Fran O'Sullivan: Climate, China economy and property prices head NZ's risk list

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World experts put environmental risks top of the forum report. Photo / AP
World experts put environmental risks top of the forum report. Photo / AP

Next week's World Economic Forum meeting in Davos will provide key insights into the major risks this year.

One of the critical risks as far as New Zealand is concerned is that of an asset bubble. A forum report - Global Risks 2016 - highlights this as the top risk facing seven East Asia and Pacific economies: Australia, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Myanmar, New Zealand and Thailand.

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This reflects both the recent equity market turmoil in China and potential spillovers to the rest of the region, as well as the over-valuation of property. While the report authors mention Hong Kong and Sydney in this sphere, it's a fair assumption that New Zealand would also figure.

The forum has attracted the usual sprinkling of the global financial, business and political elites.

The WEF says in this year's annual survey, almost 750 experts assessed 29 separate global risks for impact and likelihood over a 10-year time horizon. The risk with the greatest potential impact in 2016 was found to be a failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation.

This is the first time since the report was published in 2006 that an environmental risk has topped the ranking. This year, it was considered to have greater potential damage than weapons of mass destruction (2nd), water crises (3rd), large-scale involuntary migration (4th) and severe energy price shock (5th).

One of the key issues that will be discussed - if not on the floor of Davos but certainly around the traps - is whether China will clamp down on capital flight.

China has made much of the liberalising of its capital account and has been encouraging companies and individuals to invest offshore including in New Zealand.

But high networth Chinese investors, who have in the past openly talked about getting money out of China as part of their personal risk managements, are now being much more cautious.

There is also extreme nervousness at the upper echelons of Chinese business about Operation Skynet the programme Beijing has launched to replaced Operation Foxhunt. Various Chinese government departments are now sharing information to track those who may have spirited funds out of the country from fraudulent dealings. China has previously seen the plan to spark investment offshore as a net positive for the economy.

Ummmm think I've been living under a rock but this TPP is some BS.
Liam Messam

With the Chinese economy appearing shaky China wants to avert capital flight.

It's too soon to predict what effect this will have in New Zealand.

But Chinese banks are warning their customers - including those investing here - not to "over invest" so as not to attract attention.

Investors are also being warned not to use 'cash channels' - an avenue which was stopped by the NZ Government in October when it required all offshore investors in NZ residential property to have a bank account.

Cabinet Ministers from John Key down and officials must wake up to the realities of working in a connected world when it comes to trying to exert secrecy on TPP.

Others countries aren't going to wait for the Prime Minister to return from his Hawaiian holiday to make an announcement before making their bookings to head to Auckland for the signing ceremony.

Inside US Trade - which has impeccable sources - tipped the proposed February 4 date in one of its late 2015 newsletters.

Officials, including Auckland Council advisers, have long been working to this date.

It could yet be pushed back.

But what should be pushed back are the All Blacks who have been polishing their Twitter profiles by gormlessly banging on about the major regional economic agreement that stands to bring more benefits to the NZ economy.

All Black Liam Messam has shown an interest in the TPP.  Photo / Mark Mitchell
All Black Liam Messam has shown an interest in the TPP. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Liam Messam's tweet was apposite: "Ummmm think I've been living under a rock but this TPP is some BS".

The only sentiment I agree with is that Messam has indeed been living under a rock.

If all goes to plan New Zealand will soon pay host to trade and economic ministers from 12 nations which comprise 40 per cent of global GDP. We haven't had a major soiree since NZ played host to the Asia Pacific Leaders meeting in 1999.

They are a rung down from the political leaders but they carry strong clout. There will be an opportunity for NZ to address other bilateral issues.

We should make them welcome.

- NZ Herald

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Head of Business for NZME

Fran O'Sullivan has written a weekly column for the Business Herald since its inception in April 1997. In her early journalistic career she was a political journalist in Wellington and subsequently an investigative journalist who broke many major business stories including the first articles that led to the Winebox Inquiry in both NBR and the Sydney Morning Herald. She has specific expertise in relation to China where she has been a frequent visitor since the late 1990s. She is a former Editor of the National Business Review; has twice been awarded Qantas Journalist of the Year and is a multiple winner of the Westpac Financial Journalism Supreme Award.

Read more by Fran O'Sullivan

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