COMMENT:

What's in store for 2019?

Yes, it's time for pundits to make their picks for the year ahead.

It's just a bit of fun right? It's a chance to summarise where we're at the end of the year, to make a few cheeky calls about the future.

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Well, to be honest, it weighs a bit heavy this year.

I'd like to say that everything will be fine.

But I think we're heading into a storm.

I'm usually an optimist. But right now it looks like things are going to get worse before they get better.

I'll admit it's not a very specific prediction. But it is a fundamental one.

What's going to get worse? Sharemarkets, property, business conditions, the economy?

Sure, brace yourself for the works.

We are coming to the end of an economic cycle and these things traditionally finish with bear markets and recession.

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I don't know if we'll see these things in 2019 but they look more likely now than they did this time last year.

We are, if you look at the big economic data, still in a pretty good place. So is the US, if you ignore Wall Street.

Most importantly, unemployment is at historically low levels in both economies.

In New Zealand the Government has plenty of fiscal firepower. It's well placed to keep all the plates spinning through this turbulent phase of the economic cycle.

I'm not predicting an apocalyptic global financial crisis next year but I am worried about how the world will cope with this transition. And how that flows on locally.

I don't think it's true that we can talk ourselves into a downturn.

The local business community had a fair crack at that this year with their responses to confidence surveys. It didn't happen because the economy was too strong.

There are much bigger forces at play when it comes to New Zealand's outlook: commodity prices, credit markets, international travel numbers, immigration, the economies of our biggest trading partners - China and Australia.

In almost all of these areas it is the direction of travel that is concerning.

I've been writing these year-ender columns for more than a decade now.

Perversely, it was easier to be an optimist in 2008 and 2009. The financial world had burned. Things were grim but the only way was up.

I wrote a column in 2009 that drew on a classic Beatles tune.

"It's getting better all the time," sings the optimistic McCartney. Then Lennon, the laconic pessimist, chimes in ... "It can't get no worse".

Until last October you could have made the reverse case.

Equity markets were at record highs, New Zealand's economy surprised with annual GDP growth at 2.9 per cent and unemployment dropped to just 3.9 per cent.

It couldn't get much better. It didn't.

Market sentiment has turned very dark, very quickly.

People often make the case that stockmarkets aren't a good reflection of the real economy.

But it's not just equities, it's bonds, oil, commodities and even property.

Big investors around the world are battening down the hatches for a stormy 2019.

The good news is that any headwinds we face can hardly be called a surprise.

Global markets are not going to get hit out of the blue like they did in 1987.

But equities aren't the problem in New Zealand any more.

Our KiwiSaver accounts might not look flash but as a nation we're not heavily exposed to a global stock market crash.

New Zealand's stock market - with its power companies and infrastructure assets - is quite defensive anyway. It tends to hold up okay, relatively speaking.

Property and mortgage debt remain New Zealand's Achilles' heel.

Keep a very close eye on the housing market across the Tasman in 2019 - particularly Sydney.

At last count average prices in Sydney were off by more than 10 per cent.

Does New Zealand's market necessarily have to follow Australia?

No. Although history says yes.

A high immigration rate may prove to be our saviour in 2019. But keep a close eye on that too. If it starts to fall sharply we may have a problem.

Meanwhile what's happening in Australia effects the banking sector there. And that flows through to New Zealand's banks.

Credit availability is tightening, with or without higher interest rates.

That will put pressure on businesses that need to refinance and will be bad news if we see inflation push costs up and a slower economy hits revenue.

There's a risk that, after crying about it all this year, business finally faces the real wolf in 2019.

I wouldn't be surprised to see a rise in business failures and more job losses in 2019.

Ugh. Too gloomy. I've got about 100 words left write my way out of this funk.

After some predictable years the global economy will be a different beast in 2019.

My upbeat prediction is that New Zealand will make it through the transitional phase better than most. I believe we are getting better all the time.

We don't have a mad Brexit to deal with or a compassion-less buffoon for a leader.

If we can avoid the bitter divisions being sown by radical factions in the US, UK and Europe then we can stay focused on growth and progress.

We're well placed to show the world what sensible looks like in 2019.