Archive

Archive for the ‘Dollars & Sense’ Category

Treasury on Rail. Let’s play a little game, shall we?

18 July 2015 3 comments

.

NZ Treasury muppets

.

Treasury’s latest ‘brain fart’ was this amazing story, which I repost, verbatim, from a Radio NZ report;

Close down rail, advised the Treasury

.

Updated at 6:08 pm on 9 July 2015
Brent Edwards, Political Editor – brent.edwards@radionz.co.nz

.

The Labour Party has accused the Treasury of being “nuts” for suggesting the country’s rail network should be closed because it costs too much.

In Budget documents released today the Treasury estimated the net social cost of supporting KiwiRail at between $55 million and $170 million a year.

In the paper the Treasury recommended the Government just fund KiwiRail for one more year while undertaking a comprehensive study to look at closing the rail company.

It said the study should be done publicly so that people were informed of the costs of running the rail network compared with any benefits it provided.

The Government rejected the idea.

Labour’s transport spokesperson Phil Twyford criticised the Treasury for even raising the suggestion.

“This proposal by Treasury for the Government to consider actually shutting down the rail network is just nuts and it shows that Treasury doesn’t really understand transport economics and they certainly don’t get rail.

“You know rail should be for decades and decades to come, it should be alongside the road system, the backbone of New Zealand’s transport system … To shut down, even to contemplate shutting down this valuable part of our nation’s infrastructure is barmy,” Mr Twyford said.

While government ministers rejected the idea initially they only intended providing money for KiwiRail for this financial year.

But a later paper reveals it agreed to a two-year funding commitment after the company expressed worries about its long-term planning if it had only one year of funding confirmed.

In its analysis the Treasury said rail had high fixed costs and it faced a challenge trying to reduce them.

It said the options for the business were to make relatively small changes to the existing network or significantly downsize it, including closing it altogether.

Another option was to shut down most of its operations but keep freight business for Auckland to Hamilton to Tauranga only as that part of the network carried most freight and covered most of its costs.

It warned KiwiRail posed considerable risk to the Government and was unlikely to ever be profitable.

“Treasury believes there is a net economic cost of continuing to fund rail at the levels required. The net social cost is estimated at between $55 million and $170 million per annum based on a national cost benefit analysis.

“Whilst some of the assumptions underlying analysis of this nature are subjective and some require further work to validate, Treasury believes that it will not change the conclusion that there is a net social cost of continuing to fund rail.”

It recommended a public study of the implications of shutting KiwiRail down so the Government could make the most informed choice possible.

Phil Twyford said he agreed there should be an in-depth study on the value of rail to the economy.

Mr Twyford said the fallacy in the Treasury thinking was that the rail system, including the rail tracks, should be run as a profit making business. Nowhere in the world did that happen.

He said the rail tracks were simply like the country’s roads and nobody expected the roads to make a profit.

A spokesman for Finance Minister Bill English said the Government had set aside $400 million for KiwiRail over the next two years.

“But before undertaking an investment of this size, it is appropriate that officials look at all options – including options for line closures.

“As we said in May, the Government is committed to a national rail network, but ongoing subsidies of around $200 million per year are unsustainable. The funding provided at the Budget gives the KiwiRail board a two-year window to identify savings and reduce the level of ongoing Crown funding required,” he said.

The craziness of this suggestion can best be illustrated if we make a few changes to the story, and re-post it;

Close down roads, advised the Treasury

.

Updated at 6:08 pm on 9 July 2015
Brent Edwards, Political Editor – brent.edwards@radionz.co.nz

.

The Labour Party has accused the Treasury of being “nuts” for suggesting the country’s roading network should be closed because it costs too much.

In Budget documents released today the Treasury estimated the net social cost of supporting National Land Transport roading at $3.891 billion a year.

In the paper the Treasury recommended the Government just fund roading for one more year while undertaking a comprehensive study to look at closing the National Land Transport Programme.

It said the study should be done publicly so that people were informed of the costs of running the roading network compared with any benefits it provided.

The Government rejected the idea.

Labour’s transport spokesperson Phil Twyford criticised the Treasury for even raising the suggestion.

“This proposal by Treasury for the Government to consider actually shutting down the road network is just nuts and it shows that Treasury doesn’t really understand transport economics and they certainly don’t get roads.

“You know roads should be for decades and decades to come, it should be alongside the rail system, the backbone of New Zealand’s transport system … To shut down, even to contemplate shutting down this valuable part of our nation’s infrastructure is barmy,” Mr Twyford said.

While government ministers rejected the idea initially they only intended providing money for  for this financial year.

But a later paper reveals it agreed to a two-year funding commitment after the company expressed worries about its long-term planning if it had only one year of funding confirmed.

In its analysis the Treasury said roading had high fixed costs and it faced a challenge trying to reduce them.

It said the options for the business were to make relatively small changes to the existing network or significantly downsize it, including closing it altogether.

Another option was to shut down most of its operations but keep freight business for Auckland to Hamilton to Tauranga only as that part of the highway network carried most freight and covered most of its costs.

It warned National Land Transport posed considerable risk to the Government and was unlikely to ever be profitable.

“Treasury believes there is a net economic cost of continuing to fund road at the levels required. The net social cost is estimated at $3.891 billion a year per annum based on a national cost benefit analysis.

“Whilst some of the assumptions underlying analysis of this nature are subjective and some require further work to validate, Treasury believes that it will not change the conclusion that there is a net social cost of continuing to fund roads.”

It recommended a public study of the implications of shutting National Land Transport down so the Government could make the most informed choice possible.

Phil Twyford said he agreed there should be an in-depth study on the value of roading to the economy.

Mr Twyford said the fallacy in the Treasury thinking was that the roading system, including the highways, should be run as a profit making business. Nowhere in the world did that happen.

He said the highways were simply like the country’s railways and nobody expected Kiwirail to make a profit.

A spokesman for Finance Minister Bill English said the Government had set aside $7.782 billion for roading over the next two years.

“But before undertaking an investment of this size, it is appropriate that officials look at all options – including options for highway closures.

“As we said in May, the Government is committed to a national road network, but ongoing subsidies of around $3.891 billion per year are unsustainable. The funding provided at the Budget gives the National Land Transport board a two-year window to identify savings and reduce the level of ongoing Crown funding required,” he said.

Barmy?

You bet.

The young folk at Treasury need to get out more often and engage in illicit drug use; binge drinking; and  random sex. It would be no more pointless than some of the gormless ideas they come up with.

In case anyone thinks that Treasury’s idea is remotely “clever”, consider the number of passenger trips by rail each year;

Auckland: 13 million

Wellington: 11.9 million

Total: 24.9 million

That is nearly 25 million extra car-trips on the road in both cities.

It does not take a bright young thing employed by Treasury to quickly realise the impact that would have on our city roads. In brief; Auckland and Wellington would grind to a halt. Our economy would collapse within a week.

We should be looking at ways to maximise use of rail, not canning it. Anything that takes cars and trucks of our roads is a major benefit to our economy and environment.

Perhaps I was wrong and there is illicit drug taking amongst some Treasury boffins. Someone has been at the marijuana cookie-jar. What other explanation can there be for this bizarre idea?

Addendum1

Road

The largest element of the Vote is the funding for roading ($3,891 million or 91% of the total Vote). This is primarily the funding for the National Land Transport Programme which is funded from road tax revenue collected by the Crown ($3,014 million or 71% of the Vote).

Vote Transport, Budget 2015

.

.

.

References

Radio NZ: Close down rail, advised the Treasury

NZ Treasury: Vote Transport Overview

NZ Herald: Auckland rail passenger numbers top 13 million

Dominion Post: Record Wellington train use set to stave off fare increases

Previous related blogposts

Letter to the Editor – User Pays is not a very clever solution

.

.

.

roads of national significance.

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 11 July 2015.

.

.

= fs =

2015 – Ongoing jobless tally

16 July 2015 3 comments

.

Unemployment logo

.

Continued from: 2014 – Ongoing jobless tally

So by the numbers, for this year;

.

Events

.

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

 .

Statistics

.

new-zealand-unemployment-rate-january-2014-march-2015

.

December 2014 quarter – Employment & Unemployment

.

Employment at a glance
Dec 2014 quarter Quarterly change Annual change
(000) Percent
Employed 2,375 +1.2 +3.5
Unemployed    143 +5.8 -2.6
Filled jobs 1,800 +0.1 +2.5
Percent Percentage points
Employment rate  65.7 +0.4 +1.0
Unemployment rate 5.7 +0.3 -0.3
Labour force participation rate 69.7 +0.7 +0.9

.

Notes:

1. All figures are seasonally adjusted. Data source: Household Labour Force Survey: December 2014 quarter

2. Employed: Includes people who worked one hour (or more) per week, whether paid or unpaid.

3. Statistics NZ  has combined the Household Labour Force Survey (HLFS), Quarterly Employment Survey (QES), and Labour Cost Index (LCI) information  into one combined Labour Market Statistics release.

Source

.

March 2015 quarter – Employment & Unemployment

.

March 2015
quarter
Quarterly change Annual change 
(000) Percent
Employed
2,355 +0.7 +3.2
Unemployed   146 +2.1  -0.6
Filled jobs 1,832  +1.8 +3.3
Percent Percentage points
Employment rate 65.5 0.0 +0.7
Unemployment rate   5.8 0.0  -0.2
Labour force participation rate 69.6 +0.2 +0.6
Level Percent
Average ordinary time hourly earnings $28.77 0.0  +2.1
Wage inflation (salary and
wage rates, including overtime)
1105 +0.3 +1.7
.
From Statistics New Zealand;

The unemployment rate remained at 5.8 percent in the March 2015 quarter (from a revised 5.8 percent in the December 2014 quarter), while the labour force participation rate reached an all-time high of 69.6 percent, Statistics New Zealand said today.

“This is the greatest share of New Zealanders we have ever seen in the labour force. The largest increase came from 20 to 34-year-olds, who accounted for nearly half this year’s increase,” labour market and households statistics manager Diane Ramsay said.

Over the year to the latest quarter, the number of people employed increased 74,000 (3.2 percent) while the number of people unemployed fell 1,000 (0.6 percent), as measured by the Household Labour Force Survey.

“We saw strong employment growth over the year, with Auckland and Canterbury making the most significant contributions,” Ms Ramsay said.

The employment rate was unchanged, at 65.5 percent. However, the rate for men reached its highest level since the December 2008 quarter. The female employment rate was down slightly from last quarter’s record high.

Annual wage inflation, as measured by the labour cost index, was steady, at 1.7 percent, while consumer price inflation remained low. Average hourly earnings, as measured by the Quarterly Employment Survey, increased 2.1 percent for the year, the lowest increase since the year to the June 2013 quarter.

Source

.

Additional Information

The  under-employment stats;

People who are underemployed are those who work part-time, would prefer to work more hours, and are available to do so. In unadjusted terms, the number of underemployed grew by 12 percent over the year. While the number of part-time workers increased over the year, the ratio of people underemployed to employed part-time also rose – from 17.1 percent in June 2013 to 18.7 percent this quarter.

Official under-employment: up

Definitions

Jobless: people who are either officially unemployed, available but not seeking work, or actively seeking but not available for work. The ‘available but not seeking work’ category is made up of the ‘seeking through newspaper only’, ‘discouraged’, and ‘other’ categories.

Under-employment: employed people who work part time (ie usually work less than 30 hours in all jobs) and are willing and available to work more hours than they usually do.

Employed: people in the working-age population who, during the reference week, did one of the following:

  • worked for one hour or more for pay or profit in the context of an employee/employer relationship or self-employment 

  • worked without pay for one hour or more in work which contributed directly to the operation of a farm, business, or professional practice owned or operated by a relative 

  • had a job but were not at work due to: own illness or injury, personal or family responsibilities, bad weather or mechanical breakdown, direct involvement in an industrial dispute, or leave or holiday.

Source

Other Sources

Statistics NZ:  Household Labour Force Survey

.

.

[To  be periodically up-dated]

.

.

= fs =

From a story last year, predicting rocky-times for our “Rock Star” economy…

From an article from the US-based Forbes.Com, published April last year…

.

forbes.com-logo-vector

.

12 Reasons Why New Zealand’s Economic Bubble Will End In Disaster

– Jesse Colombo, 17 April 2014

New Zealand’s economy has been hailed as one of world’s top safe-haven economies in recent years after it emerged from Global Financial Crisis relatively unscathed. Unfortunately, my research has found that many of today’s so-called safe-havens (such as Singapore) are experiencing economic bubbles that are strikingly similar to those that led to the financial crisis in the first place.

Though I will be writing a lengthy report about New Zealand’s economic bubble in the near future, I wanted to use this column to outline key points that are helpful for those who are looking for a concise explanation of this bubble.

Here are the reasons why I believe that New Zealand’s economy is heading for a crisis:

1) Interest rates have been at all-time lows for almost a half-decade

Ultra-low interest rate environments are notorious for fueling credit and housing bubbles, which is how the U.S. housing and credit bubble inflated last decade. New Zealand’s interest rates have been at record lows for nearly five years, which is more than enough time for economic bubbles and related imbalances to form.

Here is the chart of New Zealand’s benchmark interest rate:

.

nz interest rates

.

Source: TradingEconomics.com

New Zealand’s three-month interbank rate, base lending rate, and 10 year government bond yield are also at or near all-time lows. Like many countries that are experiencing bubbles in recent years, New Zealand’s low interest rates are a byproduct of global “hot money” flows from the United States and Japan, which have both had zero interest rates and quantitative easing programs to boost their economies after the Global Financial Crisis.

Low interest rates in the U.S. and Japan encouraged capital to flow into higher yielding investments in countries such as New Zealand, which led to reduced bond yields and an 85 percent increase in the value of the New Zealand dollar against the U.S. dollar since 2009. To combat the export-harming currency appreciation and bolster the economy during the financial crisis, New Zealand’s central bank reduced its short-term interest rates to all-time lows.

2) Property prices have doubled since 2004

Following the pattern of many nations outside of the hard-hit U.S., peripheral Europe, and Japan, New Zealand’s housing prices have doubled in the past decade, forming a property bubble:

.

house price change -  media house price - nz

.

Source: Global Property Guide

3) New Zealand has the world’s third most overvalued property market

The doubling of New Zealand’s housing prices in the past decade far surpassed household income and rent growth, making the country’s property market the third most overvalued in the world. New Zealand’s home price-to-rent ratio is 77 percent above its historic average and its home price-to-income ratio is 26 percent above its historic average.

4) New Zealand’s mortgage bubble grew by 165% since 2002

New Zealand’s housing bubble is driven by a mortgage bubble that grew from approximately NZD $70 billion in 2002 to NZD $186 billion in 2013 – a 165 percent increase in a little over a decade. New Zealand’s mortgage debt bubble grew at a faster rate than its economy during this time, causing the country’s total outstanding mortgage debt-to-GDP ratio to rise from approximately 57 percent to 85 percent.

5) Nearly half of mortgages have floating interest rates

New Zealand’s ultra-low interest rate environment has encouraged the country’s home buyers to make many of the same mistakes that the American home buyers did during last decade’s bubble. One of the gravest of these mistakes is using adjustable or floating rate mortgages, which will reset at higher interest rates when the low interest rate environment ultimately ends.

Almost half of New Zealand’s outstanding mortgages currently have floating interest rates, which is up significantly in the past decade:

.

composition of outstanding mortgages nz

.

Chart source: MacroBusiness

6) Mortgages account for 60% of banks’ loan portfolios

As if the fact that almost half of New Zealand’s mortgages have floating rates isn’t scary enough, mortgages now account for 60 percent of the country’s banks’ loan portfolios, which means that the financial sector is heavily exposed to the eventual popping of the housing bubble.

7) Finance, not agriculture, is New Zealand’s largest industry

Though New Zealand is commonly thought to be an agriculture-based economy, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Agriculture accounts for only 5.1 percent of New Zealand’s GDP, while the finance, insurance and business services sector is the country’s largest sector, contributing 28.8 percent to the GDP. Furthermore, banks account for 80 percent of the total assets of New Zealand’s financial system. Not only is New Zealand’s banking system dangerously exposed to the country’s property and credit bubble, but so is the entire economy.

8) New Zealand’s banks are exposed to Australia’s bubble

New Zealand’s banking system is dominated by four banks that are Australian-owned subsidiaries, which means that New Zealand’s banking system is exposed to the inevitable popping of Australia’s credit and property bubble. Australia’s household debt-to-income ratio recently rose to 177 percent from approximately 110 percent in the year 2000, while housing prices increased 150 percent in nominal terms and 85 percent in real terms. Australia’s housing market is now the world’s fifth most overvalued housing market.

9) Australian and Chinese buyers are inflating the property bubble

An influx of foreign home buyers in recent years has contributed to the inflation of New Zealand’s housing bubble. Australians and Chinese – who both hail from countries that are experiencing bubbles – account for 42 percent of these foreign buyers, which means that the false prosperity booms in Australia and China are spilling over into New Zealand’s housing market.

Here are a few statistics about China economic bubble:

  • China’s total domestic credit more than doubled to $23 trillion from $9 trillion in 2008, which is equivalent to adding the entire U.S. commercial banking sector.
  • Borrowing has risen as a share of China’s national income to more than 200 percent, from 135 percent in 2008.
  • China’s credit growth rate is now faster than Japan’s before its 1990 bust and America’s before 2008, with half of that growth in the shadow-banking sector.

(Note: Both New Zealand and Australia are also exposed to the coming popping of China’s economic bubble because their economies rely heavily on exports to China.)

10) New Zealand has a household debt problem

New Zealand has the fourth worst household debt-to-GDP ratio among advanced economies, surpassing even the United States:

.

household debt to GDP in avanced countries 2012

.

Source: Reserve Bank of New Zealand

New Zealand’s household debt-to-disposable income ratio soared from 100 percent in the early-2000s to just under 150 percent in recent years thanks in large part to the country’s mortgage bubble. New Zealand’s ultra-low interest rates have prevented its large household debt from becoming an even greater problem, but this situation can change dramatically when interest rates eventually rise again.

11) Government overseas debt has nearly tripled since 2008

New Zealand’s government took advantage of the plunging yields on its bonds (which is courtesy of the global QE and ZIRP-driven bond bubble) after the Global Financial Crisis to nearly triple its overseas borrowing:

.

new zealand government overseas debt 1993 to 2012

.

Source: Wikipedia; RBNZ

The global bond bubble has provided New Zealand’s government with a low-cost borrowing opportunity that is unlikely to be replicated anytime soon, especially now that the U.S. Federal Reserve is slated to completely taper or end its QE3 bond buying program this year.

12) The New Zealand dollar is overvalued

Hot money inflows (a byproduct of QE and zero interest rate policies) into New Zealand after the financial crisis helped the New Zealand dollar to strengthen by 85 percent against the U.S. dollar:

.

new zealand united states dollar

.

Source: XE.com

After its strong appreciation against both the U.S. and Australian dollars over the past decade, the New Zealand dollar is now overvalued by as much as 20 percent according to some estimates. New Zealand’s Finance Minister Bill English stated in February that the overvalued dollar is “a concern” because it risks harming the country’s exporters. If the New Zealand dollar’s overvaluation was to abruptly correct and even overshoot to the downside (a possible result of the Fed’s taper), New Zealand’s central bank may be forced to hike its key interest rate to prevent further declines.

How New Zealand’s Economic Bubble Will Pop

New Zealand’s economic bubble will likely pop as a result of rising interest rates across the yield curve, which would put pressure on the country’s property and credit bubbles. New Zealand’s key interest rate is expected to continue rising after its March hike due to rising domestic inflationary pressures, while longer-term bond yields are likely to rise as a side-effect of the Fed’s taper and eventual Fed Funds rate increase. The popping of Australia and China’s bubbles are two other external factors that have a high probability of contributing to the popping of New Zealand’s bubble.

Here is what to expect when New Zealand’s economic bubble truly pops:

  • The property bubble will pop
  • Banks will experience losses on their mortgage portfolios
  • The country’s credit boom will turn into a bust
  • Over-leveraged consumers will default on their debts
  • Stock and bond prices will fall; the New Zealand dollar may weaken
  • Economic growth will go into reverse
  • Unemployment will rise

I will be publishing a full comprehensive report about New Zealand’s economic bubble in the near future, so please follow the directions below to receive my updates.

.

.

.

Mr Colombo seems to have a better insight into our economy than our own ex-Investment Banker and current  Prime Minister, and current Finance Minister.

Perhaps Mr Colombo might like a new job?

 

.

.

= fs =

National Tinkers while Auckland Property Prices Burn

.

snail politics - national government tinkers

.

When it comes to tax cuts for the rich;  state asset sales; slashing public services; and corporate welfare – National can move at relativistic velocities that Einstein concluded were beyond the realms of physical  laws in our Universe.

When it comes to social problems like child poverty; increasing greenhouse emissions from agriculture; and a housing crisis in Auckland (denied again, recently, by our esteemed Prime Minister)  – the National government can tinker and prevaricate in ways that would do a two year old, at an early childhood centre, proud.

It has opposed, resisted, condemned, criticised, and generally done everything within it’s power not to implement any form of capital gains tax in this country. Suggesting to National that a CGT could be one tool (of many) to quell housing speculation in Auckland has been like inviting a Vegan to a spit-roast barbecue.

Belatedly, as is usual for this  government, after considerable pressure from multiple political, community, business, and state sectors, Key has decided to move – albeit at a glacial pace, and with a tentative single step – to introduce a limited Capital Gains Tax.

The limited CGT will apply;

Introducing a new bright line test to tax gains from residential property sold within two years of purchase, unless it’s the sellers main home, inherited or transferred in a relationship property settlement.

As Key explained;

“It’s not unreasonable to expect that if you buy an investment property and sell it for a gain within two years, then you should be taxed on that gain.”

Fair enough to. It is not unreasonable, especially when the rest of us have no choice but to pay tax on all our other earnings, whether it be as a wage-slave; self-employed; retailer; contractor, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc…

Even property investors admit it is fair, as NZ Property Investors’ Federation CEO, Andrew King, pointed out;

“As we have been saying for years, people trading property have always had to pay tax on their profits and this move will help to clarify this. This should finally put to rest all the unfounded comments from people who say that property has a tax advantage.”

But – two years is the “bright line”?!

So, property speculators/investors who sell their assets in, oh, say, two years and one day are safe?

I’m sure this has escaped the attention of every property speculator/investor in the country. Plus their accountants. Plus tax specialists. Plus the chap who mows the lawns.

Shhhh! Be vewy, vewy quiet! Don’t tell anyone.

As long as no one knows of the two year “bright line”,  the law is “perfectly workable”…

.

flying money pig

.

Tinkering – best left to a National government. They are expert at it.

.

.

.

References

Fairfax media:  No housing crisis in Auckland – John Key

NZCity: Capital gains tax on property announced

NZCity: Capital gains tax – what’s been said

Other blogs

Bowalley Road: The Least They Could Do

Gordon Campbell on the government’s belated moves on property speculation

No Right Turn: Winning the argument on taxing capital gains

Polity: At the end of the day what most New Zealanders ackshully accept is… (Housing edition)

Polity: More-tax-on-capital-gains-but-not-at-all-a-capital-gains-tax

The Dim Post:  Progress

The Standard: CGT – the focus groups made Key do it

The Standard: Capital gains tax to be introduced

The Standard: Herald praises Cunliffe for CGT policy

Previous related blogposts

A Capital Gains Tax?

Our growing housing problem

National spins BS to undermine Labour’s Capital Gains Tax

Why should tradies be prosecuted for doing “cashies” and not paying tax?

Letter to the Editor – A Claytons Capital Gains Tax?

.

.

.

capital-gains-tax-first-world-problem

.

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 21 May 2015.

.

.

= fs =

The closure of three prisons and loss of 262 jobs – five issues for the National govt

18 April 2015 3 comments

.

justice-for-sale-600x337

.

The closure of three prisons and loss of 262 jobs

The closure of units in Waikeria, Tongariro-Rangipo, and Rimutaka Prisons, and the subsequent estimated loss of 262 jobs has been openly conceded as a re-distribution of inmates to the new, privately run prison at Wiri.  Corrections chief executive, Ray Smith, stated on 9 April;

I am also proposing to close units at three prisons – Rimutaka, Waikeria and Tongariro/Rangipo…

… With the opening of Auckland South Corrections Facility (at Wiri), and the subsequent reduction in pressure on prison capacity, we can now look at closing these end of life facilities.

The Wiri facility will be managed by multi-national corporation, Serco, as a profit-making venture, paid by the tax-payer.

Smith has blamed the closures and redundancies on the Waikeria, Tongariro-Rangipo, and Rimutaka Prisons being  “50 years old, surrounded by facilities that are 100 years old“. He claims “it would be uneconomic to bring them up to scratch“.

The closure of units at Waikeria, Tongariro-Rangipo, and Rimutaka is estimated to save the National government $165 million. This will be a godsend to Finance Minister Bill English, who admitted on 10 April that National’s much heralded promise of a budget surplus was looking more and more unlikely;

We’re (the Government) is continuing to manage the books carefully but lower inflation, while good for consumers, is making it less likely that the final accounts in October will show a surplus for the whole year.

With the  planned sale of state houses to the  Salvation Army, and other social services, having collapsed, English’s expectation of reaping big cash dividends from the housing sell-of has evaporated.

As I wrote in October 2014;

Meanwhile, Bill English was outlining National’s true agenda, whilst Key was putting on his benign face to the New Zealand public.  As TV3’s Brook Sabin reported,

A big state-house sell-off is on the way, and up to $5 billion-worth of homes could be put on the block.

The shake-up of the Government’s housing stock will be a key focus for the next three years, with Finance Minister Bill English to lead it.

On the block is everything from a tiny 75 square metre two-bedroom state house in Auckland’s Remuera, on the market for $740,000, to a three-bedroom home in Taumarunui for just $38,000. Thousands more properties will soon hit the market.

The reason for putting up to  $5 billion-worth of homes  on the block?

Crashing dairy prices had left a gaping hole in the National Government’s books, and their much-vaunted Budget surplus next year was under threat. Remember that  Key was candid in the implications for the economy and the  government’s tax-take; when he stated – also on 6 October;

It can have some impact because if that’s the final payout, the impact would be as large as NZ$5 billion for the economy overall, and you would expect that to flow through to the tax revenue, both for the 14/15 year and the 15/16 year. My understanding is Treasury is working on those numbers for the incoming Minister of Finance, which fortunately is the same as the outgoing Minister of Finance as well.”

Faced with the imminent sinking of one of National’s cornerstone election promises – a return to surplus by 2014/15 – $165 million saved by the closure of prison units will be  a relief to an increasingly frustrated Bill English.

Key and English couldn’t flog of $5 billion of state housing to social services. So now they are looking at what is effectively privatisation-by-stealth with our prison services.

And bugger the inevitable consequences…

.

Justice not for sale logo

.

Five issues for the National govt

The closure of units at Waikeria, Tongariro-Rangipo, and Rimutaka Prisons will not be without dire consequences that impact on nearly every aspect of New Zealand society, regions, and the economy.  Even the political landscape may be altered if this ill-considered plan goes ahead.

1. Sending “clients” to a private facility

There is something decidely immoral about up-rooting hundreds of prisoners whose freedom of movement and freedom of choice has been curtailed by State sanctions, and handed over into the hands of a private corporation – Serco – where the prime motivator is making a profit for shareholders. (Overseas shareholders, to be precise.)

In no way can this dystopian scenario be considered part of the “free market”, as all forms of choice have been removed from the prison “clients”.

Serco have been handed “clients” into their “care” whether wanted or not by the prisoners. Not since the slave trade from the 16th to 19th centuries have human being been treated as commodities by Western nations.

Make no mistake; private prisons turn human beings into “things”, to be used by business as investment commodities.

How long before prisoners are sold, bought, and traded by competing corporatised prisons? How long before their labour is sold to other businesses, for profit?

2. Regional economies and job losses

The loss of 262 jobs in Upper Hutt (Rimutaka),  Waikeria, and Tongariro-Rangipo will impact considerably on those regional economies already badly hit by loss of industries, closed businesses, population moving away, and continuing down-turn in the dairy industry.

It is this sort of regional neglect that resulted in Northland voters abandoning the National Party and electing NZ First leader, Winston Peters, as their electorate MP.

Waipa District mayor, Jim Mylchreest, was frustrated and angry at National’s further under-mining of what remained of regional economies;

Here they are with a major change and not even bothering to let us know plans are afoot.

I assume that they’ve done their sums and it’s more efficient for them but they’re not looking at New Zealand in terms of what are the benefits to try and keep employment in the regions.”

Mayor Mylchreest has every right to be angry – closure of a high-security wing at Waikeria Prison will  result in the loss of 148 jobs – creating considerable impact on nearby Te Awamutu (pop: 10,305), only sixteen kilometers away.

Is this how the National Party “supports” the regions?!

It seems that National has not learned a single thing from the Northland by-election.

Rimutaka may well be a safe Labour seat. But it also delivered 15,352 Party Votes for National – now at risk as Upper Hutt will be hard hit by job losses at Rimutaka Prison.

National may have mis-calculated the political fall-out from this move.

3. NZ First/Country Party

A loss of 262 jobs. Millions lost from regional economies. Small towns losing more people. Businesses closing, through lack of turn-over. Which, in a vicious circle leads to more job losses…

A recipe to increase NZ First’s re-positioning on the politicalk spectrum as a de facto “Country-Regional Party”?

It certainly sounds like it.

National may have handed Peters an early Christmas gift to campaign on. Disaffected voters seeing hundreds of jobs lost in their communities – with  subsequent closures of down-stream businesses in their town Main Streets – may wonder why on Earth they should keep voting for National? What’s in it for them?

Not much it would seem.

“Vote National – Lose Your Job” would appear to be the new slogan for National for the 2017 elections.

I have no doubt that even as I write this, and you the reader are reading my words, that Winston Peters and his NZ First strategists are already working on how to maximise these events for their own political gain.

I have no doubt whatsoever; the “Northland Experience” will be repeated throughout the country – much to Winston Peters’ delight.

4. Prisoner’s families

National’s Corrections Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga has stated;

I understand that this proposal may be unsettling for affected staff but Corrections will have extensive support and assistance in place should the proposal go ahead. I also believe that the proposal reflects our commitment to providing safe and secure working conditions for staff and a safe and productive environment for prisoners.

Prisoners have a much better chance of successful rehabilitation in modern facilities where they have access to education, training and employment opportunities.

Being close to their families is an important factor in rehabilitation for some prisoners.”

However, transferring several hundred prisoners from as far afield as Rimutaka, to Auckland – a distance of some 650kms – is hardly “being close to their families”  and one can only imagine how increasing isolation from family and community will give  “prisoners […] a much better chance of successful rehabilitation”.

The distances involved are considerable, as this Corrections Department map illustrates;

.

[6] Waikeria Prison [8] Tongariro/Rangipo Prison [13] Rimutaka Prison

[6] Waikeria Prison
[8] Tongariro/Rangipo Prison
[13] Rimutaka Prison

.

Minister Lotu-Iiga needs to explain why he thinks that isolating prisoners in this manner, can possibly assist in their rehabilitation and reintergration back into their communities?

It seems that transferring prisoners out of their communities flies in the face of the Minister’s assertions.

It may also prove more expensive, as prisoner’s families make increased calls upon the Child Travel Fund;

The Child Travel Fund provides financial support to eligible children traveling to visit a parent in prison. The fund also supports parents traveling to visit a child who is under 18 years of age and in prison.

Does National even care?

They should. Increasing prisoner’s alienation from family and communities undermines every effort made by the judicial/corrections system to rehabilitate prisoners.

It should definitely be cause for concern for  the corporate managers of Wiri, for whom rehabilitation and reduced re-offending is part of their contract, according to Corrections chief executive, Ray Smith;

They can earn up to $1.5 million in incentive payments if they can reduce the rate of reoffending by up to 10 percent more than the department can do.”

According to Derek Cheng at the Herald, writing three years ago;

For Wiri, Serco will face stiff financial penalties if it does not meet rehabilitation targets – which will be set at 10 per cent lower than public prisons.

The Corrections Department has a target to reduce re-offending by 10 per cent. If that is achieved, Wiri would have to achieve a rate 20 below the current rates or face fines, which have yet to be set.

Though Finance Minister Bill English – quoted in Scoop at around the same time – was more cautious;

It will also face financial penalties if it fails to meet short-term rehabilitation and reintegration measures including prisoner health and employment targets, and safe, secure and humane custodial standards.”

However, speaking to Paul Henry on Radio Live, Corrections chief executive, Ray Smith, was more circumspect when asked directly what penalties were involved in prisoners re-offended after release;

(@ 7:35)

Henry: “If rehabitation rates, if recidivism rates deteriorate, is there a penalty?”

Smith: “Well they just can’t earn the incentive payment if they can’t [meet the targets(muffled)].”

Henry: “So there isn’t actually a penalty?”

Smith: “[Stuttered words]...the penalties are associated with failure on security. The incentives are geared towards having to actually achieve better outcomes than the Department.”

So unlike penalties associated with prisoner escapes, where Serco actually has to pay the government, the only “penalty” associated with not meeting rehabilitation targets is foregoing $1.5 million in incentive payments?

Under Serco’s contract to manage Mt Eden Remand Prison, it is fined $150,000 each and every time a prisoner escapes, as happened in 2011 and 2012.

Under the contract to manage Wiri, it appears that the “penalty” is foregoing incentive payments.

The two “penalties” are not exactly the same and Minister English was being less than clear when he referred to Serco facing “financial penalties“.

Repeating the question – does National care? Not in the least, one may rightly guess. After all, chances are that National will no longer be in government when the ‘chickens come home to roost’ on this little social time bomb, and John Key will be writing his memoirs somewhere on an idyllic Hawaiian beach.

5. Relocating staff?

There seems to be confusion as to what will happen to the 262 staff who will lose their jobs from  Waikeria, Tongariro-Rangipo, and Rimutaka Prisons.

In his interview with Paul Henry on Radio Live on 10 April, Corrections CEO Ray Smith offered to do his best to find replacement jobs at other facilities for 262 redundant staff.

Suggestions that staff would be relocated to Auckland, with a “$20,000 relocation assistance-payment” appears to be farcical for two reason;

1. $20,000 payment to a Corrections staffmember living in a small town, where properties are worth considerably less than the over-heated Auckland housing market, is unhelpful. There is a worsening housing shortage in Auckland, and it seems to be verging on incompetence for this government to be adding to the housing problem by encouraging more workers and their families to move to the the city, thereby adding to congestion.

2. According to various media reports, the new Wiri facility is already fully staffed;

And unfortunately for staff who will be laid off, the opening of a large new prison in South Auckland next month is no consolation as all jobs are already filled. – TV1 News

A new prison in south Auckland will pick up the relocated inmates, but it is already fully staffed.TV3 News

So where are the jobs? Certainly not at Wiri.

Which makes this statement from Corrections Minister Lotu-Iiga unconvincing;

It should also be noted that the number of prisoner places is not reducing and will in fact increase with the opening of [Wiri]. We will have a net increase of 433 beds.”

The closure of three facilities; 262 redundancies; and contracting out to a private provider all reeks of National’s mania for cost-cutting.

As with many other cost-cutting exercises, it is New Zealanders; their families; and economically-fragile regions and small towns, that are having to pay the price. Treating prisoners as commercial commodities adds a particularly nasty aspect to this exercise.

Meanwhile, foreign-owned Serco stands to gain $30 million of tax-payer’s money, per year, from managing the new Wiri prison.

Someone is benefitting, and it is not us.

.

Justice not for sale logo

.

Prison facts and statistics – December 2014

.

Number of prisoners in each prison - nz prisons

Source

 .

Justice not for sale logo
 .

References

Fairfax media: Up to 262 prison jobs may be cut in major Corrections restructure

TV3 News: Union – Prison staff can’t afford to move to Auckland

TV1 News: Budget surplus looking increasingly unlikely this year, Bill English admits

TV3 News: State housing sell-off worth $5B

Hive News: Treasury re-crunching Budget numbers for low Fonterra payout

National Party: Remaining on track to Budget surplus in 2014/15

Wikipedia: Serco

TV1 News: Town’s fury at being left in dark over prison closure

Wikipedia: Te Awamutu

Election Results 2014: Official Count Results — Rimutaka

Department of Corrections:  Sustainable Development Framework

Department of Corrections:  Travel assistance for visits

TV3 News: Union – Prison staff can’t afford to move to Auckland

NZ Herald: New private prison at Wiri given green light

Auckland Scoop media: Amazing promises for new Wiri prison: less offending, better safety, superior service

RadioLive: Around 260 staff face redundancy at Waikeria, Rangipo and Rimutaka prisons (audio)

Auckland Scoop media: Private operator of Mt Eden fined $150,000 for prison escape; security improvements made

Radio NZ: Serco fined after another prisoner escape

TV3 News: Govt criticised over prison job cuts

Radio NZ: Serco expects $30m revenue from Wiri prison

Department of Corrections:  Prison facts and statistics – December 2014

Previous related blogposts

The lunatics are running the Asylum

Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Rua)

 


 

.

140105 Housing in prisons

 

 

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 13 April 2015.

.

.

= fs =

Capitalism and the price of chocolate

1 March 2015 2 comments

.

 

.

From a previous blogpost published on 4 July 2013, in The Daily Blog

.

The Price of Cocoa (2013)

.

Three cans of cocoa tell an interesting story.

Can A is the oldest, with an expiry date of April 2011. The can measures 110mm (H) x 75mm (D). It contained 200g net dry cocoa powder.

We purchased Can B sometime  in 2011 (?). The expiry date was March 2012, so it’s the second oldest can.

Interestingly, it also contained 200g net dry cocoa powder. However,   whilst the contents remained the same as Can A – the dimensions of the can inexplicably increased; 130mm (H) x 75mm (D). Same diameter as Can A – but 20mm taller. Contents remain the same net weight.

.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

.

A month ago we purchased Can C (expiry date, March 2015). The dimensions of this can is the same as Can B: 130mm (H) x 75mm (D). But this time, the contents decreased from 200 to 190g net dry cocoa powder. Ten grams less.

.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

.

So the up-shot? The can-sizes have gotten bigger – whilst the contents has reduced by 5%.

On 9 June, I emailed Nestle to find out what was going on,

Kia ora,

It has recently come to my attention that two cans of Nestle Baking Cocoa measure 110mm X 75mm, whilst the other measures 130mm x 75mm.

Both contain 200g net  cocoa powder.

The smaller can measuring 110 x 75 has a “best before” date April 2011.

The larger can, 130×75 has a “best before” date March 2012.

It appears that you have increased the SIZE of the can, whilst the contents remain the same.

Is there a reason why the size of the cans  was increased, by 20mm in height?

And can you confirm that the price stayed the same; increased; or reduced; when the change was made from a 110mm height to 130mm height?

(The email was sent prior to purchasing Can C.)

Perhaps not surprisingly, I received no reply from Nestle. [Blogger’s note: I never received any reply from Nestle.]

Unfortunately, I never retained the receipts for Cans A and B, otherwise I could compare prices. But what’s the bet that the retail price probably increased?

And thus it came to pass…

“As short a time ago as February, the Ministry of Plenty had issued a promise (a “categorical pledge” were the official words) that there would be no reduction of the chocolate ration during 1984. Actually, as Winston was aware, the chocolate ration was to be reduced from thirty grams to twenty at the end of the present week. All that was needed was to substitute for the original promise a warning that it would probably be necessary to reduce the ration at some time in April.” – George Orwell,  ‘1984’

Doubleplusgood!

.

The Price of Chocolate (2015)

.

A recent story in the media caught my attention;

.

Cadbury blocks get the chop

.

The unattributed Fairfax article further stated,

Amanda Banfield, managing director of Australasia for Mondelez International, the parent company that owns Cadbury, said she expected a backlash.

[…]

She pointed to rising packaging costs and a lift in the price of raw materials.

The main ingredients are cocoa, sugar and milk.

So let’s have a look at the prices of raw ingredients.

Sugar.

This commodity dropped in price from NZ$0.22  per pound, in July 2014, to NZ$0.20 per pound, by January of this year, according to IndexMundi.com;

.

price of sugar - 7 months

.

Over the last year, the price of sugar increased, peaking in July last year, before falling back;

.

price of sugar - 12 months

.

But taken over a five year period, look at how the price of sugar has dropped dramatically;

.

price of sugar - 5 years

.

So the rationale for Cadbury’s decision to de facto increase their prices cannot be blamed on sugar, which is cheaper now than it was, five years ago.

Let’s have a look at cocoa (beans) – and a similar story unfolds;

Six months – a 3.95% increase;

.

price of cocoa beans - 6 months

.

Twelve months – a 12.26% increase;

.

price of cocoa beans - 12 months

.

However – over 5 years – a 21.06% drop in price;

.

price of cocoa beans - 5 years

.

It would be interesting to note if when the price of cocoa beans collapsed to NZ$2,601.96 per metric ton, in March 2013, did the price of a Cadbury’s bar of chocolate increase in size? Or fall in price?

As for the price of packaging, this would be based on a local commodity (paper and ink) and if  New Zealand’s low inflation is anything to go by (an average of 2.7% pa since 2000), would not be much of a factor in pricing. With the exception of four Quarters around late 2010 to mid-2011, inflation has remained at or below 2%, a fallout from the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and ongoing recessionary/low-growth influences;

.

trading economics - inflation 2010 - 2014 nz

.

So with commodity prices for sugar and cocoa beans lower now than five years ago, and with low inflation, what other cause  could there be for the de facto price price of Cadbury’s chocolate bars?

Perhaps the answer lies with Kraft’s acquisition of Cadburys  for  £11.5 billion (US$18.9 billion) in 2010. Kraft financed the take-over deal by  borrowing a massive  £7 billion (US$11.5 billion) to finance the deal.

However, the New Zealand branch of Cadbury’s did not return a profit to it’s parent company (Mondelez International) until three years later, when it paid a dividend of NZ$40 million to its parent company, Mondelez.

According to  statements, Cadbury NZ’s profit  tripled to $11.6 million, from $3.5 million a year earlier, even as costs fell by  2.3%.

So despite falling costs, and increased profits, Cadbury NZ was struggling to make dividend payments to it’s parent company, and meanwhile Kraft was committed to servicing a £7 billion (US$11.5 billion) loan which had financed the acquisition in 2010.

The reduction in Cadbury’s chocolate bars can therefore be attributed to Kraft’s indebtedness rather than the official company line of increased costs. Unless Cadbury is lying in it’s financial statements, their costs have actually fallen, not increased.

As with many corporate takeovers, the benefits do not necessarily accrue to the public. The number one beneficiary is almost always shareholders, and consumers come a poor second (or third, or fourth…).

In this case, reducing the size of Cadbury chocolate bars by 20% is equivalent to a price increase, and Kraft’s shareholders will reap the rewards of increased profits.

Not exactly a sweet deal for New Zealand consumers.

Postscript

On 15 February, I contacted Statistics NZ, to enquire how SNZ views reduction in product sizes, whilst retail prices remain the same, in it’s calculation of the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Dave Lum, from Statistics NZ replied;

The CPI measures price change in a “fixed” basket of goods and services, which means that we aim to measure price change based on quality being constant. In an instance where the quality (in your example, the weight/size) of an item changes, we show a price adjustment to account for the fact that the quality of the item has changed.

 As an example, if the size of a can of beans goes from 300g to 330g for the same price, this is shown as a price decrease for that item in the CPI. Likewise, if the can of beans went from 300g to 250g for the same price, it would be represented as a price increase.

So according to Mr Lum, Cadbury’s “switcheroo” with product sizes, will not materially distort CPI price measures.

.


 

References

Fairfax media:  Cadbury blocks get the chop

IndexMundi.com: Sugar Futures End of Day Settlement Price (6 months)

IndexMundi.com: Sugar Futures End of Day Settlement Price (12 months)

IndexMundi.com: Sugar Futures End of Day Settlement Price (5 years)

IndexMundi.com: Cocoa beans Monthly Price – New Zealand Dollar per Metric Ton (6 months)

IndexMundi.com: Cocoa beans Monthly Price – New Zealand Dollar per Metric Ton (12 months)

IndexMundi.com: Cocoa beans Monthly Price – New Zealand Dollar per Metric Ton (5 years)

Reserve Bank: Inflation 1990-2014

Trading Economics: Inflation 2010 – 2015

NBR: Kraft Foods (NZ) pays $40m dividend to parent Mondelez

Wikipedia: Acquisition by Kraft Foods

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 24 February 2015.

 

 

.

.

= fs =

2014 – Ongoing jobless tally

25 December 2014 16 comments

.

Unemployment logo

.

Continued from: 2013 – Ongoing jobless tally

So by the numbers, for this year,

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December

.

*

.

See also

Reported Job Losses

.

*

.

Current unemployment statistics

 

March 2014 Quarter

March 2014 quarter Quarterly change Annual change
(000) (Percent)
Employed 2,318 +0.9 +3.7
Unemployed    147   0.0  -1.1
Not in the labour force 1,093   -0.9  -2.9
Working-age population 3,559 +0.3 +1.4
(Percent) (Percentage points)
Employment rate  65.1 +0.4  +1.4
Unemployment rate    6.0   0.0   -0.2
Labour force participation rate  69.3 +0.4  +1.4

 

All figures are seasonally adjusted. Source: Statistics New Zealand

* Employed: Includes people who worked one hour (or more) per week, whether paid or unpaid.

June 2014 quarter

.

June 2014 quarter Quarterly change Annual change
(000) (Percent)
Employed 2,328 +0.4 +3.7
Unemployed    137  -6.3 -10.9
Not in the labour force 1,114  +1.7  -0.9
Working-age population 3,579 +0.6 +1.6
(Percent) (Percentage points)
Employment rate  65.0 -0.1  +1.3
Unemployment rate    5.6 -0.3   -0.8
Labour force participation rate  68.9 -0.3  +0.8

 .

All figures are seasonally adjusted. Source: Statistics New Zealand

* Employed: Includes people who worked one hour (or more) per week, whether paid or unpaid.

.

Additional statistics

Officially unemployed stats;

In the June 2014 quarter compared with the March 2014 quarter:

  • The number of people employed increased by 10,000 people.
  • The employment rate fell 0.1 percentage points, to 65.0 percent.
  • The number of people unemployed decreased by 9,000 people.
  • The unemployment rate fell 0.3 percentage points to 5.6 percent.
  • The labour force participation rate decreased 0.3 percentage points, to 68.9 percent.

Official unemployment: down

The  under-employment stats;

People who are underemployed are those who work part-time, would prefer to work more hours, and are available to do so. In unadjusted terms, the number of underemployed grew by 12 percent over the year. While the number of part-time workers increased over the year, the ratio of people underemployed to employed part-time also rose – from 17.1 percent in June 2013 to 18.7 percent this quarter.

Official under-employment: up

 

The Household Labour Force Survey for the  September 2014 quarter will be released on 5 November 2014.

Source

Definitions

Jobless: people who are either officially unemployed, available but not seeking work, or actively seeking but not available for work. The ‘available but not seeking work’ category is made up of the ‘seeking through newspaper only’, ‘discouraged’, and ‘other’ categories.

Under-employment: employed people who work part time (ie usually work less than 30 hours in all jobs) and are willing and available to work more hours than they usually do.

Employed: people in the working-age population who, during the reference week, did one of the following:

  • worked for one hour or more for pay or profit in the context of an employee/employer relationship or self-employment 

  • worked without pay for one hour or more in work which contributed directly to the operation of a farm, business, or professional practice owned or operated by a relative 

  • had a job but were not at work due to: own illness or injury, personal or family responsibilities, bad weather or mechanical breakdown, direct involvement in an industrial dispute, or leave or holiday.

Source

.

.

[To  be periodically up-dated]

.

.

= fs =

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,069 other followers