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Macroprudential policy

Macroprudential policy aims to reduce the likelihood of a financial crisis by restraining excessive lending during upturns (booms) and making banks and households more resilient during downturns (busts). It focuses on risks to the financial system as a whole and complements our baseline prudential policies, which apply to individual banks.

How macroprudential policy works

Our short video ‘Booms, busts and the way between’ explains the role of macroprudential policy and the tools we have to smooth out boom-bust cycles.

Audio: One of the lessons we learned following the global financial crisis is the capacity for boom bust cycles in economies to turn into really bad busts and for those cycles to create real damage for both the financial systems and the economy.

Macro prudential policy is another part of our prudential policy framework.

Firstly, it's about building the resilience of the financial system so that if risk is building up, if there is extra risk being taken on by households and businesses, that the financial system and financial institutions have the ability to withstand the cycle when it turns from boom to bust. That's the first objective.

The second objective is really about trying to dampen some of the buildup in that risk to begin with. It may be around trying to dampen rapid growth in credit, rapid growth in house prices, or rapid growth in other asset prices that might be behind the buildup in risk that we're seeing in the financial system.

One of the biggest examples of a boom bust cycle that we've had here in New Zealand would be the commercial property and share market crash that we saw in the late 1980s.

Of course in the lead up to the crash, share markets were rising rapidly, high levels of construction of commercial properties and very rapid increases in commercial property prices. The share market crash came along, commercial property prices plunged and we saw the sector rapidly coming under water and a lot of pressure put back on the financial system as a result of that.

Really macro prudential policy is about managing that risk, trying to ensure that the system is more stable through the cycle if you like.

There are 4 tools in the Reserve Bank's macro prudential policy tool kit.

The first is known as the counter-cyclical capital buffer. This is really where we would require the banks to hold an extra margin of capital during the boom part of the cycle so that when the boom turns to bust, if in fact it does, the banks have an extra margin of capital that they can then call on to meet loan losses.

The second one is known as the sectorial capital overlay and this is very similar to a counter-cyclical capital buffer but it's really about holding extra capital against a particular sector that the banks might be leaning to, for example the household sector, the farming sector, or potentially the commercial property sector. Again, very much about providing resilience but in a more targeted fashion.

The third tool is known as the loan to value ratio for residential housing lending, and this is really a limit on the amount of high loan to value ratio lending or low deposit lending that the banks are able to do for the household sector.

Also of course that high LVR lending potentially fuels rapid house price growth and so that might be another reason why you would use that particular instrument.

The fourth tool is the core funding ratio and this is a tool that we already have in place in New Zealand. It's a permanent fixture for the banks.

There are a number of reasons why we might change the core funding ratio.

Potentially if the banks are facing an increase in risk, the Reserve Bank could require them to hold more core funding, funding that would be more likely to remain in the system during a downturn, so that's retail deposits for example.

By holding more of that stable funding, they'd be less likely to stop lending in a downturn because the funding would remain in the system.

These are very much temporary tools. They're not intended to be used through time in a permanent fashion. They're used when we see evidence of a problem and so there may be long periods where the tools are not needed to be used at all.

Boom bust cycles or cycles in the economy and in the financial system are of course a fact of life. Macro-prudential policy certainly won't prevent those cycles from occurring. What it will do is provide some cushioning to the cycle. It will hopefully clip the highs and the lows to some extent so that the flow of credit and the flow of financial services in the economy continue through time.

It's not about preventing the cycle or dampening it completely. It's about taking some of the extremes out of the cycle.

Financial stability

Macroprudential policy is one part of our toolkit for maintaining financial stability—the consistent supply of financial services that the economy relies on. It can reduce the impact of a stress scenario on the financial system by:

  • building additional resilience in the financial system, so that banks can support the economy even when it is under stress
  • reducing risky lending during booms, so that in the case of a bust, banks have fewer losses to absorb and households are less likely to default on their loans.

The financial system is procyclical

The financial system by its nature is procyclical (see Diagram A). This means financial cycles tend to be self-reinforcing and amplify economic cycles in both upturns and downturns.

Booms in the financial cycle can be made worse if banks, investors and households underestimate the level of risk. Investor and borrower behaviour can be shaped by relying too heavily on recent news and asset performance.

Diagram A: Boom-bust cycles

Macroprudential policy boom bust cycle

As asset prices rise, provisions for non-performing loans fall and credit spreads (the gap between yields/interest rates on riskier debt and low-risk debt) narrow. This in turn may encourage banks to relax their lending standards and households to take on more debt.

This cycle can continue until a macroeconomic downturn occurs, whether due to a specific shock (for example, a global credit crunch) or a general economic slowdown that causes lenders and borrowers to reconsider whether debt levels are sustainable. Businesses and households may cut spending and sell assets to pay down debt, while banks tighten standards for new loans.

The cycle then works in reverse and the downturn in the financial cycle and the slowdown in the economy become mutually reinforcing.

Market failures

The procyclicality of the financial system is intensified by market failures. Banks and households may act rationally to make the best of their individual positions, but if they all act in the same way and invest in the same assets, they contribute to the system's procyclicality and increase the risk and scale of a correction in asset prices.

Macroprudential interventions may be necessary when we identify that market failures are operating to amplify boom-bust cycles in the financial system.

Read about how we use a range of macroprudential tools to maintain the stability of the financial system

Macroprudential policy decision-making

Our approach to macroprudential policy decision-making involves monitoring systemic risk, policy design and policy assessment. We then assess the effectiveness of the policy once implemented.

We regularly inform the Minister of Finance and the Treasury about significant macroprudential policy developments and any emerging risks to the financial system.

Also, a Memorandum of Understanding between the Minister of Finance and our Governor defines macroprudential policy and has guidelines for how we use the policy.

Read the Memorandum of Understanding between the Minister of Finance and the Governor of the Reserve Bank on macroprudential policy and operating guidelines.

Macroprudential indicators

We monitor a range of indicators that have been shown to have some ability to predict risks and vulnerabilities that can lead to system-wide distress.

We use the indicators as the basis of our macroprudential policy decision-making. We discuss the leading indicators in the Financial Stability Report.

Read the Financial Stability Report

We publish a chart pack of indicators every quarter.

View the Indicator chart packs

Systemic risk monitoring

We use the macroprudential indicators as the basis of three inter-related assessments:

  1. Probability of a correction in the credit cycle: We look at the indicators of credit growth and the levels of asset prices to assess the probability of a correction in the credit cycle. This provides an initial red flag that systemic risks are increasing and that we should consider macroprudential intervention.
  2. Financial system resilience: We have a range of tools to assess the resilience of the financial system. This includes monitoring bank capital and liquidity ratios, stress testing of the financial system and analysing the vulnerability of credit portfolios. The level of household debt is an important indicator of the potential scale of losses that would need to be absorbed and therefore the likelihood of triggering procyclical behaviour by banks.
  3. Potential feedback effects with the economy: Our lending standards form an important component of the assessment. An industry-wide easing of lending standards could reduce the resilience of the financial system over time. We monitor lending standards through the credit conditions survey, loan-to-value and debt-to-income ratios of new lending, and supervisory interactions.

Read more information on macroprudential indicators

See our bank dashboard to read about capital and liquidity ratios

Read about stress testing of the financial system

Policy design

If our systemic risk monitoring suggests we may need to apply a macroprudential intervention, we use an options analysis to decide on the most appropriate response. We consider how much the risk is due to baseline prudential standards and how this affects the options analysis.

As part of our supervision of banks, we also monitor whether they are managing their risks wisely. Before applying any macroprudential tools, we have discussions with individual banks on their lending standards and how they are mitigating identified risks. This may reduce the need for macroprudential intervention.

If the indicators suggest a build-up of risk in the financial system generally, there could be a case for using a capital instrument such as a countercylical capital buffer. If the risks are focused on a particular sector like agriculture, sectoral capital requirements may be more appropriate.

If our systemic risk monitoring suggests an elevated risk of a correction in the housing market, with borrowers taking on excessive mortgage debt, then we would consider LVR restrictions (and other transactional instruments that may be available in future) to be more effective than capital tools.

Read about our macroprudential tools

Policy assessment

Once we have identified that a macroprudential policy response appears to be necessary, and the macroprudential tools we intend to use, we will consult on our policy proposal.

Feedback from the public, regulated entities and other stakeholders can help determine the scope and calibration of the proposal and any necessary exemptions.

Consultation will include a provisional cost-benefit analysis or, if appropriate, regulatory impact assessment. These will be reviewed in light of consultation feedback.

Once we have implemented a macroprudential tool, we monitor its effects and publish an assessment of those effects in our Financial Stability Report. Our assessment will consider whether:

  • the basis for the policy response has changed
  • there were any significant unintended consequences (for example, avoidance activity)
  • the mix of tools used and/or their calibration is optimal.

Based on this assessment, we will decide whether the policy response should be altered or discontinued.

Framework document

The framework document for macroprudential policy outlines the purpose of the tools and how they transmit to financial stability.

It is intended to improve the quality, predictability and transparency of our decision-making and provide a basis for holding us to account for our macroprudential policy decisions.

We will update the framework document from time to time to reflect legislative and policy changes.