Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Now the People's Governor unwinds for the cameras


And for those who always wondered...

He joked on camera that he was "Sydney's most boring person" but Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens took to breakfast TV like a pro yesterday to deliver two highly targeted messages - real estate investment is dangerous, and interest rates are going up.

His appearance on the Seven Sunrise program was not unprecedented. One of his predecessors Bob Johnston appeared on Nine's Today show in the 1980s to refute allegations that he had held off pushing up rates in the lead-up to an election. But it was groundbreaking in that it enabled him to speak directly to the Australians he wanted to reach.

The latest tax statistics show a record 1 in 7 of us are landlords, rushing in to property at the rate exceeding 113,000 per year and losing a record $8.6 billion per year as we negatively gear in the hope that prices will keep rising and we'll be able to bank a lightly-taxed capital gain.

Asked by host David Koch whether "when you look at things at the moment, there is anything to be concerned about" Stevens replied, "I think it is a mistake to assume that a riskless, easy, guaranteed way to prosperity is just to be leveraged up into property. You know it isn't going to be that easy".

Unstated, but well-known in the circles in which he usually mixes, is that he has the power to make sure that borrowing to buy property is no longer a "riskless, easy, guaranteed way to prosperity" and is thinking of using it. He told the parliament's economics committee in February he was increasingly attracted to the view that where a boom became widespread and was funded by borrowed money he should be prepared to slow it by "leaning into the wind" using all the tools at his disposal, "which would include interest rates but not be limited to that."

One of the tools would be "we have called open-mouth operations" - speaking directly to the public.

The Governor asked his Sunrise audience to "think about property prices as parents".

"I've got kids that within not too many more years are going to want somewhere of their own to live," he said. "You wonder how is that going to be afforded because the prices are getting quite high."

He told a business audience in November he would regard what happened to house prices as a measure of his success saying "if all we end up with is higher prices and not many more dwellings then it will be very disappointing, indeed quite disturbing."

His message on rates to the breakfast audience was blunt. There have been four rate rises and there will be more. "It is not wise to leave interest rates right down at rock bottom any longer than we need," he said. "And you shouldn't assume they'll stay low because that assumption will prove to be, you know, unfortunate."

Within minutes of his words money market traders upped their bets on the likelihood of a rate rise next Tuesday from 50 per cent to more than 60 per cent.

Published in today's SMH and Age

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