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The country’s books are in remarkably good shape

Written By: - Date published: 8:44 am, December 16th, 2021 - 79 comments
Categories: Budget 2021, Economy, grant robertson, national, same old national, treasury - Tags:

The traditional mantra that the right are better economic managers than the left is in tatters following the latest half yearly Economic and Fiscal Update.  As noted yesterday by Grant Robertson in Parliament:

While Treasury is forecasting a decline in GDP in the September quarter, due to the Delta outbreak, it predicts a bounce-back in the December quarter of 3.7 percent, and annual growth is forecast to average about 3 percent a year from 2023 to 2026. Unemployment is forecast to fall further, to 3.1 percent in the March quarter next year, while wages are forecast to grow 4.4 percent a year, on average, across the forecast period. The strength of the New Zealand economy means that the books will be back in surplus earlier than expected in 2023-2024; net debt will peak at 40.1 percent of GDP, lower than the 48 percent that was forecast at the Budget; and core Crown expenses will drop from their current level of 35.3 percent to 30.5 percent next year, and track at a similar level across the forecast period.

The associated Budget Policy statement also released yesterday indicates that the Government is getting ready to spend big.  As noted by Richard Harman the Budget Operating Allowance, essentially money for new spending, has increased from $2.6 billion to $6 billion for next year.  This gives the Government plenty of headroom for climate change initiative spending.

There is a real argument about how much the Government should be doing to alleviate poverty and the threats to our environment.  But no one can accuse the Government of being reckless with the economy.  And the orchestrated tales of woe from sectors of the business community do not appear to reflect reality with tax collected exceeding forecasts and a predicted deficit of $15.1 billion is now a much more modest $4.6 billion.

There can be no argument that Robertson is a careful and competent manager of the country’s finances.

79 comments on “The country’s books are in remarkably good shape ”

  1. Enough is Enough 1

    I'm sorry, an economy funded by Fonterra, hyper-inflation in the housing market, and quantitative easing is not in good shape and certainly not sustainable.

    The rich are doing better now then they ever have. The rest are hurting badly.

    From an accountant’s perpsective the books might be in good shape. But that’s the type of thing only a National government should be proud of if there is still widespread poverty in society – as there is.

    • Nic the NZer 1.1

      As a result of the QE policy the government owes itself about 30% of its total debt and pays lower interest rates on that (partly to itself) as well. Can you explain why this is a bad thing (and hurting people economically) for those of us for who its not obvious that this is a bad thing?

      • Enough is Enough 1.1.1

        Its a good thing from an accounting perspective – as I noted.

        But if the end result is the current society we have then who cares. It is National governments that are supposed to be proud of those sorts of things, while kids are hungry. Not Labour governments.

        • Nic the NZer

          Didn't follow. Kids are hungry because of QE? Surely they are hungry because they lack nutrition?

          • GreenBus

            Kids go hungry because of low wages.

          • Enough is Enough


            So why would anyone be proud of the books when kids are hungry, and housing is out of reach for anyone who doesn't have a 200k deposit?

            • Nic the NZer

              But the question is how QE has contributed to that surely. Maybe it assisted with the governments finances and allowed them to engage in fiscal policy to address these things (within their own terms), but that was insufficient. So maybe its not a bad thing itself, but obviously doesn't address every ill of the economy by itself either.

              • Cricklewood

                Essentially it lowered the cost of borrowing money, that and a relax of LVR ratios allowed large sums to be leveraged off existing and newly found equity to use housing as an investment vehicle. Once the sugar rush starts it becomes a pile on, Values increase, creating more equity which creates more headroom for more borrowing and the cycle continues. Money from thin air if you will…

                Banks of course are very happy with these scenarios as bigger mortgages equal bigger profits.

      • Blazer 1.1.2

        It's a bad thing when inflated housing costs and food costs mean Joe Lunchbox has hardly anything left over ,after paying the rapacious landlord most of his…wages.

        But GDP looks good,so all is…well.

      • DukeEll 1.1.3

        Ah yes, the rationalisation of the situation by someone who owns their own house and quite possibly works in the bureaucratic sector.

        "there can't be any harm as price inflation through printing money has done to debt what hard work and savings normally would"

        • ghostwhowalksnz

          price inflation isnt from printing money. Indeed other major countries have had QE for nearly a decade with hardly any (CPI) inflation. Yes asset prices of shares have rocketed up directly from that.

          NZ has only had QE for a little other a year , ending in July this year.

          You are only repeating an ACT party talking point.

          House prices have been climbing, in Auckland first then the rest of country since 2012.

  2. Blazer 2

    Treasury and banking commentators forecasts seem very unreliable….especially about house prices.

    The supposed drop due to covid became a huge ramping of over 25% in 1 year.

    • Blazer 3.1

      Glaringly obvious graphs…low mortgage rates=high house prices.

      Orr has worked it out now…or been told!

      • Nic the NZer 3.1.1

        I think its actually this graph you wanted regarding the high house prices,


        But it doesn't seem obvious at all relating the two graphs together. The sharpest house price rises by percentage were around 2003 when interest rates were much higher and so were servicing costs. So if Orr is being told your model he may have found he has quite a lot of working out to do from there.

        • Blazer

          If I recall correctly ,Orr said it was not his…problem.

          So a 500k mortgage @8% equates to a million $ mortgage @4%.

          My understanding is there was a slump in prices 2000-2002 at least.

          You are cherry picking 2003,so no one would have confidence in your conclusion either.

          • Pat

            I believe the phrase Orr used was "first class problem"….or a good problem to have….it depends on your perspective.

          • Nic the NZer

            What started in 2003 (when I apparently cherry-picked it) continued until 2007/2008.

          • Craig H

            House prices are only Orr's problem in how they impact the stability of the banking system, and potentially how they impact the prices of goods and services – asset prices including houses, are not part of Orr's remit.

    • Patricia Bremner 3.2

      Thank you Pat.

      When money supply is loose asset prices rise, as is happening in NZ Australia and the UK as well. People invest in houses as a "Stable" asset lol. Over and over until, as is happening now, auction figures indicate the "Market" has turned. The up side is money flow and higher tax take results in a shorter cycle. Most Governments also advantage first home buyers with schemes to aid with rising prices.

      A large shock is best dealt with by loosening money policy to meet the costs, this does cause inflation, but austerity causes massive retractions and the resulting lack of spend reverberates through the system for years because of lower tax takes. imo

      • Pat 3.2.1

        indeed…..the problem with viewing the statistics in aggregate is it fails to account for where the costs land….those who have (largely) increased the debt are not the same group required to service it (i.e rental properties).

        Added to that we have the effect of proportionality…or base effect…a 300 basis point rise in interest rates has a larger effect when rates are very low (as they have been).

        Our private debt levels are now at record highs (168% of GDP) even while the Gov have increased their level of debt on our behalf….hit from both sides.

        We have 'loosened' to the point of no return.

  3. woodart 4

    what a shambles; need a businessman at the helm; typical labour; moan whinge grizzle;..actually, its bloody amazing , and we should be looking forward to a third term for this VERY competent minister of finance…but whingeing is far easier …

    • Blazer 4.1

      Luxona won't put figures on anything.

      Robertson can handle him and Bridges together,with ease.

      They'll just beat the gangs/law and order drum…harder.

      • woodart 4.1.1

        yes blazer. think you have nailed it. if labour can get ahead of the typical nat go-to and throw $$$ at the police , it will make not-john look toothless.

        • Gezza

          Tru dat. Poto Williams has even managed to make remarks clearly in support of the police in some recent interviews & answers to Questions in the House. Now a bit more money thrown their way for extra police officers would stand her & Labour in good stead.

          Ordinary folk I talk to are pissed off about the growth in gang numbers, gang shootings, and cops getting shot at.

      • tc 4.1.2

        Bring it on.

        A good opportunity for their 3 terms of police numbers and funding to get an airing.

        Great to see luxon kept JC on to help respond on that.

    • Patricia Bremner 4.2


  4. Dennis Frank 5

    Beware the illusion factor though, as delineated by an ex-RB expert:

    to illustrate that inflation is a big part of the picture note that in this year’s Budget Treasury forecast that inflation for the year to June 2021 would be 2.4 per cent, for the year to June 2022 1.7 per cent, and for the year to June 2023 1.8 per cent. In the HYEFU, those numbers (2021 now known) are 3.3 per cent, 5.1 per cent, and 3.1 per cent. The total increase in the price level over those three years was expected to be 6.0 per cent, and is now expected to be 11.9 per cent.

    So of course the government needs to put more money (quite a lot more) in the operating allowance just to maintain real spending at the levels they intended only a few months ago. A lot of it is simply an inflation illusion.


    • Patricia Bremner 5.1

      Yes Dennis, But tell us about the reverse… Where assets lose value, businesses can't access loans, there is no money in the system and fire sales are an "Op shop" for the rich.

      • Blazer 5.1.1

        Heads we win,tails you lose has been neo liberal policy since…forever.

      • Dennis Frank 5.1.2

        surprise No way can I tell you more than you already know! I barely even managed to guess that you meant the reverse of inflation is deflation. We've never had that in Aotearoa to my knowledge – but I'm not an economic historian & am willing to be corrected if I'm wrong about that.

        • Blazer

          Not forgetting-Stagflation

          • 'Since the 1970s, rising price levels during periods of slow or negative economic growth have become somewhat of the norm rather than an exceptional situation.'
  5. Pat 6

    And GDP down 3.7% Sept quarter….


    GDP still below 2019 levels.

    From certain perspectives that may not be a bad thing, but when the entire system is predicated on 'growth' it is systemically challenging.

    • Tricledrown 6.1

      Pat cherry picking season in full flight when you read through the full story it says growth was up 2.1% annually.

      The main reason for a decline in GDP was the shut down in the tourism sector.

      The predicted Decline in gdp was supposed to be more than double at -7.4% but came in at only 3.7 % the economy grew at 2.1 % for the year.

      Much better than all the dooms sellers .

      Given Tourism was our largest single earner before the Pandemic our economy is doing much better than anyone expected.

      So all the attack lines by the bald faced liar and simple Simon are backfiring.

      • Pat 6.1.1

        Cherry picking?…..is the economy larger or smaller than it was in 2019?

        And highlighting Treasury's appalling projection record isnt a positive.

        We are more indebted than ever, in a shrinking economy with rising global interest rates….and thats supposed to be positive?….well excuse me.

    • Ad 6.2

      A challenge we are meeting easily.

      It's not the growth: the thing to watch is the quality of the growth.

      The sectors that have lost growth are in areas like: restaurants and travel; retail; accommodation and anything to do with tourism; and export education.

      The sectors that had temporary hits but long term booms are construction and anything in food, fibre, and horticulture.

      That looks like a massive shift in increased productivity for New Zealand.

      • RedLogix 6.2.1

        It's not the growth: the thing to watch is the quality of the growth.

        Finally someone says this out loud. For all the pissing and moaning that goes on here, NZ is still one of the best governed nations and still one of the best places in the world. Anyone who thinks otherwise really needs to live and work in a few other places in the world.

        But it is also true that we have fallen short of our potential for this fundamental reason, low quality economic activity that delivers crap jobs, insecure and badly paid. One economic commentator after another has been saying this for decades, yet no govt has really found the lever to shift this. Maybe COVID will accidentally deliver it to us.

      • Pat 6.2.2

        As stated whether 'growth' is a positive is open to debate….never mind agreeing on 'quality'

        You may think that the listed sectors will suffer a "temporary" hit but the evidence is those sectors will not recover to previous levels anytime soon (if ever)…and construction (a boom bust industry) is struggling through constraints on labour, materials and now finance.

        As to hort and ag, well our major market is in the throes of property crash and a major slowdown in growth.

        But hey, its all good

        • Ad

          Construction is now underpinned by infrastructure jobs – which are government funded ad long term. Even a (highly unlikely) international property market collapse would see those builders readily absorbed.

          Also you may not have noticed but we are at 3.4% unemployment heading for 3.1%. They are the constraints of a sustained boom that will continue as long as there is a housing shortage here.

          Cite evidence of this property crash, and then cite how they are affecting our horticultural, meat, wood, and wine exports.

          All NZ and Au forecast reports out in the last 6 weeks show you are simply wrong.

          • Pat

            "Construction is now underpinned by infrastructure jobs – which are government funded ad long term. Even a (highly unlikely) international property market collapse would see those builders readily absorbed."

            Wrong…residential is twice the value of non currently…and the skill sets are not easily transferable.

            "Also you may not have noticed but we are at 3.4% unemployment heading for 3.1%. They are the constraints of a sustained boom that will continue as long as there is a housing shortage here."

            Cant build without labour, materials and finance…and the housing shortage is not a physical shortage

            "Cite evidence of this property crash, and then cite how they are affecting our horticultural, meat, wood, and wine exports."

            Too many to list, google Evergrande, chinese growth or even just China economy.

            "All NZ and Au forecast reports out in the last 6 weeks show you are simply wrong."

            Care to cite one?

            • Tricledrown

              Pat you know nothing of the building industry NZ is struggling to meet housing demand that will continue as workers from abroad are needed in just about every sector except the tourism sector they need accomodation

              NZers returning home and bolthole seekers will need to live somewhere to live.

              Construction workers have most of the skill set to build infrastructure.Millions of tons of Concrete needs form work the same skills that builders use.Digger drivers ,drainlayers electricians.concrete placers etc etc.

              Pat I sense desperation in your frivolous envy argument.

              • Pat

                "Pat you know nothing of the building industry NZ is struggling to meet housing demand that will continue as workers from abroad are needed in just about every sector except the tourism sector they need accomodation"

                If you say so….didnt know you knew me personally

                "NZers returning home and bolthole seekers will need to live somewhere to live."

                Ah, that old (discredited) chestnut….go and look at the stats….they never showed up.

                "Construction workers have most of the skill set to build infrastructure.Millions of tons of Concrete needs form work the same skills that builders use.Digger drivers ,drainlayers electricians.concrete placers etc etc."

                Glad you qualified that statement…SOME workers, have SOME of the skills required to move between the two….and even then they generally require oversight and training.

                • Tricledrown

                  Pat not much building intricate form work is virtually identical to building a house.

                  Measuring timber cutting to length following plans very straight forward. Tying steel the same pouring concrete and finishing the same.

                  Once borders open up there will be a.massive influx to fill labour shortages in most areas of the economy.

                  Expats can't get back to NZ in the present environment because of our cautious approach but once those restrictions ease their will be a massive influx.

                  You can hear them all screaming why can't we come home now.

                  Theirs a global pandemic so you will have to que.

                  Employers in just about every sector are screaming for migrant Labour.

                  So your dreaming if you think the building industry is going to collapse.If it did it would be good for state House construction as it would be able to take up the slack.

                  • Pat

                    "Once borders open up there will be a.massive influx to fill labour shortages in most areas of the economy."

                    There may be a massive influx of workers (define massive) equally there will likely be an exodus of NZ experienced workers, when the borders open……or the Gov may determine that with an election due the following year it may be politically expedient to restrict the numbers…yet to be determined, but even if they do that only potentially solves one of the problems….theres still materials and finance.

                    Materials, or the lack of are in the short to medium term outside the control of the domestic market/government….how long do you think the average construction related firm can carry their current costs while waiting?….the answer is not even until now for some.

                    So time will tell who is dreaming .

  6. Sabine 7

    Well it seems that the government makes good on some property gains? Are these 'fictional' gains included in his 'surplus'? This from October this year:


    The Government booked billions of gains from a booming property and share markets. Like many home-owning households, the Government is now significantly wealthier than it was before the pandemic.

    The Government's net worth – that means everything the Crown owns, minus everything it owes – is now $151.4b, a huge $41b increase on where it was a year ago.

  7. Gypsy 8

    I don't buy into the narrative that one party is better than another at managing the economy. In my lifetime I've lived through both good and bad economic management from both of the main political parties. Frankly there was very little difference between the economic management of the Clark and Key governments, except for the times when politics overrode common sense (e.g. the interest free student loans bribe). This government has some serious problems that go to the core of who we are as a society. Homelessness, housing affordability, gun crime, and a host of other societal problems stalk this country in a way they should not. These are problems that have been in the making for (in some cases) decades. But this government has, if anything, made a number of key societal measures worse.

  8. Blazer 9

    Treasury's sobering house price prediction for 2022 (msn.com)

    All five major banks now expect house prices to fall in 2022 | interest.co.nz

    I think it was Galbraith who….'economics exists so economists …can be employed'..or similar.

  9. Corey Humm 10

    Who is the economy going well for at ground level?

    Everytime we time go to the supermarket the items cost a little more than before… Couples with in their late twenties and early thirties on the average wage of fifty something k each are struggling to make ends meet and will never be able to own a house.

    apocalyptic house prices means rents are becoming so expensive that the media will soon be talking about "renting being out of reach for the average New Zealanders"

    Power prices are way up.

    If this keeps up we'll have grandma and grandad living with mom and dad and the grand kids at great grandma and great granddad's house and the rest of us in trailer parks , motels and cardboard boxes or tents.

    If the governments books are so great how about they actually do something on housing with the urgency they gave COVID.

    Sorting housing sorts poverty.

    As for poverty… They are going to need to double the winter energy payment and double that increase next year just for people to get by because housing is so expensive.

    NZ has 1.9 million houses 200 thousand of those sit empty and the pm has repeatedly said that she doesn't think having nearly 10% of our houses empty is an issue. Jfc

    50% of nzers own less than 2% of the wealth and it's getting worse.

    Thirty odd years ago the grown ups in the room should have done everything they can to get kiwi's investing out of housing and into productive aspects of the economy but every government for thirty years has encouraged and ignored this problem.

    Im starting to think all cabinet ministers for the last thirty years should be in prison for how they have allowed this economic and social and inequality , poverty and human rights catastrophe of housing and that includes ministers of this government.

    Labours ideology is not up to the job. They need to change or be replaced.

    And considering their email on Tuesday night to all us former members literally begging for money for 2023, it's safe to say all labour will be focused on from now till 2023 is an election in two years rather than doing anything with their unprecedented power to seriously address the issues. They just wanna stay in power rather than doing anything with that power.

    But Yay… I'm glad to hear the economy is going well on paper

    • tc 10.2

      I'm prepared to give benefit of doubt as election funding is crucial given they're not backed by the hollowmen as others are.

      Having said that agree with most of your points and the clocks ticking down to use that majority to do great work.

      Great work that can’t be reversed easily is the trick given nationals track record.

      • Gezza 10.2.1

        They really need to get off their arses and start sorting these problems now. Not leave it until election year, the time-honoured voter bribing time.

  10. Cricklewood 11

    An economy with unaffordable housing and thousands of people in emergency accommodation is a failing economy imo.

    • Blazer 11.1

      Dead right …but people seem to have accepted it and are desensitivised about it.

    • ghostwhowalksnz 11.2

      Unaffordable housing ?

      Every single new house ( many are apartments/terrace/townhouses) being built this year is sold before its built or soon after.

      Some ones buying them ….obviously not you but doesnt figure that they are 'unaffordable'

      I think Ive read that the median household income for Auckland – who are working- is over $130k pa

      Even in the 90s young single people often had to band together to buy a house as its never been cheap

      • Blazer 11.2.1

        Are you SERIOUS?

        Historically house prices were 3-4 times average annual income.

        Even now when its household income =2 people working…in Auckland it is around 9-10…

        Young people are …fucked.

        NZ has a population of apx 5million, and has plenty of land.

        It's an absolute ripoff …blame lies with weak Govts in awe of the FIRE sector.

        • ghostwhowalksnz

          Apartments or townhouse.

          My place in central isthmus isnt worth anywhere near say $900k

          • Blazer


            Even in the 90s young single people often had to band together to buy a house as its never been cheap'

            This is nonsense.

            • ghostwhowalksnz

              You like the other pontificators only 'read about buying in Auckland'

              My first place was 4x my then annual income and I needed help from parentsand 2nd Mortgage via State Advances….and flatmates.

              Interest rates were extremely high by modern standards and so were income tax rates

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