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New export ideas not wanted on Stuff.co.nz

Written By: - Date published: 6:00 pm, March 22nd, 2010 - 33 comments
Categories: Economy, Media, monetary policy - Tags: ,

A really interesting three-quarter page article by Ben Heather in today’s DomPost is titled “Looking for new tools to help exporters.” Lord knows we need them.

But Stuff.co doesn’t seem to think so – you can’t find the article on-line, and when I enquired about why the answer was “We don’t put everything up.” No place for new or alternative ideas on their website it seems.

A couple of quotes from the article:

Manufacturers’ and Exporters’ Association  Chief Executive John Walley claims the Reserve Bank’s focus on the Official Cash Rate as the only tool in the regulatory box has left exporters battered by a volatile and over-valued exchange rate at the mercy of speculators. Compounding this the tax regime favours a property investment merry-go-round at the expense of an economy based on value-added growth…

The solution, at least according to Mr Walley, is tightening controls on the volume of money, printing money (quantitative easing) to control the exchange rate, introducing a capital gains tax, and giving tax breaks for research and development. . Kiwibank should be used more aggressively as a foil against anti-competitive behaviour among the bigger banks..

Many of the MEA’s ideas are supported by BERL’s chief economist, Ganesh Nana, who agrees reliance on the OCR has been bad for New Zealand and harmed one of our biggest tickets to prosperity: exporting.

Dr Nana says there is much frustration among exporters who are slowly being ground down by policies tipped against them. “I think we’ve embedded in this country the process and policies that create a low-wage economy. We’ve taken up this wonderful policy that we thought was so great bu it hasn’t worked.”

John Walley’s ideas were “rubbished” by  Roger Kerr who described the ideas as “maverick”. The article goes on to say:

Mr Kerr points to stable inflation as evidence that the status quo in New Zealand is right and says the debate has been raging for more than 20 years.

But while the argument is the same, the global financial crisis may have shifted the goalposts.

An IMF report, Rethinking Macroeconomic Policy, says small countries that abandoned controlling inflation as their one guiding light and fiddled with the exchange rate during the eonomic crisis acted sensibly.

“Central banks in small open economies should openly recognise that exchange rate stability is part of their objective function,” the report said.

This runs contrary to a whole generation of economic wisdom in New Zealand, championed by Sir Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson and never seriously questioned by any government since.

But all is not lost – you can come along to the Fabian Society seminar, Bold Ideas for a Better Future, in Wellington next Sunday 28th March, 12:30 to 4:30  at the Spectrum Theatre, cnr Johnston St and Customhouse Quay; and in Christchurch on Sunday 18 April at Mancan House, 253 Cambridge Street at 1pm to hear about these ideas for yourself from John Walley and Ganesh Nana, as well as Selwyn Pellett and Rod Oram. There will be plenty of scope for debate.

Oh and by the way, you can get Roger Kerr’s regular offerings on Stuff.co. Even though they haven’t changed in 20 years.

33 comments on “New export ideas not wanted on Stuff.co.nz ”

  1. deemac 1

    oh, come on! if they put up articles like that, there’d be no room for stuff about Tiger Woods/Lara Bingle/some starlet you’ve never heard of – then where would we be?

  2. SPC 2

    The Kerr apology for international market capitalism, excludes advocacy for a CGT, incentives for R and D, small business loan insurance or even a fairly valued currency (paying for currency insurance does not change the over-value caused by the currency being constantly played with by international fund managers – which is why it is one of the most traded currencies in the world). It is barren and stupid, just as Douglas reform was – on the same grounds.

  3. What I don’t get is why we would want to help exporters.

    • felix 4.1

      Because that’s how we pay for our imports.

    • lprent 4.2

      It is clear from your post that you don’t understand much about exporting except from a very very theoretical viewpoint (ie pretty damn retarded).

      The biggest single issue for exporters in NZ is the extremely variable exchange rate over the last decade that has little to do with our terms of trade and more to do with our high interest rates used to constrain inflation. This carries major structural costs for export companies (such as the ones I’ve worked in during that period).

      Over the last decade, against the US dollar it has been down to about 45c, and up as high as 80c with a lot of oscillations in between. Most other currencies that we trade with have similar but less extreme variations, however the majority of our exports are denominated in US currency.

      The issue is that the variability increases the risk of any export venture. With increased risk, there comes both an increased cost (usually interest) and risk aversion to investment. Basically it is damn near impossible to get business capital for export ventures because at any point our currency could change massively in value against the target markets. Unfortunately the returns are not keeping pace with the risk as typically in all export sectors the prices are relatively inflexible and denoted in currencies that are not the NZ dollar.

      Any rational investor would take the less risky course of something like property, or move part or most of their operations offshore. The latter is what several companies I’ve been with have had to do. It isn’t done for any other reason than to reduce the exchange variation risk. If you run through your head various exporting companies that have moved part of the operations offshore, you’ll find that they’ve done that largely because of the variability of the exchange rate. Basically it isn’t worth investing in a NZ exporting company because all of the risks are largely outside of the companies control. Sure you can hedge currencies, but only so far, and it is bloody expensive. It is cheaper and less risky to move to somewhere where you have a stable currency.

      So your wee homily ignores the risk factor for investment in favour of a historical piety that ignores current realities. Which is why exporters have largely stopped investing here for export. Eventually this will impact on the amount of imports that the country will be able to acquire. Since exports are about what 35% of GDP, and the farming stuff is largely a commodity with the usual price sensitivities that involves, and the manufacturing and services we sell offshore are the stabilising force that drives employment… I guess there will be a extreme structural adjustment.

      The question is, after two decades of fighting inflation with interest rates that now completely drive our currencies value, is it worth continuing that if we kill our export industries?

      I think that most mobile exporters and their employees are now starting to look to move to a country with stable currency. I know I am…

      • Paul Walker 4.2.1

        Actually no, you are the one who doesn’t understand exporting. Exporting, as such, makes us worse off, we send our goods overseas rather than consuming them here, Why would we want to do that? We would be better off if we consumed our goods.

        The reason we do it is that we can import more if we export more, the point felix made. It is the imports that makes us better off as we have more to consume. Hence, imports good, exports bad. Exporting is only half of trade, and we only do it so we can import more, it is the importing that makes trade good for us.

  4. prism 5

    You’re kidding Paul aren’t you. Anyone with any pride wouldn’t want to display such blatant ignorance on a blog or maybe I’m wrong. I was ignorant of the Anti-Dismal blog so I have learned something. Hope you read felix at 2.50pm so you may have also. Simple really. Not worth explaining further. If you don’t know by now, you’ll never, never know dah dah.
    captcha caught me again – smallest

    • I did read felix and his point is right, but think about his point. Exporting as such does not increase our welfare, what increases our welfare is importing. We ONLY export because it means we can import more and it is the importing that increases our welfare.

      To put it another way, if we took all our current exports and sent them overseas for nothing, would we be better off? No, but we would have exported exactly the same amount as we are now. The act of exporting doesn’t make us better off. As felix implies it is the imports that make us better off.

      Exporting is half of trading, the other half being importing. Trading makes us better of because we have more to consume because of it, that is, we have more imports to consume. The idea that trade makes us better off but exporting doesn’t is one of the points Adam Smith made against mercantilism.

      • felix 5.1.1

        Is there a deeper point you’re trying to make which I’ve completely missed?

        Why don’t you think we should help exporters?

        • Paul Walker

          Because exporting, as such, makes us worse off. If you want to help those who increase our welfare, help importers. In fact you should, of course, help neither of them. History has told us that picking winners by governments doesn’t work.

          • felix

            Well yes, if we could just import everything we wanted without exporting anything that would be teh awesome.

            Back in reality though Paul, that’s quite an absurd reduction you’ve performed. I could equally say that chewing and swallowing food makes us worse off, as it uses valuable energy. It’s DIGESTION which allows us to extract energy from food so if anything we should discourage chewing and swallowing in favour of digestion.

            Of course, if I said that I’d be labeled an idiot.

            • Paul Walker

              The problem is that many people even today believe that increasing exports, while not increasing imports, should be the aim of government policy. They believe that exporting alone makes us better off. Many of our exporters seem to think that way. My point is just that exporting as such does not increase welfare. Mercantilism is far from dead. Unfortunately.

              • felix

                Ah I see. You were highlighting the silliness of the “imports bad” mantra by taking the opposite, equally silly position to make the point. Sorry if I misread you earlier.

          • lprent

            Ummm I suspect that you miss the point. Both exporters and importers get hurt badly by having a highly variable exchange rate. Because exchange variability isn’t part of the reserve banks objectives, their actions are rapidly making investment in production that depends on exports or imports (ie everything apart from maybe internal services) quite risky. Consequently investment money floods to less risky ventures, like property, which are investments that are essentially not dependent on exchange rates.

            Keep spiralling out from there and you find most of the current distortions in the NZ economy come out of that key set of factors.

            • Paul Walker

              It was pointed out back in the 1930s that you need as many instruments as you have targets. The RB has one instrument and thus it can only have one target. Also by the exchange rate do you mean the nominal or real exchange rate, the RB control over them differs. In addition there is the problem of what happens if the inflation target and the exchange rate target are in conflict. But ultimately the exchange rate is just s price like any other price and thus trying to control it, even if the RB could, would have much the same effects as trying to control any other price. Add to this the fact that there is evidence that trying to control the exchange rate actually increases volatility.

              • lprent

                I agree on all of that. Especially the difficulty of trying to ‘control’ a price. However all I want to see is a slowdown in the extreme variability to the point you can actually project returns 6 months ahead without the bloody exchange rate moving 50%.

                The single instrument that the RB has is interest rates. As far as I can see, the interest rates are the problem coupled with political uncertainty in other parts of the world. Everytime there is a panic somewhere else, we wind up with a ruddy great big slosh of money incoming. Plus of course the reverse. The attractive things about NZ is that

                1. it is easy to get money in and out.
                2. it is relatively stable both economically and politically these days.
                3. it has very high interest rates.
                4. there are virtually no financial transaction taxes.
                5. financial institutions here don’t get much stress from the RB about ratios, which makes investment easier via banks and other financial institutions.

                I’d suggest that we should give the RB a few more tools to reduce the intense variability… Personally I think that financial transaction taxes of some form would be the easiest. But since the RB potentially already has 5 in their arsenal, then they should probably start using it.

              • “Personally I think that financial transaction taxes of some form would be the easiest.”

                On the use of financial transaction taxes and why they are not a good idea see Matt Nolan’s posting over at the TVHE blog.

              • lprent

                As I said, there are a number of possible ways of tackling the issue of decreasing exchange volatility.

                Rather than simply shouting stuff down – have a look at the problem (and there is a problem) and suggest possible solutions.

                Incidentally, financial transactionas were excluded from such things as GST for a quite pragmatic reason originally. The software and hardware available was crap. Now that isn’t the case.

            • insider

              There are ways to control that variability. Forex futures and the like. If there is variability surely that benefits when varying one way?

              • lprent

                Have a look at the way that the rates on forward cover have been increasing over the last couple of decades. Effectively they’re covering increased risk. It is also starting to get to the point that getting forex coverage is a fast way to ensure that you don’t make a profit.

                It is simpler to keep your money in a more stable currency. That also means it is simpler to work from another country.

            • Jenny

              “Keep spiralling out from there and you find most of the current distortions in the NZ economy come out of that key set of factors.”

              Lynn, didn’t John key make his estimated personal $50 mill. fortune from gambling on the variable exchange rate?

              Ergo, does Jonkey think that a highly variable exchange rate might be a good thing?

              Seriously though, I think that the extremely variable exchange rate is only a symptom of the crisis. Sure I can see how it can cause you personally, all sorts of problems. But sometimes as the saying goes, it is hard to see the forest for the trees.

              Sometimes it pays to look at a bigger part of the picture.

              It is a fact that the drive to export has distorted the whole history of this country from it’s earliest days.

              From the land thefts to the destruction of the native forests which were mostly burnt to the ground, all to turn New Zealand into to Britain’s off shore farm.

              And when British imperialism collapsed, left New Zealand as a single cash crop (grass) economy, desperately seeking another client super power to prostrate ourselves to. The drive to export has turned New Zealand into a banana economy mostly dependent on one cash crop, grass. (Our climate being to cold to grow bananas).

              On a global scale the drive to export is seen as a way out of internal economic crisis. So much so, that today every country wants to export as much as possible, and none want to import more than necessary.

              The illogic of this scenario is obvious, if all want to export and none want to import where does it all go.

              This is the motor behind all trade wars, where powerful countries force weaker countries to drop their trade barriers against their (often subsidised) export goods, while at the same time using their superior position to insist on maintaining their own trade barriers against the smaller countries selling into their market.

              The question for all political leaders is whether an export led economy is actually sustainable any more.

              The distortion of the world economy by exporting super powers gave rise to the political call (mostly unheeded) for “Fair Trade, Not Free Trade”.

              History shows that trade wars can even turn into shooting wars.

              With their domination of the Pacific Rim both America and the (waning) British Empire were able to keep all other exporters out, particularly the Japanese whose burgeoning export led economy demanded markets.

              The infamous Japanese “Co-Prosperity Sphere” was the name given to the Japanese attempt to secure Pacific Rim markets and oust their export trade rivals by force of arms.

              The question to ask Lynn, is this; Why are exchange rates so variable?

              Is it because the various countries vying for export trade advantage use this mechanism to try and get some advantage for their export goods?

              Is this all part of the export at all costs madness?

              Maybe we should start addressing issues of self sufficiency and sustainability and economic independence instead?

        • insider

          We used to help exporters and deter importers. SMPs, licensing and muldoonism. Is that the kind of thing you want?

          • lprent

            Nope.. I was doing tech sales and later running a small factory then. I’d have to say that Muldoons idiotic state was even worse. You couldn’t get anything much done.

            Now we have pretty much freedom to sell whereever and whenever, but there is an ever increasing risk involved in investing in exports because the uncertainty levels are so high. We’ve been pretty damn good at handling those risks compared to the 80’s or 90’s. But they’re starting to really slow investment here. That is one of the main reasons that manufacturing has been moving offshore, they either get hammered on prices that they sell for or hammered on the price of non-local materials.

            But exactly the same effects have been showing up for most of this last decade in my current area in software. You can now make almost as much profit from getting your income over the web diverted to the appropriate country to make the most exchange value. Then holding and waiting for an appropriate time to send it into NZ. Effectively it is turning exporters in NZ into currency speculators.

            However the intense variability in the exchange rate is caused by the RB effectively only focusing on inflation with (as Paul points out) a single blunt tool. They need more tools to the volatility in the cross exchange rates is reduced to something that doesn’t look like currency speculation, at least if they want exporters to stay in this currency.

  5. prism 6

    Paul W
    I think you have taken too many economics lectures and are now hyper-ventilating as well. I suggest a hot drink, a hot water bottle and a day in bed.
    Lemon syrup drinks might help too.

    • Unfortunately for you my point is a valid one. Much damage has been done to economies because of the mercantilist type thinking that is “exports good, imports bad”.

      • SPC 6.1.1

        There are few ways to recover from a current account deficit and an invisibles deficit – one is for locals to consume less imports and save more money (pay down foreign debt) and the other is a relative increase in exports (the earnings allowing us to pay down foreign debt) and hold imports at the former level.

  6. Recover from a current account deficit??? Why do need to recover from a current account deficit? Apart from anything else they are self correcting.

    • And so?

      How much do you worry about your current account deficit with your supermarket? Or how much do you worry about the current account deficit between the North and South Island?

      Then why worry about the capital account surplus between New Zealand and the rest of the world?

      • Pascal's bookie 8.1.1

        The credit rating co’s seem to care Paul. Perhaps you could try convincing them that it doesn’t matter, and then people will worry less about it.

  7. They will not be worried about the capital account surplus as such, what they may be worried about is what lies behind it. The capital account surplus is not a problem in and of itself but it may act as an indicator of other problems in the economy.

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