Making it here, by selling it there

By Helen Twose

Dairy products may dominate the export statistics, but many niche products and services are also making their contribution. Helen Twose talks to the people behind some of them

Photo / Brett Phibbs
Photo / Brett Phibbs

Riding a volatile currency is a perennial bugbear for New Zealand exporters, but overcoming that problem has created resilient businesses, says one expert.

The BNZ's head of research, Stephen Toplis, says New Zealand companies have done a remarkable job of transforming themselves to deal with currency fluctuations.

"While nobody likes being in a position of facing a volatile currency, what we're seeing is that they are basically making efficiency gains within their businesses that mean that they can survive when the currency is poor for them and then do actually very well when the currency moves in their favour."

Toplis says it is hard to single out high-performing industries, given that performance is often tied to the fortunes of just a couple of firms. "I think what we saw post-GFC was that it really wasn't a story of which sectors performed, it was a story of how leveraged were the businesses in the sectors.

"And the businesses that were highly leveraged or carried high levels of debt struggled immensely and continue to struggle, whereas the businesses that had low levels of debt have actually found opportunities in this environment and I think that's true across all sectors."

ExportNZ executive director Catherine Beard backs the view that Kiwi exporters have proven to be resilient. "I think exporters have been quite agile in terms of where to put their effort and energy depending on what they perceive the demand and the exchange rate being going forward, because they have to make those trade-offs and judgments."

She says anyone looking to join the export fray should carefully research the demand for their goods and services. "When you go to export you've just got to realise that it is a big competitive world out there and you just have to have some sort of x-factor.

"You can't be an also-ran or a me-too and I think if your only strategy is to be cheaper than the competition then that is a pretty fragile strategy."

New Zealand's skilled and educated workforce, low levels of corruption and government interference and relatively low production costs compared with Australia are strong advantages, says Toplis. "Things are tough for many, but it you want to really see tough, go and have a look elsewhere around the world and as tough as things are, we are actually extraordinarily well-placed."

- NZ Herald

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