It was not so long ago that Reserve Bank Financial Stability Reports were a bit of a snore.
These six monthly reports on the soundness and efficiency of the New Zealand financial system have been produced only since 2004 and were originally an opportunity for the central bank to dryly observe that the wheels were all going around as they should, that there were these little areas of concern, here, here and here... but if we were all good boys and girls and behaved ourselves, things would be fine. Roll over. Back to sleep.
Not these days though.
It might be argued that next Wednesday's (FSR) will be more closely watched by the banks and the marketplace than recent Official Cash Rate review announcements. This would be saying something because all the recent OCR announcements have been very much 'live' as to whether the RBNZ would 'stick or twist' with interest rates.
However, the advent in 2013 of the RBNZ's new 'macro-prudential toolkit', specifically aimed at financial stability issues, and the growing heat around the Auckland housing market, and now regional markets too, has meant the FSR announcements are becoming a bigger and bigger deal.
Last May's FSR did come complete with a hand grenade lobbed in the direction of the Auckland house market, namely the minimum 30% deposit restriction put on Auckland housing investors. This was a tweak on the LVR macro-prudential tool that had been unleashed toward the end of 2013 via an initial 10% 'speed limit' for banks on the amount of new high LVR lending they could undertake.
Also announced in that FSR was a loosening of the 'speed limit' to 15% outside of Auckland.
Both those measures took effect in November.
Six months later we can now see that the 30% deposit rule in Auckland has not slowed investors down. The case is, rather, that some investors have simply been encouraged to go elsewhere, hence markets such as Hamilton and Tauranga now really taking off. The move to loosen the 10% limit for banks on high LVR lending outside of Auckland would appear to have contributed to the heating of non-Auckland markets.
I think, though the RBNZ won't admit it, that the reigniting of the Auckland market from March onwards was the principal if not only reason why the central bank didn't cut the Official Cash Rate from the current 2.25% last week. This, in my view odd decision, has been made to look more odd by the Reserve Bank of Australia's move this week to cut rates across the ditch to 1.75%, meaning there's now a half a percentage point difference in the rates between our two countries and our dollar's flying, something the RBNZ absolutely does not want.
The inherent conflict between the central bank's monetary policy and achieving inflation of 1%-3%, and on the other hand, its financial stability role, is absolutely raging. I've said before and will say again, this conflict between the RBNZ's two roles needs sorting out. In the meantime in my view it is absolutely wrong that the central bank is using one arm of its designated areas of responsibility to lean against the other. In this case it's using monetary policy to back its financial stability mandate. It should not be doing that.
Presumably the delay in OCR reduction last week was to give more time to load up on more financial stability measures against the housing market.
So, given that the RBNZ is certain to be under even more pressure to cut rates at its next review in June, the real question is whether a grenade, or perhaps a bag of grenades, is going to be furnished at the coming week's FSR.
The additional consideration in all this is the Government's May 26 Budget. Last year there was some co-ordination between the RBNZ and the Government, with the RBNZ announcing the new Auckland-centric LVR rules, while the Government made tax rule changes.
It seems likely there will be something else from the Government in the Budget this year. Whether it will be John Key's ruminated-on land tax for offshore-based investors, or something else, we shall have to wait and see. Just on that, I've got to say my preference would be for a land tax targeted at both NZ-resident and offshore-based investors on undeveloped land.
As for the RBNZ, the question is whether it's had time to develop some new measures, a new 'macro-prudential tool', perhaps. My inclination is to say it hasn't had that time. Remember, the RBNZ did want to see how it's Auckland-focused investor measures fared before introducing anything else. And I would be certain that the RBNZ has been taken aback by how quickly any impact from the November-introduced measures dissipated.
So, I think in all probability we'll be looking toward the end of year for completely new measures from the RBNZ. I still reckon we may see some form of debt-to-income ratios introduced at some point.
If we assume there won't be any new rules brought in at next week's FSR, will there be tweaks of existing measures? Well, depending on if the Government's got something lined up for the Budget, and what that turns out to be, a tweak of some of the RBNZ's existing LVR rules next week would have to be a live possibility.
If a 30% deposit rule for Auckland investors didn't work, how about 40%, or even 50%? It might be considered worth trying as a stop-gap measure.
Of course, however, if the RBNZ did up the ante against Auckland investors, the thinking would be that this would increase the charge of those investors into the regions, further warming some already now very parts.
The indications from the RBNZ up till recently anyway, have been that it is comfortable to allow a certain amount of catch-up by the regions on Auckland's prices - though I would stress that given some of the inconsistencies that have been coming through from the RBNZ's messages in recent months, caution needs to be applied in taking the central bank too literally.
Auckland, and the rest later
It may be though that if there is to be something announced next week it will be aimed again at Auckland and then we will see something wider applied to the rest of the country later. If the regions really do start running rampant (and if we saw deposits of 50% targeted at Auckland investors, then regions MIGHT well go feral), it would be a stroke of a pen job for the RBNZ to tighten the LVR speed limits in the rest of the country back to 10% and higher minimum deposits for investors in the rest of the country could be brought in too.
At the very least we can expect some strong and cautionary words about the housing market in the coming week's FSR. And my bet is we will see some 'tweaking' of the LVR rules, but not massively. But nobody with an interest in this game should be feeling too relaxed, because it is to be imagined that the second half of the year will bring more. Much more.