Eye on the Banks

Written By: - Date published: 8:10 am, March 29th, 2011 - 21 comments
Categories: overseas investment - Tags: , ,

The next  Fabian Seminar at Connolly Hall Thursday 31 March at 5:30pm will feature economist Geoff Bertram examine how the high level of New Zealand’s overseas debt that figures prominently in much policy discourse is largely an increase in foreign-currency liabilities voluntarily taken on by mainly Australian-owned banks in pursuit of private profit.

Only to a relatively small degree is it a rise in the net liabilities collectively owed by New Zealand entities (households, firms, Government) to offshore creditors. Yet the overseas debt is repeatedly portrayed like a black cloud hanging over public discussion of the fiscal deficit, the case for and against sales of state-owned assets, the conduct of monetary policy, and the way the financial sector is regulated or not regulated.

Geoff’s paper dissects the overseas debt to understand (i) its anatomy (who exactly owes what exactly to whom, with what implications for the solvency of the national economy); (ii) the forces driving its increase in the past two decades, focusing especially on the funding mechanisms adopted by the banking sector; and (iii) some proposals for changes in policy to refocus the national economy in ways that might make it more robustly structure.

Geoff Bertram is an economist and author. His most recent work on this topic was written for the Institute of Policy Studies (Policy Quarterly Vol 5 No 1) and can can be found here. You can register for the seminar on the Fabians website.

21 comments on “Eye on the Banks”

  1. ianmac 1

    Does this mean that the people buying many expensive home products and overspending on house buying is not the main cause of private debt that Bill English keeps blaming us for? Key/English join the relatively low Govt Debt with the high Private Debt (That’s we naughty wasters!) as a reason for cuts and lowering taxes. Are they misleading us? Can’t be.

    • ZeeBop 1.1

      The way I figure it works is like this, you buy out a NZ company, load it up with debt, debt held by yourself sitting in your Sydney Harborside Mansion and then you donate money to National and ACT to make sure that your now heavily exposed debt ridden company has no competition. And how does Nat/ACT and Lab do that? Well they basically provide incentives for young motivated skilled people to leave for overseas, student loan debts, low wages, high house prices, high crime, low demand, poor food quality, no food culture, etc, etc. If you are young and have any prospects, or expectations, you’re out of here (NZ). The war on youth, on NZ’s future, that is the NZ political economy. The problem ditch Goff is that nobody believes in the Labour party they could, would, or want to, change the debt ridden excuse for an economy that is NZ.
      The elites only like you if you grow a new sector, or export some more stuff, that they can sell to foreigners, or you become a foreign landlord. Never dare grow NZ for NZ. Look how much they hate kiwibank, first thing they did was cut the 4% to 2%.

  2. Peter 2

    This should be interesting. It is not as if NZ users of Australian owned banks have deliberately gone out of their way to increase foreign debt by borrowing. New Zealand bank users do not control the amount of credit available, its cost, or its source. Whose owns the problem of foreign debt and how did it come about?

    • ZeeBop 2.1

      we are an export economy, exporters need to bring money back in, that means there must be money flowing back out. So either your population imports more stuff, or you borrow money from aboard to create a flow of money back offshore. So if you were a meat, wool, milk exporter you would sell your products, and only bring enough money back to cover your costs, create a fund in London or Sydney, and then you would borrow money from yourself so that the money flowing in to cover costs matches the money flowing out as payment on your interest, thus avoiding currency. Then you would vote and support parties that pushed young skill people overseas (so you had little competition) and push down wages so that the population could not afford a lot of imported goods. Then because all the good stuff is overseas, you’d move there. Hence a foreign landed absent gentry, welcome to the NZ class system, you can’t see it because its geographical.

  3. vto 3

    Election policy for sale on application…

    “We explicitly exclude any taxpayer help for banks and financial organisations under threat of failure if we are in government. We expect them to rise or fall on the basis of their commercial acumen and skill, the responsibility for which their CEO’s have explicitly accepted and made their sky-high salary claims on.”

    Because at the moment there is without doubt an implicit backing of the Australian banks by New Zealand taxpayers. For which the New Zealand taxpayers get zip.

    edit: if govt is not prepared to do this (which is they way EVERY (nearly) other business in NZ operates) then it is clear that there is an implicit bank backstop being provided by taxpayers and as such banks are quasi-state organisations meaning risk and return requires a re-balance away from all-risk-no-return as it currently stands for taxpayers..

  4. ChrisH 4

    How it happens is that the Australian big four borrow money in Europe and Japan (wholesale funding, ‘Eurobonds’, etc) and pump this into NZ to lend to all sides in bidding auctions for NZ real estate.
    This drives up the price and thus the amount that needs to be borrowed by anyone buying a house, in the same way that selling guns to all sides prolongs an African war over diamonds, gold or oil, and boosts the market the for guns.
    At the same time it fuels a real estate bubble which becomes the preferred ‘investment’ destination and builds political support for the process, cheered on by uncritical media, also largely foreign owned.
    The ratchet effect keeps going until NZ has hugely overvalued real estate but is at the same time effectively bankrupt with all the money it owes to Australian banks. The question has been raised as to whether the behaviour of the big four Australian banks in NZ could be regarded as a form of oligopolistic collusion.
    There are also very interesting questions as to why the wholesale funding borrowings by Australian banks in Europe and Japan for lending into $NZ are apparently greater than the borrowings for lending into $A directly, as if the Australian parents are happy for their Kiwi subsidiaries to generally engage in more risky asset bubble-blowing strategies than they can get away with back home in Australia.
    I’d be really interested if someone could draw Geoff Bertram out on these issues. Unfortunately Aucklanders like me, this is in Wellington, otherwise I’d be sure to attend and ask the questions myself.

    • Peter 4.1


      Thanks for this, very thought provoking.

      • Peter 4.1.1

        Are you suggesting that the Aussie banks operate in a more liberal environment here compare to Australia?

        • ChrisH

          I guess … Geoff Bertram would really know. Ta for support, it’s really a distillation of what people like GB and also Selwyn Pellett of the Productive Economy Council are saying, http://www.pec.org.nz/ , with a dash of Rod Oram, etc. And re 4.2.2, again pundits with an interest in the productive economy have weighed in against the credit bubble, but the bank economists interviewed by mainstream media bunnies, of course, do not and never have, maintaining “a silence closely resembling stupidity.” Incidentally that’s an old saying dating back a couple of hundred years.

    • RedLogix 4.2


      For a very long time I’ve said that the principal driver of asset/property price bubbles is excess credit creation by banks… for their own private profit.

      All other factors such as immigration, tax regimes, land price etc… are trivial by comparison.

      • KJT 4.2.1

        So. You take away credit creation from the private banks, where it should never have been in the first place.

      • Peter 4.2.2

        I’m learning ………… so who allowed this credit increase to happen? Was anyone advising against it?

        • Colonial Viper

          Peter – its the old rule – who allowed this to happen? Simply follow the money and you will find out.

          However, an underlying factor is a deep belief held by many in the private sector and in Government/Reserve Banks around the world that the market cannot be wrong. That the market is rational, it is self disciplining, it is self regulating.

          Essentially the watchdogs decided to stop watching because of their Chicago school free market ideology. An ideology which is nothing more than a complete canard but which National is still pushing on us today.

      • Herodotus 4.2.3

        Immigration you under play- peak net immigration 2003/4 = 90k. Average occupancy/dwelling 2006 census 2.46/dwg = 36,585 new dwelings above normal requirements.
        Considered activity building boom 24-26k house starts, recession say 1987-89 was 18k starts p.a.. from memory we had approaching 30k p.a. in the 2004-7 peak. Well beyond NZ substainable capabilities with land supply (avg section price in NZ QV 98 =$73k, Mar 06 =$176k and section price/House price ratio 1997 = 37%, 2007 =54%. So land prices on this measure were 10-20% overpriced, but there are other reasons for land prices increasing = Council keeping rates low and charging new fees onto developers, up to $50k/lot in Nth Shore cases) and construction levels + in leacky house remediation. Now if we had nil net immigration growth, we dampened the housing boom. Let alone other measures that the then govt was unwilling to act on.
        The banks ability to lend fueled this excess with cheep money and min govt controls (again a lack of action) at least this has changed with Core Funding Ratio being tightened.

  5. mikesh 5

    Presumably house prices would not have risen if there had not been excess demand. The banks cannot be entirely resposible, though probably they are the main beneficiaries.

    • Colonial Viper 5.1

      Excess demand?

      Don’t confuse real increases in demand for the underlying asset (e.g. from more immigrants moving into a city looking for residences) with increases in investor demand from asset price speculation.

      They are qualitatively completely different sources and characteristics of “demand”.

  6. mikesh 6

    “Excess demand?

    Don’t confuse real increases in demand for the underlying asset (e.g. from more immigrants moving into a city looking for residences) with increases in investor demand from asset price speculation.

    They are qualitatively completely different sources and characteristics of “demand”.”

    So blame the would be landlords for the price rises. But demand is demand, whatever the source.

    • Colonial Viper 6.1

      So blame the would be landlords for the price rises. But demand is demand, whatever the source.

      No it’s not. See my explanation above.

      In other words “real demand” =! “ponzi demand”

    • Carol 6.2

      Re the supply & demand ethos: if this (alleged) mechanism worked so well, why is it necessary to have multi-million dollar marketing & promotional industries in order to encojurage people to spend money on stuff?

      And real estate agents are pretty agressive on such promos – constantly ringing me and leaving leaflets in my mail to encourage me to sell the property I rent.

  7. Gina 7

    I’m another Aucklander that would like to go to this meeting. Can anyone record a Video or audio then post it here or youtube please?

    Is this Bank debt to loan out in home mortgages or do the Ozzie banks just create our mortgages from the fractional reserve leverage system?

    • Colonial Viper 7.1

      From what I read on Steve Keen’s debtdeflation website, the banks don’t even adhere to the fractional reserve leverage system any more. They lend out bank created cash first (by extending credit), and then worry about finding base cash later on to act as reserves.

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