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Press Information Notice No. 98/1
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 12, 1998
International Monetary Fund
700 19th Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20431 USA

IMF Concludes Article IV Consultation with New Zealand

Public Information Notices (PINs) are issued, (i) at the request of a member country, following the conclusion of the Article IV consultation for countries seeking to make known the views of the IMF to the public. This action is intended to strengthen IMF surveillance over the economic policies of member countries by increasing the transparency of the IMF's assessment of these policies; and (ii) following policy discussions in the Executive Board at the decision of the Board.

The IMF Executive Board on November 7, 1997 concluded the 1997 Article IV consultation1 with New Zealand.

Background

Over the past decade, innovative policy reforms have resulted in an outward-oriented, competitive, and dynamic economy. Since 1991, GDP has grown by an average of 3 percent per annum, unemployment has been reduced from 10 percent to 6 percent, and inflation has been kept close to 2 percent. Further, the government operating budget has been in surplus for four consecutive years, reducing net debt by half, to 27 percent of GDP.

During 1995 and 1996, the prolonged expansion, together with unexpected shocks, caused underlying inflation to breach the ceiling of the 0–2 percent target band. In response, the Reserve Bank moved to reinforce an already tight monetary policy stance. High real interest rates and a sharp appreciation in the New Zealand dollar have resulted in underlying inflation declining from an annual rate of 2.4 percent in December 1996 to 1.8 percent in September 1997. Meanwhile, output growth has slowed, to an annualized rate of only 1 percent in the first half of 1997, as private investment and consumption—the motors of the expansion—decelerated, and output has now fallen slightly below its potential. Employment growth has also stagnated, and the unemployment rate has risen to 6 percent, from 6 percent at the end of 1996.

Despite the slowdown in domestic activity, the current account deficit has widened markedly, to 6 percent of GDP (national definition) in the June 1997 year. Three factors have been responsible: the goods and services surplus has declined as the exchange rate has appreciated and competitiveness has deteriorated; the investment income deficit has risen as payments on external liabilities have increased significantly and earnings on New Zealand’s overseas assets have fallen; and migrant transfers have declined following a tightening of immigration policy.

In December 1996, the inflation target band was widened to 0–3 percent, and the Reserve Bank refocused its policy on the new 1 percent inflation point target. With inflationary pressures declining, the Reserve Bank has been able to ease monetary conditions since the beginning of the year. This has occurred mainly through the exchange rate, with the real effective rate depreciating by 6 percent during April–September, although it still remains above its longer-term trend. Short-term interest rates have also fallen, but remain above 6 percent in real terms.

The fiscal surplus has narrowed from 3 percent of GDP in the 1995/96 fiscal year (July–June), to 2 percent in 1996/97. While part of this reflected the cyclical slowdown, there was also a structural deterioration as income taxes were cut (by the equivalent of 1 percent of GDP). The 1997/98 budget projected a further decline in the surplus to 1 percent of GDP. This reflects, in part, a further decline in the structural budget position in response to increased expenditures on health, education, and pensions.

Executive Board Assessment

Executive Directors commended the authorities for implementing rigorous macroeconomic policies and innovative reforms, including a transparent macroeconomic policy setting process and public sector accounting framework, that had transformed the economy into one that is outward-oriented and dynamic. For the past several years New Zealand has been reaping the benefits of reforms—economic expansion has been generally robust, the unemployment rate is among the lowest in the industrialized world, and inflation is low.

Directors observed that the economy is now facing several challenges. Growth has slowed, the structural fiscal surplus has been reduced, private savings is low, competitiveness has deteriorated, and the current account deficit has widened. While noting the continuing international confidence, Directors considered that the sizable external imbalance posed risks, given New Zealand's already high stock of external liabilities and its vulnerability to external shocks. Directors generally believed that it would be advisable for the authorities to tighten policies to minimize the risks, particularly in light of current regional uncertainties, with a number of Directors considering that fiscal tightening could be achieved by scaling back medium-term expenditure plans. A tighter fiscal position would also enable a more balanced policy mix and allow the monetary stance to be eased somewhat further, alleviating the strain on the export sector.

Directors noted that the aging of the population would put pressure on the fiscal position over the longer term, and commended the authorities for their forward-looking efforts to meet those pressures. Noting the recent referendum result rejecting the government's proposal to privatize the pension system, Directors encouraged the early consideration and implementation of measures to reduce the fiscal cost of the public pension scheme, noting that a number of possibilities had been under discussion in New Zealand, including raising the retirement age, reducing the replacement rate, and means-testing benefits. Directors also noted the advantages of moving quickly to implement the health-care reform policy, and hoped that it would provide more scope for competition between the public and private sectors.

Directors observed that the current monetary policy framework has successfully maintained price stability. In particular, the requirement that the Reserve Bank bring inflation back to target quickly, following deviations from a narrow target band, has built credibility and reduced inflation expectations. A number of Directors agreed with the staff that there might be scope to adopt a more gradualist approach to correcting inflation deviations, so as to better allow for the long lags of monetary policy; but Directors also cautioned that this approach must be supported by an appropriate fiscal policy, to preserve credibility. Some other Directors believed that the current approach taken by the Reserve Bank was appropriate. Directors thought that the recently adopted monetary conditions index provided a useful additional signaling device, but cautioned that it should not be used as a rigid intermediate target.

Directors endorsed the authorities' efforts to raise potential growth by improving educational quality, encouraging labor force participation, and further deregulating the economy. However, the level of dependency on government benefits remains high, and Directors encouraged further efforts to tighten eligibility criteria and to enhance incentives for work. Directors also called for a careful review of government support for the monopoly agricultural export boards, as deregulation could improve export competitiveness. In that context, some Directors noted the need for the liberalization of agricultural trade in other countries.


New Zealand: Selected Economic and Financial Indicators

  1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 Proj.
1997

Real Economy Change in percent1
  Real GDP (production basis) -1.7 0.9 5.0 6.0 3.6 2.8 1.9
  Consumer Price Index (headline) 2.6 1.0 1.3 1.8 3.8 2.3 1.0
  Consumer Price Index (underlying) 2.5 1.5 1.6

1.2

2.0 2.3 1.6
  Unemployment rate (in percent) 10.3 10.3 9.5 8.1 6.3 6.1 6.8
  Investment (in percent of GDP) 15.7 17.3 19.9 21.5 22.0 21.6 21.8
  National savings (in percent of GDP) 13.9 15.9 18.0 18.3 18.5 17.7 15.4
 
Public Finance2 In percent of GDP
  Operating balance   -7.0 -1.1 0.9 3.1 3.7 2.0 1.5
    Revenue3   37.4 40.5 37.1 38.1 38.6 37.1 36.6
    Expenditure   44.5 41.6 36.2 35.0 35.0 35.0 35.0
 
Money and Credit Change in percent
  Private sector credit     2.8 14.2 9.1 8.2 14.2 11.8 10.04
  M3 6.9 10.7 5.4 3.5 15.6 11.3 7.14
   
Interest Rates In percent, annual average
  90-day bank bill 10.0 6.7 6.3 6.7 9.0 9.3 8.15
  10-year government bond 9.9 8.4 6.8 7.6 7.8 7.9 6.95
 
Balance of Payments In billions of New Zealand dollars1
  Trade account     3.6 3.0 3.2 2.3 1.4 0.7 1.0
    Exports     16.6 18.1 19.4 20.2 20.5 20.6 22.1
    Imports   13.0 15.1 16.1 17.9 19.2 19.9 21.1
  Current account -1.6 -2.0 -0.9 -2.1 -3.3 -3.8 -6.3
    (In percent of GDP)   (-2.2) (-2.7) (-1.2) (-2.5) (-3.7) (-4.1) (-6.5)
  Official reserves   5.5 6.0 6.0 5.8 6.8 8.4 6.74
     
Gross External Debt6 In percent of GDP, end of period
  Official debt     27.8 31.6 32.6 27.4 24.3 22.1 ...
  Total debt     86.0 91.8 90.0 81.2 80.3 80.8 ...
     
Exchange Rate Year average
  Exchange rate regime:        Freely floating
  US$/$NZ    

0.579

0.538

0.541

0.594

0.656

0.688

0.6365

  TWI (June 1979=100)   57.6 53.7 54.9 57.2 61.1 65.6 64.55
  Nominal effective exchange rate (1990=100) 97.1 88.9 93.7 100.2 105.2 113.0 116.44
  Real effective exchange rate (1990=100) 95.5 85.7 89.0 94.2 99.8 108.6 110.64

Sources: Data provided by the New Zealand authorities; IMF, International Financial Statistics; and Fund staff projections.

 

1Unless indicated otherwise. 
2Fiscal year beginning July 1. Data for 1997 are from the 1997/98 budget. 
3Includes surplus attributable to state-owned and Crown entities. 
4July 1997. 
5September 1997. 
6Data for March of the following year. 

1Under Article IV of the IMF's Articles of Agreement, the IMF holds bilateral discussions with members, usually every year. A staff team visits the country, collects economic and financial information, and discusses with officials the country's economic developments and policies. On return to headquarters, the staff prepares a report, which forms the basis for discussion by the Executive Board. At the conclusion of the discussion, the Managing Director, as Chairman of the Board, summarizes the views of Executive Directors, and this summary is transmitted to the country's authorities. In this PIN, the main features of the Board's discussion are described.


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