circumstances, we are required by section 14 of the OIA to transfer your request.

You will hear further from the Treasury concerning your request.

I rolled my eyes – it was evidently a ploy (note I explicitly asked about material generated within the Bank, which other agencies would not necessarily be expected to have) and no doubt the Bank knew by then of my other requests – but did nothing more while I waited for responses from the Minister and The Treasury.

Having received those responses, on 3 September I went back to the Bank to renew my request (all on the same email chain, so there was no ambiguity about what the request was)

I am writing to renew my request.  You transferred the request to The Treasury, but (as I’m sure you know) their release provided nothing on anything the Bank, its staff or management, Board or “transitional board” members said, wrote or did.  I now know from the responses to similar OIAs to The Treasury and to the Minister of Finance, that the Board chair was involved in the selection of new board and transitional board members, Rodger Finlay (then a “transitional board” member) served on the interview panel for the second round of Board appointees, that RB legal staff had discussed issues around potential conflicts of interest for Rodger Findlay.    Against that backdrop (and the media coverage of the Findlay situation in late June), it is inconceivable that there were no papers, emails or the like on any matters relating to the selection and appointment of Board members, whether or not such material was conveyed to The Treasury or to Minister.

That was almost two months ago. It was only yesterday I thought to check up on it and have sent them a note pointing out that I did not yet appear to have had a response. It increasingly appears as though the request will have to be referred to the Ombudsman.

But no doubt the Governor and his colleagues will keep on with the spin about being a highly transparent central bank. At this point, you really wonder what they can have left to hide, but perhaps the secrecy and obstructiveness is just some point of unprincipled principle?

UPDATE: About 40 minutes after this post went out I had an email from the Reserve Bank offering what appears to be a fairly abject apology for allowing this request to have fallen through the cracks, promising process improvements etc. Accidents happen, system aren’t foolproof (even with 20 comms staff), so I am inclined to take them at their word, but I guess it means I might finally get a response by Christmas.

A bad idea

There is increasing attention being paid (among a certain class of nerdy central bank watcher) to the scale of the losses to the taxpayer central banks have run up as a result of their large-scale bond purchases (particularly those) over the time since Covid broke upon us in early 2020. In New Zealand, the best estimate of those losses was about $9.5 billion as at the end of September (to its credit, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand marks to market its bond holdings – and thus its claim on the Crown indemnity – something many other central banks don’t do).

A particularly interesting paper in that vein turned up a couple of days ago, published by the UK Institute for Fiscal Studies and written by (Sir) Paul Tucker, formerly Deputy Governor of the Bank of England and now a research fellow at Harvard. The 50+ page paper has the title Quantitative easing, monetary policy implementation and the public finances. (Public finances are quite the topic of the month in the UK, but although many of the numbers in the paper are very up to date, I suspect the paper itself was conceived before the fiscal/markets chaos of recent weeks.)

Tucker is particularly clear on what QE actually was: it was a large-scale asset swap in which the Crown (specifically its Bank of England branch) bought back from the private sector lots of long-term fixed rate government bonds, and in exchange issued in payment lots of (in our parlance) settlement cash balances held by banks and on which the (frequently reviewed) policy interest rate (here the OCR) is paid in full. When such an operation is undertaken, the entities undertaking the swap (and the taxpayer more generally) will lose money if policy rates rise by materially more than was expected/implicit when the swap was done. It is not a new insight – and I’ve been running the asset swap framing here since 2020 -but Tucker puts its very clearly, and in a context (UK) where the focus is less on the mark to market value of the bond position, and more on the annual cash flow implications (over time they are two ways – with different emphases – of putting much the same thing).

Tucker seems, at best, a bit ambivalent about the 2020 QE, illustrating nicely that whereas the early UK QE was done when actual and implied forward bond yields were still quite high, that was by no means the case by the start of 2020. But as he notes, that is water under the bridge now. Big bond purchases did happen, partly because few central banks have really got rid of the effective lower bound (although here he is too generous to many central banks, including the BoE, since few sought to reach the practical limits of negative rates (on current technologies) when they could have in 2020). But whether or not QE could have been avoided, given the macro outlook as it stood in March 2020, (whether by more reliance on fiscal policy or deeper policy rate cuts) it wasn’t. Central banks now have large bond positions, purchased at exceedingly low yields, being financed at increasingly high short-term rates.

In New Zealand, for example, total settlement cash balances have just been hitting new highs, in excess of $50 billion

Not all of this is on account of the LSAP (New Zealand’s QE). Weirdly, the Reserve Bank is still making concessional funding available to banks under the crisis Funding for Lending programme, but at least they are paying on the resulting settlement cash balances what they are earning from the loans. And fluctuations in government spending, revenue, and borrowing also affect the level of settlement cash balances.

But you can think of the approximately $50 billion of LSAP bond purchases (over 2020 and the first half of 2021) as having a counterpart in the level of settlement cash balances. On $50 billion of settlement cash, the Reserve Bank pays out interest at a current annual rate (OCR of 3.5 per cent) of $1750 million per annum. All the conventional bonds were bought at much much lower yields than that (unlike the Bank of England, our Reserve Bank did buy some inflation indexed bond, but they were less than 5 per cent of the total purchases.) This is a large net cost to the taxpayer.

The policy thrust of Tucker’s paper is to explore the idea of cutting those costs by changing policy and not paying interest on the bulk of settlement balances (or paying a materially below-market rate). Central banks did not always pay market rates on settlement cash balances, but it has become the practice over the last 20-25 years (in the Fed’s case being rushed in in late 2008 to hold up short-term market rates, consistent with the Fed funds target, when large scale bond purchases began). New Zealand followed a similar path.

Paying different rates on different components of settlement cash balances is quite viable. For some years until early 2020, for example, the Reserve Bank paid full market rates on balances it estimated each bank needed to hold (to facilitate interbank payments etc), while paying a below market rate on any excess balances (which were typically small or nil). The ECB and the Bank of Japan introduced negative policy interest rates some years ago, but protected the banks by paying an above-market rate on most of their settlement cash holdings, only applying the negative rate at the margin.

As a technical matter there would be no obstacle to the Bank of England (or the Reserve Bank of New Zealand) announcing that henceforth they would pay zero interest on 80 per cent of balances – some fixed dollar amount per bank – while only paying the policy rate (the OCR) on the remaining balances. Since the OCR would still apply at the margin, that part of the wholesale monetary policy transmission mechanism should continue to function (compete for additional deposits and you would still receive the OCR on any inflows to your settlement account). The amounts involved are not small: in the UK context (they did QE a lot earlier) Tucker talks of “the implied savings would be between 30 billion and 40 billion pounds over each of the next two financial years” – perhaps 1.5 per cent of GDP. In New Zealand, if we assume the OCR will be 4 per cent for the next couple of years, applying a zero interest rate to $40 billion of settlement cash would result in a saving of $1.6 billion a year (almost half a per cent of GDP). You could pay for quite a few election bribes with that sort of money.

It is an interesting idea but it seems to me one that should be dismissed pretty quickly, even in the more fiscally-challenged UK (where they already impose extra taxes on banks). It would be an arbitrary tax on banks, imposed on them because it could be (no vote in Parliament needed), by a central bank that would be doing so for essentially fiscal reasons (for which it has no mandate). Tucker rightly makes the point that central bankers should not seek to do their operations in ways that are costly to the taxpayer when there are cheaper (less financially risky) options available, but the time to have had those conversations was in March 2020 (preferably earlier, in crisis preparedness) not after you’ve taken a punt on a particular instrument and the punt has turned out badly (and costly).

It might be one thing to decide not to remunerate settlement cash balances, and thus “tax” banks, when those balances are tiny (for a long time we ran the New Zealand system on a total of $20 million – yes, million – of settlement balances) and quite another when those balances are at sky-high levels not because of any choices or fundamental demands by banks, but solely as a side-effect of a monetary policy operation chosen by the central bank (and in both countries indemnified by the Crown). Even central banks have no particular interest in there being high levels of settlement balances (it isn’t how they believe QE works); it is just a side effect of wanting to intervene at scale in the bond markets. But central banks have a choice, while the banking system as a whole does not (banks themselves can’t change the aggregate level of settlement cash, which is totally under the control of the central bank). The Tucker scheme – which to be fair, it isn’t entirely clear he would implement were he in charge – forces banks to hold huge amount of settlement cash, and then refuses to remunerate them on those balances.

To implement it would be a fairly significant breach of trust. Here, the Reserve Bank has kept on (daftly) offering Funding for Lending loans arguing that it needs to keep faith with some moral commitment it claims to have made, despite the crisis being long past. I don’t buy the “anything else would be a betrayal” line there – where in any case the amounts involved are small (this funding might be 25 basis points cheaper than they could get elsewhere) – but it would much more likely to be an issue if the Bank (or overseas peers) suddenly recanted on the practice of paying market interest on all or almost all settlement balances. $1.6 billion a year, even divided across half a dozen banks, would attract attention.

I’ve heard a couple of suggestions as to why an additional impost on banks might be fair. One was that QE may have helped set fire to the housing market, boost bank lending and bank profits, and thus an additional tax now might be equivalent to a windfall profits tax. I don’t buy either strand of that argument – I don’t think the LSAP made that much difference, but if it did it was supposed to do so (transmission mechanism working) – but even if I did in 2020, we are now seeing the reverse side of that process: house prices are falling, housing turnover is falling, new loan demand is falling, and there will be loan losses to come. Most probably any effects will end up washing out.

The second was the bond market trading profits the banks may have made in and around the LSAP. Perhaps there were some additional gains, but it is hard to believe they were either large or systematic (and won’t have come close to $1.6 billion per annum).

And the third was the Funding for Lending programme. No one can pretend that was not concessional finance for banks (were it otherwise banks would not have used the facility at scale), but the amounts involved don’t compare: $15 billion of FfL loans might have a concessional element over three years of $100m or so, not really defensible, but not $1.6 billion per annum either.

The taxpayer is poorer as a result of the LSAP and how market rates turned out (as Tucker rightly notes, it needn’t have turned out that way, although by 2020 the odds were against them – and as I’ve pointed out often there is no sign in NZ at least that a proper ex ante risk analysis was done). Those costs have to be paid for and will mean, all else equal, that taxes are higher over time. But conventional fiscal practice is not to pick on one sector and put the entire additional tax burden on them (“broad base, low rate” tends to be the New Zealand mantra). And that is so even if some in the New Zealand political space – sometimes including the Governor – seem to have a thing about (evil and rapacious) “Australian banks”.

Tucker devotes some space to the question of how banks would react (other than heavy lobbying on both sides of the Tasman and fresh pressure for the Governor to be ousted). Even if short-term wholesale rates – the policy lever – aren’t likely to be changed, banks are unlikely to just sit back and take the hit: they may not be able to recoup all or even most of it, but it isn’t hard to envisage higher fees, higher lending margins, tighter credit conditions across the board, including as boards become more wary about New Zealand exposures. Non-bank lenders – who hold no settlement balances – would be at a fresh competitive advantage (akin to what we saw with financial repression of banks decades ago)

But unfortunate as it would be if a change of this sort of made now – essentially an ex post tax grab so focused it would come close to being a bill of attainder – I might almost be more worried about the future. One might have hoped that the episode of the last couple of years would have made central banks more cautious about using large-scale bond buying instruments (and finance ministries more cautious about underwriting them), with a fresh focus on removing the effective lower bound on nominal interest rates (or if they won’t do that then looking again at the level of the inflation target). But knowing that big bond purchases could be done freely, with the taxpayer capturing all of any financial upside, and banks (and customers) wearing all/most of any downside, skews the playing field dramatically (and also further reduces the financial incentive on governments to keep inflation down – since the real fiscal savings on offer rise the higher nominal interest rates are. And what of banks? If there really is a place for future QE – I’m sceptical but I’m probably a minority – up to now banks have had no really significant financial stake one way or the other, but adopt the Tucker scheme once and banks will know it could be used on them again, and they will become staunch opponents (in public and in private) of any future large scale bond buying operations for purely their own financial reasons. And that is no way to make sensible policy.

Tucker has produced a 50 page paper which will repay reading (for a select class of geeky reader – although it is pretty clearly expressed). Since it is 50 pages there is plenty there I couldn’t engage with in depth in this post, but in the end my bottom line was initially “count me unpersuaded”, and then the more I thought about it the more I hoped that no one here would seriously consider the option (ideally not in the UK other). Far better to accept that losses have been made, that those costs will have to be paid for by taxpayers’ generally, and to redouble the efforts to ensure that in future crises there is less felt need for central banks to engage in such risky operations. Central banking, well done, really should involve neither large risk nor large cost to the taxpayer, and there are credible alternatives, even if neutral real interest rates stay very low (as Sir Paul assumes, and as still seems most likely to me).

UPDATE: Thanks to the reader whose query made me realise that in my haste to produce some stylised numbers, I forgot that the LSAP bonds had been purchased at price well above face value. The actual settlement cash influence from all LSAP purchases (central and local government bonds) was $63.9 billion. The rest of the analysis is unchanged, but the numbers (floating rate financing cost) are larger.

Inflation and monetary policy

In a post a couple of weeks ago I outlined some reasons for scepticism about the case for increasing the OCR by 50 basis points specifically at the then-forthcoming OCR review. My point was mostly about the data hiatus – the OCR decision would be taking place almost 3 months after the most recent CPI data and more than 2 months since the last main labour market data. It seemed (and seems) foolish for the MPC to stick to its schedule of review dates, including the long summer holiday it will give itself after next month’s MPS. It remains highly problematic that New Zealand governments have penny-pinched on core statistics and as a result we have such slow and infrequent macro data (we got the September quarter CPI inflation data yesterday, Switzerland by contrast released September month data on 3 October).

But there were also some considerations in the macroeconomics

  • the reasonably long lags in monetary policy (the OCR really only having been aggressively tightened fairly recently)
  • weakening commodity prices,
  • relatively subdued nominal GDP growth, among the very lowest in the OECD,
  • and some indications in core inflation measures that at least things had not been getting worse (continuing to spiral upwards)

All the inflation rates were, of course, unacceptably high.

Of course, as was universally expected the MPC did raise the OCR by 50 basis points in their October review. And yesterday we got the September quarter CPI data, which took by surprise all those who’d published forecasts (and, I guess, almost any of us who’d heard their headline forecasts). The outcome was higher than the Reserve Bank’s last published forecast, but since that forecast was more than two months old and anyway isn’t broken down into headline and core components – and they’d given us no sense of an update in the October review – not too much weight should now be put on that particular aspect of the surprise.

I don’t do short-term components forecasting, so what follows isn’t about the extent of the surprise (immediate prior expectations vs outcomes) but about what to make of the actual outcomes and current inflation. First, I’ll step through and update the charts from the earlier post.

These two – commonly used abroad – core inflation measures might suggest a little room for encouragement. Both quarterly changes are still high (far too high), and the gap between them is unprecedented, but they both look as though they could be past their respective peaks.

Monetary policy always takes time to work, and as this Reserve Bank chart reminds us it was only late last year that new mortgage rates really started rising.

But then there are these two exclusion measures

neither of which offers any reassurance.

And the picture here is similar

and from these monthly food price components, a bit of a mixed bag, but at least nowhere near as bad now as a few months ago.

The building market has been one of “hottest” areas of the economy and the labour market, with staggering rates of increases

Those numbers are still high but seem to be beginning to move in the right direction.

And then there are rents. Rents now make up just over 10 per cent of the CPI. On a quarterly basis the rents item in the CPI increased by 1.2 per cent in the September quarter, as high (equally high) as it has been this cycle. On an annual basis, this is the picture

In the CPI rents are included using a stock measure – the rate of increase in the average rents being paid by all tenants. And there is a certain logic to that, but we also know that new rents are falling (not just the growth rate slowing, but the level of rents dropping)

The flow measure – new rents – is (naturally) noisier but it (also naturally) leads the stock measure. There is a lag from monetary policy to the CPI for numerous reasons, but one is the choice to include average prices rather than marginal prices for rents. New rents – the ones policy and market developments affect most immediately – have now been falling for several months.

For completeness, I’m including this chart of the Reserve Bank’s sectoral factor model measure of core inflation.

It used to be the Reserve Bank’s preferred measure (and mine too – I championed it when I was still at the Bank), and it is probably still the single best guide to historical core inflation, but (in the nature of the technique) it is prone to big and lagging revisions when inflation is moving a lot. When the September 2021 CPI came out last October the model estimated core inflation then to have been 2.7 per cent (high, but still inside the target range), but the model – learning from what has happened since – now reckons core inflation last September was already up to 3.8 per cent. At this point, there really isn’t any information (good or ill) in the latest quarterly observations (which in any case use annual rather than quarterly data).

Moving beyond the specific inflation data series, there are a few other considerations that seem relevant to me. The first is to remember the lags (something notably absent from any of the media coverage I heard or read). There are at least two that are relevant. First, the September quarter CPI is really a mid-August measure: there are some noisy components – notably petrol – sampled weekly, and food is captured monthly but the whole thing is centred on 15 August, which is now a bit more than two months ago. So we (and the RB) aren’t exactly using real-time data. And second, the OCR takes time to work – this isn’t in dispute and shows up in all the modelling work – and on 15 August the OCR was 2.5 per cent (it was raised at the MPS a couple of days later). In fact – and it is easy to forget this now – until 12 April, the OCR was no higher than 1 per cent, the level (designed to be somewhat stimulatory) it had been at immediately prior to Covid. Now, of course markets and market pricing anticipated OCR increases to come to some extent, but the market (let alone firms and households) have been repeatedly surprised, constantly revising up their view of what OCR would be required.

I’m also not about to take a view on what the Reserve Bank could or should do in November. Market economists have to, I don’t. There is another round of really important labour market data due out in a couple of weeks (of which the most important bits should be the employment and unemployment numbers rather than wages). Of course, it lags too – centred on mid-August (and I really don’t understand why a household survey collected by phone within a quarter can’t be processed much more quickly than SNZ manages) – but it will still represent an addition to our knowledge. If, for example, the unemployment rate were to have dropped further, the argument for a big OCR increase would inevitably strengthen, all else equal – people will cut central banks less slack now than they might have if we were dealing with core inflation at, say, 3.5 per cent.

But is always going to tempting to just ignore the lags, even after increases in the OCR of unprecedented pace this year. And the lags are real, the lags matter. Robert MacCulloch, macroeconomics professor at Auckland, yesterday reminded us of Milton Friedman’s take on that issue almost 55 years ago.

There was a time for 75 or even perhaps 100 basis point OCR increases – last November or February perhaps – but for now it is much less clear that now is one of those times (and few if any of those now calling for such large increases now were calling for them then).

Of course, it doesn’t help that the MPC chooses to take a long summer holiday. That really should be revisited now.

And just one last graph, since air travel prices were a non-trivial influence in yesterday’s headline (and exclusion) measures. More than a little noise in those series.

Taxes

A conversation about the similarities and differences between taxes and social security contributions – my son is studying economics – prompted me to head off to the OECD website and get the data on total taxes and social security contributions as a share of GDP.

Here is what I found for 2021 (the OECD didn’t have this level of data for its Latin American members, and I omitted Ireland and Luxembourg, as their GDP numbers aren’t a suitable basis for these purposes).

That is the snapshot for the most recent year, 2021, and here is how New Zealand has compared to Australia and to the OECD median (countries in the first chart) for the period back to 1995 when the data are comprehensive.

To be honest, I was a little surprised. I guess time passes and impressions need updating from time to time: the story I had been walking around with (probably formed a decade ago) was that New Zealand tax revenue as a share of GDP fluctuated around the OECD median. It used to but, whether under National or Labour-led governments, it hasn’t done so for some time now. It isn’t that taxes are trending down in New Zealand – as a share of GDP in 2021 they were about the same as in the first couple of years of the Clark government but (a) the contrast with huge surge in tax revenue in the 00s is striking, and b) the OECD median has been edging up.

Of course, Australia is an important comparator, given the number of New Zealanders who look at making – and often do make – the move to Australia, and there is not much consistent sign of a change in the relationship between the two countries’ tax/GDP shares. And the Anglo countries have tended to be lower taxers than continental Europeans, and of the five Anglo countries we were the median taxer in 2021. Whatever one thinks of the US, Australia is hardly some unliveable hellhole (certainly the New Zealanders who move there don’t think so), although neither is it some star productivity growth performer.

Opposition parties seem to be making a fair amount of noise about tax as we begin to head towards next year’s election. And in many respects I sympathise: I find it hard to think of a single one of the tax increases put in place in recent years that I thought there was a good economic case for, and the fiscal drag that results from not indexing income tax thresholds is just bad policy at any time. We tax business too heavily, whether under National or Labour.

But…..you have to identify the things you don’t want governments spending money on, and that is where our main Opposition party seems to struggle.

The picture is, if anything, a little more stark if we shift from taxes and social security contributions to total current revenue. Natural resources owned by the state are part of the picture here (see Norway in this chart vs the first one above)

On this measure, we are even more firmly to the left of the chart.

(Incidentally, there is a line – that I probably thought had merit – that we don’t need quite such high taxes because our public debt is low. But the OECD database had net interest data, and we turned out to have been the median country last year. (Low central government debt, but persistently high relative interest rates I guess)

All this data has been taken from the OECD. There is some IMF data, and for a wider range of advanced countries. I don’t put a great deal of trust in the IMF numbers (too often I find NZ numbers that look odd), but they do capture places like Singapore and Taiwan.

But here is the IMF’s total general government revenue data, for 2021

On this measure and this group of countries we are somewhat further from the left. And if (like me) you aren’t overly interested in underperforming Mexico, Chile, and Colombia, note nonetheless the really low revenue/GDP numbers for Taiwan and Singapore. One can have a highly productive economy (both countries now have materially higher GDP per capita than New Zealand) with a materially low overall share of government revenue and/or taxes.

I focused on taxes in this post because (a) that is where the political debate seems to be, and (b) because in 2021 government spending was much more thrown about by Covid one-offs than tax revenue was. In the longer-run, it is the level of spending that determines how high taxes eventually will need to be. Over the recent decades New Zealand governments have had a good record of returning to balance or surplus whenever shocks push the budget into deficit (which means we are one of a minority of OECD countries like that, and very unlike say the US and UK where deficits have been normalised). But note that – with an overheated economy, and thus cyclically high revenue – we are not projected to be at balance or in surplus this year.

(And to anticipate questions as to what I would cut were I granted a magic wand, here are the first five that come to mind: Kiwisaver subsidies, fees-free first year tertiary education, R&D subsidies, the accommodation supplement (having freed up peripheral land and collapsed house/land prices), and NZS (raise the eligibility age to 68 in the next five years not the next 25). But realistically I do not expect New Zealand wil operate with a lower tax or revenue to GDP share than it has now.)

Rodger Finlay: The Treasury’s incident report

Regular readers will recall that since June I’ve been on the trail of events surrounding the appointment of Rodger Finlay as, first, a “transitional board” member (attending actual Board meetings) and then a full Reserve Bank Board member, at the same time that he was chair of NZ Post, the majority owner of Kiwibank, an entity subject to Reserve Bank prudential regulation and supervision. From 1 July, the new Reserve Bank Board had legal responsibility for all the powers the Reserve Bank had on prudential policy and implementation. Finlay’s term as NZ Post chair was due to expire on 30 June, but processes were in train that saw Cabinet reappoint him on 13 June.

The most recent post was here. The story gets a little complicated, and there have been various documents (from the Minister of Finance and from The Treasury), and comments from the Minister or his office reported by the Herald. From that 31 August post

In the earlier documents, it was noted that the Secretary to the Treasury had asked for a report from her staff as to what had happened, how, and what if any process changes needed to be made. That report was released to me this afternoon and is here.

Treasury incident report on Rodger Finlay conflicts and appointments

This was the first stage

It reflects very poorly on The Treasury staff concerned (Treasury is after all responsible for monitoring reviewing the Bank), the Reserve Bank Governor and Board chair (who seem to have been more interested in some legalistic narrow definition than in either appearances or substance), and the interview panel, including the head of the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority who, if the issue came up as Brian Roche says, should have been making the point that it should be unacceptable to have the chair of the majority owner of a bank sitting on the board of the prudential regulatory authority.

As I’ve noted before, it reflects poorly on Finlay too, who signed an application stating that he had no conflicts.

Treasury goes on to note that they did not advise the Minister of the potential conflict issue so that he could make his own informed choice, and nor were other political parties (who had to be consulted) advised.

They go on to note that in the process of planning to reappoint Finlay as NZ Post chair (a process that ran for some months) the issue of the potential conflict was also not advised to ministers.

And then we get this

I guess it is encouraging that Finlay belatedly raised the issue, even if he then let the bureaucrats convince him there wasn’t an issue.

Then there was this

From context, Project K is clearly the scheme to have the Crown buy out the existing (Crown bodies’) shareholdings in Kiwibank. Again, it is perhaps encouraging that Mr Finlay again broached the issue of potential conflicts. It also makes sense of this from the minutes of the RB “transitional board” on 9 June (which I had been puzzling over).

and the story rounds off here (Cabinet having made the NZ Post appointment on the 13th)

Which, as these things seem so often to do, again sheds particularly poor light on Grant Robertson as Minister of Finance, who was apparently totally unbothered by the actual or perceived conflicts even when Finlay himself had raised the issue – not even to accept the offer from Finlay to stand down from NZ Post until the Kiwibank deal was resolved (although as the RB was the regulator, if he was really serious he should have sought to take leave from that Board).

The report sums up

All of which is no doubt true, but it isn’t only (or even primarily) The Treasury’s reputation that should have been damaged by this (even if I now look on Finlay himself a little more charitably).

Anyone interested can read the rest for themselves, including the multi-page note on process improvements.

UPDATE:

It also reflects poorly on Robertson that (extract from my previous post) it is pretty clear that he actively misrepresented the situation to the Herald’s journalist.

Appointing an MPC

In my post yesterday I noted in passing that the Reserve Bank Board’s Annual Report had made no mention of their decision to recommend during the year the reappointment of two external MPC members (Bob Buckle and Peter Harris), notwithstanding the huge issues there appeared to be (inflation, and large monetary losses) around the handling of monetary policy. Perhaps it made sense to reappoint them, but the Board gave the public no sense of their reasoning or of what effort they had made to understand the contributions Messrs Buckle and Harris had made. Perhaps, after all, they had fought valiantly but fruitlessly to hold back the Governor’s excesses? (ok, just kidding, but you never quite know).

And then I remembered that months ago I had lodged an Official Information Act request with the Minister of Finance

and had not done anything with the response I had received in June.

There was 44 pages of material, but not very much insight on the externals (a fair amount of material related to the appointments of internal MPC members – the egregious Karen Silk appointment (having become Orr’s deputy for macro and monetary policy with absolutely no evident subject expertise or experience), the strange six month interim appointment of Adam Richardson, and then the uncontroversial appointment of Paul Conway, the new chief economist).

The reappointments of Buckle and Harris were not announced until February, shortly before their terms expired. However, it turned out that the Minister had accepted the recommendation from the Board back in October.

We don’t have the Reserve Bank report (my request was for 2022 material) but someone else requested the Board minutes from late last year, which are on the Bank’s website. In the minutes of the October 2021 meeting we find this

There is no sign of a paper, no sign of any re-interviewing of Harris and Buckle by the Board, no nothing. What is does reveal is a point I’ve been making since the 2018 reforms were passed that in this model it is the Governor who retains the utterly dominant position, even though formally the recommendation to the Minister comes from the Board. The best way not to get any awkward members on the MPC, anyone who might from time to time challenge a Governor, is to allow the Governor himself to recommend not just which staff should be on the committee, but which externals too. You will recall that in any case, Orr, Robertson and Quigley had previously agreed to bar from consideration anyone with an active ongoing interest in monetary policy or macroeconomic analysis and research (a prohibition that Robertson restated earlier this year).

We know – he keeps telling Parliament, the Board, the public – that even now Orr has no regrets about the handling of monetary policy. I guess that was even more so this time last year, when he was clapping his colleagues on the back and arranging for them to be reappointed. This was Orr and his then chief economist at the September 2021 Board meeting.

The complacency is almost breathtaking.

But that was September/October. The Minister of Finance did not take a paper to Cabinet’s Appointment and Honours Committee, advising his intention to make these reappointments, until February, but there is no sign of any greater scrutiny or reconsideration or questioning, even as the dreadful inflation outcomes emerged and the financial losses mounted. The relevant memorandum isn’t long (just a couple of pages). It has no discussion at all of the Bank’s handling of monetary policy or the contribution these external MPC members had made to undesired outcomes, no mention of the blackball on expertise, no consideration of fresh blood, but……..priorities priorities…..

Ah, and people wonder how Karen Silk came to be appointed……(between sex and her climate change enthusiasms).

In fairness, there was a sentence each about Buckle and Harris. Of Buckle APH was told

That would be welcome if true – and to be clear, Buckle is the least unqualified external MPC member – but of course neither we nor APH have any evidence of it. Buckle is barred (by the research blackball) from any ongoing work, has no particular academic history in monetary policy – more time series macro and tax – has not made a single speech in his time on the MPC or given a substantive interview, has never dissented from an MPC decision (members are in principle free to do so), and there has been no sign in the minutes of any distinctive scholarly insights or perspectives. But Adrian told the Board he was a good bloke, and the Board told Robertson, who told his colleagues. More likely, Buckle is an establishment figure who makes the odd geeky point and, most importantly, doesn’t rock the boat. After all, it is only 7.3 per cent inflation and $9 billion of losses on his watch.

What of Peter Harris, former political adviser in Michael Cullen’s office?

That first sentence is almost demonstrably empty. Harris had had almost no professional background in monetary policy ever. He too has given no speech, has never dissented, and has given one brief and unenlightening interview.

(One of the mysteries of these reappointments is that Harris was reappointed for only 18 months. It does make sense to stagger appointments, and people can only serve two terms, but the APH paper sheds no further light on why Harris’s appointment is set to expire on 30 September next year, most likely in the middle of the election campaign. 31 March 2024 would have seemed much more sensible.)

The following month there is a further APH paper re the internal MPC appointments (although there is an e-mail exchange suggesting it may never have been lodged). I’m not going bother with the overblown spin supporting the Richardson appointment (which was just interim), but here is how The Treasury and the Minister tried to bulk up Karen Silk’s qualifications for being on the MPC, making major macroeconomic stabilisation decisions for the next five years.

In other words, no relevant background at all. And she is the most senior person in the Bank (the deputy chief executive) responsible for its monetary policy and macroeconomic functions (there is the Governor of course, but he has the whole Bank to run, financial regulation etc).

I suppose that in a way one might almost feel sorry for Robertson: he couldn’t very easily refuse to appoint to the MPC the person Orr had chosen as his macro deputy, but…….Robertson appointed the Board, including the Board chair, and appointed Orr in the first place, and has never shown the least interest in holding the Governor, the Bank, or the MPC to account.

Ah, and of course that “representativeness” paragraph was there again

No mention of course that actual ongoing expertise is a disqualifying consideration, at least for the externals.

What of the future?

On that point, there was a mildly interesting snippet in the minutes of the very last meeting of the old Board, in June this year. They had a non-executive directors-only discussion, and for once recorded some of the material. In part that was to document their conclusion – for the Annual Report – that the MPC had done just fine, but there was also the bit I’ve highlighted.

Perhaps at the very end they were coming to regret going along with the Orr/Quigley/Robertson research blackball? By then, of course, a few days before their terms ended and their Board disbanded, their views counted for little (less than previously), but I suppose it was better than nothing.

With an even less-qualified Board, whose prime responsibilities are for other matters, we can only wait apprehensively to see what sort of names they come up with – no doubt led by the Governor, looking for tame members above all (at least if Orr is reappointed) – next year and beyond.

Oh, and in case you were wondering about the (previous) Board’s scrutiny of the external MPC members, there was also this in those June 2022 minutes

Not only is there no record of the substance (almost certainly a breach of the Public Records Act) but note the reference to an annual meeting. Presumably the previous one – the only one preceding the recommendation to reappoint – was around last June, when we can be almost certain no hard questions will have been asked (given the general complacency at the Bank at that stage).

It really isn’t good enough. We have a weak Board (old and new), under the thumb (at least on monetary policy) of a Governor who displays little expertise or interest in monetary policy, really dislikes alternative views or challenge, reappointing with little serious scrutiny external members who are barred from active, ongoing or future research or analysis, and who never seem to either speak or vote in ways that might establish some accountability. All involved share responsibility, but the prime responsibility rests with the Minister of Finance whose creation this system is, whose appointees these people are.

The clock is now ticking on the matter of Orr’s reappointment (or not). There are so many counts on which he should not be reappointed – not least of which is establishing some accountability, of the sort which might reasonably see few global central bankers reappointed at present (but a point warranted more for Orr than most, given his strong “I regret nothing” claims) – but it is now little more than five months until Orr’s term expires. Had he been told he would not be reappointed, or himself decided to seek greener pastures to pursue the things he seems really interested in, you’d think that would have to be announced very soon, if only to enable a proper search process for a replacement (there being no single obvious outstanding candidate to replace him).

Accountability document with no accountability

Decades ago when I was young Reserve Bank annual reports were – uninteresting accounts aside – mostly a bit of an essay on the economy (I got to write some of 1984’s and if I recall correctly one sentence survived to publication). Since the Bank had no independent authority over anything – power rested with the Minister of Finance – that model of Annual Report made a certain amount of sense. If there was any “accountability” involved, it was mostly about judging the fine line involved in offering some analysis without at the same time unduly upsetting the Minister of Finance. (The Bank was, at least in principle, accountable for analysis and advice offered to the Minister, but nothing much of that ever saw the light of day, the then recent innovation of the OIA notwithstanding).

These days, of course, the Reserve Bank is a power in the land, conducting monetary policy (with considerable discretion, but within the broad Remit set by the Minister of Finance), setting much of prudential regulatory policy (and implementing it all, with non-trivial discretion), and so on.

In recent years, both the size of the institution (staff numbers) and the size of the Annual Reports have both been growing rapidly.

The 2017 Annual Report was the last one pre-Orr.

But with all the people and all the pages, any serious sense of accountability and accounting for performance, seems to have diminished almost to the point of invisibility.

Over the years of this blog, I’ve written a series of posts about how the Reserve Bank Board – existing, per statute, primarily, to hold the Governor and Bank to account – had almost completely abdicated that responsibility. Twenty years ago Parliament required them to publish an Annual Report, and the hope had been that it might help, just a little, to sharpen accountability. Instead, the reports proved to be little more than show, mostly apparently designed to provide cover for management, rather than scrutiny and accountability for the public, the Minister, and MPs. Occasionally they showed signs of doing a slightly less bad job, but this year in their final report (the old Board and the old governance model were disbanded from 1 July) they slumped to new levels of quiescent inactivity. Perhaps – being about to head out the door – they no longer cared much, but since the chair (and one other member) were being carried over onto the new Board that shouldn’t have been an acceptable excuse for the contempt for the public that their silence and passivity display.

The full Annual Report is here. The Board’s report is on pages 6-9.

Over the last year, inflation has blown badly beyond the target range set for the Bank and the MPC. On the Governor’s own telling, that is so even if one focuses on the range of core measures. The deviation from target is by far the largest seen in the now 30+ year history of inflation targeting (and as a forecasting error would have been large even by the standards of earlier decades).

At the same time, the Bank’s speculative punt on the government bond market – the LSAP – turned very sour, and cumulative mark-to-market losses on the position are now in excess of $9 billion. The losses don’t fall to the Reserve Bank’s account – the government provided an indemnity upfront – but the losses (2.5% of GDP or so) were directly resulting from choices made by the Reserve Bank, the body the Board was responsible for monitoring and holding to account.

Oh, and during the year, two of the external MPC members were reappointed (by the Minister, on the recommendation of the Board). Given developments on the watch of those members (see above), you’d have hoped that some searching questions were asked, and some serious analysis and review undertaken by the Board. The Board might even have explained why they recommended one member’s renewed term should expire in the (likely) middle of next year’s election campaign.

As it is, not one of those issues was mentioned in the Board’s Annual Report. There is a full page devoted to monetary policy, and not once is inflation (or price stability, or the target band, or any cognate words) even mentioned. Just this

We learn that they looked at lots of papers, but nothing at all as to how they reached a conclusion that the MPC had adequately done its job (there might be a reasonable case to make, but they don’t even try).

The massive losses to the taxpayer get not a mention (again, perhaps there is a case to be made that – as the Governor claims – the benefits mean the costs were worth it), nor the reappointment of the external MPC members.

So no sign of scrutiny, no accountability. But if we heard nothing at all from the Board on such matters of substance, where the Bank has legal responsibilities, the Board was apparently keen to have us know of its other interests

But even then, no sign of evaluation, no sign of challenge? Not even (say) a suggestion that if there is going to a Central Bank Network for Indigenous Inclusion – the case for which is very far from obvious – perhaps the central banks of places like Iceland, Ireland, Poland, the UK, and France might be invited to join.

Reading this bumpf brought to mind this extract I spotted in a recent OIA release of Board minutes from a few months ago

So notwithstanding the limited tasks that Parliament has actually assigned to the Bank, the Board (which includes the Governor) thought it important that they shbould be free to used taxpayers’ time and money to decide their own priorities on things they have no statutory responsibility for. A platform for the interests and ideologies of management and board members (and recall that hardly any of the new and more powerful Board have any relevant expertise on subjects the Bank is actually responsible for).

Of course, it has long been easy to scoff at the old Board. Perhaps they were in an awkward position – most had little relevant expertise, they had no independent resources, and management controlled the papers they saw – but they still took the job (and the modest emoluments) without actually doing the job.

What of management who were, in effect, responsible for the remaining 150 pages of the report (of which much is the accounts)? (“In effect” since the new Board had legal responsibility, but hadn’t been around during the year under review).

The Governor never wastes an opportunity to claim that the Bank is very transparent (it is anything but) and so of course you’d suppose that in his Annual Report, in a year when monetary policy outcomes were so poor (inflation) and expensive (LSAP) there would be an extensive and nuanced treatment of the issues, making the best case no doubt for the Bank but at least engaging on the record. Well, no one who had ever watched Orr would actually expect that, but it is what one might have hoped for if accountability in the New Zealand public sector meant anything at all. It isn’t as if the Bank (or the MPC) has yet published much else serious on these issues, and the Annual Report is actually mandated by Parliament as a principal accountability document.

There are several sections where one might look for substance. This is the “year in review” bit on monetary policy (throughout the document you have fight your way through the tree gods imagery)

Under neither “key outcomes” or “key achievements” do actual inflation outcomes even get a mention.

There was this introductory section, about the environment they faced

It devotes one sentence to the biggest deviation from target in the history of NZ inflation targeting, but even then simply notes the fact.

And then right upfront there is the Governor’s own two-page statement, where this is all there is on monetary policy and inflation. You’d barely know from this that inflation was an outcome for which central banks were responsible, and that New Zealand inflation was an outcome Orr and the MPC had been responsible for.

No analysis, no reflection, no accountability.

Things aren’t much better on the LSAP losses, and the large bet on the bond market that is still open now. The losses do get a mention deep in the Financial Overview (they are a legal financial claim on the government) but there is nothing of substance in the policy sections, and they have the gall to run a “Balance Sheet Optimisation” section near the front of the report, which doesn’t even mention the scale of the bet ($50bn or so) they are continuing to take on future New Zealand bond rates.

By contrast, there are two pages on matters Maori (bear in mind that the Bank’s instruments – monetary policy and banking regulation – are whole economy ones, not differentiating between Catholics, Greens, lefthanders, stamp collectors, or….or…or Maori). And endless references to climate change. Eric Crampton did the comparison

Accountability – in the face, this time, of huge deviations from desired outcomes (whether the inflation or the losses) – is non-existent. The Bank is presumably confident it can get away with all this because there is no sign that the government cares either. Neither party is doing its job.

We’ve heard previously Orr boldly claim that he regrets nothing about the last couple of years. There is an arrogance to it that is almost breathtaking. Here, on which note I’ll stop, is the Reserve Bank Board minutetaker’s record of Orr articulating the same story to the Board itself in May

(Even that latter claim has now been overtaken by events as they now recognise that core inflation is even higher than they thought then).

No regrets…..not for the arbitrary redistributions of wealth (which is what unexpected inflation does), not for the grossly overheated labour market which itself has collapsed businesses and livelihoods, and not for the coming (and most likely) recession required to squeeze core inflation back out of the system.

Nothing.