Treasury warns business confidence slump could hit Government's books

The Finance Minister is playing down a warning from the Treasury that the government's finances could be under threat from a slump in business confidence and a cooling housing market.

In its July update on the economy, Treasury says there is a risk that growth may be weaker than forecast in May's Budget.

While the Treasury thinks growth held up in the June quarter, it says the slump in business sentiment, a cooling housing market and fears of a trade war could knock the economy and the tax take.

Grant Robertson said the Treasury was signalling there were some challenges in economy.

"Driven in part by the changing focus from an economy that's largely grown as a result of population growth and speculation in the housing market.

"As we transition to an economy that is more productive and based more on how our economy can be more sustainable, there will be some changes there and clearly the international environment has created some issues too."

National Party leader, Simon Bridges, said the Treasury's warning was no surprise to him.

"We've seen the banks, we've seen a variety of other economic forecasters move in this area, it was only a matter of time before we'd see the Treasury do that as well, they've been rather too optimistic in their forecasts to date.

"I think we'll also see the Reserve Bank move pretty soon in the same direction."

Mr Bridges said it was inevitable that if the trend continued the government's books would take a hit.

"You know, I hope I'm wrong about that, but if what we are seeing today continues ... that will effect both the government's revenue but also on the other side their ability to spend.

"The only option really to get around that is to tax and borrow more and I don't think they are particularly palatable options."

Mr Robertson said it was important not to get too fixated on one survey or one set of indicators.

"We can see good numbers in consumer confidence, employee confidence, unemployment while it ticked up a tiny bit, is still down from where it was when we came into office and there is solid job growth and good indicators in a number of areas in the labour market, wages are rising - there are good things happening in our economy."

But Retail NZ public affairs manager Greg Harford said it was pretty difficult in retail at the moment.

"There's lots of retailers out there that are finding it very challenging to hit their sales targets, consumers are increasingly reluctant to open their pockets and spend and ultimately we think that points to a bit of a decline in consumer confidence."

Mr Harford said there were a range of reasons why consumers were not opening their wallets.

"They're facing increased costs in relation to council rates, insurance bills and so forth, there's a little bit of inflation creeping into the market as well, so things are costing more and overall I think there is a bit of consumer uncertainty out there about things like tax rates."

Mr Robertson said the government needed to listen to the business community and hear their concerns, but said overall the economy was in pretty good shape.

Shot of New Zealand twenty dollars.
New Zealand $20 notes (file picture). Source: istock.com



Looming housing crisis for over 65s - Retirement commissioner warns

The retirement commissioner is warning of a looming housing crisis for the over 65s as home ownership rates decline while the number of pensioners is set to almost double over the next 20 years.

Currently 70 percent of New Zealand's 750,000 over 65s own their own home, but Dianne Maxwell said she feared for people who had been unable to get on the property ladder and those who have been bumped off due to ill-health or relationship break-ups.

Ms Maxwell said as the population aged and people lived longer, an integrated government strategy was needed to prevent more older people from falling into hardship.

New Plymouth man Murray Tunnage did not even bother applying for a pensioner flat when he suddenly found himself without a roof over his head two years ago.

"I know lots of other people that have thought about going into those but there's such a long line to get into them and I only had a limited time to get out of the resthome."

Lance Girling-Butcher.
Lance Girling-Butcher. Source: rnz.co.nz

The 73-year-old had been working as a caretaker at a resthome with an eye to staying on long-term when he was given his notice.

Since then he's been staying in a bedsit at Te Henui Lodge - a former student hostel - in New Plymouth.

Mr Tunnage said although he was happy at the lodge, there was little else on offer.

"Most of them were too dear and some of the places, what they basically wanted to stay there was more than what the pension was worth, so you'd have to use savings to make it up."

New Plymouth's 140 council-owned pensioner flats are full and there are 40 people on the waiting list.

The situation is a little better in Whanganui - where 95 percent of its pensioner units are full - or in Auckland where all of its 1400 pensioner flats are occupied.

Ms Maxwell said there was a housing crisis looming for today's 30, 40 and 50-year-olds who were not on the property ladder.

"When we look in 20 years' time when we have 1.4 million people 65-plus I suspect we will not have 70 percent of them mortgage free in their own home and then the questions are: Is there good housing stock for our older New Zealanders that is affordable and dry and warm and in the right place?"

Ms Maxwell said the government needed to step up.

"Once people reach retirement, if they are renting we need good housing stock and we need good government-owned and local government-owned housing stock.

"We cannot leave the free market to address this."

Positive Ageing New Plymouth chairman Lance Girling-Butcher agreed.

"I thought that was what the government was there for to assist people who had financial problems and housing problems. It's great that they are concentrating on families, but this pensioner thing is a big issue and it is only going to get worse.

Andrew Plant, from the Ministry of Social Development, said the ministry knew there was a problem.

"More housing is needed to support the most vulnerable people in our community, regardless of their age, where they live or any other characteristic," Mr Plant said.

"The government has committed to increasing public housing by about 6400 homes over the next four years - or 1600 a year on average."

New Zealand has more than 67,000 public housing places, but in June there were 10,658 people on the social housing register - a figure that has jumped from 4457 in 2015.

Almost 900 or 8 percent of those people were over 65.

Murray Tunnage was put off applying for a pensioner flat due to the long waiting list.
Murray Tunnage was put off applying for a pensioner flat due to the long waiting list. Source: rnz.co.nz

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