Reserve Bank Governor ’embattled’

Michael Reddell isn’t a fan of the performance of Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr.

Croaking Cassandra: An embattled Orr

And then there was the press conference.   I’ve seen some pretty poor performances from Governors over the years –  early ones by Alan Bollard were often awkward, and as Graeme Wheeler became more embattled the defensive introvert, never comfortable with the media, took over.     But this one was the worst I’ve seen, and from someone who has many talents in communications.  But just not, so it is confirmed again, in coping with challenge, disagreement, or finding himself on the back foot.  I doubt a senior politician would have got away with it, and it isn’t obvious why an unelected bureaucrat, uncomfortable at facing serious scrutiny, should do so.

The Governor and Deputy Governor faced several questions about the possible impact of the Bank’s capital proposals on farm lending –  various commentators have suggested such borrowers will be among the hardest hit.  The Bank attempted to push back claiming that any sectoral impacts were nothing to do with them, and all about banks’ own choices.  But they seemed blind to the fact that banks will have more ability to pass on the additional costs of the higher capital requirements to some sectors, some borrowers, than others.  And that is because of a point the Bank never addresses: their capital requirements don’t apply to all lenders.

The Governor came across as embattled from start to finish –  embattled at best, at times prickly, rude, and behaving in a manner quite inappropriate for a senior unelected public official exercising a great deal of discretionary power, with few formal checks and balances.   BusinessDesk’s Jenny Ruth – who often asks particularly pointed questions about the exercise of the Bank’s regulatory powers, and the lack of transparency around its use of those powers – was the particular target of his ire, and at one point he tried to refuse to take further questions from her.

The press conference deterioriated further as it got towards the end.  Without specific further prompting, the Governor noted a certain frostiness in the room, and then launched off again in his own defence.

A couple of articles in the Herald in recent days tells us some more of the story.   The first was from Liam Dann, who has in the past provided a trusty outlet for the views of successive Governors, and the second was a column from Pattrick Smellie, under the heading “Bunker mentality returns to the RBNZ?”, evoking unwelcome memories of the Wheeler governorship.

Orr very much needs to be pulled into line, for his own sake and that of the country (as single decisionmaker he still wields huge untrammelled power).

At present, he is displaying none of the qualities that we should expect to find in powerful unelected official –  nothing calm, nothing judicious, nothing open and engaging, just embattled, defensive, aggressive, playing the man rather than the ball, all around troubles of his own making (poor process around radical proposals made without any robust shared analysis, all while he is prosecutor, judge, and jury in his own case).

He also notes something odd – “when we have no idea who will even be Secretary to the Treasury –  lead economic adviser to the government –  three weeks from now”. That’s if Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf stays in the job that long.

Is there really no replacement for him yet?

Reserve Bank must now consider employment alongside inflation

A new Policy Targets Agreement requires Reserve Bank “monetary policy to be conducted so that it contributes to supporting maximum levels of sustainable employment within the economy” as well as still keeping inflation between one and three percent.

I have no idea how the Reserve Bank will influence employment levels.

It could be tricky if the objectives clash.

Grant Robertson: New PTA requires Reserve Bank to consider employment alongside price stability mandate


Finance Minister Grant Robertson and incoming Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr today signed a new Policy Targets Agreement (PTA) setting out specific targets for maintaining price stability and a requirement for employment outcomes to be considered in the conduct of monetary policy.

The new PTA takes effect from 27 March 2018, when Adrian Orr starts his five-year term as Governor. The new PTA has to be signed under the existing provisions of the Reserve Bank Act 1989, which has price stability as the Reserve Bank’s primary objective.

The agreement continues the requirement for the Reserve Bank to keep future annual CPI inflation between 1 and 3 percent over the medium-term, with a focus on keeping future inflation near the 2 percent mid-point.

The new PTA now also requires monetary policy to be conducted so that it contributes to supporting maximum levels of sustainable employment within the economy.

“The Reserve Bank Act is nearly 30 years old. While the single focus on price stability has generally served New Zealand well, there have been significant changes to the New Zealand economy and to monetary policy practices since it was enacted,” Grant Robertson said.

“The importance of monetary policy as a tool to support the real, productive, economy has been evolving and will be recognised in New Zealand law by adding employment outcomes alongside price stability as a dual mandate for the Reserve Bank, as seen in countries like the United States, Australia and Norway.

“Work on legislation to codify a dual mandate is underway. In the meantime, the new PTA will ensure the conduct of monetary policy in maintaining price stability will also contribute to employment outcomes.”

A Bill will be introduced to Parliament in the coming months to implement Cabinet’s decisions on recommendations from Phase 1 of the Review. As well as legislating for the dual mandate, this will include the creation of a committee for monetary policy decisions.

“Currently, the Governor of the Reserve Bank has sole authority for monetary policy decisions under the Act. While clear institutional accountability was important for establishing the credibility of the inflation-targeting system when the Act was introduced, there has been greater recognition in recent decades of the benefits of committee decision-making structures,” Grant Robertson said.

“In practice, the Reserve Bank’s decision-making practices for monetary policy have adapted to reflect this, with an internal Governing Committee collectively making decisions on monetary policy. However, the Act has not been updated accordingly.”

The Government has agreed a range of five to seven voting members for a Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) for decision-making. The majority of members will be Reserve Bank internal staff, and a minority will be external members. The Reserve Bank Governor will be the chair.

 

Reserve Bank Governor-Designate, Adrian Orr, said that the PTA recognises the importance of monetary policy to the wellbeing of all New Zealanders.

“The PTA appropriately retains the Reserve Bank’s focus on a price stability objective. The Bank’s annual consumer price inflation target remains at 1 to 3 percent, with the ongoing focus on the mid-point of 2 percent.

“Price stability offers enduring benefits for New Zealanders’ living standards, especially for those on low and fixed incomes. It guards against the erosion of the value of our money and savings, and the misallocation of investment.”

Mr Orr said that the PTA also recognises the role of monetary policy in contributing to supporting maximum sustainable employment, as will be captured formally in an amendment Bill in coming months.

“This PTA provides a bridge in that direction under the constraints of the current Act. The Reserve Bank’s flexible inflation targeting regime has long included employment and output variability in its deliberations on interest rate decisions. What this PTA does is make it an explicit expectation that the Bank accounts for that consideration transparently. Maximum sustainable employment is determined by a wide range of economic factors beyond monetary policy.”

Mr Orr said that he welcomes the intention to use a monetary policy committee decision-making group, including both Bank staff and a minority of external members.