Aussies and expats fleeing bushfires might boost NZ economy - economist

The Australian bushfires might prompt expat Kiwis - and even perhaps a few Aussies - to find a new home across the Tasman, an economist has suggested.

And it would be a boost to an economy struggling with 'grumpflation', Cameron Bagrie told The AM Show on Monday, potentially getting us through another big shock from offshore.

"I think globally, we're in trouble," the former ANZ chief economist said.

"Whether we hit that tipping point in 2020 or 2021, is the million-dollar question. We've got interest rates at record-low levels, which is a good thing, but it's distorting the price of risk. People are taking risks and not getting compensated on the other side.

"Corporate debt in China is 160 percent of GDP - that's absolutely off the charts. Globally, I think we're going to find the next two years are going to be difficult."

But New Zealand is well-placed, he said.

"The Reserve Bank has still got ammunition, fiscal policy - Government spending - is hitting the economy at just the right time, and there is no shortage of people who want to come live here in New Zealand. 

"Migration is still ripping along, and I suspect those bushfires in Australia, they're going to send more New Zealanders home and more Australians across the ditch."

The latest Statistics NZ figures show net migration - the number arriving minus the number leaving - was at 54,600 in the year ended September. That's up about 10 percent on the year before, and only marginally below what it was during the record-setting year of 2016, despite promises from the Government to tighten the flow. 

Australia's bushfires have been raging for several weeks, killing more than 20 people and destroying entire towns in the country's heavily populated southeast. Migration generally helps boost an economy as most arrivals are of working age, and are generally well-educated and help to fill skill gaps, according to the OECD

New Zealand can do little to prevent economic shock on the global scale, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't prepare, Bagrie says, especially since we know exactly what might be cause it - volatility and uncertainty.

"New Zealand's a two-bit player at the international roulette table, and that roulette table is going to be spinning."

Bagrie also praised the Government's decision to raise the minimum wage another $1.20. From April it'll be $18.90. He says it won't, in the short-term, cause any job losses, despite what the Opposition claims - but if it keeps going up faster than productivity gains, there could be problems down the line.

"The short answer is no. If you get sustained big pushes up in wages in advance of productivity growth, you're going to start to see some economic consequences. But that's a long-term story... There's nothing wrong with wages going up. In fact, we want that. That's actually a good thing.

"But we need to placing far more attention on the productivity growth on the other side... we tend to talk a little bit about it, but there's not too much of substance."