Bernard Hickey: Help NZ by saving like the wind

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Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

It's now clear our Government and our banks are not doing anything substantial to reduce our vulnerability to another Lehman Brothers-style global financial crisis, or to improve our national savings rate.

We have short-term net foreign debt of about 50 per cent of gross domestic product - or about $90 billion. Every 90 days much of that has to be refinanced by our banks in the "hot" international money markets that froze during the Lehman crisis of late 2008.

Our Reserve Bank would have to tide over these banks again if the markets froze because not enough has been done to reduce that exposure.

The Greek Parliament managed to avoid a financial meltdown by the skin of its teeth this week, but there remains a significant risk of more turmoil in months ahead.

The United States faces default by August 2 unless it can lift its debt ceiling, and China is struggling to slow its overheated economy.

Our policymakers are taking a punt that China will succeed in its efforts. They are betting this will keep commodity prices rising, which will in turn drive a farming-led transformation of the economy from being all about borrowing and spending to saving and producing. But even their own forecasts show this won't work.

Treasury is forecasting our net foreign liabilities will rise to 85.3 per cent of GDP by 2015 from 78.6 per cent now. New Zealand is getting more indebted and selling more assets to continue spending more than it earns. Our low savings rate means we must offer relatively high interest rates to service this debt, which keeps our exchange rate high and stops us diversifying into higher-value exports.

So if our policymakers won't do anything, what can Kiwis do to improve national savings?

* Stop spending on imported goods or switch to locally made items. That keeps the funds within New Zealand.

* Use savings to repay bank debt. This will help reduce banks' need to borrow offshore to fund that debt.

* Use locally owned businesses where you can because that reduces the profits exported to foreign owners.

* Save with a bank so it can reduce foreign borrowing.

* If you have to borrow, use a bank that funds its lending with local term-deposit funds. That excludes the big four Australian banks and Kiwibank. That leaves the likes of TSB, SBS Bank, Heartland Building Society, PSIS and credit unions.

* If you're investing in a business, choose one that either exports or competes with imports, and one that employs locals on high wages. This will improve savings.

In essence, save like the wind, New Zealand, because unless we do it ourselves it will never happen.

- Herald on Sunday

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