COMMENT:

A regulator is about to announce some important decisions, decisions that will impact not only the share prices of the major companies it regulates, but the wider economy as well.

The most immediate market gauge of the latter will be the impact on the New Zealand dollar.

So, the regulator jealously guards that information until the big reveal, right?

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Not if it's the Reserve Bank wearing its prudential regulator hat and making decisions about how much additional capital the country's banks will have to find.

Last month, the RBNZ summoned the New Zealand Bankers' Association and the head honchos of the banks to an 8:30am meeting to background them on the decisions to be announced at noon.

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The chief executives, chief financial officers or other worthies were all asked to sign non-disclosure agreements to stay mum until noon, but then they were allowed to depart the meeting.

The Reserve Bank clearly regards the media as far less trustworthy – not only did we all have to sign NDAs, but we were locked up at central bank headquarters from 10am until noon.

And happy to be so locked up, I might add. Having time to actually read such material before having to report it is highly desirable from a journalist's point of view.

Purists, of course, such as former Reserve Bank official Michael Reddell, who said briefing the banks the way RBNZ did was "extraordinarily cavalier," thought the risk of a journalist leaking the information before the embargo came off was too high.

There's no question these decisions were market sensitive. The impact was dramatic: the kiwi dollar jumped a quarter of a US cent, a big move relative to its prevailing tight trading ranges at the time, and the share prices of three of the four Australian banks and the sole NZX-listed bank, Heartland Group, all rose.

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ANZ Bank, which owns New Zealand's largest and eponymous bank, had prudently asked both ASX and NZX to suspend trading in its shares until it issued a statement more than an hour and a half after the decision became official.

Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr during his press conference after releasing the final decisions on their capital review. Photo / File
Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr during his press conference after releasing the final decisions on their capital review. Photo / File

But then its shares rose as much as 2.6 percent on ASX. None of the other banks considered a trading halt necessary.

ANZ's NZ subsidiary is comparatively larger, accounting for more than 20 per cent of its parent's assets, than the National Bank of Australia-owned Bank of New Zealand at a bit over 14 per cent, Westpac's at 13.5 per cent and Commonwealth Bank of Australia-owned ASB Bank at not quite 11 per cent.

The timing of the announcement and ASX's open coincided and, through the day, NAB saw its shares rise as much as 2.2 per cent, Westpac's shares put on as much as 1.4 per cent while CBA shares gained as much as 1.1 per cent.

ANZ diverged from the rest of the major banks by giving one of its economists, Liz Kendall, her own lockup, providing all the materials so she could release her commentary shortly after midday.

The other bank economists, unsurprisingly, had to wait for the midday announcement before they could start preparing their commentary. BNZ's commentary by head of research Stephen Toplis was released more than three hours later.

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More than one market participant was unhappy about the apparent jump on the information ANZ appeared to have.

One fund manager complained about ANZ's perceived advantage: "I found it very frustrating to see ANZ publishing its research note at 12:07pm versus the noon release."

BNZ said neither it nor its Australian parent saw the announcement "as material, so NAB and BNZ considered the appropriate response was to note it to our respective markets."

ASB said it couldn't talk on behalf of its parent CBA, which didn't respond to BusinessDesk's questions.

As for giving its economists the same head start ANZ gave theirs: "We didn't feel the need to rush out any economic commentary on the day, as our priority was focused on fully understanding the outcome of the review," ASB said.

ASB economist Mark Smith's commentary wasn't published until the next day.

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Westpac said it took "a number of factors into account when making the decision not to enter a trading halt on the ASX or NZX, in line with governance and continuous disclosure obligations."

"Based on our interpretation of the restrictions placed on us by the RBNZ, we made the decision to brief only a small, need-to-know group of employees on the capital changes prior to the embargo lifting."

Westpac's commentary by economist Michael Gordon was published more than an hour after the embargo lifted.

Deputy governor Geoff Bascand stressed that the senior bank officials had signed NDAs.

"We recognised the market sensitivity of it. We had an awkwardness – we wanted to do a public release while the market was open," Bascand told BusinessDesk.

"That meant we had to brief the banks" beforehand so they weren't taken by surprise, "as a courtesy of what is a significant announcement that they have to abide by, with appropriate control over the release of the information," Bascand said.

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"They understood and had every reason to observe the non-disclosure," he said.

The Financial Markets Authority, which regulates market conduct, was also informed of the process.

"We don't aim to surprise. We aim to manage sensitive disclosure carefully."

The RBNZ stopped lockups for journalists and analysts for monetary policy statements after the March 2016 decision to cut its official cash rate was leaked ahead of the official announcement.

Bascand observed that the bank capital decisions were "more complex than monetary policy decisions."

- BusinessDesk

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