Mark Lister, 9 September 2019

Like most central bankers, Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr attended the Jackson Hole symposium in the US last month. The Bank released a commentary from Orr upon his return, which shed some further light on his thinking.

As well as describing the plethora of risks the world is facing at present, both economic and political, Orr noted that the "NZ waka is tied off to the global ‘risk free’ interest rate wharf." What he means is that rather than operating in isolation, the Reserve Bank must be mindful of what its global peers are doing.

Central banks in Europe and Japan already have negative interest rates, while other forms of stimulus are becoming more common in those places. Brexit uncertainty will keep UK interest rates and the sterling low, while Australia has a 1.00 per cent OCR that matches ours.

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The US has been one of the few places where interest have been rising in recent years, and we've started to see that reverse as the global economic slowdown has found its way Stateside.

In short, Orr is suggesting that as larger players around the world have taken this approach, we have have little choice but to follow, at least to some degree.

If they don't, our interest rates start to look out of whack with others, which pushes our currency higher in relation to many trading partners. That puts pressure on exporters and tightens financial conditions, crimping growth.

That’s not to say the 0.50 per cent OCR cut from August was solely about what’s happening overseas. There are local issues at play as well, such as low headline inflation and falling business sentiment.

The other notable comments in Orr's commentary were around the different impact lower interest rates were having on borrowers compared with savers.

He was at pains to point out that his key tool, the OCR, is a blunt one that is not personalised. The Reserve Bank can't please everyone, and while lower interest rates benefit a wide range of New Zealanders, they also create challenges for another large group.

Savers fall into the second camp, and Orr noted those "in low risk deposits will need to invest more actively".

Just like he wants businesses to invest and consumers to spend, it sounds like our Reserve Bank Governor is encouraging us to get our money out of term deposits and invest it elsewhere.

That sort of endorsement should be music to the ears of financial advisers and wealth managers like ourselves. Indeed, there is some logic to moving into higher return opportunities, especially with the investment hurdle so low.

At the same time, it makes us a little nervous to see conservative investors, many of whom are retired with less tolerance for risk, dramatically changing their investment strategy.

Shares, businesses, property and other asset classes will provide long-term returns far superior to bank term deposits, especially given the current outlook for interest rates.

However, the price investors pay for these higher returns is greater volatility. Share prices and property prices go up and down as economic conditions change, while dividends and rents can also fall at times.

Those frustrated with low deposit rates should give some thought to Governor Orr’s messages, but in moderation. It’s not the time for risk adverse investors to go out and bet the farm chasing higher yields or returns.


This article was also published in the New Zealand Herald on 8 September 2019 - 'Mark Lister: Investors should ignore Adrian Orr'