RBA stuck

Great slide from the NAB budget presentation:

RBA Interest Rates in a Cleft Stick

The RBA is in a cleft stick:

  • Raising interest rates would increase mortgage stress and threaten stability of the banking system.
  • Lowering interest rates would aggravate the housing bubble, creating a bigger threat in years to come.

The underlying problem is record high household debt to income levels. Housing affordability is merely a symptom.

There are only two possible solutions:

  1. Raise incomes; or
  2. Reduce debt levels.

Both have negative consequences.

Raising incomes would primarily take place through higher inflation. This would generate more demand for debt to buy inflation-hedge assets, so would have to be linked to strong macroprudential (e.g. lower maximum LVRs for housing) to prevent this. A positive offshoot would be a weaker Dollar, strengthening local industry. The big negative would be the restrictive monetary policy needed to slow inflation when the job is done, with a likely recession.

Shrinking debt levels without raising interest rates is difficult but macroprudential policies would help. Also policies that penalize banks for offshore borrowings. The big negative would be falling housing prices as investors try to liquidate some of their investments and the consequent threat to banking stability. The slow-down in new construction would also threaten an economy-wide down-turn.

Of the two, I would favor the former option as having less risk. But there is a third option: wait in the hope that something will turn up. That is the line of least resistance and therefore the most likely course government will take.

APRA fiddles while housing risks grow

From Westpac today (emphasis added):

….With the Reserve Bank sharing our caution around 2018, along with ample capacity in the labour market (unemployment rate is 5.9% compared to full employment rate of 5.0%) and stubbornly low wages growth, there is only scope to cut rates. But as we have argued consistently, a resurgent housing market disallows such a policy option. Indeed, the minutes refer to “a build- up of risks associated with the housing market”. A tighter macro prudential stance seems appropriate.

Indeed, as we go to press, APRA has announced new controls, restricting the “flow of new interest-only lending to 30 per cent of total new residential mortgage lending” with a particular focus on limiting interest only loans with a loan-to-value ratio [LVR] above 80%. Currently, “interest-only terms represent nearly 40 per cent of the stock of residential mortgage lending by ADIs”, so this policy will restrict the terms at which a marginal borrower can access credit (investors and owner-occupiers). APRA also noted that they want banks to manage growth in investor credit to “comfortably remain below the previously advised benchmark of 10 per cent growth”. This is not a hard change to the target as had been mooted recently in the press (some suggesting the 10% limit could be as much as halved), but it does suggest lending to investors will continue to grow at a pace meaningfully below 10%. Looking ahead, the next RBA Stability Review (April 13) may provide more clarity on the macro prudential policy outlook and potential triggers for further action. For the time being though, the 2015 experience offers an understanding of the potential impact of this further tightening.

To head off a potential bubble burst, the RBA and APRA need to drastically slow house price growth. I am sure the big four banks are urging caution but they would be the worst hit by a meltdown. What APRA is doing is fiddling around the margins. To make housing investors think twice about further borrowing, APRA needs to cut the maximum LVR to 70%. And half that for foreign borrowers.

Murray has endorsed macroprudential | Macrobusiness.com.au

Posted by Houses and Holes
At 12:52pm on December 8, 2014
Published with permission from Macrobusiness.com.au.

From Callam Pickering:

The one glaring problem with the Financial System Inquiry is that it didn’t push hard for the introduction of macroprudential policies. That takes the heat off both the RBA and APRA.

The truth is that higher capital requirements — combined with higher risk weighting on mortgages and tax reform — would have a similar (potentially larger) effect as macroprudential policies. In the long term financial system and tax reform is clearly the better approach to creating an efficient and sustainable housing and financial sector, but these reforms will take longer to implement.

That’s right. Murray’s principle recommendations are macroprudential. APRA is now free (and is being urged) to implement higher capital requirements. They do not require anything from government to go ahead. This is basically the model of MP envisaged by Prof Ross Garnaut.

A more interesting question is whether or not APRA will still act on specific areas of risk such as interest-only loans. These are a menace, as the US bust showed, and are surging. Murray did not mention them, being too granular, but said the following on MP more particularly:

The global financial crisis (GFC) prompted policy makers and regulators around the world to reconsider their approach to maintaining financial stability. Some countries at the epicentre of the crisis have since expanded their prudential perimeters and adopted more formal and centralised institutional arrangements. This includes establishing single entities with responsibility for macro-prudential regulation. Australia has long adopted what could be called a ‘macro-prudential’ approach to supervision under the rubric of financial stability. Yet, Australia’s institutional structure is relatively informal and decentralised. The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) and APRA each have responsibility for financial stability. However, most macro-prudential tools can only be deployed by APRA. This places a strong premium on cooperation between the two agencies.

Against the background of developments overseas, the Inquiry has considered whether Australia should change its institutional arrangements for making and implementing financial stability policy.

However, the Inquiry does not see a strong case for change in this area. Although approach has advantages and disadvantages, alternative institutional approaches are yet to be tested — as indeed is the effectiveness of many macro-prudential tools. For this reason, the Inquiry recommends no fundamental change to the current institutional arrangements for financial stability policy and no change to the prudential perimeter at this time.

That is neither here nor there and APRA will still be free to raise capital requirements for specific loans if it sees fit.

RBA targets mortgage lending

Bank of England throws egg all over RBA, APRA | | MacroBusiness

Of all of the financial systems in the world, Australia’s is most similar to the UK. Of all of the restrictive housing planning systems in the world, Australia’s is most similar to the UK. Of all of the house price boom and bust cycles in the world, Australia’s is most similar to the UK. The Bank of England also practices inflation targeting though its cap is 2%. The UK and Australia share a similar economic model reliant upon external borrowing to fund consumption and low export-to-GDP ratios but the main difference is that the UK economy is a more diverse mix of value-adding sectors with a much higher contribution from manufacturing.

But today there is one very new difference. The UK has announced it will henceforth practice macroprudential regulation to control its housing cycles and prevent them from hollowing out the economy…..

Read more at Bank of England throws egg all over RBA, APRA | | MacroBusiness.