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It’s not us: it’s the big banks

Written By: - Date published: 10:01 am, April 29th, 2013 - 30 comments
Categories: capital gains, capitalism, class war, cost of living, david cunliffe, debt / deficit, economy, gst, kiwisaver, news, russel norman, same old national, spin, thinktank - Tags:

So the big Aussie banks in NZ are on course for showing they have made record profits in their last financial year, according to Richard Meadows on Stuff:

Banking analysts expect record-breaking profits from the ‘Big Four’ Aussie lenders this week, but their local offshoots’ performance may be slightly less dazzling. …

ASB, which follows a different reporting year, has already turned in a $365 million net profit for the six months to December, down 2 per cent from the previous period’s record result. On a normalised basis, which is the bank’s preferred measure, profit rose 7 per cent. …

Across the Tasman, the Australian Financial Review reported that analysts expected the parents of the local banks to book record half-year profits of a collective A$13.2 billion (NZ$16b).

The Sydney Morning Herald reported ANZ and Westpac’s cash earnings were expected to rise 7 per cent from the previous corresponding period, while the underdog NAB was tipped to gain 2 per cent.

Meanwhile, it seems that Kiwis are not the poor savers many politicians and journalists make us out to be.  Apparently this is the conclusion of a report by the policy think tank The New Zealand Initiative (a bunch that prefer “Adam Smith’s invisible hand to government’s visible fist”).  According to  Catherine Harris’s article on Stuff, Kiwis are actually quite good savers:

In fact, New Zealand’s collective savings – from companies, government and households – had been “positive” for 38 of the past 41 years – in other words, its income was greater than its spending on consumption.

The savings figures did not include some forms of debt, though it did feature mortgage interest. But households’ net wealth had also risen.

So does that mean that the original money borrowed for mortgages is not included in the total debt of New Zealanders? Meanwhile, it argues that the problem is government policies that has caused the overall debt, even though it included government savings in NZ’s collective savings. The article claims that lack of saving is not the cause of NZ’s high debt levels:

In fact, the country’s chronically large current account deficit is the legacy of government policies between 1974 and the mid-1980s, says author and institute fellow Bryce Wilkinson.

“It was triggered by large trade deficits in the balance of payments, not least due to spiking oil prices, and exacerbated by the largely ‘Keynesian’ government deficit spending policy response.”

Since then, the large “net international investment position” – the $146 billion difference between assets New Zealanders own overseas and overseas-owned assets in New Zealand – had kept the current account balance in deficit.

I’m confused.  It looks to me like they are trying Harris’s article does not provide support another claim in the lead sentence, that New Zealanders “also fear overseas investment unnecessarily“.  Instead the article ends with reference to statistics that show,

Wilkinson also rejected the idea that Asians were taking over New Zealand. In fact, said the report, as of last year Australians owned 55 per cent of foreign investment in New Zealand, while those from Asean nations owned only 3.1 per cent.

Or is Harris and/or Wilkinson implying that Asean nation are “foreign”, but Australia isn’t?

I would have thought The New Zealand Initiative’s findings show that the (alleged) invisible hand is not stopping the foreign Aussie big banks ripping off Kiwis, and that their report is masking this by excluding some crucial forms of private debt.

Back in 2010, the NAct government launched a Savings working party because of their concerns about Kiwis not saving enough. Labour’s then financial spokesperson, David Cunliffe was skeptical.  An Otago Daily Times article said:

“Having already cut New Zealand Superannuation Fund contributions and gutted KiwiSaver, the terms of reference for the Savings Working Group are now equally disturbing,” he  [Cunliffe] said.

“New Zealanders all know `government savings’ is code for harsh cuts to essential services, `changes to the tax system’ are likely to favour the wealthiest kiwis, and references to `fairness and effectiveness of KiwiSaver’ could mean further gutting of this landmark scheme.”

When the report from the Savings Working group was released in February 2011, as reported by TVNZ, Cunliffe and Russel Norman were critical, arguing that the report put too much focus on cutting government rather than on private debt.

Labour’s finance spokesman David Cunliffe adds that the report also ignored any discussion about the impact of dramatically cutting public services.

Slashing government spending and raising GST would make the recession worse and be unfair to Kiwis, he said.

Russel Norman argued for a Capital Gains Tax (other than for the family home) was essential, in keeping with the Saving’s Group Report that showed that biases in the tax system were contributing to the inflation of house prices.

So, overall, the articles indicate the big Aussie banks are the problem, not kiwis’ inability to save.  this is even though the New Zealand Initiative seems to be trying to skew the findings to support the NAct agenda for golvernment spending cuts.

We need better think tanks – especially, we need left wing alternatives to the current influential think tanks that begin with right wing assumptions about government intervention-bad; multinational corporates-good.



30 comments on “It’s not us: it’s the big banks”

  1. One Anonymous Knucklehead 1

    Left-wing think tanks are called universities.

    • Colonial Viper 1.1

      No. Universities as institutions are doing only a fair to mediocre job of acting as the social and political conscience of NZ society.

      And the economics/finance departments are generally doing a pretty shite job. But in order for academics in those fields to get grants and to get papers pubished in the major journals (and hence promotions), you basically have to follow an orthodox neoliberal framework.

      If I were to be blunt, I’d argue that universities are not fulfilling the role that NZ society needs today; just what the imaginary market and its current funding models need.

    • Murray Olsen 1.2

      Not at all. Plenty of right wing rubbish comes out of universities, as well as some left wing analysis. This shows that they support a diversity of inquiry, unlike think tanks which normally support thinking in support of a well defined position. For example, if one has liberty or freedom in the title, it’s likely to support harsher prison sentences, surveillance without legal safeguards, interference in the bedroom, and state invasion of women’s lady parts.

      • One Anonymous Knucklehead 1.2.1

        The Right needs its own facts: the Left does not. Universities foster inquiry. No think tank is ever going to match their resources.

  2. DH 2

    “Saving’s Group Report that showed that biases in the tax system were contributing to the inflation of house prices”

    Unfortunately the problem goes a little deeper than that. I don’t know how many here have read Milton Friedman but his monetarist theory is the basis for how NZ controls inflation.

    A simple monetary view is inflation occurs when the money supply increases faster than economic growth. Bank lending is the cause of the money supply growing so the RBNZ are the ones charged with keeping growth in the money supply closely aligned with growth in GDP to prevent inflation. They do that by controlling the price of money – interest rates. Basic economic theory says that if interest rates go up the demand for borrowed money will fall leading to a slowdown in the growth of the money supply.

    The housing inflation is proof the RBNZ haven’t properly controlled growth in the money supply because house prices can’t go up without it (well they could, but only if there was a corresponding fall in prices elsewhere in the market and that hasn’t occured.)

    The subject is quite complex because the mortgage lending generates economic growth, it just doesn’t create enough growth in GDP to offset the increasing money supply.

    IMO Greens & Labour are tinkering at the edges too much & need to get to the source of the problem. CGT and tax won’t reduce mortgage lending, if anything they’ll increase it.

    • Saarbo 2.1

      A question: In the basket of goods and services that make up CPI, do you know how much is made up of “housing”?

      I get the impression it is under represented.

      • DH 2.1.1

        Yup, your impression is correct. Can download CPI data here;


        They use a weighting format. Weighting can be viewed as a percentage, ie a weighting of 10 would represent roughly 10% of household spending. They adjust the results further by population/area weightings but that makes only a very minor change to the numbers. The CPI is made up of groups and sub-groups, 2011 weightings by group are;

        Food – 8.79
        Alcoholic beverages and tobacco – 6.91
        Clothing and footwear – 4.42
        Housing and household utilities – 23.55
        Household contents and services – 4.44
        Health – 5.44
        Transport – 15.12
        Communication – 3.53
        Recreation and culture – 9.12
        Education – 1.84
        Miscellaneous goods and services – 6.85

        Housing and household utilities includes only the cost of a new house which I’m pretty sure doesn’t include the price of land. That group has the following sub-group weightings that make up the total of 23.55;

        Actual rentals for housing – 8.78
        Purchase of new housing – 4.01
        Property maintenance materials – 0.61
        Property maintenance services – 2.96
        Water supply – 0.26
        Refuse disposal and recycling – 0.14
        Local authority rates and payments – 2.32
        Other property related services – 0.03
        Electricity – 3.91
        Gas – 0.43
        Solid fuels – 0.11

        An example of calculating it; say you have inflation in rentals of 10%. You’d multiply that by it’s weighting of 8.78% which makes 0.878 and would add 0.878 points to the CPI.

        From the publics POV the CPI is a total con job but people aren’t good at figuring out this sort of stuff so no-one really understands it.

  3. JonL 3


    In the latest Eurobarometer poll
    Large majorities across Europe support:
    – the introduction of a tax on financial transactions (71%)
    – tighter rules for credit rating agencies (79%)
    – a tax on profits made by banks (83%)
    – tighter rules on tax avoidance and tax havens (61%)
    70% wish to see a stronger EU role in regulating the financial services industry and 76% want to see stronger EU coordination of economic policy.
    Tellingly only 39% of the population believe that reducing public deficits and debt are the answer to the economic crisis.

    Are there any similar polls in NZ?

    • infused 3.1

      Probably not since we didn’t get fucked like Europe did.

      • felix 3.1.1

        …thanks to the previous govt using budget surpluses to pay off our debt and leave the books in good shape. According to Bill English, that is.

        Guess it’s a good thing they didn’t listen to you and your mates bleating at them for years to spend those surpluses on tax cuts, eh?

        • infused

          It doesn’t matter, Labour spent it all in the end anyway.

          • Pascal's bookie

            But like you say, we weren’t fucked like Eurp.

            Say, who reckoned we should be more like Ireland leading in to the GFC?

          • felix

            Labour left us with no debt, confused. You and your mob wanted them to leave us with a massive debt.

            I think that matters quite a lot.

  4. MrSmith 4

    Great piece Karol and wish I had time to write something in reply, DH is on the money though.

  5. dumrse 5

    Labour had no hesitation in telling us they would nationalise the Power so, why not Nationalise the Banks. Think about it, the fat profits could be used to repay the purchase price and the next decade will contribute to the economy. Don’t forget, you heard about it here first.

  6. MrSmith 6

    “So the big Aussie banks in NZ are on course for showing they have made record profits in their last financial year, according to Richard Meadows on Stuff:”

    The thing that most people don’t understand is that accounting has a lot of grey areas, and the right like it that way, now if you are an Aussie bank do you think you would employ your brothers, sisters, uncles son, who you were told is good at maths to do your accounts? No you will likely pull some of that tax deductible freshly printed money out and employ the best fuckin accountant money can buy and when I say the best, I don’t mean the most moralistic, I mean the one that will make me the most money, accounting is just another game, the government sets the rules and if you want to win at this game, so like most sports you push the limits, until you get caught breaking the rules, then you say your sorry and hope the gains outweigh the losses.

    The Aussie banks will be cooking their books, you can bet on it, for the tax department to take on this lot will mean a large swallow, and lets face it the Nat’s put the dogs on the chains 4 years ago.

    Interesting listening to our former prime minister Boldger rewriting history on RadioNZ the other day, saying he had some regrets, meaning when he first came to power that selling our banking system to the Aussie’s, was his greatest regret, thanks a lot Jim, Jim you will go down in history as the Man that sold NZ to Australia.

    Boy and Girls we would be far better off becoming another state of Australia now! sorry but the game is up kids, at-least we would get decent wages and conditions, think about it, swallow your pride and ask to become part of Austrila or shut the fuck up about being Australia’s bum boys, bend over and pay the rent, they own us now, thanks Jim.

  7. MrSmith 7

    Going Bush tomorrow Karol but no doubt Draco will show up and DH needs to write more on this, hope to get back to this later tomorrow when the traps are out.

  8. MrSmith 8

    “Meanwhile, it seems that Kiwis are not the poor savers many politicians and journalists make us out to be.  Apparently this is the conclusion of a report by the policy think tank The New Zealand Initiative (a bunch that prefer “Adam Smith’s invisible hand to government’s visible fist”).  According to  Catherine Harris’s article on Stuff, Kiwis are actually quite good savers:”

    I have know idea what or who’s behind the New Zealand Initiative, call me a sceptic, rewriting history is like religion, just interpretation, and every man and his dog, like the New Zealand Initiative seem to be rewriting history at the moment.

    Read this recently by Noam Chomsky on Adam Smith. http://www.greanvillepost.com/2013/04/11/education-is-ignorance-discovering-the-real-adam-smith/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%253A+TheGreanvillePost+%2528The+Greanville+Post%2529

    • Pascal's bookie 8.1

      New Zealand Initiative is Business Roundtable 2.0

    • karol 8.2

      Here is the link to Wilkinson’s full NZ Initiative report. This is what it says “About the Author”

      Prior to setting up economics consultancy Capital Economics in 1997, Bryce Wilkinson was a director of Credit Suisse First Boston in New Zealand (now First NZ Capital). Before moving into investment banking in 1985, he worked in the New Zealand Treasury, reaching the position of director. Bryce has a strong background in public policy analysis, including monetary policy, capital market research and microeconomic advisory work. He was a member of the government’s Regulatory Responsibility Taskforce, the 2025 Taskforce and the ACC Stocktake Group and was acting executive director of the New Zealand Business Roundtable for a short period in late 2011 and early 2012.

      Bryce holds a PhD in economics from the University of Canterbury and was a Harkness Fellow at Harvard University.

  9. infused 9

    Yes it is us. We are the ones spending their money. They won’t make a profit if you are not borrowing…

  10. tracey 10

    Wasnt the main advisor to bush vis a vis the bank bailouts the former head of goldman sachs?

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