A powerful new tool which will inject billions more dollars into our financial system and push interest rates lower could be ready to deploy as soon as November, Reserve Bank economists said today.
Funding for Lending (FLP) is a mechanism for the RBNZ to lend some of its freshly printed cash directly to commercial banks at special rates - as opposed to just providing a wholesale lending facility (which it does with its Official Cash Rate).
FLP would effectively offer commercial banks a discounted retail rate which would lower their funding costs and enable them to cut mortgage rates further.
It would likely be bad news for those with bank savings as it would reduce bank reliance on deposits for their funding.
That would push term deposit rates lower.
In a briefing today the RBNZ Assistant Governor Christian Hawkesby and Chief Economist Yuong Ha outlined how FLP might work - although they stopped short of confirming final details of design and timing.
Work was well advanced and FLP would likely be ready to deploy in time for the Monetary Policy Statement on November 11 - should the policy committee choose to do so.
Asked about the potential scale of the lending programme, Hawkesby said that was still being worked through as part of the design process.
But he suggested looking to the relative scale of FLP deployed by other central banks, for comparison.
The Reserve Bank of Australia has introduced A$90 billion of FLP, for example.
The FLP would be in addition to $100b of quantitative easing (QE) cash which has already been allocated by the Reserve Bank to buy New Zealand Government bonds.
But it would sit with the QE on the Reserve Bank's balance sheet as an asset to be repaid at some point.
Both Ha and Hawkesby acknowledged concerns about lower interest rates pushing up asset prices - specifically house prices.
It was an issue that was given serious consideration by the RBNZ, Ha said.
But the RBNZ remained focused on a "least regrets" approach to monetary policy, he said.
"We'd rather be a situation where we have done too much too soon, than one where we've done too little too late."
That was based on the view that risks to the economy right now were to the down-side.
Experience suggested that it was harder to raise inflation if the economy slowed too much than it was to cool things down if the economy overheated.
It was likely that FLP would put downward pressure on deposit rates for savers, they said.
Asked about the risks that this could discourage saving by New Zealanders, Ha and Hawkesby emphasised that the goal was short-term support for the economy through the downturn so it could recover and get back to something more normal.
"There's no risk-free option," Hawkesby said. "That's the state of the world today."
"Fundamentally we still believe that interest rates are effective [at] providing economic stimulus," he said.
"For those with existing debts we know lower interest rates will free up cashflow."
In a research note ANZ chief economist Sharon Zollner has highlighted the impact of FLP on deposits.
"With the RBNZ providing this money, banks would not need to source as much
funding from other, more expensive sources, and bank funding costs would be
lower," she said.
"This would mean pass-through to lending rates would be greater and
banks would not have to compete so aggressively to source deposits. Deposit
rates would fall further than without the scheme."
Funding cost effects would be particularly potent if there was significant take-up
of the scheme, although there could be downwards pressure on deposit rates
even if take-up was not large, since banks would know they have the option of
taking up the funding if deposit growth slowed.
Other countries like Australia and the UK have structured FLP to include additional incentives to encourage banks to use the funds to expand new lending or to lend to business rather than for housing.
"In other countries, banks have been given a more favourable interest rate or higher funding caps if new lending growth expands," Zollner said.
Ha and Hawkesby acknowledged this possibility but raised concerns that this might limit the effectiveness.
"You want it to be taken up at scale, to lower the funding costs so that they [the banks] can pass that on," Hawkesby said.