HSBC’s Paul Bloxham was a New Zealand media darling for a few years, but a new global HSBC communications policy has essentially muzzled the economist, Jason Walls says

By Jason Walls

“We think New Zealand will be the rock star economy of 2014.”

Unless you have been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard that quote before.

It was the line that launched HSBC New Zealand and Australian economist Paul Bloxham into his own rock star-like status in New Zealand’s media.

Even now, four years later it’s a phrase that is still thrown around in conversations about the economy.

There is no doubt Bloxham knew what he was doing – when I spoke to him at the time, he told me he used to be a journalist.

He knew how to work the media and maximise his exposure. He was very good at what he did.

Despite such a dramatic splash into New Zealand’s airwaves and column inches, Bloxham has been largely absent from the New Zealand media scene for the last six months.

He has done a few one-off TV appearances but for an economist who had all the right things to say, I was curious as to why he had gone so quiet.

After trying to set up an interview with him, I soon found out why.

HSBC’s global communications team have put their foot down on anyone from within their ranks talking to media to the point where Bloxham has essentially been muzzled.  

I had a simple question for the economist – “what is your take on New Zealand’s economy?” Easy, broad and with a lot of scope to elaborate.

I ask economists this question all the time.

So, I get in contact with HSBC’s New Zealand based spokesman to set up an interview.

‘All good to go’ – or so it seemed

I am told that because of a new global policy, all interview requests must be approved by officials in London.

As well as this, the interview would be chaperoned by one of three HSBC communications executives in Hong Kong.

I roll my eyes and reluctantly agree, before providing an outline of what the story will be about – “what is Bloxham’s take on New Zealand’s economy.”

I wait a few days, sending a follow-up email to check on the status.

At 9am on Wednesday, I get the green light – “all good to go,” I’m told. But there is a caveat – “any direct quotes from Paul you may want to use [must] past us [HSBC] for the OK prior to publishing.”

The first thing I was taught at journalism school is this is a major red flag – no journalist should be expected to have a source's comments okayed by corporate communications.

Ask any journalist or editor and they will tell you the same thing.

So I declined, and the interview was off.

What thoughts Bloxham did have on the economy, would stay under wraps.

It is unclear why HSBC changed its policy six months ago, but it is now a policy that is in place around all the Asia-Pacific region.

So, what does this mean? Well, don’t expect to be reading about Bloxham’s take on much anymore.

No journalist worth their salt would agree to HSBC’s terms and the policy shows how out of touch the bank is with the media.

Unfortunately for them, Bloxham – who’s relatable and media-friendly comments would have been worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in free publicity – will remain quiet.

He's now effectively silently watching on as the rock star’s music starts to change and the economy shifts down a gear.

(You can see Bloxham's previous interviews with Interest.co.nz here).

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment or click on the "Register" link below a comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current Comment policy is here.

32 Comments

up
21

Why? Simple. The news is much worse than anyone wants reported.

up
12

Ha! Why- because it was garbage the first time, even more garbage when His Gloriousness John Key fled the scene, garbage when Billy Boy tried to show us surpluses by not spending any money and it continues to be garbage now with low productivity, trade wars and our continued love affair with property.

"The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable" - J K Galbraith

Coming to a town near you -

'Rental vacancies in Sydney hit record high, rents likely to keep slipping'

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-07-17/rental-vacancies-in-sydney-hit-13-...

Auckland are due an extra 2,700 apartments completed by the end of this year, and another 3,300 end of next year.

Looks like there are a fair few people trying to offload their off the plans apartments too.

Never buy an apartment off the plans as an investment. Expected capital gains are already priced in.

I think the rock music changed to the Benny Hill theme after the last election.

up
16

Think it was more when Elvis (John Key) left the building that there was a sign the gig was up.

up
13

John Key's policy of massive immigration created a fools paradise of wealth and made him look good.
Now the birds are coming home to roost.
Watch this space!

up
12

Nothing to do with the change of Govt - this one is just economic growth lite. Alle same doomed to stall.

Rastus has it right - there is fear at the top end of banking and finance. They know the jig is up, and that when the masses tumble it might end in tumbrils.

It was already changing, but JK could see this and exited before most cotton'd on the game was up.

Now Labour is left with cleaning up a huge mess that will take years and cost a packet.

The rock star has OD'd on milk after getting too deep in debt. Its going to be a perilous path to recovery.

Most corporations forbid their employees from talking to the media. Normal and sensible I would have thought. You don't know what sort of spin the journalist is going to put on things. You would want the full transcript so that you know when things are only being partially quoted or quoted out of context. Also to avoid having the employee drop a clanger. They would want to protect him as well as the corporation.

Garbage. The banking and associated FIRE industries "have to" talk to the media. It's a crucial channel in connecting with the sheeple. The FIRE industry is a huge benefactor to the media industries.

Well, I know I'm not allowed to. And anyway in this particular case he wasn't"forbidden" from talking to the media. I would say that in general they forbid employees from just randomly talking to the media. I bet you it is in his contract that he can only talk to the media under certain conditions.

Perhaps true of standard employees - but not of economists. That's their job. Standard practice is that economists are always quoted.

ZacharySmith. Your comments are bang on the mark. Huge damage can be done to a brand through journos placing interpretations on unscripted comments. Interactions between media and staff on contentious issues being managed by corporate affairs channels, is just prudent risk management. Naive to suggest otherwise. It's a shame but a sensationalist and often shallow (present company excluded) media has only itself to blame.

A media trainer once advised me 'media are not interested in the truth, they want a story, preferably simple, one with goodies and baddies, you as a corporate are almost ALWAYS the baddie'. I was to many times see that dynamic in action.

Also garbage. If a corporation is driving revenue for a media organization, editorial is always aligned with the message that the client wants to communicate.

The moment you muzzle whistle-blowers, your society is doomed.

Because ultimately that leaves the door wide open for it to lie to itself, via belief in lies peddled.

I've said it before but in bears repeating; HSBC is the cockroach of financial institutions, if/when the world burns, it will be all that is left, they know how to survive. HSBC IMO have always been more risk averse than other banks. I have had bank accounts all over but my first with HSBC back in 1997 was different to others. There is more scrutiny, more barriers, more internal regulation and their behaviour doesn't change over the business/credit cycle to the same degree I have experienced with other banks. They are also extremely protective of their brand. I imagine that muzzling Bloxham is about brand solidarity and protection, moving into a period of heighten risk and volatility.

I wish I had had your banking advice a lifetime ago. I've been with Barclays, Nat West, Westpac, Bank of Hawaii, Indosuez, Citibank, HBOS, ANZ, ASB and bank of Scotland. Incidentally there were good reasons for each move - meaning I was never in debt - being easier to transfer money from Bank to Bank than it is to move debt.
Of those banks the only one that gave me pleasure being a member was Bank of Scotland - they had a branch in Threadneedle St that was just a joy to enter with its high tiled ceiling, heavy oak fixtures and delightful female tellers in correct mid-knee length female kilts. It had been one of the most stable banks in the world for over 300 years. Then I moved overseas and dynamic new management took over and sold their London HQ branch and generally destroyed an institution. I long for a bank that doesn't advertise itself as 'we are your friend and we would love to tuck you up in bed and only we know how to look after your hard earned money' while showing children playing on beach. I am still deperately looking for a bank that advertises itself as 'the worlds most boring bank, very conservative with money, no chance of us lending your cash to South American dictators, we don't really care for customers but we do love money and look after it very carefully'.

I am still deperately looking for a bank that advertises itself as 'the worlds most boring bank, very conservative with money, no chance of us lending your cash to South American dictators, we don't really care for customers but we do love money and look after it very carefully'.

If you can shift to a regional bank in Germany or even Japan, you will find what you want. Unfortunately, you're stuck with the Anglo Saxon cowboys.

Err, did you watch 'Dirty Money' on netflix. They're hardly clean.. dodgy money laundering. Probably didnt even miss the multi-billion dollar fine.

I didn't mean to imply that HSBC were clean! They are more conservative in my experience, with consumer lending than other banks, but that is no comment whatsoever on their ethics in terms of business and corporate financing. I just believe HSBC to be more risk averse but that certainly doesn't mean the money isn't dirty.

Its more likely the policy is to stop the HSBC Economists in Hong Kong telling the world about whats happening inside China..... don't want to upset the Dragon that feeds you.

up
16

for all the talk about nzs rock star economy i made a goodish income for thirty years managed to pay off a home etc lost it all with the chch quakes and divorce but my point is this . i got legal to work in the usa 4 years ago. ive made more money in those 4 years in the broken economy of upstate ny than i made in 40 years working in nz .mostly because i bought my first house here for $12000 so i had no mortgage which freed me up to do art[im a mural artist] that i wanted to do instead of having to take any job to make shore i covered the mortgage poor old nz wasting our lives trying to buy a home ,im not wanting to belittle or boast , on the conterary im a kiwi ,i lived it for 40 years my children are stuck there trying to pay off huge huge mortgages ,im just trying to get people to understand theres something very wrong with nzs economy. im shore it will surprise alot of new zealanders to know that in 1999 i borrowed 45000 to build a house in chch. [dampier st chch] id paid 25000 for the land and built a 3 bed house then used the change to buy a fancy car ,,,, nz is a lovely place and kiwis are sharp but theres somethng crazy crazy goin on put another way there are sheep using land to graze that is worth $1,000,000 an acre but you cant build on it cause councils know better and wont let you. rent returns at 5%before costs. im a landlord . [i bought two houses this week,,,good areas top school 30%return].thats why i left nz, i read an article in the herald saying usa house affordability wasnt much better than nz. i havent worked out why theyd try to mislead nz like that butits soooo far wrong itssickening . i bought a home in beverly ma... part of boston one of the better suburbs in one of the most expensive citys in america . i paid $400k the average income in beverly is over $100kand remember in america your mortgage ant rates are tax deductable so a $100k income pays about $10k tax nz may have a rock star economy but i m so glad im out of it . i do however plan to make a large pile then return to nz .buy a home and retire i love the place ..

Yeah...good points. Things are seriously out of whack.

It just seems so obvious doesnt it. How can our house/land prices be so divorced from the reality of the vast majority of wage earners in this country. Something has to give.

Not just housing: the cost of food is astronomical, compared to how it once was. Power. The list goes on.

up
19

I think the false veneer plastered over the real economy has just started to dry, crack and fall off exposing what was really happening. The only things that have prospered is debt based property speculations, pollution based dairy farming, and gang supplied P which some citizens have mistakenly used to hide from reality (but only become enslaved to the gangs).

The only thing that's going to hold back the tsunami of inflation (which will stuff all savings and low income people in NZ including all retired persons) is a massive asset reset.

Well said.

Totally agree with first paragraph, the second I totally disagree with unless I miss the context. ie the only way we will see significant inflation is if we see significant wage inflation and the economy has the ability to pay it. The only way an economy can pay for it is to grow and it can only grow by extracting more natural resources at an accelerating rate.

So lets say the Nurses get the pay increase they want (say 15%) and then teachers also strike and get 15% this in effect will be robbing Peter to pay Paul the net effect is zero (inflation) IMHO.

I wish that BNZ would put a gag on this eejit

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HnnmmQb1XO4&t=94s