Monthly economic indicator

Monthly Economic Indicators May 2015


The Treasury has made every effort to ensure that the information contained in this report is reliable, but makes no guarantee of its accuracy or completeness and does not accept any liability for any errors. The information and opinions contained in this report are not intended to be used as a basis for commercial decisions and the Treasury accepts no liability for any decisions made in reliance on them. The Treasury may change, add to, delete from, or otherwise amend the contents of this report at any time without notice.

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Executive Summary#

  • March quarter employment and retail trade data reveal strong domestic demand at the start of 2015. 
  • The resurgent Auckland housing market prompts housing policy initiatives from the RBNZ and the Government.
  • Inflation expectations appear to have stabilised at a relatively low level, while other inflation indicators suggest inflation will remain low in the near term.

Key economic data releases over the past month have confirmed that, for the most part, the domestic economy started 2015 on a solid footing.  Jobs growth remained strong in the March quarter, buoyed by above-average levels of business confidence and firms’ own-activity expectations.  Labour supply growth was equally strong as New Zealand’s robust relative economic performance has strengthened net migration inflows while also enticing more people into the labour force.  The decline in the unemployment rate has slowed as a result, while nominal wage growth has been more modest than anticipated. 

Consumers maintained a healthy appetite to spend in the first quarter of this year, with growth in retail sales surging and setting the platform for a solid March quarter GDP outturn (due to be released on 18 June). 

Adding to the strong domestic demand story is the renewed vigour in the housing market, particularly in Auckland.   New policy initiatives announced by the Reserve Bank (RBNZ) and the Government this month are expected to gradually damp down the demand for housing, although the impact is estimated to be modest.

In the meantime, inflation indicators remain benign, fuelling speculation in financial markets that the RBNZ will cut the Official Cash Rate (OCR) in the near future.   The Reserve Bank will review the OCR with the release of its Monetary Policy Statement on 11 June.

The main headwinds to the New Zealand economic outlook continue to stem from the external sector.  The 51% fall in dairy prices since early 2014 will hit dairy incomes hard this season and next.  Some offsets continue to come from better world prices for other commodities, including meat and seafood, and the recent fall in the New Zealand dollar.  However, on balance, export values are expected to decline further over the coming year.

International long-term interest rates rose over the month, owing to firmer expectations of a tightening in US monetary policy settings, an improved growth outlook for the euro area, risks around Greece and reduced likelihood of extended monetary stimulus in Japan. Meanwhile, the central bank of China cut its benchmark interest rates in response to historically slow growth, and across the Tasman the Reserve Bank of Australia eased policy further to boost domestic demand. Subdued growth across New Zealand’s major trading partners overall contrasts with the solid momentum in the domestic economy, and continues to present headwinds to growth.

Overall, these recent developments are consistent with the economic forecasts in the Budget Economic and Fiscal Update (BEFU) which were finalised on 10 April 2015 and released on 21 May 2015.

This month’s special topic is a comparison of the recently released New Zealand and Australian Budgets.


Economic developments over the month of May reinforce the key themes underpinning the Budget Economic and Fiscal Update (BEFU).  That is, solid real economic activity in a low inflation environment. 

Employment continues to rise...#

According to the Household Labour Force Survey (HLFS), the number of people employed rose by 0.7% (or 16,000) in the March 2015 quarter - stronger than forecast in the BEFU, but slightly weaker than expected by the market. In the past year employment has grown by 3.2% (74,000), close to a 10-year high (Figure 1).  The details were also strong, with most of the growth in full-time employment, up 0.6% in the quarter (or 11,000) while part-time employment was flat.

Figure 1: Working age population, labour force and employment growth
Figure  1: Working age population, labour force and employment growth.
Source: Statistics NZ

Construction continues to account for close to a third of the annual growth in employment (adding 23,300 jobs), with most of that occurring in Canterbury and Auckland.  Auckland is now dominating the national growth in jobs, accounting for almost half of the annual increase. does labour supply...#

The working age population increased by a sizeable 0.6% (20,000) during the March quarter, to be up 2.1% in the past year.  This is the strongest annual growth since 2004 and is being fuelled by record high net migration.  Meanwhile, better job prospects are also encouraging more people to look for work.  The participation rate reached a record high of 69.6% in the March quarter, up from 69.4% at the end of 2014 and higher than the 69.2% forecast in the BEFU.  Male participation led the increase in the quarter, with the male participation rate rising to an eight year high of 75.3%. The female participation rate remains close to its record high at 60.2%. 

...stemming the decline in unemployment#

With growth in the labour force matching that of employment, the unemployment rate remained steady during the quarter at 5.8%.  While this is lower than the 6.0% recorded a year ago, implying a modest tightening in the labour market over that period, the unemployment rate is slightly higher than anticipated in the BEFU. 

Earnings growth modest#

Earnings growth has been more modest than expected, reflecting both the additional labour market capacity and the current low inflation environment.  Annual growth in hourly earnings (as measured by the Quarterly Employment Survey) slowed from 2.6% in December to 2.1% in March. Still, with annual CPI inflation at 0.1%, real wage growth remains robust. Moreover, annual growth in weekly gross earnings rose to 5.9% (from 5.7%) owing to a 3.8% rise in weekly paid hours.

Looking forward, labour market indicators such as hiring intentions and job ads suggest employment growth will remain positive, albeit moderating from recent strength, in line with the BEFU forecasts.  As such, wage inflation is expected to pick up as the labour market tightens and the economy continues to grow above trend.  The outlook for labour supply is more uncertain.  For example, given current trends, it is possible that net migration and/or participation could prove stronger than the central forecast in the BEFU, boosting labour supply.  All else equal, this would see a higher unemployment rate and slower wage growth than currently expected. 

Another record high for net migration#

There was a net inflow of 4,700 (seasonally adjusted) migrants in April, the smallest monthly net inflow so far this year. However, on an annual basis, this pushed the net inflow to a new record high of 56,500 people, chiefly owing to increased migrants from India and China (largely students) and fewer departures to Australia.  In fact, the month of April saw the first net positive inflow (of 120 people) from Australia in 24 years.  The highest net inflow from Australia since the series began in 1982 was 400 migrants in both July and August 1983.

In annual terms, the net inflow is now close to the peak of 57,000 forecast in the BEFU.  As highlighted in Scenario two in the BEFU Risks and Scenarios chapter, there is a risk that the current net migration cycle reaches a higher peak and/or has a longer duration relative to the Treasury’s central forecasts.

Strong growth in retail sales in March#

Total seasonally adjusted retail sales volumes rose 2.7% in the March quarter, supported by a 3.5% rise in fuel volumes. In annual terms, retail volumes are up 7.4%, the largest increase since 2004. In value terms, sales growth was softer, rising 1.7% in the quarter (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Retail trade
Figure 2: Retail trade.
Source: Statistics NZ

Falling retail prices, particularly fuel prices (down 9.4% in the quarter), may explain some of the recent strength in retail volumes with consumers taking the opportunity to spend the cash ‘windfall’ elsewhere.  If that is the case, the rise in fuel prices over the past couple of months would be expected to dampen spending growth in the June quarter.  April electronic card transactions data lend some support to that view, with the total value of electronic card transactions falling 1.1% in April, following rises of 0.4% and 1.2% in February and March.

That said, the broad-based nature of the spending growth (all 15 storetypes saw an increase in volumes over the quarter) indicates that there is more than just a price effect at play. 

The Treasury’s assessment is that a combination of factors have come together to drive the pick-up in consumer spending, including high levels of consumer confidence, still rapid population growth, solid income growth (largely owing to stronger employment growth and hours worked), low interest rates, increased housing market activity, and the high New Zealand dollar.  Ultimately, this mix makes for a more durable outlook for consumer demand, consistent with that forecast in the BEFU.

Auckland housing market strengthens further#

REINZ housing market data for April showed a 27.6% increase in house sales over the past year, although there was a small 0.5% decline for the month. While the timing of Easter and ANZAC Day may have played some part in the weakness over the month, it is notable that outside of Auckland housing activity firmed.  The number of sales excluding Auckland rose 1.5% in the month, suggesting that current low interest rates may be beginning to have a more broad-based impact. 

The REINZ national house price index increased 5.4% in the three months to April, dominated by a 9.5% increase in Auckland prices (Figure 3). On an annual basis, the national price index rose 9.3%, almost entirely owing to Auckland (up 18.9%). In contrast, prices fell in both Wellington and Christchurch, down 2.8% and 0.6% respectively.

Figure 3: House prices
Figure 3: House prices.
Source: REINZ

Housing policy changes proposed#

Continued divergence between Auckland house prices and the rest of the country led the RBNZ to propose changes to its Loan to Value Ratio (LVR) policy in its May Financial Stability Report.  The changes are due to come into effect on 1 October 2015 (to allow for a period of consultation), and include capping residential property investor loans in the Auckland Council area to a LVR of 70%, and increasing existing speed limits for all high LVR borrowing outside Auckland, from 10% to 15%.

In addition, the Government has announced tighter rules around taxation of trading in investment properties and requirements for details of foreign buyers, also due to come into effect on 1 October following a period of consultation.  A new test will be introduced, meaning gains from all residential property sold within two years of the purchase date will be taxable unless the property was the seller’s principal place of residence, inherited from a deceased estate or sold as part of a relationship property settlement.  Further, buyers and sellers of all property must provide a New Zealand IRD number as part of the property transfer and non-residents must also provide their home country tax identification number, along with identification requirements such as a passport.

These proposed policy changes were not included in the BEFU forecasts as they occurred after finalisation on 10 April.  However, the impact on house price inflation is expected to be small: the RBNZ estimates its LVR measures could be expected to lower nationwide house price growth by 1%-2% points nationally; no impact on house prices was estimated for the Government’s measures.  In general, house price growth has been slightly stronger than forecast in the BEFU.  If the new measures have a small negative impact as anticipated, then these influences are likely to be broadly offsetting.

Forward indicators remain positive#

Forward-looking indicators suggest domestic demand will remain healthy for some time yet.  Business confidence and firms’ own activity expectations showed no marked change from March in the April ANZ Business Outlook (ANZBO), pointing to above-trend growth continuing through 2015.  At a sector level, confidence in the agricultural industry fell with profits expected to decline, but this follows a surprise rise in March.

The manufacturing sector continued to show expansion in April, albeit at a more modest pace. The BNZ-BusinessNZ Performance of Manufacturing Index (PMI) stood at 51.8, down 2.8 points from March.  Weakening economic conditions in Australia, the strong NZD/AUD exchange rate, and falling dairy incomes, were cited as key reasons for the decline.  Despite the moderation, the manufacturing sector has remained in expansionary territory for 31 consecutive months.  Meanwhile, the Performance of Services Index (PSI) fell by 1.1 points to 56.5.  At current levels the sector still sits firmly in expansionary territory and, with the key sales and new orders indicators remaining above 60, the short term outlook remains positive.

Inflation outlook still benign#

The RBNZ’s June 2015 Quarterly Survey of Expectations revealed a small lift in inflation expectations compared to the March quarter.  Even so, at current levels, expectations remain near historic lows.  The one-year-ahead measure rose to 1.3% from 1.1% in the March quarter, while the two-year-ahead measure edged up to 1.9% from 1.8% (Figure 4). 

Figure 4: Inflation and inflation expectations
Figure 4: Inflation and inflation expectations.
Sources: RBNZ, Statistics NZ

Low inflation expectations are consistent with the moderation, and in some cases outright decline, in the costs faced by businesses.  The Labour Cost Index, which measures changes in wages and salaries for a fixed quantity and quality of labour, increased just 1.7% over the past year, while the producers’ price input index fell 1.1% in the March 2015 quarter, to be down 4.0% in the year.   Key drivers of the annual decline in input prices were falls in dairy and oil prices (the latter influencing petroleum and coal manufacturing and transport costs) and lower electricity and gas prices.  Even apart from those falls, input cost pressures were weak. 

Capital goods prices have continued to rise, but remain modest compared to previous economic expansions, up just 2.8% in the year to March 2015. Construction costs remain the key driver, with plant, machinery and equipment costs remaining relatively stable while transport costs continue to decline.  Against this backdrop it is perhaps not surprising that firms’ pricing intentions edged lower in the April ANZBO from a net 28% to a net 23%. 

Overall, these indicators suggest consumer price inflation will remain low in the near term, as indicated in the BEFU.  That said, we note that the 5% increase in petrol prices since the BEFU forecasts were finalised adds some upside to our CPI forecast of 0.2% in the year to June 2015.

Speculation of interest rate cuts increases#

Expectations of monetary easing have increased since BEFU finalisation, spurred on by current low inflation and relatively benign inflation indicators.  At the time of writing, financial markets were almost fully pricing two 0.25% point cuts in the Official Cash Rate (OCR) by the end of the year.  This has led some banks to cut their fixed rate mortgages, which could provide further impetus to the housing market and consumer spending.

Trade deficit widens...#

The annual merchandise trade deficit widened further in April to $2.6 billion, the largest deficit since June 2009, and chiefly as a result of lower export values, particularly dairy values.  The result is consistent with an expected widening of the annual current account deficit to around 4.6% of GDP in the June 2015 quarter, as in our BEFU 2015 forecasts. Overseas Merchandise Trade data showed a $123 million surplus for April, the smallest surplus for an April month since 2011.

...while dairy prices continue to fall#

The GlobalDairyTrade (GDT) Price Index fell 2.2% in the second auction for May. Average GDT prices are now down 26.7% from their recent peak in early March 2015, which will dampen dairy export values over coming months.  Moreover, the 10.0% decline in average GDT prices since the BEFU forecasts were finalised presents some downside risk to the outlook for export commodity prices.  Scenario one in the Risks and Scenarios chapter of the BEFU canvasses the implications of weaker export commodity prices on the terms of trade, GDP and the fiscal position.

Fonterra announced on 28 May an opening farm gate milk price of $5.25/kg of milk solids (ms) for the 2015/16 season, reflecting recent auction results and the overall weak outlook for dairy markets in the near term.  This was in line with Treasury and market expectations, with bank analysts expecting the price to increase to $5.50-5.70/kg ms by the end of the season.  At the same time the 2014/15 season was revised down further to $4.40/kg ms with the forecast dividend unchanged at 20-30 cents.  While the 2015/16 milk price has increased from last season, farm revenues will be lower next season due to the smaller retrospective payments (Figure 5).  The impact on farm revenues will be particularly pronounced in July and August and farm cash flows will be tight throughout the season.

Figure 5: Fonterra farm gate revenues
Figure 5: Fonterra farm gate revenues.
Note:  Assumes 1% production growth
Sources: Fonterra, the Treasury

Previous declines in global dairy prices led to a 7.4% fall in the ANZ World Commodity Price Index for April, partially offset by price increases for meat (beef in particular), wool, pelts and apples. However, the high NZ dollar remained a constraint, with commodity prices in the NZD index falling some 8.9%.

The NZ dollar TWI is currently lower than assumed in the BEFU forecasts.  If sustained, the recent fall will help to offset the decline in commodity prices while also supporting other parts of the tradable sector.

Global bond yields increase from low levels...#

The fall in the NZ dollar reflected a change in the outlook for monetary policy in New Zealand and major economies.  Firmer expectations of US monetary tightening, a re-appraisal of euro area growth prospects, and a reduced likelihood of expanded stimulus in Japan led to higher bond yields in those economies.  The US 10-year bond yield rose 0.10% points to 2.14% (Figure 6) and the German 10-year yield lifted 0.18% points to 0.55%. The NZ 10-year yield followed, up 0.33% points to 3.77%. recovery in the US labour market...#

The US labour market resumed its recovery following the harsh winter. Nonfarm payrolls rebounded by 223,000 in April and the unemployment rate fell 0.1% point to 5.4%, while wage growth ticked up slightly. However, other data for the June quarter were on the softer side overall. Industrial production fell in April (0.3%), while the ISM manufacturing PMI (51.5) showed muted growth, although the non-manufacturing PMI was more upbeat (57.8). Retail sales were flat in April, showing increased household caution. Annual inflation was negative (-0.2%), but core inflation was higher than expected at 1.8%.

Figure 6: 10-year government bond yields
Figure 6: 10-year government bond yields.
Source: Haver

...supported expectations of Fed tightening...#

Despite soft activity in some sectors, the Federal Reserve (Fed) is expected to raise its policy rate in late 2015. Fed Chair Yellen stated that a rise in the Funds Rate in 2015 is appropriate, but spare capacity in the labour market, fiscal consolidation and slow global growth mean that monetary tightening is likely to be gradual. Markets have priced in a 25 bps rate rise by December 2015.

...and euro area rates adjust to faster growth...#

Higher euro area yields reflect an improved growth outlook but also more risks in peripheral economies. Euro area GDP grew 0.4% in the March quarter (Q1), up from the December quarter (0.3%), as quantitative easing (QE) led to low interest rates and euro depreciation. The European Commission revised up its growth and inflation forecasts for 2015 and 2016. European Central Bank (ECB) President Draghi affirmed that QE will continue until the recovery is entrenched. The ECB will frontload more QE into June ahead of a period of low liquidity, leading to some declines in yields. Annual inflation remained weak in April (0.0%), due to lower fuel prices.

Greek risks remain high. Greece may not be able to meet a debt payment to the IMF in early June, especially since it met a payment in May only by drawing on its IMF reserves. The impasse between Greece and the EU over the bailout continued.

The rise in UK bond yields is partly attributed to higher political uncertainty leading up to the UK elections. Economic data point to continued albeit slightly softer recovery in the economy. Markets do not expect a rate rise by the Bank of England until at least the second half of 2016.

...while BoJ states further easing is unlikely despite a slow recovery#

Japanese GDP expanded 0.6% in Q1, but details point to only a slow recovery in demand. Growth was led by a rebound in residential construction and a slower rundown in inventories. Private consumption rose 0.4%, but remains sharply lower than before the April 2014 tax rise.

However, the Bank of Japan remains positive on the economic outlook. Governor Kuroda stated that inflation is expected to pick up once the transitory impact of lower petrol prices recedes. He indicated that additional monetary easing is unlikely at this stage. Analysts are less upbeat, and many still expect further easing later in 2015.

However, PBoC cut rates to boost growth...#

In China, growth in activity remained historically slow. Annual growth rates in industrial production (5.9%), fixed investment (12.0%) and retail sales values (10.0%) in April were lower than their Q1 averages. Exports declined 6.2% from a year ago owing to weaker external demand, while a 16.1% fall in imports reflects subdued domestic demand. The PBoC cut its one-year lending and deposit rates by 25 bps to 5.1% and 2.25% respectively, the third rate cut in six months. Many analysts expect further cuts to support growth, particularly given low annual inflation in April (1.5%).

...and the RBA eased monetary policy further#

Australian activity picked up moderately. Retail sales volumes rose 0.7% in Q1, supported by low interest rates. Employment eased slightly in April, and the unemployment rate rose 0.1% point to 6.2%. Fast growth in dwelling approvals point to continued solid residential investment growth. However, annual growth in the wage price index was at an all-time low in Q1 (2.3%), adding to expectations of slow nominal GDP growth in 2015. The Australian Government Budget forecast a slightly larger cash deficit as a percentage of GDP for the next three years, owing to lower nominal GDP growth and tax receipts. This month’s special topic compares the New Zealand and Australian economic and fiscal outlooks.

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) cut its policy rate by 25 bps to 2.0% in May. The RBA noted the recent sharp falls in export prices, weak business investment and a high AUD against some major currencies. The RBA in its latest Statement on Monetary Policy projected an ongoing period of sub-trend growth until the December quarter of 2016, a quarter later than previously forecast.

Sluggish exports weigh on Asian economies#

March quarter growth in other Asian economies was mixed. Quarterly growth was strong in South Korea (0.8%) and Malaysia (1.2%), on the back of steady growth in household consumption and fixed investment. Taiwan’s GDP expanded steadily (0.7%), although as a result of a fall in imports. However, growth was historically soft for Indonesia (0.8%), Thailand (0.3%) and Hong Kong (0.4%). A common factor weighing on growth across most Asian economies was subdued growth in goods exports since mid 2014, chiefly reflecting weaker demand from China.

Key global risks persist for New Zealand#

While domestic drivers of New Zealand’s growth are upbeat, slow global growth continues to weigh on the external sector. Global bond yields may rise further as US monetary tightening draws closer, reinforced by the uncertainty over Greece. Our Asian trading partners are relatively exposed to greater market volatility, presenting negative risks to the demand for New Zealand exports.

Special Topic: Comparing the economic and fiscal outlook - Australia and New Zealand#

Australia’s 2015 Budget was delivered on 12 May, followed by the New Zealand Budget on 21 May.  This special topic summarises the economic and fiscal outlooks presented in the two Budgets.

Australia’s economic growth is currently below its historical average#

Australia’s average real GDP growth (3.0%) was higher than that of New Zealand (2.7%) over 2000-2014, although economic cycles in the two countries have generally coincided. However, Australia’s growth has been below its historical average since early 2013 as it is gradually rebalancing from mining investment to private consumption and non-mining investment after a steep fall in the terms of trade from its peak in 2011.  In contrast, New Zealand’s recent growth has been above average as its terms of trade have been declining less sharply after reaching a lower peak in early 2014. Also, New Zealand’s growth has been supported by strong private consumption and residential investment underpinned by the Canterbury rebuild and migrant inflows (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Real GDP growth
Figure 1: Real GDP growth.
Sources: Australian Bureau of Statistics, Statistics NZ

Australian Budget forecasts a delay in growth pick-up#

The Australian Budget forecasts show real GDP growth accelerating from 2.5% in 2014/15 to 3.5% in 2017/18 (June years). On the other hand, New Zealand’s Budget forecasts real GDP growth to ease from 3.3% in 2014/15 to 2.1% in 2018/19 (Figure 2 and Table 1 at the end of this topic). The growth forecasts in the two Budgets reflect the different stages of their respective economic cycles. Australia’s growth is projected to increase as non-mining investment and private consumption strengthen to offset the fall in mining investment. In contrast, New Zealand’s growth is likely to moderate as the Canterbury rebuild peaks and population growth eases back closer to historic norms. Both budgets contained downward revisions to the short-term growth outlook from the respective mid-year forecasts.

Figure 2: Real and nominal GDP growth
Figure 2: Real and nominal GDP growth.
Sources: The Commonwealth of Australia, the Treasury

Australia’s nominal GDP growth forecasts (the main driver of government revenues) remain lower at 1.5% in 2014/15 and 3.3% in 2015/16 than New Zealand’s nominal GDP growth forecasts of 2.4% and 4.2% in those years. Both have significantly revised down the forecasts for 2015/16. Australia’s downward revision reflects the weaker outlook for commodity prices and subdued growth in wages. New Zealand’s lower nominal growth forecast reflects a softer inflation outlook. In the following three years, Australian Budget forecasts show nominal GDP growth stabilising around 5.5%, while New Zealand’s nominal GDP growth is forecast to moderate from 5.2% to 3.8%. This reflects higher real GDP growth and higher CPI inflation in Australia’s forecasts (See Table 1 at the end of this note).

Australia forecasts a decline in unemployment rates from 2016/17#

Based on the latest forecasts, the rebalancing of Australia’s growth from mining-led growth to more broad-based expansion may take more time than was expected earlier. Non-mining business investment recovery is now expected to be delayed until 2016/17. Low interest rates and oil prices, as well as the lower exchange rate, are expected to support increases in dwelling investment, household consumption and exports. Australia’s real GDP is expected to grow higher than trend from 2017/18, leading to absorption of spare capacity by 2021/22. In contrast, New Zealand’s Budget forecasts assume the economy is already operating close to capacity and real GDP growth will moderate as capacity pressures develop. As a result, Australia’s unemployment rate is forecast to reach a peak of 6.5% in 2015/16 and then decline to 5.8% in 2018/19. New Zealand’s unemployment rate is forecast to decline progressively from 5.5% in 2014/15 to 4.5% in 2018/19 (Table 1).

Australia’s fiscal consolidation projected to continue despite deteriorating tax outlook#

The Australian Budget shows deterioration in the fiscal outlook from that presented in the 2014 Mid- Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO). The underlying cash balance, Australia’s preferred budget balance target, is forecast to show larger deficits compared to MYEFO. Nonetheless, the underlying cash deficits are forecast to reduce steadily from 2.1% of GDP in 2015/16 to 0.4% in 2018/19 before returning to surplus in 2019/20, as projected in the MYEFO. Modest surpluses are projected thereafter, reaching 0.4% of GDP by 2025/26, which is below the Australian Government’s target of 1%.

Australia’s deteriorating fiscal outlook compared to the MYEFO reflects lower tax revenue forecasts on account of lower nominal GDP growth. Nonetheless, policy decisions announced in the Budget are expected to produce net savings, which are likely to marginally offset the lower forecast tax revenues. The Budget seeks to fund tax relief for small businesses through previously held provisions. The enhanced compliance programme for Goods and Services Tax (GST) is expected to increase tax receipts over the five years to 2018/19. The Budget has also announced measures for ensuring “fairness” of the tax and benefits systems so that foreign companies pay their “fair share” of the tax burden in Australia, which is also likely to improve the budget position.  Accordingly, the total receipts-GDP ratio is forecast to increase from 23.5% in 2014/15 to 25.2% in 2018/19 (Figure 3). New Zealand’s Budget forecasts show core Crown revenue rising marginally from 30.0% of GDP to 30.6% over the same period mainly as a result of fiscal drag as more workers move into higher average tax rates. 

Figure 3: Australian government receipts and payments
Figure 3: Australian    government receipts and payments.
Source: The Commonwealth of Australia

Australia seeks to reprioritise spending to new areas identified in the Budget while forecasting the total payments-GDP ratio for the Government to reduce from 25.9% in 2014/15 to 25.3% in 2018/19. New Zealand’s Budget forecasts show core Crown expenses decreasing from 30.5% to 29.2% of GDP over the same period.

Respective forecasts for comparable fiscal indicators show New Zealand returning to fiscal surplus earlier than Australia#

Australia’s headline fiscal indicators are not directly comparable to New Zealand’s because Australia compiles its Budget on an IMF Government Finance Statistics (GFS) basis, while New Zealand reports on a Generally Accepted Accounting Practice (GAAP) basis. However, to assist with international comparisons New Zealand also produces high-level GFS accounts.[1]

Table 1 presents fiscal indicators for both countries for the central government compiled on a GFS basis. Australia is forecast to remain in fiscal deficit until 2018/19, while New Zealand is forecast to return to a fiscal surplus by 2016/17 (Figure 4). Notably, however, comparing even GFS-based fiscal indicators between the two central governments may not be appropriate in some respects because the States in Australia undertake significant amounts of government spending unlike in New Zealand where the bulk of the spending is by central government. In addition, the provision of some services such as health and education by the public and private sectors in the two countries may explain some of the difference in government revenue and expenditure ratios.

Figure 4: GFS fiscal balance
Figure 4: GFS fiscal balance.
Sources: The Commonwealth of Australia, the Treasury

Australia’s net debt is forecast to reach a peak of 18.0% of GDP in 2016/17 and then decline to 16.8% in 2018/19. However, Australia’s net debt is not directly comparable to New Zealand’s net core Crown debt used as the basis for the Government’s debt target. Unlike Australia, New Zealand’s net debt target measure excludes financial assets such as advances and those held by the New Zealand Superannuation Fund (NZSF) as they are considered ring-fenced for fiscal policy purposes.  Calculating net debt on a broadly comparable basis for New Zealand, net core Crown debt (including advances and NZSF as financial assets) is forecast to decline steadily from 7.7% of GDP in 2015/16 to 4.2% in 2018/19 (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Net government debt
Figure 5: Net government debt.
Sources: The Commonwealth of Australia, the Treasury
Table 1:  Economic and Fiscal Outlook – Australia and New Zealand
June Years   2013/14 2014/15 2015/16 2016/17 2017/18 2018/19
    (actual)  (forecast)  (forecast)  (forecast)  (forecast)  (forecast)
Real GDP1  Australia 2.5 2.5 2.8 3.3 3.5 3.5
  New Zealand 2.9 3.3 3.0 2.8 2.8 2.1
Nominal GDP1  Australia 4.0 1.5 3.3 5.5 5.3 5.5
  New Zealand 8.1 2.4 4.2 5.2 4.7 3.8
CPI2 Australia 3.0 1.8 2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5
  New Zealand 1.6 0.2 1.6 2.1 2.0 2.1
Unemployment Rate3  Australia 5.9 6.3 6.5 6.3 6.0 5.8
  New Zealand 5.7 5.5 5.0 4.6 4.5 4.5
Current Account Balance4 Australia -3.1 -3.0 -3.5 -2.8    
  New Zealand -2.5 -4.6 -5.5 -4.9 -5.1 -5.4
GFS Fiscal balance5 Australia -2.8 -2.5 -2.0 -1.3 -0.5 -0.2
  New Zealand -0.9 -0.1 -0.3 0.4 0.7 1.2
GFS cash surplus (+)/ deficit(-)5 Australia   -2.3 -1.9 -1.3 -0.6 -0.1
    New Zealand -1.5 -1.6 -1.4 0.0 0.4 1.1
Net financial worth5 Australia -23.4 -21.8 -23.2 -23.3 -22.6 -21.6
  New Zealand 8.8 10.0 10.1 9.1 8.0 6.3
Net debt4 Australia 12.8 15.6 17.3 18.0 17.6 16.8
  New Zealand6  8.7 7.6 7.7 7.0 5.9 4.2
  New Zealand (budget basis) 25.6 25.7 26.3 25.5 24.4 22.9

Sources: (a) Australia Budget 2015, (b) For New Zealand: Budget Economic and Fiscal Update 2015. 

1. Annual average percent change

2. Annual percent change

3. Seasonally adjusted, percent, June quarter

4. Percent of GDP

5. IMF Government Finance Statistics basis, percent of GDP

6. Net debt including  Advances and New Zealand Superannuation Fund as financial assets


  • [1]For more details, see Government Finance Statistics of Central Government in Additional Information document of the Budget Economic and Fiscal Update 2015 published on the Treasury website>.

New Zealand Key Economic Data#

27 May 2015

Quarterly Indicators#

Quarterly Indicators
    2013Q3 2013Q4 2014Q1 2014Q2 2014Q3 2014Q4 2015Q1

Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

Real production GDP qtr % chg[1] 1.1 0.5 1.0 0.7 0.9 0.8 ...
  ann ave % chg 2.4 2.3 2.5 2.8 2.9 3.3 ...
Real private consumption qtr % chg[1] 0.2 1.0 0.3 1.2 1.4 0.6 ...
  ann ave % chg 2.8 2.9 2.9 2.8 3.0 3.2 ...
Real public consumption qtr % chg[1] 1.5 0.4 1.2 1.0 0.4 0.6 ...
  ann ave % chg 1.1 1.9 2.7 3.5 3.5 3.6 ...
Real residential investment qtr % chg[1] 7.6 0.5 10.7 -0.4 0.2 5.2 ...
  ann ave % chg 16.3 16.6 16.6 18.0 16.2 16.6 ...
Real non-residential investment qtr % chg[1] 3.8 -0.2 -0.8 2.8 3.5 -0.9 ...
  ann ave % chg 4.8 6.2 8.4 8.7 7.2 6.0 ...
Export volumes qtr % chg[1] -0.3 2.5 3.1 -3.8 -0.1 6.1 ...
  ann ave % chg 1.3 1.1 0.3 0.4 1.5 2.7 ...
Import volumes qtr % chg[1] 4.1 0.2 1.9 3.0 0.3 3.0 ...
  ann ave % chg 4.6 6.3 8.0 8.9 7.9 7.9 ...
Nominal GDP - expenditure basis ann ave % chg 3.2 5.4 6.8 8.2 7.7 5.6 ...
Real GDP per capita ann ave % chg 1.7 1.4 1.5 1.7 1.6 1.8 ...
Real Gross National Disposable Income ann ave % chg 3.0 4.3 5.8 6.5 6.3 5.0 ...

External Trade

Current account balance (annual) NZ$ millions -8,476 -7,350 -6,005 -5,814 -6,093 -7,822 ...
  % of GDP -3.9 -3.3 -2.6 -2.5 -2.6 -3.3 ...
Investment income balance (annual) NZ$ millions -8,507 -9,027 -9,338 -9,770 -9,956 -10,056 ...
Merchandise terms of trade qtr % chg 7.5 2.5 1.8 0.1 -4.5 -1.9 ...
  ann % chg 15.8 20.2 17.3 12.2 -0.3 -4.6 ...


CPI inflation qtr % chg 0.9 0.1 0.3 0.3 0.3 -0.2 -0.3
  ann % chg 1.4 1.6 1.5 1.6 1.0 0.8 0.1
Tradable inflation ann % chg -0.5 -0.3 -0.6 0.1 -1.0 -1.3 -2.8
Non-tradable inflation ann % chg 2.8 2.9 3.0 2.7 2.5 2.4 2.3
GDP deflator ann % chg 3.6 7.7 5.7 4.8 1.7 -1.7 ...
Consumption deflator ann % chg 0.6 0.9 0.9 1.0 0.7 0.7 ...

Labour Market

Employment (HLFS) qtr % chg[1] 1.4 0.8 1.0 0.4 1.0 1.2 0.7
  ann % chg[1] 2.4 2.9 3.7 3.6 3.2 3.5 3.2
Unemployment rate %[1] 6.2 6.1 6.0 5.7 5.5 5.8 5.8
Participation rate %[1] 68.4 68.7 69.0 68.6 68.8 69.4 69.6
LCI salary & wage rates - total (adjusted)[5] qtr % chg 0.4 0.5 0.3 0.5 0.5 0.5 0.3
  ann % chg 1.6 1.6 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.7 1.7
QES average hourly earnings - total[5] qtr % chg 1.6 0.2 0.5 0.2 1.4 0.5 0
  ann % chg 2.6 2.9 2.5 2.5 2.3 2.6 2.1
Labour productivity[6] ann ave % chg 0.6 -0.7 -0.9 -0.9 -0.7 -0.3 ...

Retail Sales

Core retail sales volume qtr % chg[1] -0.2 1.0 0.9 1.3 1.5 1.9 2.9
  ann % chg 4.3 3.7 3.5 3 4.5 6 7.5
Total retail sales volume qtr % chg[1] 0.3 1.1 0.9 1.3 1.6 1.9 2.7
  ann % chg 4.7 3.9 3.6 3.6 4.7 5.9 7.4

Confidence Indicators/Surveys

WMM - consumer confidence[3] Index 115 120 122 121 117 115 117
QSBO - general business situation[4] net % 37.8 52.8 51.7 31.7 19.0 23.6 23.0
QSBO - own activity outlook[4] net % 5.5 18.5 34.8 20.4 12.1 33.1 19.0

Monthly Indicators#

Monthly Indicators
    2014M11 2014M12 2015M01 2015M02 2015M03 2015M04 2015M05

External Sector

Merchandise trade - exports mth % chg[1] -6.5 5.7 -8.9 4.9 -0.2 -0.3 ...
  ann % chg[1] -9.0 -7.3 -9.5 -14.1 -2.3 -5.5 ...
Merchandise trade - imports mth % chg[1] 2.4 -5.6 2.5 -3.8 6.1 -2.0 ...
  ann % chg[1] 0.8 8.1 -4.1 2.0 0.8 2.6 ...
Merchandise trade balance (12 month total) NZ$ million -492 -1183 -1416 -2130 -2280 -2624 ...
Visitor arrivals number[1] 249,880 246,230 248,580 266,470 255,800 259,460 ...
Visitor departures number[1] 259,190 254,070 251,990 259,650 268,910 258,820 ...


Dwelling consents - residential mth % chg[1] 10.0 -2.5 -4.1 -6.5 11.0 ... ...
  ann % chg[1] 6.7 8.1 3.6 -0.6 13.6 ... ...
House sales - dwellings mth % chg[1] 2.7 17.8 -15.7 4.0 4.7 0.2 ...
  ann % chg[1] 6.5 24.2 2.6 12.6 20.3 27.6 ...
REINZ - house price index mth % chg 1.8 0.6 1.8 1.2 1.0 1.1 ...
  ann % chg 4.7 5.7 8.5 7.1 8.5 9.3 ...

Private Consumption

Electronic card transactions - total retail mth % chg[1] 0.1 0.0 0.0 1.0 0.7 -0.7 ...
  ann % chg 3.2 3.7 4.5 4.0 3.7 3.9 ...
New car registrations mth % chg[1] 0.2 2.1 -0.7 -0.2 2.4 -1.6 ...
  ann % chg 16.5 21.0 17.1 12.1 11.8 11.2 ...


Permanent & long-term arrivals number[1] 9,780 8,800 10,060 9,550 9,870 9,590 ...
Permanent & long-term departures number[1] 4,800 4,720 4,600 4,740 4,890 4,850 ...
Net PLT migration (12 month total) number 49,836 50,922 53,797 55,121 56,275 56,813 ...

Commodity Prices

Brent oil price US$/Barrel 79.44 62.34 47.76 58.10 55.89 59.52 64.69
WTI oil price US$/Barrel 75.79 59.29 47.22 50.58 47.82 54.45 59.53
ANZ NZ commodity price index mth % chg -1.4 -3.8 0.1 9.7 1.5 -8.9 ...
  ann % chg -8.7 -13.7 -14.1 -6.5 -2.5 -6.8 ...
ANZ world commodity price index mth % chg -1.4 -4.4 -0.3 4.2 4.6 -7.4 ...
  ann % chg -12.5 -17.2 -18.4 -15.8 -11.9 -15.3 ...

Financial Markets

NZD/USD $[2] 0.7832 0.7764 0.764 0.7444 0.7473 0.7583 0.7432
NZD/AUD $[2] 0.9051 0.94 0.9465 0.9555 0.9658 0.9814 0.9370
Trade weighted index (TWI) June 1979 = 100[2] 77.43 78.24 78.18 77.16 78.27 79.17 76.70
Official cash rate (OCR) % 3.50 3.50 3.50 3.50 3.50 3.50 3.50
90 day bank bill rate %[2] 3.67 3.67 3.67 3.63 3.63 3.63 3.54
10 year govt bond rate %[2] 4.03 3.78 3.42 3.27 3.30 3.25 3.65

Confidence Indicators/Surveys

ANZ Bank - business confidence net % 31.5 30.4 ... 34.4 35.8 30.2 ...
ANZ Bank - activity outlook net % 41.7 37.3 ... 40.9 42.2 41.3 ...
ANZ-Roy Morgan - consumer confidence net % 121.8 126.5 128.9 124.0 124.6 128.8 123.9
Performance of Manufacturing Index Index 54.7 57.1 51.3 56.5 54.6 51.8 ...
Performance of Services Index Index 54.8 56.7 57.9 56.0 57.6 56.5 ...



qtr % chg
quarterly percent change
mth % chg
monthly percent change
ann % chg
annual percent change
ann ave % chg
annual average percent change


  • [1] Seasonally adjusted
  • [2] Average (11am)
  • [3] Westpac McDermott Miller
  • [4] Quarterly Survey of Business Opinion
  • [5] Ordinary time
  • [6] Production GDP divided by HLFS hours worked

Sources: Statistics New Zealand, Reserve Bank of New Zealand, NZIER, ANZ, Haver, Westpac McDermott Miller, ANZ-Roy Morgan, REINZ, BNZ-Business NZ