ABC PM tonight–major policy shift by New Zealand RB?

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Stephen Long from ABC News brought to my atten­tion the fact that the Reserve Bank of New Zealand appears to be con­tem­plat­ing a return to reg­u­lat­ing lend­ing.

This is only hint­ed at at present, but it rep­re­sents a major shift in Cen­tral Bank thinking–and a wel­come one, from a debt-defla­tion­ary point of view.

I’m inter­viewed about it on PM tonight; in the mean­time, here are some rel­e­vant excerpts from the Reserve Bank of New Zealand: Finan­cial Sta­bil­i­ty Report, May 2:

Debtwatch May 2007: Booming on Borrowed Money

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It goes with­out say­ing that I’m a Cas­san­dra amongst the Pollyan­nas crow­ing about Aus­trali­a’s cur­rent eco­nom­ic per­for­mance data. Low infla­tion, low unem­ploy­ment, and no sign of a wages break­out, are the usu­al­ly-quot­ed sweet eco­nom­ic indi­ca­tors (admit­ted­ly with some strange bed­fel­lows, includ­ing a rel­a­tive­ly slow rate of eco­nom­ic growth for these con­di­tions, and a huge bal­ance of trade deficit despite the best terms of trade in his­to­ry).

So how do I jus­ti­fy the stance of a Cas­san­dra? Because things can’t con­tin­ue as nor­mal, when nor­mal involves an unsus­tain­able trend in debt. At some point, there has to be a break–though tim­ing when that break will occur is next to impos­si­ble, espe­cial­ly so when it depends in part on indi­vid­ual deci­sions to bor­row.

Debtwatch April 2007: Who’s having a housing crisis then?

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Who’s having a housing crisis then?

Glob­al eco­nom­ic atten­tion has been focused on the sub-prime lend­ing cri­sis in the Unit­ed States recent­ly, and many local ana­lysts have made sooth­ing nois­es to reas­sure Aus­tralians that “it could­n’t hap­pen here”.

The USA’s sub-prime mar­ket is indeed a pecu­liar­ly Amer­i­can phe­nom­e­non; but the lev­el of Aus­tralian house­hold debt (the sum of mort­gage debt and per­son­al debt) is every bit as extreme as the USA’s. And con­trary to pop­u­lar opin­ion, our debt binge dwarfs Amer­i­ca’s. As the chart below shows, Aus­trali­a’s house­hold debt to GDP ratio has been grow­ing more than three times as rapid­ly as the USA’s since 1990. The ratio has grown at an aver­age of just over 2% per annum in the USA; it has grown at over 6.8% per annum here.

Debtwatch goes blog

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A sub­scriber to my Debt­watch newslet­ter sug­gest­ed that I estab­lish a blog. I plan to pub­lish my month­ly Debt­watch report here, as well as send­ing it out to sub­scribers.

Next month I will also start a USA ver­sion of Debt­watch. The recent pan­ic on Wall Street can be seen as yet anoth­er “cor­rec­tion”, but it might also be the begin­ning of the unwind­ing of Amer­i­ca’s long-run­ning hous­ing bub­ble, which has dri­ven pri­vate debt lev­els there to over 160 per cent of GDP–higher even than Aus­trali­a’s. While we def­i­nite­ly have enough debt “home brew” of our own to trig­ger a cri­sis, we are as always just min­nows next to the USA; the old say­ing that “if the USA sneezes, Aus­tralia catch­es a cold” may come home very pow­er­ful­ly soon if the world’s largest econ­o­my actu­al­ly comes down with the pneu­mo­nia of a debt defla­tion.