Talk Money with Tony Field – September 15, 2015

Malcolm Turnbull (Reuters)
Malcolm Turnbull (Reuters)

"It's the economy stupid."

That's a phrase made famous by political strategist James Carville, when he was the lead strategist in 1992 for then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton's campaign for the US presidency. He would constantly remind the campaign staff that governments rise and fall on the economy.

The slowing economy is what has led to the ousting of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Malcolm Turnbull won the leadership vote after criticising Mr Abbott for being incapable of "providing the economic leadership" Australia needs.

He also promised a "different style" of leadership, citing the example of New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.

It will be tough going however. Australia's growth was a meagre 0.2 percent in the June quarter and annual growth is around 2 percent.

Growth in the previous quarter had been 0.9 percent.

But the mining sector slowed markedly in the three months to June, down 3 percent.

The unexpectedly weak second quarter growth would have been a big factor in Mr Turnbull's decision to launch his leadership bid.

His criticism of Mr Abbott was that he did not have a coherent economic plan. The challenge now for Mr Turnbull is to come up with a plan of his own.

Official projections are for 2.25 percent growth this year. But some economists think these projections are too optimistic.

The Australian dollar fell quickly yesterday following news that Mr Turnbull would mount the leadership challenge. It lost just over half a cent against the US dollar. But by this morning it recovered all of those gains.

The reality is that although Mr Turnbull is promising a coherent economic plan there is unlikely to be any major policy shifts that would spook the markets.

The New Zealand dollar has fallen almost half a percent overnight against the Australian dollar, trading at 88.70 cents.

The Kiwi is little changed against the US dollar, and was sitting at 63.29 cents at 8am.

It was holding steady against other major currencies, trading at 41.02 pence, 76.04 Yen and 55.90 Euro cents.

A big change is looming for New Zealand's tertiary institutions.

From 2017 all Universities, Wānanga and Polytechnics will be required to publish information about the employment status and earnings of their graduates. The information will be broken down by specific degrees and diplomas.

"As New Zealand continues to rapidly develop a more highly-skilled economy, it is more important than ever for students to consider carefully their tertiary study options and future career options," says Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Minister Steven Joyce.

New Zealand Union of Students' Associations has welcomed the move provide more information. But it cautions that it is important the information is put into perspective.

"Future earnings and job placements don't tell you whether a degree is any good. All it tells you is that people who took that course did well after graduating," says national president Rory McCourt.

He points out that why a student did well is a complicated question and can be influenced by factors such as "location and employer regard for a degree – justified or not."

"It's important students weigh up all the aspects of an institution. Academic quality should remain the key focus of government."

The announcement coincides with a new survey ranking global universities. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was ranked number one. It was closely followed by Harvard. The University of Cambridge tied with Stanford University for third place

Auckland University was the only New Zealand university to make the top 100 in the QS (Quacquarelli Symonds) survey. It ranked 82nd, a rise of 10 places from a year ago.

But all New Zealand's universities remain among the top 3 percent in the world according to the survey.

It measures six performance indicators: academic reputation, employer reputation, faculty/student ratio, research citations per paper, proportion of international faculty and proportion of international students.

"This is a good result for New Zealand with a lift in rankings for the first time in six years," says Universities New Zealand's Chris Whelan.

"The academic reputation gain is important at a time when we are competing for staff and students in a hugely competitive international marketplace."

But funding remains a major concern for New Zealand universities.

"New Zealand universities receive only 70 percent as much funding per student as Australian universities," Mr Whelan says.

"This Government wants to attract world class academics to teach and research in New Zealand. It also wants to double earnings from international students – an area where universities generate $1 billion a year for New Zealand. Neither of these will be possible in the longer term unless we can maintain our rankings and we can't maintain our rankings without a sustained drive to lift funding in real terms."

The Government announced in this year's Budget that more money will be put into the tertiary sector over the next four years.

"This was welcomed by the sector as recognition that universities make a major economic contribution to this country and are key players in many initiatives to lift economic and social outcomes. If this can be repeated in future years, universities will be able to invest more in the high quality teaching and research that will deliver further ranking increases and benefit New Zealand."

Stocks fell on Wall Street today as investors counted down to the Federal Reserve's interest rate announcement.

At 6am on Thursday (New Zealand time) the Federal Reserve will announce whether it is lifting its key interest rate from near zero. If it does hike rates it will be the first increase in almost a decade. It will also contrast with New Zealand, which is cutting rates.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 0.38 percent, the broader S&P 500 was down 0.41 percent and the tech heavy Nasdaq closed down 0.34 percent.

A lift in rates is a 50-50 call. It depends on whether the Fed is convinced that it has seen enough evidence that the US economy is having a sustainable recovery.

The other concern for Janet Yellen is how the markets will react to a lift in rates. If there was an increase in the Fed's key lending rate it could send stocks down and drive up the value of the US dollar. The dollar would rise as investors pour money into the US to take advantage of higher deposit rates.

Higher interest be good for savers, but would lift borrowing costs for businesses and consumers.

A higher dollar would make US exporters less competitive.

The Shanghai Composite fell shed 2.7 percent yesterday.

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