Coronavirus: BNZ becomes first major New Zealand bank to predict a recession

BNZ has become the first major bank in New Zealand to predict a recession as the economy struggles with the coronavirus outbreak.

It comes as Italy suffered its worst day on Monday (NZ time) - 133 deaths.

Worldwide the number of cases close in on 110,000 and total deaths are at 3800.

There are no new cases in New Zealand but two more are probable - and the health ministry has a new problem on its hands; the people who do the coronavirus test are going on strike.

Only a month after landing at Air New Zealand, chief executive Greg Foran is already talking about job cuts.

"I couldn't rule anything out at this point, because the situation is emerging," he said.

Air NZ on Monday suspended its earnings guidance due to what it calls an unprecedented situation. 

It's already cut 10 percent of all its flights, as the airline takes a massive financial hit. Foran's even cut $250,000 off his $1.65 million salary.

The airline might be one of the first Kiwi companies affected but won't be the last.

BNZ is now using the much-dreaded R-word, saying it's more than likely there'll be a recession this year.  

"Everyone sort of panics when they hear the word recession," BNZ head of research Stephen Toplis said. "It's like the whole world's going to fall in. 

"Recession is a technical concept - it means that the economy's going backwards for a short period of time." 

Finance Minister Grant Robertson had an emergency meeting with the banks on Monday afternoon.

It was later announced how they'll help businesses:

  • Allowing them to make interest-only repayments
  • Help them restructure loans
  • Consolidate loans to make repayments easier
  • Provide access to short-term funding.

ANZ's chief economist said scrapping next month's minimum wage increase from $17.70 to $18.90 was a no-brainer to give small businesses more breathing room.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the Government will not consider it.

If workers lose their jobs because of the virus, the Government will scrap the one-week stand-down for the unemployment benefit.

And for business owners, it's brought in a continuity package including targeted wage subsidy and tax relief.

While the economic fallout continues, health bosses say the spread of the disease is under control in New Zealand.

"We're actively case finding now," director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield told reporters on Monday. "In fact, we're moving to do wider testing of possible or probable cases."

If things worsen, though, drive-thru clinics could be introduced like in South Korea. It would allow people to be tested inside their cars without passing on the virus.

"It's one of the options on the table," Bloomfield said. "Our first priority is to use our existing primary care structure which is general practice. 

"We've got over a 1000 practices in New Zealand."

Grant Robertson.
Grant Robertson. Photo credit: Newshub.