NZ Herald business editor at large

Liam Dann: Wall St lift good for NZ as well as Obama


Wall St is back in the black. This week the Dow Jones industrial index topped 13,000 points for the first time since May 2008.

That might seem like an arbitrary number and point in time but it means that markets are once again trading at the levels that pre-date the full-scale financial meltdown of September 2008.

It is good news for Barack Obama and it might even be good news for New Zealand.

The United States is still our third biggest trading partner and our second biggest - China - is heavily dependent on the US.

While we've been busy worrying about Europe imploding in debt the US has been quietly getting on with business.

US company earnings have been stronger than expected and the unemployment rate has tracked down for the past five months.

Things aren't exactly booming yet but suddenly there is an unexpected air of optimism.

That positive sentiment may be the key to finally breaking out of the long grim economic downturn.

You might say the US economy has been down and out so long that the only way left to go was up.

But just six months ago Americans were busy bracing themselves for another recession and had a far gloomier outlook on the prospects for 2012.

There doesn't seem to be any magic bullet but perhaps all the money printing and the extended period of near-zero interest rates are finally doing the job.

Americans are getting on with it. US households have been paying down debt but somehow they are also finding a way to buy the latest Apple iThingy.

There is a delicate balance to be found when it comes to spending or saving your way out of a recession.

Too much of one and you go broke, too much of the other and you find yourself stuck in a cycle of recession.

So has Obama managed to find the right mix? Or has he just got lucky? With the President and Congress deadlocked over fiscal policy it could be argued he has really done nothing.

It's not that Obama has set out to run a Seinfeld-style policy about "nothing", but despite having it forced on him he will reap the benefits if US voters reward him for an economic turnaround in November.

The US is an entrepreneurial economy where a generous monetary policy and some time may prove to be enough to heal the wounds of the financial crisis.

It is interesting because many local critics accused the National Government of a do-nothing policy in its first term.

But with considerably more control of this economy than Obama has in the US, the National Party is now getting serious about attacking the deficit.

The risk is that cuts may take wind out of the economy's sail at a time when it is already close to being becalmed.

Reserve Bank governor Alan Bollard is set to hold rates at historically low levels for some time yet. Even if the Government can't afford to run expansionary policies which stimulate the local economy, could monetary policy alone be enough to get the us back on track?

Bill English and John Key have their sleeves rolled up this term so we'll never know.

Meanwhile, the US Republican primaries have made fascinating viewing from this side of the world - if just because so many of the candidates seem to be barking mad.

So even if the thought of Wall St bankers high-fiving at the closing bell doesn't fill you with joy, the prospect that a market-led recovery might ensure another four years for a rational US President with a sense of humour might.

If you are local manufacturer with a stake in the US export market it might also be worth a smile.

- NZ Herald

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NZ Herald business editor at large

Liam Dann is business editor at large at the New Zealand Herald. He has been a journalist for 20 years, covering business for the last 14 of them. He has also worked in the banking sector in London and travelled extensively. His passion is for Markets and Economics, because they are the engine of the New Zealand economy. He hosts The Economy Hub video show every Thursday.

Read more by Liam Dann

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