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Key: good that foreign buyers increase land prices

Written By: - Date published: 2:00 pm, October 19th, 2010 - 37 comments
Categories: farming, overseas investment - Tags:

John Key says that if we don’t let overseas buyers snap up our farmland then land prices will decrease and some over-leveraged farmers will go underwater. And that’s supposedly a bad thing. Key wants us to believe that foreigners putting our farmland out of the reach of Kiwis and making us borrow more from the Aussie banks is a good thing.

On the weekend Phil Goff announced the next Labour government will block sales of farmland to overseas interests unless there is a significant real investment leading to more jobs and exports.

Key’s probably right about the basic economics of that. Remove (or partially remove) a group of buyers from the market and the average price of farms will probably fall.

But is that a bad thing? Farm prices are currently so high that many of them can’t be farmed profitably. Farmers have to take out huge mortgages and pay huge interest bills to the Aussie banks and pray for capital gain in their property to make a profit.

For farmers that are farming for capital gain or have paid too much for their land, then a price decrease may put them underwater (their mortgage being worth more than the sale price of the land). Someone else will buy the land and that person will be a New Zealander.

The land stays in Kiwi hands, it is priced more realistically, farmers are discouraged from farming for capital gain (which, like being a landlord for capital gain, is obviously an unsustainable business model), and because future mortgages are smaller the amount of interest we’re paying to the Aussie banks is lower.

If a Labour government that had blocked overseas purchases of farmland wanted to ease the impact on farm prices it could get DoC to buy more marginal land or encourage the Cullen Fund to invest in New Zealand farms (something it is doing anyway).

So, Key’s objection to Labour’s plan doesn’t really make any sense, especially since he supposedly wants to prevent our farmland falling into foreign hands too. It’s just desperate political posturing from a do nothing PM who talks about the danger of foreign ownership but doesn’t want to do any about it.

37 comments on “Key: good that foreign buyers increase land prices ”

  1. Bunji 1

    And young New Zealanders can become farmers, rather than Federated Farmers become a local shill spokesperson for a few overseas corporations who are left owning our land. This is good for New Zealand farmers, not bad.

  2. Colonial Viper 2

    Well Key is clear on the fact he stands for big over leveraged land owners, then.

    Labour’s policies are going to hurt many of them, but its a necessary rebalancing of the economy.

    We cannot continue to have financial capital poured into farm land which can only generate mediocre returns on that investment. Returns which are so low, operations which are so capital intensive to maintain, that for many farmers the only way out is for foreigners to swoop on in and offer them miracle pricing to sell out to them.

    This country needs to take financial capital out of houses and out of farmland and place it high value productive businesses. Ones which can generate more units of export, each unit being worth more and more. Being a mass commodity exporter is a road to slow ruin.

    But pulling capital out of land and houses is going to hurt property prices full stop. Prices may need to come down by 20-25% over a period of years. That is expected, and that is what needs to happen.

    • insider 2.1


      Actually most farmers don’t have excess debt. The Reserve Bank monitors this and says the dairy sector now accounting for almost two-thirds of total agricultural lending outstanding, but the distribution of that debt was heavily skewed, with many farms holding relatively small amounts of debt, while a smaller proportion were very heavily indebted.

      AS a matter of interest, what are these high value businesses? If they were obvious don’t you think people would be investing voluntarily without being forced to by government?

      • Draco T Bastard 2.1.1

        If they were obvious don’t you think people would be investing voluntarily without being forced to by government?

        It’s never happened before so what makes you think it’s going happen now? Throughout history and all around the world the only way that a society has developed is when the people, via the government, pay for it.

        As I’ve said before, you can learn more about economics reading a history book than you can reading an economics textbook.

        • insider

          cars? Aeroplanes? lightbulbs? Electric power? steam engines?

          All transformational technologies. Were any of these invented by Government?

          • Maynard J

            Interstingly enough, most of the development of these was government funded through warfare efforts.

            The original idea did not come from the government though (damn you, work harder, Ministry of Inventions!)

          • Draco T Bastard

            And would any of those have developed without government funding? It’s the funding that pushes the development of those inventions and it’s almost always been government that’s done the funding (or, at least, subsidising).

      • Colonial Viper 2.1.2

        AS a matter of interest, what are these high value businesses? If they were obvious don’t you think people would be investing voluntarily without being forced to by government?

        NZ has very limited expertise in a bunch of them which is a constraint, e.g. semiconductor manufacturing, and in others where we do have the capabilities e.g. building trains, the NACT Govt shows no faith in Kiwis.

        • insider

          I;d have thought that rather than going into something like SCs where we have no experience we’d look at areas that we have some cluster of expertise in already that could provide a springboard for the industry, like food, genetics/husbandry, wood, food factory engineering.

          As for trains, well we would never have the domestiv demand and unlikely to have global scale, so that’s a Labour pipedream IMO.

          • Draco T Bastard

            I’m sure Rakon would like a word with you about there experience in SCs.

            As for trains, well we would never have the domestiv demand and unlikely to have global scale, so that’s a Labour pipedream IMO.

            We don’t need major demand or global scale. In fact, with oncoming Peak Oil, doing so would be fairly useless. All we need is to be able to produce trains here and maintain them. Even then, the BERL report suggested that we would be able to pick up some of the global demand.

  3. toad 3

    Another consequence of farmers having to take out huge mortgages and pay huge interest bills to the Aussie banks is that they have to attempt to maximise their returns from the farms.

    That inevitably results in more shit in our rivers and streams, more nitrogenous fertiliser on the land (with consequent climate change implications), and poor animal welfare practices.

    It certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing if some of the over-leveraged farmers were forced to sell up at a loss. As the Crafars have shown, they are only bad for the environment and the international image of farming in New Zealand, and that in turn is bad for retaining our export markets.

    • insider 3.1

      They could get a loan with Kiwibank which is apparantly a swimming success or the PSIS or Marac, Allied Farmers etc.

  4. Carol 4

    Ha! David Parker in question time, is posing some incisive questions about Nat’s policy on overseas investment. He’s picked up that Key pronounced yesterday on Breakfast, that National had added 19 new critieria. It turns out 17 of these criteria already existed from Labour’s legislation. National did an 18 month review, aimed at simplifying the law, and merely added two criteria (ie 2 of the 19 claimed by Key).

  5. ianmac 5

    “Farm prices are too high and farmers risk going bust.” This has happened before but I am not sure when or how it was remedied. Might have been during the Muldoon years when interest rates were at 15% +.
    Does it justify selling to the highest bidder in order to save the overstretched farmer?
    If any businessman or wage earner for that matter, who over reaches do they deserve deserve the consequences. Crafar received no mercy for doing what many dairy farmers have apparently done.

  6. William 6

    A similar escalation in land prices occured due to the Muldoon Govt policy of Supplementary Minimum Prices. When SMPs were abolished some farmers were forced to sell because their reduced income could not support the mortgage payments.
    Surely though, this time a reduction in land value won’t necesarily mean selling up. Is there any reason the removal of overseas buyers from the market will lead to reduced incomes? The price received for farmers produce will remain the same, it’ll just take longer for those current farmers who become over geared to pay off the mortgage, although I conceed corporate farmers might not be happy with that.

  7. tsmithfield 7

    What the effect of this policy would be to discourage foreign investment generally. Investors will ask themselves why invest in NZ if governments are likely to make mad decisions that suddenly devalue the assets they have invested in. Thus NZ will be the poorer for this brain spasm:- if Labour ever gets elected and is actually moronic enough to carry it out.

    BTW, I see Gareth Morgan is over the moon-NOT- about Labour’s latest crazy scheme.

    • KJT 7.1

      Yeah. And current foreign investment has done us sooo much good, apart from pushing up asset prices.

    • Colonial Viper 7.2

      The only fear you need have is the fear of being incapable of living within your means – hardly the fault of the foreigner.

      This is where Morgan goes awry. He blames the consumer instead of the banking interests who have been determined to play with the NZD, keep the dollar high, keep our interest rates high, and lend debt to virtually any NZ’er.

      Simply put, squash the value of the currency, lower local interest rates, make it harder for banks to borrow from overseas and hence create consumer debt here, make it tough for people to be approved loans.

      That will sort out the living within your means meme.

      Get real. Foreign investment is how countries develop.

      interesting that Morgan used such a blunt concept here. Carefully accepted foreign investment which closely matches the needs of a nation is how countries develop. eg. China. You can’t go into China and simply buy a forest. You have to agree to build a mill to add value to the forest products and create jobs, agree to take on a Chinese company partner (probably part owned by the Chinese Govt itself), agree to transfer technology and methods to that partner.

      And guess what Mr Morgan, the Labour policy that Goff announced recognises the importance of carefully matched and productive foreign investment. Selling our hard assets wholesale to the highest bidder – not so much.

    • Draco T Bastard 7.3

      Investors will ask themselves why invest in NZ…

      Just as we asked why we were letting them buy out NZ for no benefit. Such changes are part of the risk of doing business if they didn’t factor that in then that’s their loss.

      Gareth Morgan’s idiotic piece has already been ripped to shreds. He managed to contradict himself in it a few times.

  8. DJames 8

    I was hearing on Radio New Zealand yesterday a comment made by a older farmer. The farmer said as land prices have gotten higher it’s become more out of reach for younger farmers. The average age of a farmer has gone up and is in the 50s. If the agricultural industry is going to survive it will need new blood. But it’s not very attractive when younger people are saddled with a huge loan for a small piece of land to start their career on.

  9. if we don’t let overseas buyers snap up our farmland then land prices will decrease and some over-leveraged farmers will go underwater

    National believe in the invisible hand of the market… right up to the point when it’s holding their supporters’ heads underwater.

  10. Herodotus 10

    “On the weekend Phil Goff announced the next Labour government will block sales of farmland to overseas interests unless there is a significant real investment leading to more jobs and exports.” Phil just making hay on the “in” topic. Why limit to just farmland-how about property development, tourism, forestry, aged care. Whilst great in rhetoric Phil and his team do not appear to have the skills in matching up this policy with how still to obtain future financing. I have heard nothing regarding leasing the land, thus ability for financing our future and still maintaining ownership- as long as lease is not one of those 100 yr thingys with pepper corn rentals.

    • Yes, comedy raised the point yesterday and I know other commenters have in the past.

      Why is this debate purely about an all-or-nothing, open market vs sales restrictions approach?

      Why not have a discussion round leasehold? Ostensibly it holds the possibility of satisfying both sides of the argument, at least to some degree.

      But I guess it’s too hard to sell as a sound bite 🙁

    • Colonial Viper 10.2

      Cunliffe said on interest.co.nz that other classes of assets have been/were going to be examined re foreign ownership. Goff’s announcement over the weekend was not exhaustive of all asset classes which might be affected.

  11. tsmithfield 11

    What everyone is ignoring is the majority of property in NZ is indirectly owned by foreign interests anyway. Think about it. Where do banks get their funding for mortgages?

    • KJT 11.1

      Yeah. Well not exactly happy about that either. We should retake our financial system.

      • Colonial Viper 11.1.1

        Start with the Government exercising its sovereign right to issue debt free, interest free currency, instead of using the private banks to create interest bearing, debt supported bank money.

    • Colonial Viper 11.2

      Indirectly owned and directly owned are two different issues. As are the asset classes, passive residential or productive farming.

      But yes, you are correct to raise the point. Everyday working kiwis who have a mortage end up donating some of their days’ labouring hours to help increase the living standard of Australian shareholders

    • Pascal's bookie 11.3


      • tsmithfield 11.3.1

        Why so? Not only does the finance come from overseas, but most of the banks are owned from overseas as well. So the reality is that most property in NZ that is mortgaged is owned by overseas interests now. If you want to clamp down on that then there will be a lot of very poor people in NZ.

        • KJT

          Why. If it is refinanced within NZ by credit from a nationalised bank.
          Getting poorer by the day now paying bank charges and interest to overseas.

        • Pascal's bookie

          It’s a stretch because loaning someone money, even with a property as collateral, is not the same thing as buying that property.

          So it’s not “indirectly owned” by the bank’s shareholders.

  12. Adrian 12

    And if you only “own” 10% of an overpriced asset that can’t produce enough to pay the 90% debt, you are already poor!

  13. jps 13

    I’m late to comment, but…

    JK’s proposition that farmers will be forced off their land is not correct. Provided they are profitable there is no reason they should/will not stay on the land. The argument is here:


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