IMF Executive Board Concludes 2010 Article IV Consultation with New ZealandPublic Information Notice (PIN) No. 10/64
May 26, 2010
Public Information Notices (PINs) form part of the IMF's efforts to promote transparency of the IMF's views and analysis of economic developments and policies. With the consent of the country (or countries) concerned, PINs are issued after Executive Board discussions of Article IV consultations with member countries, of its surveillance of developments at the regional level, of post-program monitoring, and of ex post assessments of member countries with longer-term program engagements. PINs are also issued after Executive Board discussions of general policy matters, unless otherwise decided by the Executive Board in a particular case. The staff report (use the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view this pdf file) for the 2010 Article IV Consultation with New Zealand is also available.
On May 12, 2010, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded the Article IV consultation with New Zealand.1
New Zealand rode out the global crisis better than most advanced economies, thanks to strong demand from fast-growing Asian markets and the robust Australian economy, a flexible exchange rate, the absence of a banking crisis, and significant and effective policy easing. Nevertheless, the crisis highlighted long-standing vulnerabilities due to high household and external debt.
Led by domestic demand, the economy emerged from the recession in mid-2009. A large output gap contained growth in labor costs and eased inflationary pressures, with the annual CPI inflation falling from the peaks of 4–5 percent in 2008 to about 2 percent in early 2009. After cutting the official cash rate (OCR) by 575 basis points from mid-2008 to early 2009, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) has kept it at a historical low of 2½ percent. The strong pre-crisis fiscal position also enabled the delivery of a large fiscal easing that was in train prior to the crisis, equivalent to almost 6 percent of GDP spread over the two years to June 2010.
The current account deficit narrowed sharply in 2009 to 3 percent of GDP, as both trade and income balances improved. Private capital inflows continued to finance the deficit, and net foreign liabilities increased marginally to 90 percent of GDP. The exchange rate depreciated sharply at the onset of the crisis, but has appreciated by over 20 percent since early 2009, reflecting a recovery in commodity prices and global risk appetite, and a widening of interest rate differentials.
Banks remain sound but faced some funding difficulties during the crisis. In response, the government introduced a temporary wholesale funding guarantee that helped banks obtain term funding of about $NZ 10 billion until they were able to access the market directly in late 2009. Banks remain exposed to highly-indebted households and house prices appear overvalued.
A gradual recovery is expected to continue, with growth projected at 3 percent in 2010–11. The outlook is subject to downside risks related to the pace of global recovery and borrowing costs for countries with high external debt, such as New Zealand.
Executive Board Assessment
Executive Directors commended the authorities for their decisive policy response, which helped cushion the impact of the global crisis on the New Zealand economy and is supporting a gradual economic recovery. Directors noted that the fiscal and monetary policy frameworks, including the flexible exchange rate regime, have served New Zealand well during the crisis. Key policy challenges are to lift sustainable economic growth and reduce the vulnerabilities associated with a deteriorated fiscal position and high private external debt.
Directors concurred that New Zealand’s strong fiscal position has appropriately enabled a sizeable stimulus to cushion the impact of the crisis. At the same time, they noted that the fiscal easing, which was already underway prior to the crisis, has worsened New Zealand’s medium-term fiscal outlook. Directors therefore welcomed the government’s commitment to limit the increase in public debt, including the plan to use any revenue over-performance to reduce debt. Many Directors felt that, unless downside risks to growth materialize, shifting the macroeconomic policy mix towards faster fiscal consolidation, focused on spending reforms, would merit consideration. It would relieve pressure on monetary policy and the exchange rate, limit the increase in the current account deficit, create fiscal space to deal with future shocks, and reduce the risk of a recurrence of external funding problems.
Directors considered the current accommodative monetary stance as appropriate. They supported a measured withdrawal of the stimulus once the recovery is well established, given that spare capacity is expected to persist over the next few years, helping to keep inflation within the 1–3 percent target range. If downside risks to inflation materialized, there could be room to loosen monetary policy. Directors observed that the inflation-targeting framework performed well during the global crisis and saw no clear net benefits to increasing the inflation target.
Directors noted that the exchange rate is overvalued from a medium-term perspective, while recognizing the uncertainty surrounding the estimates. The exchange rate would need to be significantly lower for an extended period of time for New Zealand’s external liabilities position to be materially reduced.
Directors noted that New Zealand’s financial sector has remained resilient through the global crisis. Banks are well capitalized and nonperforming loans, although increasing, are low. Directors encouraged the authorities to continue to be vigilant to risks arising from banks’ exposure to short-term external and household debt and the possible impact of a correction in house prices. They welcomed the closer collaboration with the Australian authorities on crisis management and stress tests, and recommended that banks’ capital and provisioning be strengthened if these tests suggest the need for additional buffers.
Directors noted that prudential and structural reforms would help reduce external vulnerabilities. They welcomed the introduction of a prudential liquidity policy, including a core funding ratio, which should reduce banks’ reliance on short-term external funding. Directors also underscored the importance of structural reforms to raise productivity and labor force participation, including tax and benefit reform, to help lift potential growth and export capacity, and support economic rebalancing, thereby reducing vulnerabilities related to external debt.