Talk Money with Tony Field – October 15, 2015

Bill English (Simon Wong/3 News)
Bill English (Simon Wong/3 News)

Finance Minister Bill English is being very careful not to promise the Government can deliver another surplus next year.

Yesterday he announced a surplus of $414 million. That was a turnaround from a Treasury prediction of a deficit of just over $600 million.

It was the first surplus since 2008 and it meant the Government delivered on one of its election promises.

So, it was politically important. But you could argue it was largely symbolic.

Tax revenue was boosted by economic growth of 3 percent. That boosted tax revenue by $5.1 billion. Spending grew by $1.1 billion.

Mr English knows it will be hard to do it again.

It is not just the slowing economy that will make it difficult.

The very weak inflation rate is not helping either. Politicians quite like a bit of inflation. If prices and wages rise it means the Government can collect more taxes without having to increase tax rates.

That means the Government will be cautious with new spending. Tax cuts are not likely to occur before 2017.

Here is my talk with Paul Henry about the surplus.

There are fresh doubts about how many more interest rate cuts will be made by the Reserve Bank.

Governor Graeme Wheeler gave a speech yesterday in which he said he did have to take account of Auckland's soaring house prices when considering further interest rate cuts.

That is not all he has to think about.

BNZ economist Stephen Toplis argues that "further rate cuts must be constrained by the fact that there is little evidence that reducing rates further will boost growth and, in turn, inflation".

The Reserve Bank has been keen to see inflation return to a level of 2 percent. Right now annual inflation is running below 0.5 percent. Yesterday's speech indicates that Graeme Wheeler would settle for inflation at the lower end of the 1-3 percent target range.

Stephen Toplis argues that the hurdle for further interest rate cuts has now become higher.

"This is not to say the Reserve Bank is likely to pause with a cash rate of 2.75 percent. To the contrary, the Governor also confirmed that further easing is still likely but he does suggest there will be a pause at 2.5 percent unless economic activity indicators deteriorate significantly in the interim."

Westpac chief economist Dominick Stephens has been arguing that a 2.5 percent OCR would not be low enough to ensure inflation returns to 2 percent on average. He predicted that the bank would eventually have to cut the OCR to 2 percent.

"We remain steadfast in that assessment, and continue to expect that the OCR will eventually reach 2.0 percent." But that is a view not shared by the Reserve Bank," he says.

"Consequently, our forecast for further OCR cuts in early-2016 is now under review." He will reassess after tomorrow's inflation data is released, "with an eye to shifting towards forecasting OCR cuts below 2.5 percent at a later time."

The differing fortunes of old and new businesses were on display on Wall Street this morning.

Retailer Walmart saw its share price fall 8.5 percent after it warned its full year sales would be flat. The fall in price wiped US$20 billion from the company's market value in 20 minutes and delivered what was one of Walmart's worst one-day performances ever.

In contrast shares in TripAdvisor soared 19 percent after PriceLine agreed to list one of its sites on the travel review website.

Walmart is forecasting a 6 to 12 percent earnings drop in 2017.

Analysts had been expecting an increase in earnings for the year beginning next February.

The company is expecting sales to grow by 3 to 4 percent annually in the next few years. But it says that operating income will be affected by US$1.5 billion in extra wage and training costs. IT is also planning to invest $1.1 billion on e-commerce and digital platforms.

Shares in Target, Macy's, Kohl's and J.C. Penny were also down.

There will be many investors who will see the announcement as further confirmation that the world has shifted from bricks and mortar retailers to online retailers.

The plight of the traditional retailers was in stark contrast to the surge in the share price of travel review website operator TripAdvisor.

Its shares soared 24 percent after Priceline announced that its Booking.com customers will now be able to directly book hotel rooms via TripAdvisor.

The deal is likely to be expanded to include the Priceline.com and Agoda.com websites.

Priceline's shares slipped 2 percent.

The New Zealand dollar surged overnight.

The Kiwi was trading at 67.88 US cents at 8-15am, up over 2 percent from yesterday.

It had risen to 93.17 Australian cents, an increase of 1.6 percent.

The Kiwi was trading at 43.76 pence, a rise of 0.69 percent.

The dollar was trading at 80.65 Yen and 59.16 Euro cents.

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