The RBNZ has now officially announced maximum loan-to-value ratios (LVRs) for the public in a speech here.
They noted that the run up in house prices has increased the probability of a sharp decline in house prices – an event that may in turn lead to instability in the New Zealand financial system. Their thinking is:
“The LVR restrictions are designed to help slow the rate of housing-related credit growth and house price inflation, thereby reducing the risk of a substantial downward correction in house prices that would damage the financial sector and the broader economy.”
In this way it is pre-emptive – current credit growth is moderate, but they want to ensure they don’t lose control of credit growth in a way that makes the entire financial system (which is implicitly insured by government) fragile.
The Bank makes a specific point of saying that the concern is around mortgage borrowing, and a run up in house price expectations associated with already realised increases in house prices, that they are targeting with macro-prudential policy – as unlike an increase in the OCR which is targeted at broad demand, it is a specific lift in demand for housing that is driving current house price appreciation. It is not that NZ households have become more willing to spend per se – the concern is that NZ households, and the banks willingness to lend to households, is focused excessively on housing assets.
I will admit that I am not completely sold on the argument they have put forward for LVRs, and I’m perplexed at why they are communicating it by discussing house prices (thereby mixing it with issues of affordability for the public) rather than simply stating that they are of the view that banks are taking on too much risk in terms of mortgage assets at present.
But they have clearly laid out their argument, and they have made sure that they communicate it rather than just doing it. And this is great – I am alway impressed by how transparent our central bank is! I think that this helps them when it comes to introducing specific, one-off, policies such as the current LVR limts.