I don’t think Reserve Bank governor Adrian Orr particularly cares if we don’t like him and that’s one of the reasons I do.
Orr and his RBNZ team copped it from all sides last week as they lifted the official cash rate by more than we all expected - delivering a 50-basis-point hike.
We should probably bear in mind that they didn’t actually hike by more than they had already said they would.
Wednesday’s move was precisely in line with the path forecasted in February - a 50-basis-point hike with a projected OCR peak at 5.5 per cent.
It was the rest of us - journalists, economists and markets - that convinced mortgage holders they might be in line for some relief.
You’d also think Orr’s harshest critics, those who have been screaming the loudest about the high cost of living, would now be cheering him on as he holds firm on the inflation fight.
But no, National finance spokesperson Nicola Willis, for example, said: “Mortgage holders up and down the country were holding their breath and hoping for some relief. Instead, they’ve been given another punch in the guts.”
It was great copy, but surprising from Willis who has previously written strong words about the need to chase inflation down.
To be fair, the rest of her statement was aimed at the Government, which does seem to be leaving all the heavy lifting on inflation to the RBNZ.
I find myself agreeing with Act leader David Seymour who said: “Adrian Orr has been left with an impossible choice. He either hikes the OCR and makes life harder for mortgagees, or he puts the brakes on and inflation hangs around stronger for longer.”
Seymour’s target was “wasteful” government spending.
He and I would likely have different views about what constitutes “wasteful”, regardless there has been some reactive stuff from the Government - such as last year’s cost-of-living payments - that hasn’t helped the inflation fight.
Seymour might also have added a critique of the Government’s performance on immigration.
When we look at why we are diverging with Australia on inflation and interest rates, the ongoing tightness in our labour market stands out as a key difference.
In the end, the RBNZ weighed up things such as the recent US and European banking woes, the weak December quarter GDP, and inflationary fallout from the cyclone and Auckland floods, and decided that on balance not much had changed.
That may well be true. The banking crisis has certainly faded for now and it never really had a direct impact on us in Australasia anyway.
But I also think the case made by the likes of Kiwibank’s Jarrod Kerr - to pull back and wait for the past year’s worth of rate hikes to flow through the economy - has merit.
I’d have been happy to see a 25-basis-point hike last week while we waited for more conclusive data on inflation.
I am concerned that we’ll do too much damage to the economy in the hurry to get inflation down.
Last week I wrote about how even a so-called soft landing, with unemployment going back to a historically moderate 5.3 per cent, would still involve adding more than 50,000 Kiwis to the dole queue.
I worry about the speed at which we could see the economy slam into recession. I worry that it could end up causing more suffering than an extra six months or so waiting for inflation to come back in line.
I’ll admit those worries might be emotive though. When you start trading off the lesser of two bad scenarios things quickly get subjective.
That’s why we leave it to professionals in the form of independent central bankers.
Doing the right thing not the popular thing is a vital attribute for a Reserve Bank governor. That’s why I’m inclined to back Orr even when I disagree with an OCR call.
I’m naturally less hawkish, but perhaps I’m just made of less steely stuff.
There have been a lot of worrying headlines about job losses and construction company failures.
But other data suggests that higher interest rates haven’t had much impact yet.
StatsNZ figures on Thursday showed household net disposable income increased by 1.8 per cent to $57.4 billion in the December 2022 quarter, while household spending increased by 1.7 per cent to $55.3b.
The nominal rise in spending is underpinned by higher inflation of course, but that hardly undercuts the RBNZ’s hawkish stance.
Even data about the number of people in arrears on mortgage payments shows that (despite a steady seven-month rise from historic lows) numbers remain well short of where they were from 2017 through 2019, an era that we might now describe as “normal times”.
The RBNZ’s pivot from dove to hawk seems to have been difficult for some people to process.
But I think Orr’s approach has been consistent.
Monetary policy is a blunt tool, as the old saying goes, it’s more like an axe than a scalpel.
Orr has been prepared to swing hard in whichever direction he believes needs attention.
It’s a bold approach and it doesn’t leave much room for error.
It is clearly too bold for many but I suppose we can take some comfort in the chorus of criticism. It’s a reminder that, if nothing else, the RBNZ has not fallen victim to the populist thinking.