Easter, it's a time for excessive chocolate consumption and illicit garden centre visits. But more than that, it offers some time for quiet contemplation as another year hurls by at an accelerating pace.

It seems like a good time for a stocktake – a quarterly report.

This year so much of what is happening is deep and structural. It's tiring but if we don't keep up we risk finding ourselves in a world we don't recognise.

So here's my catch-up list of top 10 issues shaking the world.


The stockmarket

Equity markets have been crazy. We're still technically in a bull market but we had a dramatic Wall Street correction in February. Markets recovered all that ground - the NZX-50 even hit new highs last week. Now we are in sell-off mode again. Rollercoaster? You bet. If you're a long-term investor, best close your eyes and hold on tight.

Interest rates

The first stockmarket meltdown this year can be blamed on rates rising. Specifically, US interest rates take the blame. It's no shock they are rising. They've been held artificially low since the GFC to keep the US economy afloat. But regardless, equity investors have been spooked into sell-offs as US Treasury yields have neared the 3 per cent mark. A return to normal means you can get a decent return from a bank deposit account - which means less money pouring into stocks.

Synchronised global growth

This is the good-news vibe that started the year. Despite all the madness of the past few months, it still holds. All the major economic regions of the world - the US, Europe, China and Japan - are in growth mode and there is no sign of recession on the horizon. This will continue to buffer New Zealand from political and market shocks.

Trade wars

Okay, there is that one risk on the horizon. Trade war talk was the spark for the year's second sharemarket sell-off. US President Donald Trump believes he can win a trade war. He has specifically targeted steel producers and China. The response, thankfully, has been muted. Let's hope he has scored his political points and won't be emboldened to go further.

Our new Government

Business confidence slumped after the election in September but has been creeping back up. Employment confidence hit its highest level since 2008 in March. The Government has been sidetracked lately with political scraps but from an economic point of view things are going well. Finance Minister Grant Robertson has assured business this is a pragmatic Government that listens. The big tests are still to come. Numerous policy decisions have been kicked for touch with working groups. It will be hard to keep business and supporters on the Left happy for long.

Well-being economics

Economists have long questioned GDP as measure of success and since the GFC plenty has been written about alternative ways to measure well-being. Now New Zealand has a Government focused on putting the theory into practice. Robertson has ordered Treasury to deliver a well-being budget for 2019. This could be window dressing or it could be the biggest shift in economic thinking since the 1980s. The process isn't grabbing headlines but it holds the key to understanding this Government's economic strategy.

US politics

Donald Trump stills cast a shadow over almost everything he tweets about. He's the focus of intense social and cultural battles in the US. On the plus side he hasn't derailed the US economy but the way he announces policy isn't helping market volatility. The biggest concern from New Zealand is trade policy. Some say Trump's just a side show but the stakes are high and he certainly can't be ignored.


China's economy stays strong. It remains supportive of free trade and globalisation. But at the National People's Congress in March, President Xi Jinping was given powers to stay on as leader for life. Other constitutional changes meant a consolidation of power in Beijing. For those hoping to see a transition to democracy or at least a more liberal society, it was a step backwards - that could have big implications for New Zealand in the long term.


Tech wars

Facebook got slammed for allowing major privacy breaches. Last week Amazon stock took a US$50 billion ($69.5b) pummelling. Trump thinks it's too big for its boots and plans to target it with tough regulations. None of this is great for tech investors but for those worried tech giants are too dominant it is good news. Meanwhile, bitcoin is off the boil but the march of AI is relentless. Tech disruption remains the big issue for most businesses.

Changing guard

Generational change is natural enough but it feels like there's a big step change this year - especially locally. We have a new Government, of course, plus wholesale change in the National Party. At a corporate level there have been resignations from Fletcher Building's Ralph Norris, Sky TV CEO John Fellet and Fonterra CEO Theo Spierings. We have a new Reserve Bank Governor. What next? The All Black coach? I hope not. We need some continuity in this crazy world.