It’s our Superpower to create money says Reserve Bank chief economist

On Tuesday 19th May John Campbell, host of TVOne Breakfast, interviewed  Yuong Hu, Chief Economist of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand and asked him about printing money. If the Reserve Bank is going to buy billions of dollars in Government bonds where does the money come from?

Q. Is Quantitative Easing the same as printing money?

A. Well the process is very similar. But rather than being bedazzled by the term Quantitative Easing (and us economists love throwing around these fancy terms), it might help if I can set the scene. I think the name of the game is still the same. We want to lower interest rates. The economy is taking a big hit right now. It needs all the support it can get. And the central bank can provide that support by pushing interest rates low and keeping them low. So we have got to find different ways of getting interest rates down. Quantitative Easing is a fancy name. You probably would have heard of the OCR. That is a more traditional way of doing monetary policy but we are now using Quantitative Easing. A good analogy would be the OCR is like 10 man rugby – very traditional but Quantitative Easing is (inaudible) backline.

Q. Are you printing money? Are you somewhere out the back with the printer?

A. Metaphorically we are. That’s one of our special powers. Central banks can print money or create money. These days it’s done electronically. We’re in a digital world. It’s not analogue. We are not physically up there turning the crank and the handles and money coming out. If I can I can use a simple analogy. There are retail interest rates like mortgage rates and these set at a margin  above the wholesale interest rates. We pay the retail price. We are  trying to do with Quantitative Easing is to lower the wholesale interest rates in the economy, in this case Government Bond rates. Then banks can pass on the lower rates and this will lead to lower mortgage rates and lower business rates.

Q. Yes but can I come back to my obsession? But you are creating money. Who gives you the right to do that? Who says you can?

A. Well the Government does. I mean it’s written. It’s our superpower if you like. Legislation says that. All central banks have that power, just like Government has the power to levy taxes and change taxes. Central banks have the power to create money.

Q. When the Government eventually repays you what happens to the money?

A. It gets unprinted. When that money gets repaid, it sits on the Reserve Bank’s balance sheet and we just metaphysically destroy it by undoing it with a few keystrokes.

Q.  It just ceases to exist. Boy. You can see how people get confused by this, can’t you?

A. I think people get confused by the Quantitative Easing. To the uninitiated it feels astounding, but central banks actually do this on a daily basis. We have been in the business of creating money for years. There is nothing untoward about it. We have done this for many decades. It’s just that it has grabbed all the headlines. It’s like finding out you can lift the line-out jumper.

End of interview

My take on this is that he didn’t spell out the mechanism by which interest rates are lowered. I understand from a letter that Grant Robertson wrote to Amanda Vickers that buying bonds on the secondary market, that is from banks in NZ and overseas, pension funds and other institutions is the method they prefer because it lowers interest rates, or is supposed to.

However my belief is they should buy bonds directly from Treasury because it then Treasury has a debt to another branch of Government and the debt can just lie on the books. There is no need for repayment. This is the big difference between what they are doing now and what would be best for taxpayers. I read that Grant Robertson and those in RBNZ have not ruled out this possibility. It is just that they had better get on with it because one bank economist estimated the other day that RBNZ is buying at a rate of $1.1 billion a week.

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The Minister of Finance replies to a plea to use monetary financing

Amanda Vickers of Waikanae wrote in March to the Minister of Finance and here is his reply.

16 April 2020

Amanda Vickers 

Dear Amanda

Thank you for your email on 27 March 2020 regarding the Large Scale Asset Purchases (LSAP) programme. In particular, I note your suggestion that the Reserve Bank of New Zealand buy bonds directly from the Treasury rather than using the secondary market.

On 23 March the Reserve Bank announced a LSAP programme of purchasing New Zealand Government bonds on the secondary market. This followed the Monetary Policy Committee’s decision that further monetary stimulus was needed to meet its inflation and employment objectives in the light of intensifying economic implications of the coronavirus. The programme will purchase up to $30 billion of New Zealand government bonds, across a range of maturities in the secondary market over the next 12 months.

The LSAP programme is designed to help the Bank meet its economic objectives of keeping inflation low and stable and supporting maximum sustainable employment. The Bank would normally do this by changing the Official Cash Rate (OCR). But the OCR is currently at an historic low of 0.25 percent, therefore it is using LSAP as another tool to lower interest rates.

While central banks have the option to purchase bonds directly from government treasuries, the Reserve Bank is currently making its purchases in the secondary market. Doing so can influence the bond markets to reduce longer term interest rates thereby reducing the cost of borrowing for households and businesses. It will also enable the sellers of assets to use the money they receive from the Reserve Bank to switch into other financial assets, such as new lending. These are effects that could not be achieved through the direct purchase of government bonds from the Treasury.

The Reserve Bank will continue to follow developments and has the option to take further action to support stability in New Zealand’s financial system – such as widening the asset classes that could be purchased under LSAP. Purchasing Government bonds directly from Treasury is one such option that could be taken up by the Monetary Policy Committee if it were deemed appropriate and consistent with financial system stability.

Thank you for your interest and taking the time to raise your views.

Yours sincerely

Hon Grant Robertson

Minister of Finance

 

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