GDP grew 0.9% in Dec qtr and 2.5% for year; construction, retail and tourism strong; farming weak; Real disposable income per capita down 0.4% in 2015

GDP grew 0.9% in Dec qtr and 2.5% for year; construction, retail and tourism strong; farming weak; Real disposable income per capita down 0.4% in 2015

By Bernard Hickey

The New Zealand economy grew more than most economists expected in the December quarter as strong construction, retail and tourism sectors more than offset weaker farming production.

But the growth came mostly from strong migration, high household spending fueled partly by debt and further construction spending in Canterbury and Auckland. Per capita income fell, indicating productivity growth remained weak.

Statistics New Zealand reported GDP grew 0.9% in the quarter and was up 2.3% from the same quarter a year ago.

This quarterly growth was in line with the 0.9% growth in the September quarter and up from the 0.3% reported in each of the March and June quarters. Annual average growth for 2015 was 2.5%.

The result was stronger than the consensus economist forecast for 0.7% quarterly growth and growth from a year ago of 2.1%. Economists had forecast annual average growth of 2.4%. The Reserve Bank also expected the 0.7% quarterly growth.

Construction industry output grew 2.5% in the quarter as the Canterbury rebuild and Auckland housing construction contributed,, while retail and accommodation activity rose 1.7% as consumer spending and strong tourism activity affected activity. Agricultural output fell 1.7% for the quarter, while manufacturing fell 0.4%.

However, real national disposable income per capita, which takes into account population growth and changes in the purchasing power of income, fell 0.1% for the quarter and 0.4% for the year after a 1.9% rise in the population and a 2.0% fall in the terms of trade. Real GDP per capita rose 0.3% for the quarter and was up 0.3% from the same quarter a year. Expenditure per person in current prices fell 0.7% in the quarter and was up 1.4% from the same quarter a year ago.

Household spending rose 1.0% for the quarter, with durable goods spending up 0.8% and non-durable goods spending, which includes food, petrol and alcohol, rose 1.1% for the quarter.

Investment in fixed assets fell 1.1% for the quarter with plant, machinery and equipment investment down 11.7% during the quarter.

Economy juiced by migration, tourism, building

The GDP figures paint a picture of an economy growing at or slightly above its trend levels because of strong construction spending in Auckland and Christchurch, record high net migration, solid and partly-debt fueled household spending and strong spending by tourists.

But the detail showing a second consecutive quarter of falling per capita disposable income suggest the growth has come from adding more labour and resource inputs, rather than increasing productivity and output per hour -- the best long term indicator of an improving economy. Inflation also remained very weak, with the implicit price deflator for GDP falling 1.2% in the December quarter from the September quarter and being down 0.2% from the December quarter a year ago.

The New Zealand dollar jumped more than half a cent to 67.6 USc on the result, having already risen more than 1 USc before the data because of the US Federal Reserve's lowering of its forecast interest rate track. Wholesale interest rates rose a couple of basis points. The currency dipped back to its pre-GDP levels by late afternoon.

Economist reaction

Westpac Senior Economist Michael Gordon said construction and retail exhibited impressive strength, while mining, manufacturing and agriculture were surprisingly weak.

"Through the year GDP growth of 2.3% sounds impressive, until one considers that population growth over the same period was around 2%. GDP growth per capita is actually very sluggish at present," Gordon said, adding he still expected a slight slow-down in growth early in 2016.

ASB Economist Kim Mundy the growth was stronger than expected due to strong business services demand, retail spending and construction. She said ASB still expected the Reserve Bank to wait until June before cutting the OCR again to 2.0%, but the risks remained skewed to an earlier move.

"While headline growth appears reasonable and encouraging, underlying per capita income growth remains flat and highlights NZ's economic vulnerabilities going forward," Mundy said.

ANZ's Mark Smith said the better than expected result was not large enough to change the Reserve Bank's direction on interest rates. He also pointed to a 0.3% contribution to growth from a seasonal balancing item which indicated the out-performance relative to economist forecasts had some 'statistical noise' in it.

"We are now well into 2016, with slowing global growth, dairy wobbles and tightening financial conditions flagging downside risks," Smith said.

"Viewed in combination with low inflation and easing inflation expectations, that’s an environment where the odds favour an even lower OCR," he said.

Political reaction

Finance Minister Bill English said he was pleased growth picked up in the second half of the year, which he said showed the Government's programme continued to deliver results.

"Despite the dairy industry doing it tough at the moment, we are in the unusual situation of solid growth, more employment and higher wages, but very low inflation," English said.

"The outlook remains for continued moderate economic growth," he said.

Green Finance Spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter said the figures highlighted the gap between the tradable and non-tradable parts of the economy, which was now the biggest it had been since the sectors began diverging in 2000.

The tradale part shrunk 0.8% in the December quarter, while the non-tradable part grew 0.9%.

“The GDP data tells a tale of a two-speed economy: the spending side of the economy is growing while the internationally competitive part of our economy is struggling," Genter said.

“After seven years, National are failing to rebalance the economy towards saving, investment, and exports and away from borrowing and consumption," she said, adding the Green Party recommended a capital gains tax, greater R&D spending and strengthening Kiwibank to increase banking competition.

CTU Economist Bill Rosenberg said the data showed productivity lagging behind raw GDP growth, with output per hour worked falling 0.1% over the quarter and being up only 0.2% from the same quarter a year ago.

"Productivity forms the basis for a better standard of living - if it flows through into wages. We need strongly rising rather than falling productivity to really improve future incomes," Rosenberg said.

He pointed to a 2.6% fall in business investment over the quarter and a fall of 1.4% over the year.

"The Government needs to do more to support productive investment in businesses rather than speculation in real estate," he said, adding that strong tourism sector growth produced insecure and low paid jobs.

"As a nation we are producing more and getting less for it."

(Updated with more detail, reaction from economists and market, chart)

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Bullish headline - very poor underbelly to these figures as the falling per capita figure shows that on average we are getting poorer year in year out.

If people are not getting better off then there is no real growth and thus people with any grasp will realise that things are not good economically.

Adds body to Bernard's Top 10 yesterday on inequality.

The falling per capita figure is the one to watch.
A very reactive immigration policy required.
Maybe monthly allocations competed for by employers and education sector.

yet watch JK gloss over that with spin

Super uber spin JK

More immigration may boost GDP short term but creates the need for more spending on schools, roads, superannuation, hospitals....

I must admit, I have never heard so much bull-shit talked about "The World Economy" in all my years in existence.

One mans economy is another 14 men's debt and a whole raft of Farmers....and escalating rapidly.

Sorry that is a trifle sexist, but the ladies are all important does not work without em, economically speaking.

The year on year growth of GDPE registered a nominal gain of 3.2773% compared to an upwardly revised 2.9534% print for the previous quarter year ending data release.

Maybe, we can put the "savings glut" holding back the economy nonsense to bed once and for all, given our banks have been busy creating more and more household type savings on a weekly basis for more than a while now. View RBNZ table

You're correct there does seem to be a high savings rate. I get the feeling that people are starting to do what is happening in the US. People are cutting costs to save or paying down debts/mortgages. Either way it leads to people having more money in the bank. That does look positive.

Even something as simple as people refinancing for a lower interest rate would lead to this. Now I'm just waiting for the fallout from global bubbles bursting to complete.

Are you sure about the savings rate? The article talks about high household spending being 'partly funded by debt' and record vehicle sales are surely primarily debt-funded.
Given the abysmal level of financial literacy in NZ,I would need to see some hard figures to convince me.

Worth case you missed it.

Gee, ain't the glass half empty brigade out in force today.
Overall this is a good result considering challenges in some sectors of the economy. Sure purchasing power decreased, but compared to Brasil where there is rising inflation and negative growth we are in a much sweeter spot.

wow comparing us to brasil to make it look better, why not with countries more of our make up where we are way behind.
nailed it here "Sure purchasing power decreased" in an era of dropping prices so the growth is only fueled by keeping the doors flung wide open and all the problems it is bringing

NZ are not that far behind anyone and is always ranked highly in places to live. Brasil used to be one of the darlings suitors at this site used to harp on about but the socialists have run out of other peoples money. After 40 years of spending, a more accurate term is wasting our money position has eroded our capability to have better purchasing power. Hence at this stage we need to open the doors somewhat. Let's close the doors and see what happens.

Watch that NZD climb.

Yeah, I wonder what Wheeler is thinking today?

something that rhymes with duck...

The Government should be quite concerned about the Growth % per capita, which has been dropping since the end of 2011, especially as part of their election spiel was around making NZ Inc more competitive through increasing productivity, and raising real incomes.

Any recent growth is simply down to migration.

Should they really be though? People will turn on the news tonight and hear "GDP beats forecast, economy booming! In other news Labour takes new Anti-Immigration policy"

My money is on per capita not even getting a mention.

"But the detail showing a second consecutive quarter of falling per capita disposable income "
- that can't be good.

This is something I expected when RBNZ suddenly announced the OCR cut. It clashes with their unofficial 0% inflation target.