The author has been described by News Ltd as an "iconoclast", "Svengali", a pollie's "economist muse", and "pungently accurate". Fairfax says he is a "Renaissance man" and "one of Australia’s most respected analysts." Stephen Koukoulas concludes that he is "85% right", and "would make a great Opposition leader." Terry McCrann claims the author thinks "‘nuance’ is a trendy village in the south of France", but can be "scintillating" when he thinks "clearly". The ACTU reckons he’s "an enigma wrapped in a Bloomberg terminal, wrapped in some apparently well-honed abs."

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Power Index: How to become a Reserve Bank Governor

From the Power Index's Tom Cowie today:

It's one of the most powerful finance positions in the country, with the opportunity to control the price of money. So how does one become a central bank governor?

Those inside the Reserve Bank of Australia will be asking themselves that very question this morning, as assistant governor Philip Lowe looks set to takeover (one day) from current boss Glenn Stevens as the bank's top dog.

Treasurer Wayne Swan announced Lowe's ascension to the role of deputy governor yesterday, with AiG boss Heather Ridout also being appointed to the RBA board to take the spot of BlueScope Steel chairman Graham Kraehe.

But for those with serious aspirations of becoming governor (a position so influential we recently made Stevens our no.2 most powerful Money Mover) a long apprenticeship at Martin Place is clearly a must.

Stevens has spent more than thirty years inside the marble walls of the central bank, a tenure matched by his new right-hand man (who's three years younger). Both have also done time in a series of different policy departments, including stints as head of the bank's Economic Analysis Department.

Outgoing deputy Ric Battellino was another who seemed to enjoy the confines of Martin Place, having spent 39 years there when his term expires next February.

A post-graduate education from North America also doesn't seem to hurt. Stevens achieved a Masters at the University of Western Ontario, while Lowe completed a PhD at MIT (a school which also produced US Fed chairman Ben Barnanke).

"Phil is a career central banker who has developed an outstanding reputation in this Byzantine profession," says economist Christopher Joye.

"He is regarded as the second-most-hawkish guy inside the RBA after Ric Battellino, who he now succeeds as Deputy Governor."

Lowe's appointment comes on the eve of the bank's latest interest rate announcement. And while many will be tuning in today in anticipation of a rate cut (Centrebet is giving odds of $1.55 on a 25 basis point cut), those keeping their eye on the comings-and-goings of Martin Place will be looking for any distinctive long-term change in RBA policy.

"In his statements, Phil is consistently more hawkish on inflation, and bullish on Australia's future growth prospects, than his boss, the Governor, whom comes across as comparatively dovish," says Joye.

"As Governor, Phil's biggest challenge will be dealing with a Board dominated by highly conflicted private sector representatives who are rarely disposed to calling for higher interest rates."

With clouds hovering over the economies of both Europe and the US, Lowe's rise to the top comes at a difficult time for central bankers. His boss Glenn Stevens was effusive in his praise for Lowe this morning:

"Dr Lowe is an exceptional economist and a valued colleague. He has had a distinguished career at the bank since joining in 1980, covering the full cross-section of the bank's activities," he said in a statement.

But don't think Lowe has the governor race completely sewn up. Joye says the succession race has often been cast between Lowe and his younger and "more brash" MIT contemporary Guy Debelle.

"While there is little doubt Debelle was a succession candidate, he has not been pushed out of the game. Given his relative youth, Debelle will be next in line as heir to this unique throne."

However it turns out, it looks like the new deputy might have a while to wait before he gets his hands on the top job – if he ever does. Stevens' first term as governor doesn't run out until 2013, with a second seven-year term in the offing.