Quote of the day

July 17, 2015

I could write about the Crown accounts here being almost $1bn ahead of Treasury forecasts for the first 11 months of last fiscal year and how this means a surplus may have in fact been recorded. But outside of political circles where people look for attack points it is meaningless to your business. Only if the data get a lot lot better or a lot lot worse should we start thinking in terms of fiscal policy changes with growth implications. We are nowhere near that point yet and talk of easing fiscal policy to offset the loss of dairy income is just plain ridiculous. One wonders if the same people calling for it could be the same ones criticising the lack of fiscal surplus. How on earth to reconcile those two positions?Tony Alexander


Racism risks trade backlash

July 16, 2015

BNZ economist Tony Alexander joins the discussion on Auckland housing and the part played by foreign buyers:

. . . So we remain in the dark about the extent to which Auckland’s housing market is truly being driven by offshore buying. But as emphasised previously, there are three key points which I shall keep repeating regarding Auckland housing and house price pressures.

1. The fundamental cause of rising prices in Auckland is a shortage of supply and until that gets addressed prices will stay highly elevated and perhaps keep rising out to late-2017 this cycle.

No matter what tinkering is done to reduce demand by restricting foreign buyers won’t change the fact that there is a shortage of supply.

2. Whatever the true magnitude of Chinese buying has been these past few years it will get much greater. Chinese families are growing wealthier, so naturally they will seek offshore assets. Chinese people wish to get assets off the mainland and this week’s massive intervention in sharemarkets by the Beijing authorities illustrates why people have high distrust of the environment on the mainland in which they would hold assets. And Chinese authorities have yet to relax hefty restrictions on people getting their funds offshore. When they do, well then you will see something entirely new hit the world’s residential property markets.

3. We should as soon as possible adopt Australia’s rules restricting foreign buying of anything other than new housing unless resident for 12 months.

But here is the fourth point which to date I have not emphasised but now will do. Adopting Australia’s rules as they stand won’t be the panacea many are hoping for. In Australia’s case people have been able to get around the restrictions quite easily. The regime is now being enforced more rigorously, but that does not necessarily alter what is being seen as a huge problem – something which people in Hong Kong have been seeing more and more of in recent years.

Many Chinese who buy properties never, or rarely, occupy them. They sit empty. This applies even to newly built apartments sold to Chinese buyers. Chinese simply want an asset away from any control by the CCP. There was an article on this in The Australian newspaper this weekend, page 6.

What this means is the following. As Auckland very slowly goes vertical in areas like New Lynn, developers will find they can very easily get offshore financing for their projects and hefty sales off the plan to Chinese investors (we Kiwis prefer to touch and feel before buying). These investors may never occupy or even rent out their investment. Thus while on the face of it the Aussie rule that a foreigner may only buy a newly built house or apartment sounds like a grand idea, it could leave the housing supply situation unchanged from a no-rule regime.

Thus, were we to adopt the Aussie regime we would need to add in an extra clause along the lines of apartments having to be made available for rent, actually rented, or something like that.

When might we see the adoption of some form of restriction on foreign home buying in New Zealand? Maybe within two or three years. About three years ago I recommended that we adopt the Australian regime. That was/is not because I feel Chinese buying is currently the big buying force people believe it is, but because the buying will grow and the eventual popular backlash against such buying and introduction of legislation in that heated environment would risk a backlash. The Chinese leadership may feel we were targeting them and getting above our station. Trade retaliation would be likely.

That is still the position I hold and the earlier we adopt Australia’s rules with the extra twist noted above, the better for everyone, including exporters to China wanting good access for many years who may feel nothing needs to be done on foreign home buying. You are the ones most at risk should this situation turn bad in 5, 10, 15, or 20 years time.

If there needs to be restrictions on foreign non-resident buyers they must apply to all foreign non-resident buyers.

Over at Kiwiblog, David Farrar points out that Labour’s policy of treating Australians more favourably than Chinese would contravene the free trade deal which that party signed when it was last in government.

Even if it didn’t, putting higher hurdles in the way of those from one or more countries while applying less restrictive rules to others is discriminatory and could lead to tit for tat repercussions which would endanger trade.

That would impact on the whole country when the housing problem is essentially Auckland’s and the solution to it lies not in restricting demand but increasing the supply.

 

 


Quotes of the year

December 31, 2014

Offering to trade fines for sexual favours is not simply sleazy as the judge seemed to view it. It’s about a principle which is absolute, regardless of its nature or monetary dimension. It behoves the Police Commissioner to appeal against this ridiculous sentence so wiser heads can send a vitally important message, namely that corruption is corrosive, strikes at the heart of civil society and will absolutely not be tolerated. Sir Bob Jones

“I love to observe how they process the high school situation. Over the last couple of months I’ve just started to realise that, wow, people in the real world don’t care if your legs aren’t perfect.” Lorde

”I find the chances of it being stolen are pretty minimal, but the chances are even more minimal of it disappearing by itself through two paddocks surrounded by deer fencing,” Bill Keeler

It’s been said that the New Zealand economy is likely to be the “rock star” of 2014 but we all know what happens to rock stars who spend all their money on having a good time. I’ve said it before – the only way we’re going to become a top-tier First World country is by growing the pie.

Sadly, we’ve always been much better at eating them. – Colin Espiner

To judge the dead may give some comfort to the living, but no matter how fervently the misdeeds of previous generations are condemned, they cannot be undone. Therefore, whatever justice we seek to do here and now, let it be to right the wrongs of the present – not the past.

We fair-skinned Polynesians are not – and can never be – “Europeans”. Just as contemporary Maori are not – and can never be again – the Maori who inhabited these islands before colonisation. Both of us are the victims of historical forces too vast for blame, too permanent for guilt.

And both of us have nowhere else to go.Chris Trotter

 

Just 380,000 individuals pay half of all income tax.

If you earn more than $80,000 you are in that group. Most tax is paid by businesses through corporate tax or receipted GST payments. Possibly 80 per cent of the country is taking more from the state than they are contributing.If you are a net contributor most of your money will go to paying for the welfare of others.Most of those who seek to reduce their tax obligations are net contributors to our society. The only complaints against them are they do not pay enough.Beneficiary cheats, by contrast, are providing nothing to start with and seek to enrich themselves further by deception and dishonesty.Judges understand this, which is why beneficiary cheats go to jail for longer, as they should. – Damien Grant

Democracy, certainly at candidate selection level, isn’t generally a process of exquisite delicacy, scrupulous manners and sensitivity to hurt feelings. Oftentimes it’s just a few steps removed from full-on internecine civil warfare, albeit conducted largely out of sight. – Southland Times commenting on Labour’s selection process for the Invercargill electorate.

“The other analogy I have learned quite a lot is this idea that life’s like the drafting race because you learn quickly, farming, all the things that begin with D like drenching and drafting, docking and dagging, getting into debt and dealing with DOC. If you go up the drafting race, even for a ewe you have to look good: You mustn’t limp, head up, eyes forward don’t show your teeth if they aren’t terribly good, clean bum, good digestion, good tits – the whole way – because you want to go to the right, to the mixed age ewe mob, because [then] you get kind dogs and good food. Straight ahead is not much fun because you will end up a chop on the table. – Christine Fernyhough

“Nah, no tear in the eye. I’m from south Dunedin,” he grinned. Brendon McCullum

‘‘A government is a periodic monopoly that needs the threat of other entrants to get it going.’’ – Bill English

We must avoid complacency that might flow from believing today’s good times are permanent.

We don’t want to make a habit of doing the hard work under pressure, then putting our feet up just when the serious long-term gains are within our reach.Bill English

If there are going to be on the ground and social media campaigns, they needs to be led by Australians.  We need to get Australians saying that they want the best products at the best price.  We need Australians to demand choice instead of supermarkets telling them what they’re allowed to buy.  We also need Australians to see how deeply cynical the supermarkets are by reinforcing the values we share, namely, freedom of choice.  This needs to turn Coles and Woolworths market research on its head and hit them where it’ll hurt the most; market share.  That’s the only language they understand.  It is also by reinforcing that Kiwis are kin, something the centennials of the Great War will strongly affirm. – Bruce Wills

Personally, I’ve never heard of an economy taxing its way to greatness but I have sure heard of economies taxed into oblivion.Willy Leferink

And perhaps that’s the every day wisdom of parents at the fore – it’s the minestrone soup solution of life – if you’re short of meal options, throw all the vegetables into a pot, with a sprinkle of flexibility and the seasoning of life, and see what you come up with. – Tariana Turia

The notion that environmental protection and economic development are potentially conflicting goals is not, in my view, a recipe for success. It removes any expectation that businesses should take responsibility for protecting the environment; or that environmentalists need to consider social or economic costs of environmental outcomes.

In my world, economic and environmental considerations are two sides of the same coin. It is hard to be green if you are in the red; but you cannot have long-term social or economic prosperity if you undermine the natural capital you rely on to create it. – Lynda Murchison

People’s first consideration when buying food was price, despite claims they might buy based on factors like organic growth, she said.

While people might think buying organically or from the farmers market was environmentally friendly, research showed carbon dioxide emissions were higher buying that way, Prof Rowarth said. – Jacqueline Rowarth

. . . Even during booms some businesses will fail, and even during recessions some businesses will soar. That is because what ultimately determines the fate of companies is not whether the economy grows 1% or shrinks 1%, but the quality of management and their ability to anticipate and handle changing conditions be they for their markets, their inputs or their processes. . . Tony Alexander

Members of the Opposition believe monetary fairies can make the exchange rate settle permanently lower by forcing interest rate cuts and printing money while letting inflation therefore go up. Given the non-zero possibility that such economically ignorant policies get introduced it is worth getting inflation protection by investing more in property – not less. Tony Alexander

 The global financial crisis was the worst economic meltdown in living memory.

“The 1987 crash was a a blip on the charts by comparison.”

On top of that, the Christchurch earthquakes dealt a massive hit to the government books. “The mythical observer arriving from Mars who saw the accounts in balance after two thumping great shocks like that – you’d have to say someone had navigated pretty smoothly through that.” Donal Curtin

Two thirds of the [welfare] liability came from people who first got a benefit under the age of 20. “So it confirms what grandma told you. “Don’t let those young people get off the rails because when they do it’s very expensive.” – Bill English

That it can sweetly awaken, and joyously strengthen and that you need to give it to get it. Sarah Peirse answering the question: what do you know about love?

“I don’t think our native species care too much as to whether it is public land or private land. Whether it be iwi, or whether it be Sir Michael Fay, what we’re interested in in these partnerships is maximising conservation gain.” Nick Smith

Federated Farmers is an apolitical organisation – “we don’t care who is in government as long as they agree with us”.Conor English

. . . Taxes are not the price we pay for a civilised society. At best they are the price we pay for a civilised government. But they are also the price of overly bureaucratic procedures, unpredictable outcomes, and the loss of freedom to make our own decisions. – NZ Initiative

I make no apology for being a male. I hope I’m seen as a considerate, compassionate and communicable male; I make no apology for that. If I have faults, and I’m sure I do, well I don’t think  I can blame my gender for my behaviour without it being a cop-out. There ain’t nothing wrong in being a bloke if you behave yourself properly! – Chris Auckinvole

Mr Speaker, my second point I wish to make is the importance of valuing hands on learning within our education system. We must appreciate these very important students who in the future will fix things, build things, be it trucks, motor cars, be it buildings, be it bridges, roads, essential infrastructure and all manner of other things.

To do this the education system must equally value these people as much as we do doctors, nurses, lawyers and accountants and design an education curriculum accordingly. Putting it simply, we want to create many Einstein’s, but to create an Einstein you also need 1000 skilled technicians to make those things. – Colin King

“Talking about ponies and horse races, if you think of the economy as a horse race, you know it would be silly to put the hobbles on one of the leading horses so the rest can catch up,”Alister Body.

“I don’t think a party that’s on the extreme edges one way or another is going to be beneficial for Maori,” . . . “I think we as Maori also need to realise that compromise is a part of political involvement in New Zealand politics,”  . . .  Dr Lance O’Sullivan.

. . . if democracy means anything, it means suppressing the savage within and submitting the issues that divide us as individual citizens to the judgement of the electorate as a whole. Even more importantly, it means accepting that collective judgement – even when it goes against our individual contribution to its formation.Chris Trotter

HONG KONG | How did this small city-state of 7.3 million people go from having a per-capita income of only a few hundred dollars per year to a per capita income that is equal to that of the United States in only 50 years? The simple answer is they had the British common law legal system, strong private property rights, competent, honest judges, a non-corrupt civil service, very low tax rates, free trade and a minimal amount of economic regulation. There was no big brother government looking after the people, so they had to work hard, but they could keep the fruits of their efforts. . . Richard W. Rahn

One of our human limitations is that we look at the problems ahead through the eyes of our current technology and from this perspective they can look overwhelming. This myopia traps us into negativity – we think we must go backwards to achieve our goals – Dr Doug Edmeades

For the health-conscious, the prevailing wisdom is that natural food is the best food. But no matter what studies of GMOs say, one scientific fact is inescapable: basically none of our dietary staples are natural. Some 10,000 years ago, our ancestors picked tiny berries, collected bitter plants and hunted sinewy game, because these are the foods that occurred naturally in the wild. Then came agriculture, and with it the eventual realization that farmers could selectively breed animals and plants to be bigger, hardier and easier to manage. David Newland

. . . Most of all they should embrace the modern age and recognise that social and economic salvation and uplifting the underclass does not simplistically lie in ever increasing taxes on the industrious and thrifty and their transfer to the indolent. There’s nothing positive or progressive about that. . . Sir Bob Jones

We think it’s pretty legal, we think these guys are just having a crack and have a bit of an eye for the main chance because it’s an election campaign. – Steven Joyce

I won’t be wanting to see any hint of arrogance creeping in.” . . .

. . . “One of the big messages I’ll be wanting to give incoming ministers and the caucus is that it is incredibly important that National stays connected with our supporters and connected with the New Zealand public.” John Key

“Make sure you know why you’re in it – politics is not about celebrities. And nurture your self worth.

“You can’t afford to mortgage out how good or bad you feel because of tomorrow’s headlines.” – Julia Gillard

New Zealand is not perfect, but we do now have a multicultural society based on a bicultural heritage.Philip Burdon


On balance

May 4, 2014

Unions don’t usually try to be balanced.

They are almost always anti National polices and pro Labour ones. Their silence on Labour’s monetary policy therefore speaks volumes.

Federated Farmers which isn’t politically aligned tries to be more balanced. Take its response to that policy:

It’s headlined Federated Farmers keen on Labour’s monetary policy and starts:

“We may be swimming against the tide but there are elements in Labour’s Monetary Policy which has some merit,” says Bruce Wills, Federated Farmers President.

“Of course we are talking high-level and the devil will be in the detail, but I wish to first caution any party from assuming inflation has gone the way of Rinderpest.  The moment you lose focus on inflation it will be back faster than a rat up a drainpipe.

“Giving the Reserve Bank the means to adjust universal KiwiSaver savings rates, as an alternative to raising interest rates, does genuinely strike us as innovative.

“We’re certainly not so quick to rush to judgement on such a policy as if it works, it could potentially boost savings while relieving pressure on both the Official Cash Rate and the Kiwi dollar.

Willis is trying to keep an open mind but he’s not quite as keen as the headline suggests:

“Whatever happens, it will need work to make sure it’s feasible, workable and equitable, given this policy could squeeze low and middle income earners.

Those low and middle income earners are the ones Labour is supposed to champion.

But Wills give Labour some credit:

“Federated Farmers is very happy to see that Labour will maintain the Reserve Bank’s independence and inflation target.  We’re also pleased to see inflation in the non-tradable sector being fingered by Labour too.

Being fingered by one hand while promoting policies which would fuel inflation with the other, though.

The rest of the media release looks at other policies on which Feds definitely isn’t keen:

“Even when running a surplus, what remains unanswered in Labour’s ‘monetary policy needs mates’ equation, is the pressing need for fiscal prudence.  If imprudent government spending takes off to deliver on political deals then it will kneecap monetary policy.

“We need the next government to truly cut its cloth because it is our money being spent.  

“Federated Farmers is sceptical about a Capital Gains Tax.  Aside from becoming just another tax, a CGT hasn’t dropped the price of houses in Britain or Australia, which, incidentally, are regularly advertised for sale in Asian newspapers.

“We also detect a hardening of Labour’s position on foreign investment in farmland, despite there being no research on whether it is a problem or not. We are equally concerned with the government’s laissez-faire attitude and wrote last year to Ministers requesting research.

“Before we go soft or hard on foreign investment, should we not first have the data?

“A mistake here will do untold economic damage affecting every kiwi because there are billions of reasons to get foreign investment policies right and each reason is called a dollar.  Especially with our exports cracking the $50 billion barrier in the year to March.

“We are further worried that the NZ Power initiative could increase costs on businesses while a stringent Emissions Trading Scheme in tandem with Resource Rentals, will put a Sword of Damocles over the productive sector’s head.

“Aside from the political digs that could easily be returned with interest, there are certainly aspects we’d like to get more detail on from Labour,” Mr Wills concluded.

On balance the conclusion from this is that farmers have a lot more to fear from Labour whether or not the monetary policy would work which many doubt.

Among those is BNZ economist Tony Alexander:

. . . Labour would broaden the target of monetary policy to include trying to get the external accounts in balance over the economic cycle. That is fairly meaningless and can be ignored just as previous additions of words such as “avoiding unnecessary volatility in interest rates, the exchange rate and output…” had basically no impact on policy implementation.

More significantly Labour propose giving the Reserve Bank a new tool, specifically the ability to alter

contributions to Kiwisaver accounts as a means of influencing the pace of household spending growth, therefore economic growth and therefore inflation. They hope that use of this tool would mean less reliance upon interest rates and therefore less upward pressure on the exchange rate and perhaps even a small structural decline on the theory that a higher average level of contributions to Kiwisaver would lead to a reduced average level of interest rates.

There are many implications of Labour’s policy.

  • Long tern Kiwisaver returns will be reduced as savers are forced to buy more shares when prices are high and fewer when they are low.
  • Volatility in the sharemarket will rise.
  • Investors will have extra incentive to purchase residential property, thus pushing house prices higher.
  • Overseas debt will tend to be boosted.
  • Bank profits will rise. . .

Reduced returns from Kiwisaver, increased share market volatility, more investment in property and higher overseas debt are big negatives and many will see higher bank profits as something which shouldn’t be encouraged either.

He goes on to say the policy could encourage more debt as well and adds:

. . . The policy as proposed by Labour is a valiant attempt to mitigate the impact on exporters of the monetary policy tightening cycle and they should not be criticised for trying to make a positive contribution to our economic growth in this way. But the policy is not backed by any research as to how it would work and how effective it would be, and if Labour were to defy the polls and hold power after September 20’s general election, implementation would likely be a long way off. The bastardisation of the generally popular Kiwisaver scheme also does not seem an optimal route to take. . . 

In other words, on balance, the policy is a dog.


What matters

May 3, 2014

Quotes of the day:

. . . Even during booms some businesses will fail, and even during recessions some businesses will soar. That is because what ultimately determines the fate of companies is not whether the economy grows 1% or shrinks 1%, but the quality of management and their ability to anticipate and handle changing conditions be they for their markets, their inputs or their processes. . .

And

. . . Members of the Opposition believe monetary fairies can make the exchange rate settle permanently lower by forcing interest rate cuts and printing money while letting inflation therefore go up. Given the non-zero possibility that such economically ignorant policies get introduced it is worth getting inflation protection by investing more in property – not less. . .

Both from BNZ’s Weekly Overview by Tony Alexander


Confidence up 27% in BNZ survey – updated

May 11, 2009

I’m not deliberately doing a series of positive posts to cheer up your Monday, it is a coincidence that this makes three in a row.

The latest BNZ confidence survey shows a net 27% of respondents expect the economy to be better in a year’s time.

BNZ chief economist Tony Alexander said, “This is well up from balanced expectations in April and a net 23% pessimistic in March. It is also the equal highest reading on record – though we interpret this more as a sigh of relief lift in confidence rather than an indicator of strong economic activity levels in the near future. ”

He said the survey reasonably predicts the change in confidence which will be reported at the end of the month in the NBNZ Outlook survey which is more details and longer running.

The correlation is shown below:

dairy 10005

UPDATE:

To put this in perspective, while improved confidence is welcome, it doesn’t signal a boom. 

For example accountants reported they were busy with more advisory and budgeting work and clients were slow in paying. 

There was a notable absence of generally negative comments from the agriculture sector which was cautious overall. Vets were upbeat but rural real estate was depressed. 

Architects reported low activity levels with patchy signs of improvement while construction showed mixed up and down signs and there were some positive signs in engineering though the sector wasn’t busy. 

Forestry/Manufacturing/Sawmilling reported some positive signs from offshore but indicated some businesses were likely to fail.

There was a little optimism in horticulture with interest from overseas markets but the sector reported labour shortages.

 Human resources reported low activity levels with some mild signs of improvement. 

Printing and publishing said business was difficult; property development was very bleak; non-residential real estate tenants were reluctant to commit though investor interest was improving and residential real estate reported a significant shortage of listings with multiple offers and properties selling quickly.

Retail was still weak while tourism and travel were getting weaker and worrying about the coming year. 

There were small increases in transport and storage but overall the sector was weak and the vehicle and automotive sector was still weak.


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