Frugal new normal

May 23, 2015

This is good news:

The days of big Budget handouts are long gone and New Zealanders need to get used to the “new normal” that is frugal Government spending.

That was the message of Prime Minister John Key in his post-Budget address at a Trans-Tasman Business Circle function this afternoon.

“The days of Budgets being these massive hand-outs of money we don’t have, I think, are gone,” he said.

“The new normal is the Government learning to live with about a billion dollars – maybe a billion-and-a-half dollars.

“Those days of three, four and five billion dollars’ worth of extra expenditure are over.” . . .

Frugality has been forced on National since it came to power in 2008.

It made a conscious decision to protect the most vulnerable from the worst of the global financial crisis by not taking a slash and burn approach and committed to helping Canterbury recover from the earthquakes.

But it has taken a necessaryily Presbyterian approach to spending in other areas  and required government departments to do more with less which is as it should be.

We need to return to surplus and once there need to reduce debt in order to be ready for the next crisis.

But the return to surplus should not be taken as a licence to return to the big spending budgets in which the lst Labour indulged.

A concerted effort must be made to ensure that government becomes and stays a smaller part of the economy.

That would leave more money in the pockets of the businesses and individuals who earn it and put the country on a stronger economic foundation for sustainable growth.


Business as usual with surprises

May 22, 2015

The Budget which was expected to be boring was a business as usual one with surprises.

The business as usual bit is continuing focus on the careful management of public money and getting back to surplus without the slash and burn approach which past governments took.

The big surprise was an increase in benefits, above the normal adjustment for inflation, for the first time in more than 40 years.

Even the opposition was struggling to oppose that and balancing the increase is the requirement for sole parents to seek work once their youngest child is three and increased work obligations for those on job seeker benefits helps.

Dene Mackenzie says Bill English has pulled off a master stroke:

He pushed his political opponents off stride by announcing social spending better than anything Labour did during its most recent nine years in Government.

Mr English will continue to be criticised by opponents for not delivering his prized surplus this year, but spending $790 million on a package to help children in some of New Zealand’s poorest families was a touch of genius.

The package included more child-care support for low-income families, a $25-a-week increase in benefit rates for families with children, an increase in Working for Families payments to low-income families not on a benefit, and increased work obligations for sole parents on a benefit.

”This package strikes a balance that offers more support to low-income families with children while ensuring there remains a strong incentive for parents to move from welfare to work,” he said.

He also made it difficult for his political opponents to make any meaningful criticism by lifting benefit rates by more than inflation for the first time since 1972.

The Finance Minister has always been the social conscience of National, right from the days when he was a member of the party’s ”brat pack”.

At political conferences more than 20 years ago, he talked about ensuring a ”truck driver” from Balclutha could earn enough to feed and house his family. . .

The increase to Working for Families at the lower end of income ensures the truck driver and any other parents in paid work will be better off than those on benefits.

I don’t support WFF for families earning well above the average income but can’t think of a better way to ensure there’s a decent gap between income from benefits and low paid jobs.

The Budget at a glance is here.

I was listening to talkback on my way home from Christchurch last night. The cut in the $1000 kickstart for Kiwisaver wasn’t popular but it was less likely to go to those who’d need it most and tax credits and employer contributions remain.

Border security and the risk of biosecurity breeches is of increasing concern with more travellers. Requiring $6 from departing travellers and $16 from incoming ones is a little bit of user-pays.

The Finance Minister’s speech is here.

. . . New Zealand remains one of the faster-growing developed economies, with conditions supporting sustained solid growth, forecast at 2.8 per cent on average over the next four years.

Growth matters. It means more jobs, higher incomes and opportunities for families to get ahead.

By mid-2019, the number of people in work is expected to rise by another 150,000 and the unemployment rate to drop to 4.5 per cent. The average wage is also expected to rise by $7,000 to $63,000 a year.

New Zealand’s positive economic performance, relative to others, is demonstrated by the strength of the New Zealand dollar and the very low number of people leaving for Australia – the lowest, in net terms, since 1992.

Lower dairy prices are a headwind for growth, however, and global uncertainties remain. Monetary policy easing in other countries is helping to keep upward pressure on the exchange rate.

Unusually, given our current growth, New Zealand is experiencing very low inflation.

Annual CPI inflation is only 0.1 per cent, compared to the Budget 2014 forecast of 1.8 per cent.

This is good news for consumers and workers because their income goes a bit further and they get good value for any pay rises.

Low inflation is also keeping down interest rates. The concerns I expressed in last year’s Budget about rising interest rates have largely disappeared.

But lower-than-expected prices also mean that nominal GDP – the size of the economy in dollar terms – is not rising as quickly as previously expected, despite solid growth in the real economy.

This means tax revenue is not rising as quickly either.

Compared to what was forecast in last year’s Budget, nominal GDP is expected to be $15 billion lower in total over this year and the next three years, and tax revenue to be $4.5 billion lower in total over the same period. . .

Government’s fiscal priorities are:

Returning to surplus this year and maintaining surpluses in the future

Reducing net debt to 20 per cent of GDP by 2020, including repaying debt in dollar terms in 2017/18

Further reducing ACC levies

Beginning to reduce income taxes from 2017, and

Using any further fiscal headroom to reduce debt faster.

The Government is making good progress on all these fiscal priorities.

While expenditure is firmly under control, tax revenue – as I mentioned – is not rising as quickly as expected.

This is lowering operating balances across the forecast period, compared to Budget 2014 predictions.

But the overall trajectory has not changed. We have come from an $18.4 billion deficit four years ago to seeing steadily rising surpluses into the future.

A deficit of $684 million is now forecast for 2014/15, which is $2.2 billion better than last year’s deficit.

A surplus of $176 million is expected in 2015/16, followed by $1.5 billion in 2016/17 and rising to $3.6 billion in 2018/19.

As I’ve said previously, the Government has no intention of making spending cuts simply to chase a surplus in a particular year.

The surplus target has been successful in applying greater discipline to government spending.

That discipline has turned the Government’s books around, and the fiscal outlook remains very positive. . .

The government can, and should, control its spending and the disciplined approach to it that has been taken since National came to power in 2008 is the major reason New Zealand is doing as well as it is.

The government can influence the environment which helps the income side, but sustainable growth comes from the private sector.


More of what’s working not boring

May 21, 2015

Several commentators are criticising today’s Budget for being boring.

Boring in the sense of no surprises is good for Budgets.

We should be grateful the days when everyone stocked up on fuel and fags then sat round the radio listening to the Finance Minister add taxes here and give out subsidies and other taxpayer largesse there are long gone.

But a Budget that delivers more of what’s working for New Zealand shouldn’t be written off as boring and the programme being built on in successive Budgets is working.

NBR editor Nevil Gibson writes of a Budget success story we don’t hear about:

One of the biggest contributors to the reduction in the budget deficit is the money not being spent on welfare.

It’s a success story you won’t hear much about as opposition parties insist a rise in the welfare budget is a better measure.

But, like the ACC reforms and its lower fees, the savings in welfare benefits are like a tax cut for all other taxpayers. . .

The reduction of people on benefits pays dividends in financial and human terms.

The reduction in benefit numbers since the reforms began in 2012 and the projections are described as “startling” by an Australian commentator, Rick Morton. 

His column quotes figures that show the number of years people will spend on benefits has fallen 12%, worth 650,000 years of benefit receipt in the next five decades.

“Two-thirds of this is due to a reduction in the number of people who will gain benefits and one-third is a reduction in the time they will spend on those benefits,” Mr Morton writes.

“From $NZ86 billion, the future liability of the welfare recipients shrank to $76.5 billion in 2013 and to $69 billion last year, largely on the back of economic factors such as inflation.

“But $2.2 billion of the reduction was attributed, in a report released earlier this year, to the ‘effectiveness’ of the policy, which is measured by fewer people getting access to benefits and more people leaving them.” . .

Lindsay Mitchell notes the success in reducing the number of teen pregnancies:

. . . To be demonstrating prevention-success alongside support for the diminishing number who do become teenage parents is a political dream. 

Stopping people going on to welfare and getting beneficiaries from welfare to work are two of the best ways to alleviate poverty.

Whatever further measures to address the problem of poverty are announced in today’s Budget, the significant reduction in the long-term financial and social costs of welfare are anything but boring.

An email from the National Party yesterday made these points:

  1. 194,000 new jobs created since the start of 2011 under National – that equates to around 120 new jobs every day.
  2. We’ve turned the Government’s books around – the deficit peaked at $18.4 billion in 2011 and now we’re expected to be back in surplus next year, a year later than the target we set in 2011. We’ll still be one of the first developed countries to be back in surplus after the global financial crisis.
  3. This will be the type of Budget a responsible Government can deliver when it’s following a plan that’s working.
  4. Budget 2015 will contain $1 billion in new spending. It continues to support New Zealanders and help families while responsibly managing the growing economy and the Government’s finances.
  5. The Government will continue building on what we’ve put in place to address the drivers of hardship. This approach is working – there are now 42,000 fewer children in benefit-dependent families than three years ago. So our spending will make a difference to those who receive it, while at the same time we respect the taxpayers who pay for it.

There is no money for a lolly scramble budget and even if there was that would be wrong.

A business as usual budget might be boring to some but it’s working for New Zealand.

 


Chinese-NZ partnership wins

May 9, 2015

The company which bought the former Crafar farms has won an award for turning the business around using New Zealand management, labour and skills.

Milk New Zealand, owned by Shanghai Pengxin, was last night named supreme winner at the 2015 HSBC New Zealand China Trade Association Business Awards in Auckland.

Shanghai Pengxin bought Crafar Farms in 2012 for more than $200 million.

Gary Romano, chief executive of Pengxin International, said the award was recognition for how they had run the farms.

Shanghai Pengxin’s purchase of the farms was controversial – but Mr Romano believed it had been good for New Zealand.

“Look, as a New Zealander, I did think to myself, am I doing something that’s good for New Zealand as well as my company?

“After speaking to a number of economists and thinking clearly through this I’ve come to the view that there is absolutely no downside to foreign investment.

“I think some of the things that the Overseas Investment Office does are very correct.

“So, things like making sure there’s been no money laundering, the right amount of taxes have been paid, people of good character, and that we’ve paid a fair price for the assets in a contestable process – all those things are very, very useful for New Zealand.”

He said once those tests had been passed, such investment provided oxygen for the economy. . .

The combination of foreign investment and local skills has been a winning one which shows the benefits that can result from allowing overseas ownership of some land.


Quote of the day

May 8, 2015

. . . But it brings me back to the heart of this issue, which is that Labour always wants to spend more, regardless of whether it works and regardless of whether it changes anything, and it cannot stand it when it thinks someone may be being careful with the spending. . . 

The great thing is we have a country where there are thousands of people with thousands of new ideas about developing the economy. It is my job and the Government’s job to support them. Labour’s view is that the country should wait around for Grant Robertson’s new idea, and apparently his new idea is work. Labour has discovered work; it is just that it is against all of the policies that create work. Bill English


Dairy price fall affects everyone

May 7, 2015

The fall-out from falling dairy prices isn’t confined to farmers:

. . .there are 7 billion reasons it will affect all of us. Seven billion dollars is the amount that is set to be wiped from the New Zealand economy this year.

Fonterra is forecasting a total payout to farmers this season of $4.70 to $4.80 per kilogram of milk solids ($4.50 forecast payout plus a likely dividend of 20 to 30 cents per share). That compares to last year’s record payout of $8.50 ($8.40 payout plus a cash dividend of 10 cents per share).

The average break-even point for farmers this year is $5.40, after you factor in both the cost of running the farm and the debt interest payments.

It is the reason farmers are cutting costs. That will be felt in towns and cities across New Zealand, from shops in rural towns to cities where manufacturers make equipment used on farms (like irrigation systems).

That will flow through to the taxes that the Government collects, making it even harder to put together this month’s Budget. . .

Although most New Zealanders live in towns and cities, what happens on farms and to the goods they produce still has a very big influence on the wider economy.

When produce prices fall, farmers tighten their belts which affects what they’re willing, and able to buy. That affects everyone who services and supplies them which flows into the wider economy and the tax take.


Quote of the day

May 7, 2015
For those who aspire to live in a high cost, high tax, big government place, our nation and the world offers plenty of options. Vermont, Canada and Venezuela all offer you the opportunity to live in the socialist, big government paradise you long for.  – Marco Rubio

By one calculation, today is Tax Freedom Day:

Staples Rodway says tax system needs to be more responsive to economic growth

This year’s Tax Freedom Day – the notional day of the year when New Zealand taxpayers stop paying tax and start earning for themselves – is May 7th, two days later than 2014 and four days later than 2013.

National accounting firm Staples Rodway, which is behind the Tax Freedom Day calculations, says while Kiwi companies and individuals are paying more tax, it’s not necessarily all bad news.

Staples Rodway Auckland Managing Director David Searle says: “The key driver of the growing tax take in recent years has been New Zealand’s post-global financial crisis economic recovery. As the economy has recovered, companies are growing and paying more tax, and people are spending more and therefore paying more GST.”

Mr Searle also pointed to ‘bracket creep’, which occurs when workers move into a higher tax bracket as their wages grow, as a reason for people paying more tax. . .

However, the Taxpayers’ Union says this annoucnement is premature:

“We are delighted that others have picked up our initiative from last year,” says Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Ben Craven. “Unfortunately this version by Staples Rodway doesn’t factor in local government nor public spending funded by borrowing.”

“Using the OECD measure gives a more accurate reflection on how long New Zealanders work for the government and allows for comparison with other countries. The current burden of government is 41.4% of GDP. For comparison Australia’s is only 36.1%.”

“This year tax freedom day is Sunday May 31, representing the 41.4% of the economy that is spent by the government. Last year’s tax freedom day was on June 4.”

That is four days earlier than last year which is a small move in the right direction but a bigger move is needed.

 

 


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