Tag Archives: New Zealand

Government debt as % of GDP – New Zealand amongst the lowest in the OECD.

In 2015 New Zealand’s government debt as a % of GDP was amongst the lowest amongst the OECD countries coming in at 35.6% – NZ$86.1bn. This gives the government the ability to borrow billions of dollars to stimulate growth in the economy and fund necessary infrastructure projects. This is important when a recession phase is threatening the economy. In 2015 the median level of debt to GDP was the Netherlands with 77.5% and Australia was 67.7%. The UK and the USA had debt to GDP of 112.6% and 125.9%. The standout countries are Japan with debt of 234% of GDP and Greece at 182%. High amounts of debts are only become a concern when the debt is mainly funded from overseas and issues in non-local currency and the country is unable to alter its exchange rates. For Japan a lot of the debt has been issued internally and been bought by the Bank of Japan (central bank) but this is not the case for Greece as they have had significant help from other countries.

Govt debt as % GDP

Does aggressive or cautious fiscal stimulus lead to higher debt-to-GDP ratio?

With low interest rates globally and liquidity trap conditions a more expansionary fiscal policy has become more prevalent for most governments. However the level of severity of fiscal policy – aggressive fiscal stimulus v cautious fiscal stimulus – is important with regard to a country’s debt-to-GDP ratio as recent experience shows. A paper by Alan Auerbach and Purity Gorodnichenko of University of California Berkeley found that short bursts of expansionary fiscal stimulus doesn’t necessarily lead to higher debt-to-GDP ratios or to higher interest rates. They noted that in some instances markets revised down their worries about creditworthiness in response to large scale stimulus.

Other research by Brad De-Long University of California Berkeley and Larry Summers Harvard University seems to support this view. Their research suggests that long periods of cautious growth eat away at an economy’s productive potential as investments don’t get finished and healthy workers drop out of the labor force.

In future the level of stimulus and its time periods should be automatic and proportionate to the severity of the downturn. Examples could include:

  • Labour tax rates could be linked to unemployment figures so that pay packets jump the moment conditions deteriorate.
  • Funding to local governments could be similarly conditioned, to limit painful cutbacks by municipalities.
  • To prevent a scramble for worthwhile, shovel-ready infrastructure projects, governments could make sure to have a ready queue, so spending could easily scale up in a downturn.

Sources:

  • The Economist – The Borrowers – 9th September 2017
  • BERL: New Zealand among lowest government debts in OECD – 26th September 2017

Tourism booming in New Zealand and Lions tour still to come.

Recent figures show that the tourism industry is now a bigger export earner that the traditional dairy industry. For the year ending December 2016, total exports of dairy and related products were $12.05bn, accounting for 17.2% of all exports. Over the same period, tourism (including air travel) was worth $12.17bn, or 17.4% of exports. These compare to 18.2% and 16.9% (respectively) for 2015, showing the increasing importance of tourism to the NZ economy. After these two industries, the next largest export is meat, all the way back on 8.4% of total exports, leaving tourism and dairy well out in front. If you look at GDP figures – Tourism accounts for 5.6% whilst Dairy is 5% of GDP.

NZ Goods and Services Exports (Values $m)

Exports - Dairy and Tourism

NZ Visitor arrivals.pngWhat are the drivers behind the tourism numbers?
1. The growth of the Chinese middle class who can now afford to travel overseas and additional carriers operating out of China into New Zealand
2. The impact of The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films
3. The 2011 Rugby World Cup and 2015 Cricket World Cup boosted arrivals significantly.

Also there are two further events which are bound the increase tourist numbers – The World Masters Games that finished today and the British Lions Tour in June/July. The Lions Tour is bound to have a significant impact on the economy especially with the hype that is currently building which largely comes about as the tour only occurs every 12 years.

British Lions Tour 2005 and its impact on NZ Economy

Contribution to New Zealand’s GDP – 16,000 supporters at approximately $10,000 per trip equates to NZ$160 million or 0.1 per cent of GDP. But spending doesn’t equate to value added. Value added is broadly a third of the initial spend therefore this leaves a direct macro impact on value added of $53 million. Second round multiplier effects increase the impact to NZ$132.5 million or broadly 0.1% of GDP.

Retail sales figures for June 2005 were up 1.2%. Accommodation providers, for example, experienced a 5.1% increase in turnover during June. And spending in bars increased by 3.9% in June from May and spending a café and restaurants increased by 1.3% while liquor sales surged 3.7%.

Some economic pricing invariably led to higher prices in some markets. A terrace ticket cost NZ$100 for the Lions vs All Blacks game at Eden Park but excess demand on the black market did mean that some tickets were double the face value. Also prices in bars and cafés increased significantly in the main centres.

Spending Spree
Sales figures for June and July 2005 released by credit card operator Visa International show visiting Lions fans pumped millions of dollars into the New Zealand economy.
UK and Irish-based Visa card holders spent $42.2 million during the two-month period, more than double the amount spent by cardholders during the same period last year. Below is some of the breakdown:

Hotels, motels, resorts: $5,967,931
Travel agencies: $4,927,429
Vehicle rental: $2,574,812
Restaurants: $2,245,621
Tourist attractions: $1,588,492
Air New Zealand: $1,446,342

Although results didn’t go their way, the Lions supporters certainly had a good time. The impact is bound to be significantly greater this year with numbers of supporters up to around 20,000. However as with the 2005 tour there will significant infrastructure problems in meeting this demand.

After the win in Australia four years ago maybe the Lions could pull off a series win – the last time was 1971.

New Zealand property seen as a good ‘store of value’ if you can afford it.

House Price % change.pngOne of the functions of money discussed in the AS Level course is store of value. In 2010, after the GFC, gold became a popular as a store of value rather than as an adornment and its price rose from $700 an ounce in 2007 to $1264.90 in June 2010. A similar situation has become apparent in 2016 with property.

New Zealand seems to be seen as the safe ‘store of value’ for overseas investors in that they have purchased a large number of expensive properties in the local market. Although they only account for 3% of all New Zealand properties sold, overseas purchases have focused on properties over NZ$1m which have increased by 21%. This in turn has pushed up property prices nationally by 13%. Other countries have also seen the impact of foreign money.

*London – property prices are up 54% in four years
*USA – Chinese investors have bought 29,000 US homes for $27bn. mainly in San Francisco, Seattle, New York and Miami.

In many of these countries affordability looks stretched. The Economist gauges house prices against two measures: rents and income – see graph. If, over the long run, prices rise faster than the revenue a property might generate or the household earnings that service a mortgage, they may be unsustainable. By these measures house prices in Australia, Canada and New Zealand look high. In America as a whole, housing is fairly valued, but in San Francisco and Seattle it is 20% overpriced.

In most cases property maintains a good store of value with its intrinsic value. However gold’s main use is for jewelry, especially in India and China, and it has been quite strange that the price should remain so high at certain times without any changes in the fundamentals of supply and demand. Also why has gold maintained such value as a commodity without any real intrinsic value – its price being based on nothing more than a common belief its value is going to appreciate. Much like the tulip bubble in Holland in 1636.

Brexit and trade – UK can learn from New Zealand’s experience

With the departure of the UK from the EU there have been many questions asked about the future of UK trade. No longer having the free access to EU markets both with imports and exports does mean increasing costs for consumer and producer.

New Zealand’s Experience

A similar situation arose in 1973 when the UK joined the then called European Economic Community (EEC). As part of the Commonwealth New Zealand had relied on the UK market for many years but after 1973 50% of New Zealand exports had to find a new destination. However with the impending loss of export revenue New Zealand had to make significant changes to its trade policy. In 1973 the EEC took 25% of New Zealand exports and today takes only 3%. Add to this the oil crisis years of 1973 (400% increase) and 1979 (200% increase) and protectionist policies in other countries and the New Zealand economy was really up against it.

What did New Zealand do?

1. It negotiated a transitional deal in 1971 with agreed quotas for New Zealand butter, cheese and lamb over a five-year period, which helped to ease the shift away from Britain.

2. New Zealand was very active in signing trade deals of which Closer Economic Relations with Australia was the most important in 1983. The other significant free trade deal was with China in 2008. Below is a list of New Zealand’s current free trade deals and a graph showing the changing pattern of New Zealand trade:

NZ Free trade Deals

NZ exports goods 1960-2015.png

With brexit around the corner it will be imperative that the UK starts to develop trade links with non-EU countries of which New Zealand might be one. The UK is the second largest foreign investor in New Zealand and its fifth largest bilateral trading partner.

Importance of Tourism to New Zealand

nz-short-term-arrivalsGiven the growing importance of tourism to the NZ economy, there is a risk that the latest earthquake could adversely impact visitor arrivals. However, looking at the 2010/11 earthquakes, the long-term impact appears to be limited (see graph from ASB Bank).  It is estimated that the impact on visitor arrivals is likely to be small in comparison to the previous quakes, though Wellington through to North Canterbury are likely to see a reduction in visitors. Spare a thought for  Kaikoura, the whale-watching capital, which has experienced a lot of damage and currently has no access routes.

Unlike other sectors  which produce material goods, tourism encompasses a range of industries and is based on characteristics of the consumer, rather than what is being produced by the producer. Feeder industries into the tourism sector include:

Accommodation – Transport – Retail Trade – Food and Beverages – Car Hire – Tourist Sites

Tourism spending – year ended March 2016

  • Domestic = $20,213m ($15,361m spent by households $4,852m spent by business and government)
  • International = $14,486m ($2,747m from international students)

Total = $34,699m

One significant point from the data was that tourism revenue surpassed export revenue from dairy products.

Contribution of Tourism to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) 

  • Direct contribution – $12,873m = 5.6 % of GDP.
  • Indirect Contribution (supplying of goods and services to tourism sector) – $9,815m = 4.3% of GDP
  • Total contribution = $12,873m + $9,815m = $22,688m = 10% of GDP

Employment – the tourism sector is quite labour intensive, with:

  • People employed 188,136 = 7.5 % of total employment.
  • People indirectly employed = 144,186 = 5.7% of total employment.
  • Total 332,322 = 13.2 % of total employment

nz-tourist-figures

Source: Parliamentary Library – Monthly Economic Review  November 2016

RBNZ cut OCR but little mention of Trump

Although the attention this morning was on the election of Donald Trump as US President the RBNZ cut the OCR to 1.75% with a mild easing bias of “numerous uncertainties remain, particularly in respect of the international outlook, and policy may need to adjust accordingly”. nz-cpi-nov-16

It is expected that the OCR will remain at this level in the near future with inflation expected to be back within the 1-3% Policy Target Agreement (PTA) by the end of January next year – see graph from ASB Bank. The reason for this is that:

  • Dairy prices have recovered considerably.
  • The labour market is tightening.
  • Growth is running at an above-trend pace.
  • The OCR is already at an expansionary rate and the economy.

Could there be another cut in the OCR? There would be pressure if the following eventuated:

  • there is a strengthening of the NZ dollar,
  • increasing bank funding costs,
  • any further weakness in inflation expectations,
  • any deterioration in the global growth outlook.

The change of US Presidency will also be a wildcard over the longer term, with its mix of potential fiscal stimulus and trade protectionism. Trump has already signaled that he is not keen to sign TPP and he wants to reopen the NAFTA – North America Free Trade Agreement. Furthermore, he might take umbrage on the Chinese with their manipulation of the Yuan to advantage its exports and put a large tariff on its goods coming into the US. For New Zealand it may mean that they have to go down the bi-lateral agreement option in order to increase trade.

Other than the US election, Graeme Wheeler needs to be aware of the following:

  • Theresa May has indicated she wants to trigger Article 50 by May 2017 – it is very unclear what the process will be and the negotiating strategy of both the UK and the EU. This could have implications for NZ trade.
  • In China the increasing of centalised  power of the President.
  • China has a huge amount of corporate debt relative to GDP – see graph below.
  • Brazil is still in recession
  • Russia still has issues in the Middle East

China Corporate debt.png

Monetary policy – not too tight in New Zealand?

Brian Fallow of the New Zealand Herald wrote a very informative article on the inflationary target that the Reserve Bank of New Zealand keeps missing – the CPI has been below the bottom of the bank’s 1 to 3% target band. Some will say that the RBNZ has been too tight with its monetary policy stance – maintaining high interest rates for too long. Assistant Governor John McDermott has defended the bank’s position for the following reasons:

  1. Nearly half the CPI consists of tradables where the price of goods is impacted by competition from outside New Zealand. For the last four years the global economy has been in a disinflationary environment caused by excess supply and in particular low commodity prices especially oil. Year ending September 2016 Tradables = -2.1%. This offset almost all of the +2.1% rise in non-tradables prices. See graph below.
  2. The recovery form the GFC has been quite weak and with the NZ$ strengthening (imports cheaper) accompanied by lower world prices has meant that import prices have been very low.
  3. The growth of the supply-side of the economy has been particularly prevalent which again has led to less scarcity and lower prices.
  4. Recent years has seen immigration boost the demand side of the economy but because the age composition is between 15-29 rather than 30-40 in previous years, the former has a much less impact on demand as they don’t tend to have the accumulated cash for spending.
  5. The RBNZ reckon that the output gap is now in positive territory (actual growth being higher than potential growth) which will start to put pressure on prices as capacity constraints become more prominent.
  6. Statistically with a weak inflation rate in the December 2015 quarter the December 2016 quarter is most likely to be higher as the percentage change is taken on the CPI of the previous year.

nz-cpi-2004-2016

The spectre of deflation hitting the New Zealand economy does not seem to be a concern at this stage especially with the longer-term inflationary expectations being in the mid range of the target bank i.e. 2%.

Monopsony power in the labour market and the minimum wage

Min Wage 2011In 1894 New Zealand made history by being the first developed nation to introduce a minimum wage. The Economist had an article on minimum wages and the fact that they might in fact be good for an economy. Most economists believe that a higher minimum wages = the artificial increase in labour costs and therefore lower demand for labour.

Some economists have suggested that minimum wages can increase employment and obviously pay. However if employees have monopsony power as buyers of labour and are able to influence wages they can keep the wages lower below its competitive rate – see graph below.

Two economists (David Carr & Kruegger) found out in New Jersey that when the minimum wage was raised employment in fast-food restaurants actually increased. The Economist suggests that if firms are not reducing the number of their employees with higher minimum wages they must be employing a number of strategies such as raising prices of their goods/services or saving money from reduced revenue. The IMF state that a moderate minimum wage (30-40% of the median wage – see graph) doesn’t have a significant negative effect on employment numbers and may do some good.

Monopsony in the Labour Market

Monopsony Lab

A monopsony occurs in the labour market when there is a single or dominant buyer of labour. The buyer therefore is able to determine the price at which is paid for services. Unlike other examples we have looked at, in this situation we are now dealing with an imperfect rather than a perfectly competitive market. The monopsonist will hire workers where:

Marginal Cost of labour (MCL) = Marginal Revenue product of labour (MRPL)

From the perspective of the monopsonist firm facing the supply curve directly, if at any point it wants to hire more labour, it has to offer a higher wage to encourage more workers to join the market – after all, this is what the ACL curve tells it. However, the firm would then have to pay that higher wage to all its workers so the marginal cost of hiring the extra worker is not just the wage paid to that worker, but the increased wage paid to all workers as well. So the marginal cost of labour curve (MCL) can be added to the diagram.

If the monopsonist firm wants to maximise profit, it will hire labour up to the point where the marginal cost of labour is equal to the marginal revenue product of labour. Therefore it will use labour up to level of Eq which is where MCL=MRPL. In order to entice workers to supply this amount of labour, the firm need pay only the wage Wq. (Remember that ACL is the supply of labour). You can see, therefore, that a profit-maximising monopsonist will use less labour, and pay a lower wage, than a firm operating under perfect competition.

In this situation the power of the employer in the labour market is of overriding importance and the employer can set a low wage because of this buying power.

New Zealand Household Debt

Household debt in New Zealand is now equivalent to 163% of annual household disposable income – see graph below. Record low interest rates has seen credit growth rising at a pace not seen since 2008. How do low interest rates contribute to this?

Household debt as a share of disposable income (including investment housing)

house-debt-dis-inc

Low borrowing rates have made it easier to purchase property with bank funds especially as the supply of housing hasn’t matched the increase in demand. The strong growth in property prices has meant that those who already own a house are using that security to purchase additional property. According to the IMF New Zealand has the highest ‘House Price-to-Income Ratio’ – see graph below.

house-price-income-ratio

Other parts of the world are experiencing high household-debt to income levels (see graph below) but does high debt levels mean that the economy is going to hit a major recession? Since the credit crisis of 2008 the global financial system has seen tighter regulations put in place to improve stability with banks limiting access to credit so there is less exposure to the risks associated with highly leverage lending.

Growth in house prices and household credit 2011 – 2015.

house-prices-household-credit

However debt servicing remains tolerable with low interest rates and much of the debt secured against investment housing. Also debt-to-asset ratios have fallen to levels that were experienced in 2007 but this has eventuated from low interest rates which have boosted house prices. Ultimately with a fall in house prices, and depending on its severity, those who recently entered the property market would suffer some degree of hardship whilst those already well established in the market might have a financial  buffer.

Debt and future growth in New Zealand

Household debt still has implications for the long-term growth of the economy.

  1. With larger proportions of their income being allocated to debt consumers have less disposable income for other goods and services which creates less aggregate demand.
  2. High debt levels mean households have more exposure to unfavorable economic conditions that could lead to rising unemployment. In this case they have less money to fall back on.

Source: Westpac Economics Overview – August 2016

Does the RBNZ need to cut the OCR?

With the RBNZ to announce the Official Cash Rate next Thursday there is common agreement that there will be a 0.25% cut to leave the OCR at 2.00%. However with 2.8% growth and a favourable PMI do the RBNZ need to cut rates? With inflation at 0.4% it is still not between the 1-3% target range (as outlined by the Policy Target Agreement in the Reserve Bank Act 1989), and there is pressure for the central bank to hit a target of 2% inflation. With the global economy in an era of very low inflation (even a threat of deflation) one wonders the logic of keeping the PTA at 1-3%. In fact it is being reviewed by the RBNZ in the next month. The logic behind the lower OCR will be to stimulate more spending but also trying to make the NZ$ less attractive for foreign investors.

NZ Economy

With NZ rates being significantly higher than other developed countries the NZ$ is seen as a good investment and ultimately attracts a lot of ‘Hot Money’ into the economy. The NZ$ is the 10th most traded currency in the world and this is also due to the stable environment in the NZ economy as well as relatively high interest rates. But have the lower rates had the effect of reducing the value if the NZ$? A lower dollar makes exports prices more competitive and increases the price of imports.

Interest Rates NZ$

If you contrast the OCR with the TWI over the last year you will see that a lower OCR doesn’t necessarily mean a lower NZ$. Furthermore the lower rates do nothing to halt the rise in the property market especially in Auckland.

The RBNZ faces potentially conflicting outcomes as it tries maintain financial stability and price stability. The Policy Targets Agreement demands lower interest rates in a bid to raise CPI inflation while financial stability concerns, especially with the housing market,  probably demands higher rates.

Images from ANZ Bank