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Posts Tagged ‘recession’

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…

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forbes.com-logo-vector

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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:

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nz interest rates

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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:

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house price change -  media house price - nz

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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:

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composition of outstanding mortgages nz

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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:

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household debt to GDP in avanced countries 2012

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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:

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new zealand government overseas debt 1993 to 2012

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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:

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new zealand united states dollar

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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.

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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?

 

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The Mendacities of Mr Key #3: tax cuts

2 March 2014 9 comments

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john key lying

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3. Tax cuts

Background

19 May 2008

In the bitterly contested lead-up to the 2008 general election, National promised three tax cuts, to be spread over three years.

These were prompted by the nine consecutive Budget surpluses that Labour’s Finance Minister, Michael Cullen, had posted between 2000 and 2008. The public perceived that the government had too much of our money and demanded tax cuts.

Cullen resisted, as his main priority was continuing to pay down billions in debt that Labour had inherited in late 1990s.

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Key  and  National Party strategists heard the insistent  calls for tax cuts, and duly obliged – even though by November 2008, the global financial crisis had plunged the world into a recession, with only Australia and China escaping the worst effects.

In May 2008, Key promised voters tax cuts ‘‘North of $50‘‘.

April 2009

On 1 April 2009, National delivered the first of two rounds of tax cuts (a third round had been scrapped, as by then the recession had blown a hole in the government’s revenue).

This is what the 2009 tax cuts delivered.

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tax-cuts-april-2009

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Anyone earning under $40,000 received nothing. Not even close to “north of $50”.

October 2010

The following year, the second round of tax cuts was implemented,

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Tax rates October 2010

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Susie Nordqvist wrote in the Herald on 20 May 2010,

* Average income household – $24.71c per week better off

* Average wage worker – $15.91c per week better off

* Couple receiving New Zealand superannuation – $10.77c per week better off

* Professional property investor with 25 properties – $288.18c per week worse off

* Couple saving for their first home – $40.38c per week better off

* Domestic purposes beneficiary – $2.45c per week better off

* Minimum wage worker – $6.36c per week better off

* Student – $2.66c per week better off

* Business owner structuring income to claim for Working for Families – $153.03c per week worse off.

As the reader can easily determine, very few in the above group were receiving “north of $50”. When the rise in GST was taken into account, the actual real cut in  taxes for average workers’ and families was reduced even further.

The only tax bracket that received a tax cut “north of $50” were those earning around $80,000 or more. Such as government ministers. And John Key.

When you factor in the rise in GST from 12.5%  to 15% – even fewer got the much promised “north of $50”, except the wealthiest.

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Key defends tax cuts for wealthy

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Conclusions:

  1. Key had no choice but to cancel the third round of tax cuts (scheduled for 2011), and to reduce the amount on offer. The GFC and recession were biting into our economy so badly, that National was borrowing $450 million a week by the end of 2009. Adding the 2010 tax cuts into the mix eventually left this country with a $60 billion fiscal hole.
  2. Key knew that the tax cuts were unaffordable during the 2008 election campaign. The world was deeply mired in the global financial crisis and recessionary effects were beginning to hit economies around the world. To pursue the promised tax cuts was the height of irresponsibility.
  3. Key bought the election with unaffordable promises.
  4. Our debt will have to be re-paid. (Foreign creditors insist.)

Beware of politicians bearing promises and gifts. We will be the ones paying for it.

Charge: broken promise/deflection/half-truth/hypocrisy/outright lie/mis-information?

Verdict:  Outright Lie, Broken Promise

 

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References

NZ Herald: Cullen – Tax cuts but strict conditions

Trading Economics:  New Zealand Government Debt To GDP

Dominion Post: Nats set for $50 tax cut trump

Otago Daily Times: Key says donate tax cuts to charity

NZ Herald: Budget 2010: What the tax cuts mean for you

NZ herald: Key defends tax cuts for wealthy

Parliament:  Tax System Changes—Impact on Operating Balance

Otago Daily Times: Government now borrowing $450 million a week – claim

Radio NZ:  English confirms national debt set to rise

Previous related blogposts

Labour: the Economic Record 2000 – 2008

The Mendacities of Mr Key #2: Secret Sources

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Vote these traitors out

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen

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Johnny’s Report Card – National Standards Assessment – Growth

9 January 2013 7 comments

To Whom It May Concern; the following Report Card detail’s Johnny’s achievements over the last four years.

The following contrasts compare four years, ranging from the end of 2008 to the end of this year, 2012.

Whilst it is acknowledged that the Global Financial Crisis impacted harshly on our society and economy, it is also fair to say that National has had the benefits of starting out with a sound economy (surpluses, low unemployment, etc)  in 2008 and four years in office to make good on it’s election promises.

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Growth

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Recent history:

In the past, whenever National (or the right wing “Labour-ACT” government of the 1980s) came to power, the result was never very good,

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Decline in economic activity

Source: Dunedin Star

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Highest jobless rate in 2 years - 7 May 1998

Source: Otago Daily Times

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Redundancies hit Tranz Rail workers hard - 2 Oct 1998

Source: Otago Daily Times

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Current Account deficit blows out to 10-year high - 28 Jan 1997

Source: Otago Daily Times

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The rhetoric:

The National Party has an economic plan that will build the foundations for a better future.

* We will focus on lifting medium-term economic performance and managing taxpayers’ money effectively.

* We will be unrelenting in our quest to lift our economic growth rate and raise wage rates.

* We will cut taxes, not just in election year, but in a regular programme of ongoing tax cuts.

* We will invest in the infrastructure this country needs for productivity growth.

* We will be more careful with how we spend the cash in the public purse, monitoring not just the quantity but also the quality of government spending.

* We will concentrate on equipping young New Zealanders with the education they need for a 21st century global economy.

* We will reduce the burden of compliance and bureaucracy, and we will say goodbye to the blind ideology that locks the private sector out of too many parts of our economy.

And we will do all of this while improving the public services that Kiwis have a right to expect.  ” – John Key, 29 July 2008

See: 2008: A Fresh Start for New Zealand

Growing the economy is the Government’s number one priority, and science and innovation have a key part to play in that growth.

Indeed, this Government has made science and innovation one of the six cornerstones of its economic growth agenda. We’ve done this because New Zealand needs an economic jolt. Our productivity and economic growth have been sluggish for decades and as a result we have slipped down the OECD’s ranking of national wealth per capita.

Our performance compared to other smaller advanced economies has been uninspiring at best. For example, in 1976 our per capita income was slightly ahead of Australia. It was nearly 20 percent greater than the OECD average.

We are now 20 percent behind the OECD average. Australia, by contrast, is still about 20 percent ahead.

Finland is another example of our relative decline. In 1979 our per capita income lines crossed – New Zealand going down and Finland going up. The Finns are now about 20 percent ahead of us.

So, how do we turn the situation around? ” – John Key, 1 July 2011

See: National Economic Development Forum

Present  reality:

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Declining traffic bad for the economy

Full story

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Unemployment up to 7.3pc - a 13 year high

Full story

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KiwiRail under fire over job cuts

Full story

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Current account gap narrows as trade balance shrinks

Full story

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Two things would be fair to say,

    1. National inherited an economy with low unemployment and net government debt at an all time low of 5.6% of New Zealand’s GDP, net. (Far from being fiscally profligate as National claims, Labour actually behaved more responsibly than National has done, as the information below clearly illustrates.)
    2. The Global Financial Crisis was not an event of National’s making. (Though the ideology of corporate greed, profiteering, and minimal government oversight which contributed to the Crisis is most certainly one that National shares.)

As Treasury data shows, New Zealand’s net government debt situation worsened from 2008 to June of 2012,

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NZ Government net debt 2008 - 2012

Source: Treasury – Financial Statemement of the Government of New Zealand

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NZ Government net debt 2008 - 2012 table 16

Source: IBID

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Table 16 above opened with a net government debt of 5.6% – left by the outgoing Labour government.

It closed with 25% net government debt – a fourfold increase – courtesy of National’s “prudent fiscal management”.

As the Treasury document explained,

Net debt increases as a result of cash deficits and
declines as a result of cash surpluses. It also
fluctuates in line with valuation movements in the
underlying financial assets and liabilities of the Crown
and movements in the amounts of currency issued to
New Zealand banks.

Net debt increased this year, continuing the steady
increase since the global financial crisis (figure 11).
Net debt increased from last year primarily due to
additional borrowings over the year to meet the
residual cash deficit (refer table 17).

Source: IBID

In other words, National took in lower revenue – taxes – which  inevitably resulted in increased borrowings; slashing of State services and funding; increasing user pays for other state services;  mass redundancies of state sector workers, and impending partial state asset sales.

The Treasury document goes on to show how much revenue was lost between 2008 and 2012,

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NZ Government tax revenue 2008 - 2012

Source: IBID

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A recent NZ Herald report has updated Treasury’s expections. The tax-take, GDP growth, and unemployment outlooks are not good,

A weaker economic outlook over the next four years has taken a bite of nearly $8 billion out of the Government’s forecast tax revenues for that period.

Nevertheless the Treasury is still forecasting a return to surplus, though only just, on schedule by 2015.

The forecasts in yesterday’s half-year economic and fiscal update are in line with the latest consensus forecasts, which means they are significantly weaker than in the Budget.

The growth track is lower by around 0.5 percentage points a year.

It reflects downwards revisions to expected growth among New Zealand’s trading partners, and a kiwi dollar expected to remain around present levels until the first half of 2014, so that net exports subtract from growth for the next couple of years.

Unemployment has been revised higher; it is 7.3 per cent now and still expected to be 5.6 per cent by March 2016.

See: Outlook slashes tax-take by $8b

The forecast rate of tepid growth is on top of low to negative growth in the last four years,

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NZ GDP growth rate 2000 - 2012

Source: tradingeconomics.com

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So what caused the drop in government tax revenue? And why did the lower tax revenue impact on higher unemployment and lower domestic growth?

The answer, in part, is not hard to uncover, and the following reports tell the story of how National undermined (sabotaged?) our nation’s government accounts.

First, we were offered The Bribe,

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National's 2005 tax cut plans still credible - Key

Full story

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Then we got the warning signs,

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Treasury to Rescue Fannie and Freddie

Full story

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Russia Halts Trading After 17% Share Price Fall

Full story

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Lehman folds with record $613 billion debt

Full story

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We were not exempt from the looming storm that was the coming Global Financial Crisis ,

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Recession confirmed - GDP fall

Full story

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National’s response?

The prudent step to take would have been to cancel the tax cuts as simply unaffordable.  (Labour’s Phil Goff generously promised to support National had it taken such a prudent measure. See: Labour would support deferral of tax cuts)

As a nation, we  would then maintain social services (education, housing, healthcare, justice system, early childhood education, superannuation, etc)  – or cut taxes. We could not have both. Not without even further massive borrowings from overseas.

National’s decision to persevere with their taxcuts beggered belief for those who understood the seriousness of the GFC and the recession we had fallen into,

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Key - $30b deficit won't stop Nats tax cuts

Full story

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The consequences of  National’s irresponsible cutting of taxation revenue was utterly predictable,

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Govt borrowing $380m a week

Full story

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Govt's 2010 tax cuts 'costing $2 billion and counting'

Full story

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Writing for the NZ Herald, Brian Fallow put the cost of taxcuts at $8 billion. (See:  Outlook slashes tax-take by $8b)

Only a fool (or devoted National supporter – the two are not mutually exclusive) could believe that we could give away billions in tax cuts without resorting to massive borrowings to cover the shortfall.

The result was a government deficit rising fourfold from 2008 to 2012, as the above Treasury stats clearly show.

National then desperately needed to balance the books. It scrimped and scrapped by cutting the state sector; raising taxes (gst, fuel tax, ACC levies, government charges, etc) elsewhere; closing tax exemptions for property investors; and cutting back on services (see: Student allowances a thing of the past for post-graduate students ).

Even paper delivery kids were not exempt from the grasp of this Scrooge-like ‘government’. See:  Budget 2012: ‘Paper boy tax’ on small earnings stuns Labour)

It also desperately needed to proceed with it’s state asset sales.

A cynic with a conspiratorial ‘bent’ might suspect that National deliberately manufactured it’s own debt crisis so that it could justify the partial privatisation of Meridian, Genesis, Might River Power, Solid Energy, and Air New Zealand, to it’s corporate/investor/aspirationist constituent-base.

In doing so, not only was the door left open for their privatisation agenda – but the side-effects of tax cuts left National with few options and manouvering room for job creation policies.

With net government debt quadrupling in four years from $10.2 billion (2008)  to $50.6 billion (2012), and taxation revenue falling from $56.7 billion (2008) to  $55 billion (2012), their hands were seemingly “tied”.

Compounding matters,    National cut back state services and  fired thousands of state sector workers, resulting in a further drop in  expenditure, all of which  impacted harshly on the economy.

Whether Free Marketeers like it or not, the state is the #1 business generator in our economy and society. When it cuts spending, the flow-on effects on  other, down-stream businesses, is inescapable.

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Govt austerity slows growth, keeps rates low - RBNZ

Full story

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With higher income earners either saving their tax cuts or paying down debt, tax cuts failed to “fire” the economy as Little Leader said in 2009 and Dear Leader adamantly predicted in  2010,

By taking firm, early and decisive action, the Government is managing the downturn to cushion the immediate impact on New Zealanders and to enhance future growth.” – Bill English, 28 May 2009

See: Budget 2009 – House goes into urgency

We’ve cut all personal income tax rates, GST has increased to 15%, and we’ve boosted NZ Super, Working For Families, and benefit payments by 2.02% to compensate for the rise in GST.

Today’s changes are just one part of our comprehensive plan to grow the economy, create jobs, boost incomes, and raise living standards for all New Zealanders. The tax package improves incentives to work, and tilts the economy towards savings, investment, and exports.” – John Key, 1 Oct 2010

See: Tax cuts today

In May 2010, Key had even used the migration issue as justification to cut taxes for higher income earners, professionals, and others in top brackets,

We can be envious about these things but without those people in our economy all the rest of us will either have less people paying tax or fundamentally less services that they provide.

They include doctors, entrepreneurs often, scientists, engineers, lawyers, accountants, school principals and nurses.

On Thursday you will see a deliberate attempt to make sure those people stay and put their skills to work here in our economy.” – John Key, 18 May 2010

See:  Key again defends tax cuts

BS. All of it is, BS.

None of it worked, of course. The economy not only failed to grow – it  stagnated or contracted (see:  Economic recovery stagnates – NZIER). And despite two tax  cuts, migration to Australia skyrocketed – ten thousand higher than under the previous Labour government’s last four years.  (see related blogpost:  Johnny’s Report Card – National Standards Assessment y/e 2012: migration)

Up until 2011, two of our most important  industries – manufacturing and construction – contracted, at a time when the Christchurch re-build should have been growing their turn-over and profitability. The downturn in manufacturing and construction had a flow-on effect on the  Wholesale Trade sector,

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New Zealand in Profile_2012_economy

Source: New Zealand in Profile: 2012 – Economy

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Other measures of the economy show no sign of improvement,

Bank profits back over $3 billion while economy stagnates (24 April 2012)

then “good news”,

Pickup in economic growth predicted (29 Aug 2012)

followed two months later by bad news,

Businesses gloomy about economic growth (9 Oct 2012)

Current Account Deficit Widens (19 Sept 2012)

 Trade deficit widens as dairy values fall (27 Nov 2012)

Terms of trade continue to drop (4 Dec 2012)

Govt deficit up as tax take dips (5 Dec 2012)

Deficit $169m wider than predictions (6 Dec 2012)

Growth forecast cut, debt seen higher (18 Dec 2012)

Current account gap narrows as trade balance shrinks (19 Dec 2012)

Outlook slashes tax-take by $8b (19 Dec2012)

Whichever way one looks at it, it’s a mess.

And it’s simply a bad joke for Key to reassure us,

While I think we have to acknowledge that the last three years have been pretty tough with the Global Financial Crisis, on a relative basisNew Zealand’s been doing a better than a lot of other countries.” – John Key, 17 Nov 2011

See: Key and Goff Q&A: Creating jobs

Trying to suggest that we  are nowhere as bad off as other nations such as the US, Spain,  Greece, etc – so our current stagnating economy is somehow  acceptable – is sheer rubbish.

One might as well justify National’s poor performance and reckless decision-making by stating we are better off than Zimbabwe, Haiti, or Bangladesh,

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catching-up-with-bangladesh

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We should not be “worse off” than those nations – we headed into the Global Financial Crisis with relatively good economic indicators!

There is Always An Alternative!

A responsible government would have abandoned any prospect of taxcuts and prepared policies to keep people in work; off the unemployment queues;  paying taxes; and contributing to the economy.

Policies such as,

With Option #3, National appears to have missed the obvious.

Injecting several billion into a crash-programme to build ten thousand homes for New Zealanders, who are currently struggling to buy their own houses, makes sense.

The Christchurch re-build has proven this to be the case, as the NZ Herald reported on 20 December 2012,

The economy grew at an annual pace of 2.5 per cent, and was 2 per cent higher than the same quarter a year earlier. Revisions to previous quarters showed New Zealand dipped back into recession in the second half of 2010, with two 0.3 per cent contractions in each quarter.

 The New Zealand dollar dropped to 83.33 US cents after the figures were released, from 83.60 cents immediately before.

Construction kept the economy ticking over with a 4.5 per cent expansion, contributing 0.2 of percentage point to overall GDP. Electricity, gas, water and waste services grew 4.4 per cent in the quarter, contributing 0.1 of a percentage point in growth to GDP, underpinned by an increase in hydroelectric generation.

“Residential and non-residential building activities were both up strongly this quarter, and both were boosted by Canterbury,” Statistics NZ said in its report. “The upper North Island also contributed to the growth in residential building activity.”

The Canterbury rebuild, which is expected to top $30 billion, is widely seen as the saving grace for an economy that has struggled to recover from its deepest recession in two decades, and has been getting some help from a resurgent property market in Auckland in recent months.

See: Economy grows 0.2pc – saved by construction

Statistics NZ national accounts manager Rachael Milicich didn’t split hairs. She bluntly stated,

 “The growth in the latest quarter was driven by construction.”

See: Economic activity up 0.2 percent

As for the tax cuts stimulating the economy with extra spending – you can forget that pipedream. According to Statistics NZ,

Household consumption expenditure, which measures the volume of spending by New Zealand households, was flat this quarter (0.0 percent).

See: IBID

National not only bought the 2008 election with promises of unsustainable, unaffordable tax cuts – Key, English, Joyce, et al, squandered an opportunity to keep 70,000 New Zealanders in paid employment (see: Employment graph, 2008-2012).

It was all so unnecessary.

Addendum

In March 2008, the then Finance Minister, Michael Cullen said,

Even before these challenges hit home John Key wants to increase our debt to at least 25 per cent of GDP. But he does not pretend he wants to borrow more to pay for more services and he does not really believe he needs to borrow more to pay for roads. He only wants to outspend Labour on tax cuts.”

See: [Labour]Government will not borrow for tax cuts

According to Treasury, the current net government debt as at 30 June 2012  stands at… 24.8% of GDP – just shy of 25%,

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NZ Government net debt 2008 - 2012 - Cullen's prediction

Source: Treasury – Financial Statemement of the Government of New Zealand

Cullen called it 100%.

It’s a shame that 1,053,398 voters couldn’t look past their own selfishness, and the lure of cash dangled before them, by a Party that was hell-bent on it’s own agenda to win power at any cost.

For New Zealand, that cost measured $50 billion and 175,000 unemployed.

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Report_Card_growth

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Does this man never learn?!

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Frank Macskasy Blog Frankly Speaking

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On 22 November 2008, Prime Minister-elect, John Key, presented a speech to an APEC meeting where he told a gathering of some 500 business leaders from 21 countries,  that financial regulation was urgently needed to pull the world out of the global financial crisis.

Key said, in part,

“... It is no news to anyone that the global economic outlook for 2009 is weak.

Not since the Great Depression has the world experienced such a significant financial crisis as we have seen in recent months. We have seen an expansion of credit and leverage at levels that were so unprecedented and arguably so uncontrolled that they now threaten the very stability of the world’s banking system…

… To understand the potential scope of the changes that may be required is to understand the changes in the global economy over the past 10 to 15 years.

Over the past decade or so the global economy was fuelled by a private sector credit boom made possible by a combination of large macroeconomic imbalances with and between economies, relatively low global inflation, new waves of financial innovation, and huge amounts of leveraging by hedge-funds and other financial institutions.

These forces were, in turn, fuelled by excessive optimism in asset markets, and a more relaxed, and in many cases, recklessly complacent attitude to risk…

… Our banks have, in large part, escaped significant exposure to the destructive products such as the sub-prime market that has wreaked havoc in other jurisdictions…

… Beyond our ability to trade and interact with each other, the second and most obvious effect of the financial changes of the past 10 to 15 years has been a large increase in asset prices, greatly increased demand and, most crucially, a huge expansion in credit.

This in itself isn’t new. The difference is in the magnitude and scale relative to the real economy and the inability to quantify the risk due to a lack of transparency.

This has led to two new challenges. First, relating to the effectiveness of monetary policy in dealing with asset cycles and price bubbles in particular, and second, relating to the adequacy of regulation of financial institutions... “

It is abundantly obvious that Key was well aware of the part played by hedge funds and other financial institutions in the mess that was the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). That crisis led to massive taxpayer-funded bailouts of corporations deemed TBTF – To Big To Fail.

The ‘side effects’ were millions losing their jobs; their homes; and governments cutting back on expenditure and state services.  Many likened the 2008 Great Recession to the Depression of the 1920s/30s.  Only because 21st century Western nations have a well-developed social welfare system did we not have a repeat of the soup-kitchen lines; entire homeless families living in the streets; and shanty towns springing up to offer some semblance of shelter.

In Europe, the effects of the Crisis continues to worsen, and we are seeing another dangerous sign that social stresses are beginning to impact; the rise of neo-nazi political organisations.

The greed of Wall Street, and the unfettered power of  neo-liberal Globalist-Corporatism  is dragging the world to the precipice. It is a precipice that even  distance will not protect us, here in New Zealand.

Just as we were not exempt from the Great Depression in the 1920s/1930s; the rise of fascism; and it’s awful consequence; World War Two.

Key continued,

In recent months the world has focused on the spectacular collapses of companies like Lehman Brothers and my old firm, Merrill Lynch.

What is now apparent is that as the pressure to boost profits grew, Wall Street assumed more and more risk. The quantity, and also the complexity, of this risk saw investment banks evolve into pseudo hedge funds with balance-sheets and risk exposures well beyond what anyone would have previously deemed acceptable.

But leverage wasn’t, and hasn’t been, the sole preserve of the banks.

The hedge-fund community has mushroomed in size and significance. Gone for the most part is the traditional macro hedge fund, where risk was based on the views of an individual trader who undertook conviction trades that bore some sense of balance when compared to the overall size and structure of the market.

Today, hedge-fund leverage is for the most part unregulated, opaque and, arguably, globally unmanageable. The regulation that does occur is for the most part focused on the fitness of the manager to report to their investor.

All of these factors have helped contribute to the explosion in credit, completely out of proportion to the real economy, with cheap equity leveraged to the hilt.

So now the party is over and the taxpayers of the world are left to underwrite – in one form or another – the liabilities and obligations of banks and, by extension, their hedge-fund clientele.

We can no longer afford to ignore the fact that the amount of risk that hedge funds are able to take through the leverage of their funds is arguably completely disproportionate to the real economy.

These realities and the associated bailout of financial institutions are expected to prompt a widespread review of financial regulation. This is entirely appropriate.

I emphasise, however, that this will require a change of mindset and a global approach – especially as the home of many financial institutions, including hedge funds, is no longer the traditional economies.

We must proceed with caution.”

Indeed: “We must proceed with caution.

Which is why it totally beggars belief that Key was planning to invite those very same Global Corporatists to New Zealand  to set up some kind of  “zero tax rated financial services hub”. The proposal was led by banker, Craig Stobo, who  told National’s 2009 Jobs Summit that “an economic boost would result if the Government created a zero tax rating for foreign investors who invested in international funds” in New Zealand.

The then-Economic Development Minister Gerry Brownlee, appointed Stobo as chairman of an advisory group the following year to determine what incentives would draw  financial corporates  to New Zealand to participate in the proposed “financial hub” proposal.    Brownlee paid  Stobo’s group  fees ranging up to $655 a day, on top of an up-front allocation of $500,000.

(Maybe that’s why prescription charges are going up from $3 to $5 each?  Advisors don’t come cheap.)

As this media report further outlined,

Stobo’s appointment came after the Government’s Capital Markets Taskforce expanded the initial zero-tax idea into an ambitious plan to compete directly with tax havens Luxembourg, the Cayman Islands and Ireland to host international funds investing in the Asia-Pacific region.

However, Treasury comment on a draft version of Stobo’s report in July 2010 said it did “not present a convincing case that the funds domicile industry could be effectively developed in New Zealand and that it would provide net economic benefits to New Zealand”.

Confidential research by Oliver Wynam, conducted for the Capital Markets Taskforce which was charged with reviving New Zealand’s capital markets after the finance company crash and recession, were withheld from the Sunday Star-Times.

However, summaries of the research seen by this paper estimate New Zealand could secure 17 per cent of the Asia-Pacific market for fund domiciles, generating annual revenues of $1 billion by 2015 and providing up to 5000 high-quality jobs.

Official advice later poured cold water on these numbers. A February 2010 Treasury report noted: “The benefits appear overstated, including the estimate of the number of sustainable jobs.”

But the Wyman report went global, and plans were drawn up for Key to discuss the proposal with senior international bankers when he visited New York in September 2009.

That was the trip when the prime minister made headlines with a turn on The Late Show with David Letterman, but Treasury documents show during this visit he was briefed for proposed meetings with the chief executives of Goldman Sachs and Citibank where the hub was to be discussed.

In December 2010 Key said that a major international bank offered to shift business to New Zealand if tax policy changes were forthcoming. ” –  Key backs off ‘hub’, 13 May 2012

Note the last paragraph; “…Key said that a major international bank offered to shift business to New Zealand if tax policy changes were forthcoming“.

Oh indeed?! And where have we heard that before? Changing legislation to encourage a business to invest here?  Warner Bros? Sky City?

It apprears that Dear Leader has been making rather a habit of selling our  legislation for deals!

Key’s meeting with Goldman Sachs is also disturbing.

Goldman Sachs has been implicated in dubious dealings on Wall St, and benefitted from selling many of the dodgy “products” that led to the GlobalFinancial Crisis in 2008,

As  Allan Sloan, a senior editor for ‘Fortune’  magazine, said on 15 October 2007,

So let’s reduce this macro story to human scale. Meet GSAMP Trust 2006-S3, a $494 million drop in the junk-mortgage bucket, part of the more than half-a-trillion dollars of mortgage-backed securities issued last year. We found this issue by asking mortgage mavens to pick the worst deal they knew of that had been floated by a top-tier firm – and this one’s pretty bad.

It was sold by Goldman Sachs – GSAMP originally stood for Goldman Sachs Alternative Mortgage Products but now has become a name itself, like AT&T and 3M.

This issue, which is backed by ultra-risky second-mortgage loans, contains all the elements that facilitated the housing bubble and bust. It’s got speculators searching for quick gains in hot housing markets; it’s got loans that seem to have been made with little or no serious analysis by lenders; and finally, it’s got Wall Street, which churned out mortgage “product” because buyers wanted it. As they say on the Street, “When the ducks quack, feed them”. ” –  Source

In 2010,  Goldman Sachs faced legal action from the US Federal financial watchdog,

On April 16, 2010, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that it was suing Goldman Sachs and one of its employees, Fabrice Tourre. The SEC alleged that Goldman materially misstated and omitted facts in disclosure documents for a synthetic CDO product it originated called Abacus 2007-AC1. Goldman was paid a fee of approximately $15 million for its work in the deal.

The allegation is that Goldman misrepresented to investors that an independent selection agent, ACA, had reviewed the mortgage package underlying the credit default obligations, and that Goldman failed to disclose to ACA that a hedge fund, Paulson & Co., that sought to short the package, had helped select underlying mortgages for the package against which it planned to bet.

The SEC further alleged that “Tourre also misled ACA into believing that Paulson invested approximately $200 million in the equity of ABACUS 2007-ACI (a long position) and, accordingly, that Paulson’s interests in the collateral section [sic] process were aligned with ACA’s when in reality Paulson’s interests were sharply conflicting.”  Goldman Sachs stated that the firm never represented to ACA that Paulson was to be a long investor, and that as normal business practice, market makers do not disclose the identities of a buyer to a seller and vice versa.

The complaint states that Paulson made a $1 billion profit from the short investments, while purchasers of the materials lost the same amount. The two main investors who lost money were ABN Amro and IKB Deutsche Industriebank.IKB lost $150,000,000 within months on the purchase.ABN Amro lost $840,909,090. ” – Source

Barely three months later, Gioldman Sachs settled out of Court. Three months!?!?

For the American judicial system, where cases like this can take years, or even decades – this is the legal system’s version of travelling in a spaceship at the speed of light,

”  Goldman Sachs has agreed to pay $550 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission, one of the largest penalties ever paid by a Wall Street firm, to settle charges of securities fraud linked to mortgage investments.

The S.E.C. filed a lawsuit against Goldman in April, accusing the bank of securities fraud. The settlement came just days before Goldman is scheduled to report its second-quarter earnings.

Under the terms of the deal, Goldman will pay $300 million in fines to the Treasury Department, with the rest serving as restitution to investors in the mortgage-linked security. Goldman will not admit wrongdoing, though it will admit that its marketing materials for the investment “contained incomplete information”. ” – Source

John Key was to meet this man, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, in New York,

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Frank Macskasy Blog Frankly Speaking

CANCELLED: John Key was to meet Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein in New York.

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The proposed meeting with Blankfein was to take place during the same visit to New York when Key appeared  on ‘Letterman’, in September 2009, for that cringeworthy appearance, “Top Ten Reasons to visit New Zealand“.

Treasury analysis of  Stobo’s report in July 2010 stated,

[It did] not present a convincing case that the funds domicile industry could be effectively developed in New Zealand and that it would provide net economic benefits to New Zealand” . – Source

Treasury warned that the proposal could risk,

“… a wealth transfer from New Zealand taxpayers to overseas financial institutions.

Treasury also noted that the OECD was “cracking down” on tax havens in Europe (Luxembourg, Ireland, etc) so it remains to be seen why New Zealand would put itself in a similar position.

This blogger considers Key’s plans for a “tax haven” and his plans to draw Goldman Sachs into the equation as apalling bad judgement on his part.

Considering that Goldman Sachs was one of the financial corporations that Key had railed against in November 2008,

“We must proceed with caution.

What is even more mind-boggling and incredible is that Key himself advocated for reforms at that same APEC meeting, when he stated,

”  What we all know, however, is that transparency is possible and must be demanded…

… My Government is firmly committed to working with other governments and businesses like yours to not only grapple with the immediate pressures on our economy but to, in turn, address the underlying issues that led to today’s financial crisis. ” – Source

Turning New Zealand into a tax haven for companies to hide their fortunes, and shield them from legitamate taxes, and dealing with one of the prime movers in the Global Financial Crisis, which had been sued by a US Government financial watchdog – is not “addressing  the underlying issues that led to the global financial crisis”.

Thankfully, this harebrained scheme went nowhere. When the  ‘Sunday Star-Times‘  approached Key on this issue, evidently he “distanced the government from the controversial aspects of the plan“. (In plain english: he ducked for cover.)

But it should serve as ample warning that the man who is our Prime Minister deserves the hard scrutiny that the media have been according him.

Thankfully, we still have a reasonably critical and independent media in this country.

And thankfully, they can keep an eye on John Key.

God knows someone needs to.

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Postscript:

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Frank Macskasy Blog Frankly Speaking

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Acknowledgement

Dominion Post/Sunday Star Times

Additional

Junk mortgages under the microscope

Goldman Sachs  SEC  Fraud Civil Lawsuit

Goldman Settles With S.E.C. for $550 Million

Key blames ‘reckless’ money men for crisis

Address to the CEO Summit, APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC)

Key backs off ‘hub’

JPMorgan CEO offers blunt apology

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National signals epic fail – and waves flag of surrender (Part #Rua)

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When National took office in November, 2008, unemployment was on the way up. From a record low of 3.4% in December 2007, it stood at 4.8% a year later.

By December 2009, the Quarter Household Labourforce Survey unemployment rate had risen  to 7.3%,

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The unemployment rate has since dropped back to 6.3%, for the December 2011 quarter. The slow drop from 7.3% to 6.3% has taken two years to achieve – and even the cause of that outcome is debateable, as New Zealand  “baby boomers”  start retiring and others  escape our stagnating economy to Australia.

I will make one thing clear; I do not lay blame nor responsibility for the doubling of our unemployment at the feet at National. The 2008  global banking crisis, ongoing recession, and massive debt-problems were issues beyond any political Party in any country. National inherited an international situation not of it’s direct making. (Though National does espouse a neo-liberal ideology which most certainly contributed to the crisis in capitalism.)

As an interesting aside; National and it’s groupies  (quite rightly) blame the 2008 recession for our high unemployment rate. However, they conveniently ignore the 2008 recession when engaging in beneficiary-bashing – then the issue of  increased unemployment is a “lifestyle choice”.

However, this blogger maintains that whilst the rise in unemployment was not National’s fault – that National has been derelict in it’s duty to address the crisis in joblessness. Bashing beneficiaries and painting them as lazy layabouts indulging in a “lifestyle choice” will not create one single job.

Blaming beneficiaries for a global situation they had no hand in making is an abrogation of responsibility by National.

I think we all know by now that National hasn’t a clue when it comes to job creation. They have no policies to generate jobs, and what what they have been doing has been tragically counter-productive,

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This blogger is aware of one solo-mum who used the TIA to go through University; upskill; find a well-paid job;   move of welfare; and is now a tax-paying member of society. But I guess that is not the meme that National wants  entering the public consciousness. Their agenda is better served by scapegoating solo-mothers. (But never solo-dads.)

See:   Once upon a time there was a solo-mum

Paula Bennett  used the TIA to put herself through University; upskill; and then move on to a more well-paid benefit; she became Minister of Welfare.

See: Hypocrisy – thy name be National

Bennett’s axing of the TIA and other cutbacks in training and upskilling is what is colloquially known as a false economy.  It may save a few million bucks now – but will only delay the Day of Reckoning when we end up with an untrained, low-skilled society.

Even John Key made this a theme of his speech four years ago,

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The National Party has an economic plan that will build the foundations for a better future.

  • We will focus on lifting medium-term economic performance and managing taxpayers’ money effectively.
  • We will be unrelenting in our quest to lift our economic growth rate and raise wage rates.
  • We will cut taxes, not just in election year, but in a regular programme of ongoing tax cuts.
  • We will invest in the infrastructure this country needs for productivity growth.
  • We will be more careful with how we spend the cash in the public purse, monitoring not just the quantity but also the quality of government spending.
  • We will concentrate on equipping young New Zealanders with the education they need for a 21st century global economy.
  • We will reduce the burden of compliance and bureaucracy, and we will say goodbye to the blind ideology that locks the private sector out of too many parts of our economy.
  • And we will do all of this while improving the public services that Kiwis have a right to expect.  

Because the hard truth is that Labour’s economic underperformance hasn’t delivered the social dividend they promised us.  

So, make no mistake: this election won’t be fought only on Labour’s economic legacy.  National will be asking Labour to front up on their social legacy, too. Many of the social problems the Government said it would solve have only got worse.

This time a year ago, I talked about the underclass that has been allowed to develop in New Zealand. Labour said the problem didn’t exist.  They said there was no underclass in New Zealand.

But who now could deny it?  2007 showed us its bitter fruits. The dramatic drive-by shooting of two-year-old Jhia Te Tua, caught in a battle between two gangs in Wanganui. The incidence of typhoid, a Third World disease, reaching a 20-year high. The horrific torture and eventual death of three-year-old Nia Glassie. The staggering discovery of a lost tribe of 6,000 children who are not enrolled at any school.” – John Key, “State of the Nation Speech”,  29 January 2008

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John Key finished of that speech  by saying,

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We will not sweep problems under the carpet.  We will not meet the country’s challenges by quietly lowering our expectations.”

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So how has National performed?

Not so good, I’m afraid. (But that’s hardly surprising.)

Aside from cutting back on training, National seems to be engaged in a clandestine programme to actually keep wages depressed. Bill English admitted as much last year, on TVNZ’s Q+A when he let slip that New Zealands lower wages were a competitive advantage to Australia,

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“”Well, it’s a way of competing, isn’t it? I mean, if we want to grow this economy, we need the capital – more capital per worker – and we’re competing for people as well…

“… we need to get on with competing with Australia. So if you take an area like tourism, we are competing with Australia. We’re trying to get Australians here instead of spending their tourist dollar in Australia.” – Bill English, 10 April 2011

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Despite a low-wage economy being counter-intuitive for a multitude of common-sense reasons, it appears that – with National’s coded  assent – some local industries are attempting to drive down wages and develop a low-wage economy.

The current industrial disputes with AFFCO and Ports of Auckland Ltd are based purely around driving down wages  by cutting conditions; casualisation; and crushing unions in the workplace.

In October last year, the Seafood Industry Council (SeaFIC) told a ministerial inquiry into Foreign Charter Vessels that their industry needed more cheap foreign labour,

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SeaFIC says FCVs hiring Asian crews was no different to companies going to low wage countries.

“Many New Zealand businesses have exported jobs previously done in New Zealand to other countries with wage rates considerably less than minimum wage rates in New Zealand.” ” – Source

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See: Is this where New Zealand is heading?

See: Foreign fishing boats, Hobbits, and the National Guvmint

The prospect of slave crews on foreign fishing vessels in our territorial waters was a step too far, even for right-wing blogger and National Party cadre, David Farrar. He seemed horrified at what a ministerial inquiry and US journalist had uncovered. (Or perhaps it was faux-disgust, to try to distance National from slavery on New Zealand’s high seas. Who can tell.)

See: A Slave By Any Other Name

However, it was not a good look for one of our industries to be lobbying National to permit more cheap labour into New Zealand. Even if it was to be far out at sea, out-of-sight-out-of-mind, our US-based clients were not too happy when they found out what was going on under our noses, and from which we were seen to be profitting,

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Now, National’s inaction on job creation, training, and upskilling is beginning to bite. Reliance on the free market has not achieved any desirable, measurable goals. In fact, business is still luke-warm at hiring and training new staff.

Global finance and accounting firm Robert Half’s director director, Andrew Brushfield, expressed surprise at  the “cautious hiring predictions among New Zealand CFOs”. Really? No sh*t, Sherlock.

So where does that leave us;

  • A National government that is cutting training allowances
  • No government employment-creation programme to speak of
  • No state apprenticeship programme
  • Leaving job creation and training to the ‘market’
  • The ‘market’ being reluctant to generate employment

No wonder unemployment is still at 150,000.

And little wonder that, with 150,000 jobless, and no jobs training, the Christchurch re-build is now hampered by a shortage of skilled tradespeople,

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To illustrate how short-sighted National (and it’s right wing hangers-on and sycophantic businesspeople),  Weltec offers seventeen week (full time) courses in the painting trade,

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If has been fourteen months since the tragic, devasting quake of 22 February 2011. We could have had a small army of in-training workforce ready to go by now.

FBG Developments managing director, Fletcher Glass,  could have his 50 painters – and more – instead of complaining bittlerly,

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You can’t train skilled tradespeople in two years, and even if you could train 24,000 tradespeople, you would over-saturate the market after the rebuild.  If you get tradespeople from other parts of the country, you will deplete those places of tradespeople, and that will drive rates up. That will make house prices go up, so buying a house would be even less achievable.’

Hiring overseas workers would prevent Christchurch from turning its problem into a nationwide problem. If you need 6000 painters at the peak of the rebuild, that’s every painter in Dunedin and Wellington.” – Ibid

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What absolute rubbish.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Mr Glass , like SeaFIC, is seeking  painters from Southeast Asia because they will accept minimum wage.

So we can add the following to the above list, as to why we have a shortage of trained tradespeople to take part in Christchurch’s re-build,

  • Employer self-interest

As a point of interest, the above media article also conducted a poll. It asked a simple question,

Should New Zealand fast track visas for overseas tradesmen?

Yes, we need more workers urgently
85 votes, 20.4%

No, we should train more NZers
332 votes, 79.6%

Nearly 80% of New Zealanders have enough common sense to realise what we should be doing. Obviously, none of those 80% are represented by any of National’s current  59 members of Parliament.

In case anyone is foolish enough to accuse this blogger of being fiscally naive, I refer to a BERL report, last year,

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Industry training has billions in benefits – study

A new study suggests the country could lose between $7.2 and $15.1 billion dollars annually if the Government withdrew its investment in industry training.

The study by the Business and Economic Research Limited (BERL) sets out to quantify the costs and benefits of industry training both to businesses and to the country.

According to one model, it found a cut in all public funding towards industry training would result in a loss in gross domestic product of 0.6 to 1.8 percent by 2014, and between 2.9 and 6 percent by 2021.

That equated to a loss of between $1.2 and $3.7 billion annually in the short-term and between $7.2 and $15.1 billion in the long term.

BERL said under such a scenario, the loss of skilled labour would have a detrimental effect on the export sector, crimping its capacity and reducing its competitiveness as industries competed for a smaller pool of talent.

The report, commissioned by the Industry Training Federation, said the results underlined how the country’s skill levels could ”positively impact on the quality and value of the goods and services produced, and the standard of living in New Zealand”.

However, it also noted the economy was complex and warned that ”any attempts to prioritise or isolate particular industries, sectors, occupations or skills as being more or less important are economically unsound  “.  – Source

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Training up unemployed New Zealanders who’ve lost their jobs over the last four years of recession; it’s not just a good idea or a “nice to have” – it’s bloody well obvious!

National’s faith in free market forces is admirable. But the rest of us gave up believing in Father Christmas, Easter Bunny, and Superman as we grew up. (Though having Superman around might be useful.)  It is high time that John Key and his Merry Band gave up their quasi-religious belief in the Invisible Hand of The Free Market.

Ideology will not re-build Christchurch. We need many hands – trained up and paid well – to do the work. 150,000 pair of hands!

I leave (almost) the last word to  Dear Leader,

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We know this isn’t as good as it gets.  We know Kiwis deserve better than they are getting.  We are focused on the issues that matter and we have the ideas and the ability to bring this country forward. 

National is ambitious for New Zealand and we want New Zealanders to be ambitious for themselves. ” – John Key, “State of the Nation Speech”,  29 January 2008

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Wouldn’t that be a fine thing?

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Is this where I insert, “I told you so, NZ!”?

In the last couple of years,  this blogger has been pounding away, wearing out one keyboard after another; shooing cats of piles of documents; drinking enough coffee to deny me sleep for the rest of the decade…

To make a point.

By early 2008, recession was looming following a banking crisis that started in the US,

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John Key’s history in international finance would have alerted him immediatly of the looming crisis. It was irresponsible of him to campaign on tax cuts when he must have known they were unachievable, as New Zealand’s economy began to slump.

To point out the blindingly obvious:  New Zealanders in 2008 voted tax cuts for themselves that we could ill-afford as a nation. We were warned, even as far back as 2008,

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No one who voted for National in 2008 can genuinely claim ignorance – we were warned. News of the building crisis and recession filled the media. New Zealanders’ greed for money simply outstripped their common sense,

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We should have taken note when John Key “assured” us,

Our tax policy is therefore one of responsible reform…  We have ensured that our package  is appropriate for the current economic and fiscal conditions… This makes it absolutely clear that to fund National’s tax package there is no requirement for additional borrowing and there is no requirement to cut public services… National’s rebalancing of the tax system is self-funding and requires no cuts to public services or additional borrowing.’ “ – National Party: Tax Policy

Yeah, right.

Despite all the media reports; despite all the warnings; despite all the criticisms that National’s programme of tax cuts was unaffordable, on 8 November 2008,  1,053,398 New Zealanders voted for National.

As a result of cutting taxes in April 2009 and October 2010, government revenue dropped. The supposedly “fiscally neutral “tax-switch” wasn’t so much a “switch” as a parlour-trick. It wasn’t our money that John Key was giving back to us – it was money borrowed from overseas.

The first tax cuts kicked in on 1 April 2009. That was followed by this media report,

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The second round of tax cuts took effect on 1 October 2010. Predictably, that was followed by this media report, eight months later,

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Yesterday, the NZ Herald  published this piece penned by Bernard Hickey. It wasn’t just highly critical of the National  – it accused the John Key’s government of;

  • being fiscally irresponsible
  • enacting policies designed to please its wealthy backers
  • borrowing money overseas, to fund taxcuts
  • economic treason
  • and generational selfishness

Bernard Hickey did not mince his words,

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Hickey went on to state,

“The charts reveal the results of the cut in the income tax rate from 39 to 33 cents, which was in theory partly paid for by an increase in the GST rate from 12.5 to 15 per cent. They also reveal a massive reversal in a decade-long trend of improvement in New Zealand’s public debt position.

Our tax-to-GDP ratio has crashed from almost 34 per cent in late 2008 to 29 per cent last year, which means yet more borrowing on the horizon.

At the same time, the tax from individual incomes has fallen from around 32 per cent to around 24 per cent.

This is a direct result of the cut in the top personal tax rate and consumers’ shift to spending less and saving more. This means the higher GST rate is not collecting the revenue expected.

Meanwhile, interest-free student loans and Working For Families are deepening budget deficits. That is being paid for with increased Government borrowing to the tune of 15 per cent of GDP.

A collapse in the corporate tax take is only partly responsible and is largely due to the recession rather than any change in policy. It is now rebounding but the tax-to-GDP ratio is worsening.

This is unsustainable without an immediate and extended surge in economic growth, which few expect.

Voters will have to repay this debt in decades to come. Why are they not revolting at this national act of selfishness?” – Ibid

To illustrate his point, Hickey charted New Zealand’s economic progress (or lack, thereof),

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Hickey condemns the borrowing-funded tax cuts by calling it for what it is: inter-generational theft. It is a massive debt that will have to be repaid by loading that debt onto future generations of taxpayers.

Like hell !!

Many of the next generation won’t have a bar of paying of their parents’ debt. They’ve already decided to take the only logical step,

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Bernard Hickey, and many other political, economic, and social commentators have highlighted the bad decisions that voters continually make. Unsurprisingly, we all like tax cuts – who wouldn’t want more money to spend on nice, new, shiny things.

Voting for wealth is not enough to make us wealthy. Especially if, at the same time, we expect all the nice things that a modern social democracy has to offer; free education; free healthcare; good roads and public transport; a pension at retirement; and lots of other state services funded by – taxation.

Well and truly, we have shot ourselves in the foot. We voted for more wealth, through taxcuts, and comprehensive social services – and we’ve ended up with neither.

And we have no one to blame but ourselves. We did this; 1,053,398 New Zealanders voted for it.

Here’s an idea: every single person who voted for National in 2008 and 2011 should be sent an invoice for their share of our country’s debt. Wouldn’t that be a lovely prospect?

Meanwhile, the final word goes to National’s Finance Minister, Bill English,

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A few previous blogposts on tax cuts

A warning from a very, very rich man (17 August 2011)

Greed is good? (28 August 2011)

Blood from a stone? (27 January 2012)

Tax cuts & school children (2 February 2012)

Authors of our own mis-fortune? (20 February 2012)

The Muppet Show – Kiwi style! (21 February 2012)

Additional

Surplus date looks increasingly tough, says Key

Budget deficit keeps getting worse

 

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How Can A Minister of Finance Get It So Wrong???

28 February 2012 4 comments

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Five days ago, Finance Minister Bill English released a statement on the part-privatisation of several State Owned Enterprises. It is worthwhile re-printing his statement in full, and responding to it, point-by-point,

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Running up $5-$7b more debt not the answer

by Hon Bill English, Finance
23 February 2012

Opponents of the Government’s mixed ownership programme need to explain to New Zealanders why it would be better to borrow an extra $5 billion to $7 billion from overseas lenders, Finance Minister Bill English says.

Speaking to an Auckland Chamber of Commerce and Massey University business lunch today, he said the challenge was how the Government pays for forecast growth in taxpayers’ assets over the next few years.

“Taxpayers own $245 billion of assets, and this is forecast to grow to $267 billion over the next four years. So we are not reducing our assets. Our challenge is how we pay for their growth, while getting on top of our debt.”

The rationale for offering New Zealanders minority stakes in four energy companies and Air New Zealand is quite simple, Mr English says.

“First, the Government gets to free up $5 billion to $7 billion – less than 3 per cent of its total assets – to invest in other public assets like modern schools and hospitals, without having to borrow in volatile overseas markets.

“Our political opponents need to honestly explain to New Zealanders why it would be better to borrow this $5 billion to $7 billion from overseas lenders at a time when the world is awash with debt and consequent risks.

“We would rather pay dividends to New Zealanders on shares they own in the energy companies than pay interest to overseas lenders on more borrowing.

“The fact is, the Government is spending and borrowing more than it can afford into the future. So it makes sense to reorganise the Government’s assets and redeploy capital to priority areas without having to borrow more.

“Most nights on television, we see the consequences of countries in Europe and elsewhere borrowing too much. We don’t want that for New Zealand.”

Secondly, under the mixed ownership programme New Zealanders will get an opportunity to invest in big Kiwi companies so they can diversify their growing savings away from property and finance companies.

“Counting the Government’s controlling shareholding, we’re confident 85-90 per cent of these companies will be owned by New Zealanders, who will be at the front of the queue for shares.”

Thirdly, mixed ownership will be good for the companies themselves, Mr English says.

“Greater transparency and oversight from being listed on the stock exchange will improve their performance and the companies won’t have to depend entirely on a cash-strapped government for new capital to grow.

“We already have a living, breathing and successful example of mixed ownership in Air New Zealand, which is 75 per cent owned by the Government and 25 per cent by private shareholders.”

In his speech, Mr English reiterated the Government’s economic programme this term would focus on rebuilding and strengthening the economy.
It’s main priorities are:

  •     Responsibly managing the Government’s finances.
  •     Building a more productive and competitive economy.
  •     Delivering better public services within tight financial constraints.
  •     Rebuilding Christchurch.

“So there will be no big surprises from this Government,” Mr English says. “We have laid out our economic plan and Budget 2012 will focus on implementing that plan.”

Source

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Firstly, let’s call a spade, a spade here. Whilst National ministers use the euphemistic term, “mixed ownership model”, the issue here is partial-privatisation of state owned enterprises.  National’s spin-doctors may have advised all ministers and John Key to always use the phrase “mixed ownership model” – but the public are not fooled.

To begin, I take great exception to English’s opening statement,

Opponents of the Government’s mixed ownership programme need to explain to New Zealanders why it would be better to borrow an extra $5 billion to $7 billion from overseas lenders…”

Opponants of National’s part-privatisation do not “need to explain” anything. It is up to National to explain why it feels the need to part-privatise tax-payer owned corporations that are efficient and give a good return to the State.

Demanding that the  opponents of the Government’s mixed ownership programme need to explain” their opposition is the height of arrogance.  Governments in western-style democracies are accountable to the public – not the other way around.

English then goes on to say,

Taxpayers own $245 billion of assets, and this is forecast to grow to $267 billion over the next four years. So we are not reducing our assets. Our challenge is how we pay for their growth, while getting on top of our debt.”

Pardon?

“…we are not reducing our assets” ?!?!

Selling 49% of Genesis, Meridian, Solid Energy, Might River Power, Air New Zealand (from 75% to 51%) down to a 51% holding is “not reducing our assets” ?!?!

Bill English’s command of his namesake language is strange at best. I believe this is what George Orwell wrote about in his dystopian novel, “1984“, when he described “doublethink“,

To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them…”

English laments that “our challenge is how we pay for their growth, while getting on top of our debt”.

This involves two distinct issues;

Paying for the growth of state assets.

Genesis, Meridian, Solid Energy, Might River Power,  and Air New Zealand are all profitable enterprises in their own right. In the 2010 financial year, these  assets made a combined profit of $581 million dollarsNone of these five SOEs are loss-makers.

They can each pay for whatever growth programme they require, using their profits.

Where National interfered in SOE operations, the results were highly distorted,

Genesis paid out no dividend and had a zero yield on its operating profit of $293 million.

It had a 30.5% shareholder return on total assets.

Meridian had a dividend yield of 10.4%, achieved by paying out 428.8% of its profit. The increase came from the $300 million special dividend it received during the sale of Tekapo A and Tekapo B stations to Genesis, which was forced by the Government to borrow to pay for the purchase.” – Source

The reason that there is a  “challenge [in] how we pay for their growth”  is simple: National demands high dividends from these  SOEs (often by forcing them to borrow) leaving little for the companies to reinvest in their own growth.

Under-funding is a problem only because National has created the problem.

Getting on top of debt.

Linking  New Zealand’s $18-plus billion dollar debt to funding the growth of SOEs is  deliberate sophistry (ie; a deliberate deception).

The reason we have out-of-control debt is because,

As a society and as an economy, we had no control over the first two crises to hit us.

But we sure had control over our taxation policy, and doling out generous tax cuts to millionaires and wealthy businesspeople was a luxury we could not afford. (Many maintain that National was “rewarding” certain affluent socio-economic groups for electoral support at the ballot box.)

Next. English states,

First, the Government gets to free up $5 billion to $7 billion – less than 3 per cent of its total assets – to invest in other public assets like modern schools and hospitals, without having to borrow in volatile overseas markets.

???

National appears confused (as with most of its ad hoc policies) as to the proceeds it may gain from the partial sales. Only a year ago, Key stated authoritatively,

“If we could do that with those five entities … if we can make some savings in terms of what were looking at in the budget and maybe a little on the upside you’re talking about somewhere in the order of $7 to $10 billion less borrowing that the Government could undertake.” – John Key, 26 January 2011

Then again, as recently as eleven days ago, English let slip that,

I just want to emphasise that it is not our best guess; it’s just a guess. It’s just to put some numbers in that look like they might be roughly right for forecasting purposes.  That’s an honest answer.” – Bill English, 17 February 2012

The best description of Key and English on asset part-sales: clueless.

It is also worrying that National is selling state assets to pay for  “other public assets like modern schools and hospitals, without having to borrow in volatile overseas markets“.

Every householder will tell you that if  you have to sell of your furniture; whiteware; tv, family car, to pay to maintain your home – then you are in deep financial trouble.

What National is doing is “selling the household furniture to pay for painting the house”.  Selling off assets to pay for maintenance is not sustainable – eventually you run out of stuff to sell. It is a really dumb idea.

But more than that, it indicates that National is not “earning” enough, by way of taxation revenue to pay for it’s house-keeping. If we have to borrow or sell assets to do simple things like paint schools or properly resource hospitals – then it is a fairly clear indication that taxation revenue is insufficient for day-to-day operations of public services.

It also indicates that we are paying for the 2009 and 2010 tax cuts by selling state assets.

This is not “fiscal prudence” – this is foolish profligacy.

Bill English again demands, in his speech,

Our political opponents need to honestly explain to New Zealanders why it would be better to borrow this $5 billion to $7 billion from overseas lenders at a time when the world is awash with debt and consequent risks.”

No,  Mr English. Perhaps you should “honestly explain to New Zealanders” why you believe it makes greater commerciall sense to part-sell  profitable assets that are returning a higher yield on investment, than what the government pays to borrow?


The Government is estimating a $6 billion reduction in net debt after the sale of the state-owned enterprises – but concedes the savings on finance costs will be less than what it would have booked from dividends and retained earnings if it kept them.

Treasury  forecasts released today in the Government’s budget policy statement outline the forecast fiscal impact of selling up to 49 per cent in each of the four State-owned power companies – Mighty River Power, Meridian, Genesis Energy and Solid Energy – and by reducing the Crown’s current shareholding in Air New Zealand.

They assume a price of $6 billion – the midpoint in previous estimates of a $5 billion to $7 billion sale price – and a corresponding drop in finance costs of about $266 million by 2016.

But the trade-off is the loss of an estimated $200 million in dividends by 2016 and the loss of  $360 million in forecast foregone profits in the same year.

Documents supplied today state that the overall fiscal impact of selling a partial stake in the SOEs is a reduction in net debt, but the Government’s operating balance will also be smaller, because foregone profits would reduce the surplus.” – Source


Yet, only a year ago, Bill English was forced to concede that state owned power companies were indeed, highly profitable. In fact, he was complaining bitterly about State-owned generators  “earning excessive returns”,

Generally the SOE model has been quite successful in that respect. But if you look at those returns being generated particularly out of the electricity market, the Government has taken the view that that market is not as competitive as it should be.” – Source

The State will be losing money on the deal; earning less dividends from the SOEs than the cost of borrowing. The sums simply don’t add up.

There also seems to be some confusion (no longer a surprise) as to what National intends to do with sale proceeds.

On the one hand Bill English sez he wants to reduce debt,

We are firmly focused on keeping the Government’s overall debt as low as possible and that is the most important consideration over the next few years.” – 16 February 2012

And a week later, English is spending it,

First, the Government gets to free up $5 billion to $7 billion…  to invest in other public assets like modern schools and hospitals…”  – 23 February 2012

I guess Mr English is hoping that no one is paying attention?

Further in his speech, English makes this rather candid admission,

The fact is, the Government is spending and borrowing more than it can afford into the future. So it makes sense to reorganise the Government’s assets and redeploy capital to priority areas without having to borrow more.”

And there we have it, folks: the clearest statement yet from our Minister of Finance that the partial-sale of our state assets has little to do with giving “mum and dad” investors a share in our power companies; or making them more efficient; or paying down any of our $18+ billion debt; or putting a new coat of paint on your local school – the government is desperate to raise cash because it  “is spending and borrowing more than it can afford “.

The tax cuts of 2009 and 2010 were never “fiscally neutral” as National kept insisting.

The “tax switch”  left a $1.4 billion “hole” in the government’s revenue and this is how they are attempting to “plug that hole”.

We have been conned.

The tax cuts will be funded by the sale of state assets that we, as citizens of this country, already own. And because the bulk of tax cuts benefitted the highest income earners/wealthy – who are also in a better position to acquire shares in Genesis, Meridian, Solid Energy, Might River Power,  and Air New Zealand – the transfer of wealth from low and middle income earners will be two-fold.

The legacy of John Key’s government will be to make the rich richer, and for the rest of us, we can look forward to,

  • more expensive power
  • losing half ownership of our taxpayer-created state assets
  • and the top 10% to increase their wealth even more

But, to be generous, I will leave the last word to the Hon. Bill English,

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"Would you be willing to increase the mortgage on your house to go and borrow the money to buy shares on mighty river power?" Bill English, 16 February 2012

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