NZ Herald business editor at large

Liam Dann: NZX leads us into optimism

A deliberate effort from the Government and private sector has strengthened capital markets writes Liam Dann

Liam Dann, Business Herald editor. Photo / Richard Robinson.
Liam Dann, Business Herald editor. Photo / Richard Robinson.

Every now and then the right people do the right things at the right time and good stuff happens.

New Zealand's capital markets are exciting to write about again. It has been a rough five years but finally, in 2013, it's all on. The Business Herald is filled daily with lively market news: record highs, listing speculation, tech bubbles, trading in Fonterra and of course the float of state-owned enterprises. A lot of this had been on the wish list for for years.

What's remarkable about the resurgence of the NZX is that it is neither accidental or driven entirely by international trends.

Every now and then the right people do the right things at the right time and good stuff happens. There has been a deliberate, concerted effort from the Government and private sector to rebuild and strengthen our capital markets since the global financial crisis (GFC) and it is paying off.

I've written commentary for four Capital Markets reports now. Looking back, these pieces have essentially been snapshots of the mood of investors and those working in and around markets.

In 2010 the focus was on rebuilding from the rubble of the GFC. New Zealand's market was facing problems with both supply and demand. The NZX was lacking depth with several big companies having delisted and a dearth of new listings.

On the demand side there was a huge lack of investor confidence. The crash of 2008 was still reverberating and the failure of the finance companies had rattled the nation. But the seeds of recovery were being sown. Rob Cameron and his Capital Markets Taskforce had just completed a bold and ground-breaking report.

It was bold because it made a clear call. Investor confidence had to come first, it was the foundation on which everything else was built.

With its genesis in the last days of the Clark Labour Government the taskforce was a great example of bipartisan politics. The new National Government stuck with it, and when action was required, it delivered.

Then-Commerce Minister Simon Power unveiled his regulatory response in a memorable speech to a collective gathering of the nation's market leaders at the annual Institute of Financial Professionals (Infinz) awards.

By May 2011 we had a new Financial Markets Authority in place and a new consumer and investor-focused regulatory regime. The partial float of state assets was also on the agenda and there was new momentum coming from KiwiSaver funds which had just topped $8 billion in value. But progress was still slow, global markets were still in turmoil and locally there was still little happening in terms of local listings and much of the KiwiSaver money was still tied up in cash and fixed interest through low-risk default funds.

This time last year the talk was more optimistic, but we were still waiting for a meaningful shift in fortunes. But the past 12 months have seen a big revival in fortunes.

Fonterra's move on to the NZX last last year through tradeable non-voting shares has been a huge success. We've seen tech stocks like Xero and Diligent on a roll. So how optimistic should we be in 2013?

There are still some grim spectres of economic doom stalking the globe. Europe is still a basket-case. China has slowed and there is a lot riding on some very fragile signs of recovery out of the US.

But on Wall Street the markets have recovered to pre-GFC levels, as has the NZX.

In fact the NZX-50 has surged and is up more than 30 per cent since the middle of last year.

That's great news, though it is sobering to remember\ these new record highs represent near zero growth if plotted across the five years from the last market peak.

Still, there is real momentum now and confidence in the global financial system is returning.

We have market listings in the offing - SLI Systems, Mad Butcher and Z - as well the prospect of further SOE floats and a government selldown of Air NZ to come.

On the supply side there is still work to be done. If we're honest, the much-hyped "critical mass" which would see a KiwiSaver-driven boost to financial literacy is taking time to materialise. The hope was that we'd see a similar trend to that which emerged in Australia after it introduced compulsory superannuation. To be fair we are still just five years in and Australia has been saving and investing hard since 1992. But we should not let up on encouraging people to take control of their savings and shift out of default mode.

For all the controversy about Mighty River Power, the pre-registration alone shows us there is new interest in investing among the wider public. But the risk that market exuberance gets it ahead of the recovery curve remains real. A major correction remains possible; there is a two steps forward-one step back pace to this recovery.

Eventually the real economy trumps optimism and market trends. We need to see deeper levels of confidence returning to business. We need to see corporate earnings driven by growth rather than cost-cutting.

So there is a sense in which we are still waiting for the rest of the economy to catch up. But in a free market economy it is normal for the markets to lead the way - up and down.

The resurgence of the NZX is very good news for New Zealand.

Liam Dann is the Herald's business editor

- 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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