New Zealand's economic cycle has almost come full circle

Last month, New Zealand's so-called 'rock star' economy suffered a bit of stage fright, as the NZX dropped 2.1 percent on the back of the biggest single-day loss on Wall Street in almost eight years.

And while our economy quickly recovered and continues to chug along, we could be in for a shock, thanks to the ten year Kiwi economic cycle, and the number eight.

Like all first-world capitalist economies, the New Zealand economy goes around in a cycle. It recovers from a recession - like the one we had in 2008 - to produce growth and wealth before slowing down again, usually over the span of about a decade.

ANZ Chief Economist Sharon Zollner says that ten years is about par for New Zealand's economic cycle.

"Typically the New Zealand business cycle doesn't actually die of old age, it gets killed off by some sort of negative shock, generally from offshore," Ms Zollner said.

Such a dire event threatened in early February this year, when Wall Street got the wobbles.

"Certainly it caught everybody's attention, I guess in January we saw a lot of exuberance in global equities,” says Ms Zollner. “They started going exponential, and whenever you see that in equities you have the potential of a pullback, and that did arrive."

But could that have been just a financial foreshock to a much larger quake, with the number eight of 2018, pulling the strings?

Master numerologist and self-described letterologist Peter Vaughan has crunched the numbers, and is convinced the humble number eight could finally push our rock star off the stage.

"The number eight just happens to be the major money value figure," says Mr Vaughan.

"And once you understand numbers, and you realise that they're not numbers at all, it's the words they represent behind them, and the key word behind eight is authority."

Mr Vaughan is certainly an authority on numbers, and his deciphering of the number eight comes with a chilling prediction.

"You're playing with something that needs to be balanced,” he says. “We've got a imbalance of people who've got a lot of money tied up in houses, and real estate and bricks and mortar."

"The economy goes down? What's going to happen to all those people who've got mortgages? They're all going to lose them."

There is evidence to suggest the number eight is indeed an unlucky one for the Kiwi economy.

Since World War Two, economic downturns have struck on years with eights in them in each decade except the 1950s. That catastrophic recession hit in 1951/2, resulting in a staggering 37.2 percent loss in GDP.

The other big calamities were just after World War Two in 1948 (15.6 percent loss), the 1978 economic downturn (12.8 percent loss), and the 2008 global financial crisis (11.8 percent loss).  

  • 2008 Global financial crisis (11.8 percent loss in GDP)
  • 1998 Recession
  • 1987 Stock Market crash
  • 1978 Recession (12.8 percent loss in GDP)
  • 1968 Recession
  • 1951/52 Recession (37.2 percent loss in GDP)
  • 1948 Recession (15.6 percent loss of GDP)

So, ten years after the last big recession, are we due for another one?

"There are imbalances in the New Zealand economy at the moment," Ms Zollner says.

"In many ways the economy is in a better position than it was ten years ago… when we really had gone on a bit of bender in terms of borrowing, households and firms, and we saw the current account deficit had blown out."

But there is another reason to be fearful - New Zealand's housing bubble.

"The housing market is New Zealand's key vulnerability and we can't deny that," says Ms Zollner.

"House prices to incomes are very, very high, in Auckland in particular, household debt is at record highs as proportion of disposable income.

"We will have to pull our heads in a bit."

So what does Ms Zollner make of the hateful eight?

"I think it is coincidence… the New Zealand cycle tends to last about ten years, the number eight is actually supposed to be a lucky one. It hasn't been for the last 20 years, but if we were to follow that pattern this year then things would have to turn around pretty rapidly."

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