8% weekly interest rates: What’s going on

Following the “revelation” that a loan shark in Porirua was charging 8% interest per week on loans, the government has offered to do nothing. Blogs on the left hand side of the spectrum were irritated by this, as they feel that people are being taken advantage of (the Standard) (Tumeke) (Frontline – prior to this incident). Lets investigate the issue.

Now I am not disputing the fact that people are, in some sense, “being taken advantage of”, however I do disagree with the solution that the other blogs follow – setting a cap on interest rates. In this sense I am in agreement with government policy. Read more

Credit crisis comes to Australasia?

Following the freezing of Hanover finance’s finances we have heard that the National Australia Bank, and the Australia New Zealand Bank have both had to increase provisions for bad debt (NAB, ANZ).

These revelations put the relatively dovish stance of the RBA and the RBNZ in perspective – after all, central bankers are more than aware of the fact that the Great Depression was, at least partially, the result of a collapse in the banking sector which exacerbated a tightening in credit conditions. In a sense, the credit crisis in Australasia is now as bad as it has been in modern times – even if (arguably) things are improving in other parts of the world.

Even so, every time I attempt to pat the RBA or RBNZ on the back a couple of phrases come in the back of the head and prevent me, these phrases are “moral hazard” and “inflation”.

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What is this savings problem?

So far we have discussed Kiwisaver and national savings in fairly loose terms. We know that (part of) the purpose of Kiwisaver was to increase national savings and that our interest in national savings stems from the fact that we want New Zealand to have more productive capital.

So before we can discuss the myriad of burning questions surrounding these issues – and more broadly surrounding New Zealand’s productivity (such as if Kiwisaver achieves the greater capital goal even if it theoretically doesn’t increase savings) we need to ask, what is the savings problem?

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Moral hazard in the Bear market

Megan McArdle worries a little about the moral hazard problem that JP Morgan and the Fed’s ‘rescue’ of Bear Stearns creates (although her major point is that we should be relieved that it was rescued from default). knzn’s take on the issue puts the problem in perspective:

[Hypothetical future investor]: I own a major stake in an investment bank, and I’m getting concerned about their risk management. Should I bring this up at the shareholders’ meeting?

[Hypothetical friend]: I don’t see why. What’s the worst that can happen? The bank will go sour, the Fed will arrange a bailout, and you’ll only lose 95 percent of the money you invested, 96 tops. What’s the big deal?

Avoiding the taxman

Talking to Agnitio today, he mentioned that the result of having a top personal tax rate above the company tax rate is tax avoidance and evasion. The idea being that people with wealth will try to pipe income through businesses to avoid paying the top tax rate. Well, it seems he’s empirically justified in that view (kinda) Read more

Economists tackle ‘the surge’

Economists like to claim that their discipline is about providing tools for analysis, not answers to ready-made problems. OK, so they’re hardly alone in that but Dani Rodrik links an interesting paper by Michael Greenstone that walks the walk. Greenstone

…shows how data from world financial markets can be used to shed light on the central question of whether the Surge has increased or diminished the prospect of today’s Iraq surviving into the future. In particular, I examine the price of Iraqi state bonds, which the Iraqi government is currently servicing, on world financial markets. After the Surge, there was a sharp decline in the price of those bonds, relative to alternative bonds. This decline signals a 40% increase in the market’s expectation that Iraq will default. This finding suggests that, to date, the Surge is failing to pave the way toward a stable Iraq and may in fact be undermining it.

I really like how he uses modern economic and econometric techniques to tackle important public policy issues. However, we shouldn’t rely too heavily on the wisdom of the market in evaluating the effectiveness of the surge. While the aggregation of information that occurs in market pricing might be a better indicator than anecdotal evidence, ‘The Market’ doesn’t have superpowers that grant it access to information nobody else has. Many of the decision makers in that market likely have little more access to information about the surge than you or I. Aggregation tends to dampen the influence of extreme views but it doesn’t guarantee accuracy.