Tamsyn Parker

Tamsyn Parker is the NZ Herald Assistant Business Editor

Banker tips more crises

Only question is how long it will take us to recover next time, expert says

In 1987, the stockmarket in New Zealand lost more than half its value. Photo / Supplied
In 1987, the stockmarket in New Zealand lost more than half its value. Photo / Supplied

There is no doubt New Zealand will face another crisis like the 1987 sharemarket crash and the 2008 global financial crisis, says top investment banker Rob Cameron.

But how soon we emerge from it when it happens will depend on having a good financial system in place and ensuring corporates, individuals and the Government do not borrow beyond their means.

This Saturday marks 25 years since "Black Tuesday", when New Zealand's sharemarket crashed following dramatic plunges in markets around the world.

Last month it was also the four-year anniversary of the collapse of financial powerhouse Lehman Brothers - a trigger point for the more recent global financial crisis.

Cameron, who remembers vividly the 1987 crash, said both events were driven by asset bubbles bursting - a natural part of capital markets.

"Bubbles and crises won't stop - there is a very long history of them taking place," he said.

"You cannot regulate to stop them. The issue is how long a market takes to climb out of it."

In 1987, New Zealand was the hardest hit. The country's sharemarket lost more than 50 per cent of its value in just four months.

By late 1988 markets in other countries had recovered but New Zealand's bourse continued to shrink, falling from $45.5 billion before the crash to just $14 billion by 1991.

Cameron said New Zealand's problems had been driven by rampant optimism, loose monetary policy and companies with too much debt. This time households and governments had been caught by too much debt.

Cameron said Greece was a prime example of greed that had run away with itself. "It's going to be painful to get out of that now. It's the old adage of live within your means."

In New Zealand it has been mainly off the publicly listed market where thousands of investors were hit by a $6 billion collapse in the finance company industry.

"Everyone is looking for scapegoats and that sector is now very regulated - finance companies have almost ceased to exist."

He said greed pushed people to invest in high interest-paying debenture investments. But he also believed the problem was caused by New Zealanders not having enough investment choice, and part of the problem could be resolved by deepening and broadening New Zealand's capital market.

"Compare us to Australia where 80 per cent of the 200 largest companies are listed," he said. "It's around 30 per cent here."

NZX chief executive Tim Bennett said there would be times when the market dropped, but he doubted it would ever fall as much as in 1987.

Listed companies were now much better regulated and the exchange had moved to an internationally recognised trading and clearing system, he said.

"Looking back, what is clear is that we didn't have the right level of regulation around companies - we've got the Financial Markets Authority now."

Bennett said investors had also become more sophisticated.

"There was a lot of speculation and punting back in 1987. Investors now have a longer term focus and are more advised," he said.

But Sean Hughes, head of the Financial Markets Authority, said New Zealanders needed to get over a culture of blame for firms that fail.

"As a country I think we still have difficulty accepting companies collapse. There is a sense of anger and blame when companies fall over."

He said the nature of capitalism was that the strongest survived.

"People believe it is a failure of the corporate governance or business model and the regulator should step in," he said. "But that is the nature of investing in markets."

Hughes said there was also an aspect of cultural cringe that holds New Zealanders back from participating in the sharemarket.

"Shareholders are seen as wealthy, greedy and arrogant," he said. "Where I want us to get to is for New Zealanders to see shareholders as average Kiwis."

- NZ Herald

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