Sunday, November 21, 2010

Mark Carney Speaks to Michael Enright

CBC's Sunday Edition's Michael Enright had a 15 minute conversation with Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney. You can listen to the entire interview here (hour 2, about 10 minutes in).

The most cutting point he made is transcribed below, at about 26:00 on hour 2 (emphasis mine):
Michael Enright: You expressed concern publicly for a long time I think from the moment you took the job about household debt in Canada. I think it was running somewhere around $40,000... and you're concerned about that. Interest rates are very low at the moment. Is there a correlation between the lower the interest rate [and] the more likely it is for people to take on more debt?

Mark Carney: Well this is the concern. Interest rates in Canada are low, abnormally low, exceptionally low...

ME: Are they emergency rates do you think?

MC: Well we had them at emergency levels from April of last year, in April of 2009 after the crisis...

ME: Right.

MC: The Lehman crisis. We got them down to 25 basis points and we further increased our balance sheet beyond that. But we moved them up from emergency levels because the Canadian economy is back at the level we were before the crash, we recovered all the jobs we lost during the crash, and things have moved quite positively for Canada. But they're still at exceptionally low levels. And the risk is that Canadians, some Canadians, take on debt on the assumption that interest rates will always be this way.

ME: Or they're here now, they look pretty good and they'll probably stay that way for a while.

MC: Excatly. And particularly when one thinks about mortgage debt, thirty year mortgage debt, that is not a sensible assumption. And our concern is that people will get themselves into positions which will make it very difficult to service their debt.

ME: But you can't say, wait a minute folks, I wouldn't go and buy a summer cottage because something might happen in the next 6 or 8 months. I mean, that would send Bay Street spinning, wouldn't it?

MC. No. We're taking a longer term perspective on it and we're providing as much transparency as we can about the future path of monetary policy, as much as appropriate. The one thing we can say with high degree of certainty is that over a thirty year mortgage interest rates are not going to be at the same level as they are now, they're going to be higher, and that Canadians, individuals, should be comfortable that they can service their debt at higher interest rates, and the banks that lend to them should also be comfortable about that.
That's central banker speak for "Wake the f&%$ up, Canada."

And, for macro nerds, on "currency wars" and exchange rate management:
ME: The huge worry going into the G20 and we read about it all the time... is the possibility of a currency war. First of all what is a "currency war" and if one breaks out is Canada protected?

MC: Well it's not a term that we use but the concern is that there will be a series of countries will engage in what is effectively competitive devaluation. They will hold down the value of their currency relative to others and that the number of these countries and the weight of these countries will be such that unsustainable adjustment will be pushed on other countries...

ME: To do the same...

MC: Yes. And other countries whose currencies float such as Canada. So in the extreme earlier this fall you had roughly 40% of the currencies by trade weight -- with the US dollar -- so in relative importance four of those 10, or 2 out of 5 of the currencies that trade with the US in importance managing their currencies to some extent.

ME: Gaming the system I guess... Is that what it is? It's like a trade war only you're using currency instead of goods.

MC: Yeah, you're using currency instead of tarriffs, and the issue is, the fundamental issue, is that doesn't work in the long term. You can cause damage to the global system in the short term, but it doesn't work in the long term because ultimately, those adjustments to currencies will come through relative inflation differentials, if nothing else. And if you'll allow me a second, the issue right now is that, let's take between China and the United States, and if China's currency doesn't move, the other way for China's real currency to move, in other words the real value of Chinese goods to increase relative to US goods, which is the same thing in effect, is there to be higher inflation in China than in the US. And what we've seen in the last few months, which we've been saying at the Bank [of Canada] for years, is that Chinese inflation's accelerating and US inflation is decelerating. And so you're getting a more difficult adjustment than you would have if currencies were allowed to adjust.

ME: If the worst-case scenario gets into play, is Canada going to get caught in the crossfire? What protections do we have?

MC: Well we have a number of protections. I think the short answer is no, I mean we're not naive in this situation. We have a number of tools: in the extreme we can intervene in currency markets if extreme movements in our dollar seriously threaten economic outcomes in Canada and those are decisions taken by the Minister of Finance and the [BoC] Governor. They are extreme... but we have tools there. We, very importantly, and I think it's important to understand, our level of currency is very relevant for the Bank of Canada's mandate, obviously. It affects the outlook for inflation in Canada, and if it were to threaten our ability to achieve our inflation target, which is what we're accountable...

ME: the 2%...

MC: The 2%. That's what we're accountable to parliament and Canadians for, we would adjust policy. And we have flexibility in policy here in Canada and we would not hesitate to use it if it were appropriate.

1 comment:

patriotz said...

and that Canadians, individuals, should be comfortable that they can service their debt at higher interest rates, and the banks that lend to them should also be comfortable about that.

Well you can't get more comfortable than having the government guarantee you're getting your money back.

The banks can hardly be faulted for promoting the safest possible lending available to them. I guess Mr. Carney was too polite to point out that the government is enabling all of this.