Why so glum?

The quarterly unemployment rate is down to 3.9%; and the official cash rate is at an historic low of 1%.

Yesterday’s GlobalDairyTrade was down 2.6%, the fifth drop in the last six auctions but no-one’s suggesting the milk payout will be lower than $6.

Horticulture and wine are getting healthy returns, arable incomes are reasonable, wool is dismal but the outlook for sheep meat and beef is positive.

But Business confidence is down to -44.3% :

. . .That was the worst reading since August last year, when the index was at -50.3. Employment intentions slumped (-5.5 vs 0) as firms sought to cut jobs, capacity utilization weakened to its lowest since 2009 (0.4 vs 5.3), and activity outlook (5.0 vs 8.0) and export expectations (1.4 vs 5.3) deteriorated. In addition, profit expectations fell further(-16.3 vs -12.5), while investment intentions turned to negative (-0.3 vs 2.5). . . 

And consumer confidence is also gloomy:

The Westpac-McDermott Miller consumer confidence index in New Zealand fell to 103.5 in the second quarter of 2019 from 103.5 in the previous period. Households became increasingly worried about conditions in the global economy over the next five years (-3.5 points to 11.9); and the number of households who think now is a good time to purchase a major item has fallen to a two-year low (-5.5 points to 17.9).  . . 

Why are we so glum?

Today’s historic cut to the Official Cash Rate down to just one per cent sounds a dramatic warning that the New Zealand economy is slowing and the Government needs to get serious about growth, National’s Finance Spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.

“The Reserve Bank’s cut came with the message, ‘Indicators of growth remained weak or weakened further over the past few months’.

“The only time in the history of the OCR there has been a cut of this magnitude have been after the 9/11 terrorist attack, during the Global Financial Crisis, and after the Christchurch earthquake.

“Of greatest concern is the absence of any clear growth plan from this Government.

“Budget 2019 was devoted almost exclusively to spreading national wealth, with very few policies to grow the economy. The most expensive Budget commitment to transform the economy was a $1 billion subsidy for rail. There was little else.

“Instead of ramping up infrastructure investment, the Government has stopped or postponed a dozen roading projects which were ready to get underway, and replaced them with projects that aren’t ready to go, and won’t be for a lot time yet’.

“We need to move beyond policies that add costs to the business and drive down business confidence.

“National would revive the economy by having a plan for growth which would see confidence bounce back and the economy gain the strength it’s lost under this Government.”

There is no doubt what the government is doing and not doing are a large part of the problem.

In spite of at least reasonable returns for almost all primary products farmers feel under-siege with very real concerns about the costs and restrictions the government will impose on them.

Other businesses have similar worries, not helped by the latest confidence-sapping message sent by the Prime Minister’s ordering Fletchers to not build anything until the Ihumātao dispute is settled.

Then there’s the on-going argument over the letter Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter is refusing to release and the questions that raises over the part she played in delaying Wellington transport plans.

Concerns over this aren’t helped by claims from Wellington City Councilors that the Green Party confidence and supply agreement would have been put in jeopardy if a watered down Let’s Get Wellington Moving wasn’t accepted.

All of this points to government instability and is compounded by Winston Peters’ latest game playing over requiring a referendum on changes to abortion law.

When interest rates were already so low, it is unlikely the larger than expected drop in the OCR will have much impact on the productive economy when there are so many reasons pointing to the need for caution.

And while low interest rates help borrowers they punish savers.

All in all there is little to give anyone confidence anything is going to get better soon and plenty of reasons to doubt the government has the plans and policies to help.

And now the Reserve Bank has dropped the OCR, it raises the question of what happens when, as is likely, economic conditions get worse.

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