Monday, 4 May 2020

Where are we?

Perforce, a wide variety of public and private sector organisations have stepped into the breach and done a good job of filling in the long-standing gaps in our ability to track the economy in close to real time. I've probably said enough about the need for Stats NZ, in particular, to keep up the effort when we get back to normal, so instead let's have a look at what the indicators are actually telling us.

On the upside, Sense Partner's update today showed that electricity generation is on the rise. There has to be a pretty good link between generation and overall economic activity: the data (originally from the Electricity Authority's useful database) suggest that the economy was running some 20% below normal levels: since dropping back to Level 3, we look to be operating some 10% below where we were. Better, but still a large shock to production and incomes.

The TradeMe jobs listing and job ad views also suggest some decent improvement from the very worst, though both are still well down on normal. Other indicators - particularly those for transport volumes - are however still at dire levels. Sense has started reporting usage of the Apple Maps app, which indicates mobility (Apple has the data on a variety of countries here): there was a bit of a blip immediately around the time we announced Level 3, but it's dropped back since to a small fraction of previous levels. An arm of Stats, Data Ventures, also has a good range of mobility data here. They show a similar collapse, concentrated on retail, employment and tourism mobility.

Treasury's latest dashboard has especially useful data on retail sales. It's dreadful: eyeballing it, it looks like consumer spending is roughly half of its pre-covid levels, even after some improvement from the depths of Level 4.

The data suggests that the setback to New Zealand retail sales is a good deal more severe than the one in Australia. This is from the AlphaBeta / illion dashboard I mentioned the other day. But that should be no great surprise, as our lockdown has been stricter than theirs.

Incidentally, there's been a bit of sniping here in New Zealand about firms that supposedly shouldn't have applied for the Jobseeker Support scheme. By way of perspective, the Aussie Bureau of Statistics, as part of its covid-19 coverage, has discovered that overall some 61% of Aussie businesses have registered or intend to register for their equivalent JobKeeper Payment scheme. Here's their graphic (from this report) of what percentage of each industry has registered, with the boxes proportionate to industry shares of total employment. The industry pattern is exactly what you'd expect. Domestic critics should pull their heads in: everything we see (and bear in mind we have it worse than them) is overwhelmingly showing real difficulty for businesses in both countries, not bludging.

The severity of our setback raises the question about whether we're doing enough to push back with expansionary policy. Here's a chart from the Treasury dashboard that looks at some comparators.

It's early days, but I suspect that our fiscal response is going to have to be a good deal larger again than it has been to date. The Jobseeker Support scheme was an excellent start - especially the quick non-bureaucratic process - but I strongly doubt that 7% of GDP in fiscal support is going to be the final bill for effective economic pushback.

1 comment:

  1. Who ever said the people can pull their heads in Over the Bludging claim. Really its the way of business to always get more than they really, Morally, should. And just 1 Note ALL companies NEED Us "Head pullers in" as Customers to spend our Money. If we find out they been rorting the system then I would expect for their customer numbers to Stay low for a long time to come... Because we don't like rip off artists. So NO We will NOT pull our heads in These Companies Need to stop rorting the system Pure n Simple.


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