By RNZ

Economists are predicting that hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders could be left without jobs due to the impact of the lockdown and coronavirus.

Senior economists are predicting unemployment to reach 15 per cent, with one warning it could even hit 30 per cent as Covid-19 brings the economy to a shuddering halt.

Another said the sudden stop to most sectors would make the pandemic far more economically-damaging than even the Global Financial Crisis, while another one described Covid-19's economic impact as "an everywhere, everything, everyone all at once shock"..

Advertisement

Shamubeel Eaqub, an economist with Sense Partners, said his benchmarks for previous crises kept shifting as the seriousness of the pandemic deepened.

Shamubeel Eaqub. Photo / RNZ
Shamubeel Eaqub. Photo / RNZ

"When the virus was first known I thought, 'let's look at Sars and multiply by six'. A week later, I thought, 'let's look at the last recession'. A week later, I thought, 'let's look at the Great Depression'," he said

"We've gone from an expectation the unemployment rate might rise to 6 percent, then we thought maybe 8 per cent. Now we are thinking that maybe the Great Depression is a better kind of comparison, where the best estimates were the unemployment rate was between 15 and 30 per cent."

Prince Charles avoided shaking hands with people earlier this month amidst the coronavirus outbreak. He has since tested positive for the virus. Video / AP

New Zealand Institute of Economic Research senior economist Kirdan Lees said the unemployment rate, currently 4 per cent, could jump to between 10 and 15 per cent.

He believed the hit to the economy from Covid-19 was likely to be between two and five times greater than that of the Global Financial Crisis.

"Right now we've got a sudden stop in terms of economic production so it's not just a slowdown," he said.

"Make no mistake, this is a very, very significant event."

Rather than the usual tweaks he did when forecasting economic activity, he was now having to write off entire areas of the economy, as tourism, hospitality and export education were hammered.

Advertisement

"To actually be drawing a line almost right through an entire sector - that's a completely different experience for me."

'The numbers are going to look awful'

Sharon Zollner. Photo / RNZ
Sharon Zollner. Photo / RNZ

ANZ chief economist Sharon Zollner said the bank was predicting GDP would contract by 9 per cent - which would represent a staggering shrinking of output.

"The numbers are going to look awful.

"India has gone into lockdown. That's over a billion people. So we're not alone in this. It's happening everywhere - it's an everywhere, everything, everyone all at once shock. It is unprecedented."

However, Zollner said New Zealand had advantages over other countries going into the crisis, including low levels of government debt.

Advertisement

A drop in the dollar would help those who were able to keep exporting.

Being a world leader in selling food during this time was also an advantage.

Dominick Stephens. Photo / RNZ
Dominick Stephens. Photo / RNZ

Westpac chief economist Dominick Stephens said while the economy was going to take "a massive hit", New Zealand was well-positioned to take advantage of a recovery in China, as it emerged from lockdown.

"I'm absolutely certain that primary producers in New Zealand are going to experience a shock to the prices they receive," he said.

"It just won't be as severe as the likes of the tourism industry, because we'll continue to export goods to China."

Stephens sees a GDP fall in excess of 10 per cent in the second quarter, and more than 200,000 jobs being lost.

Advertisement

"It could mean an unemployment rate above 10 per cent," he said.

Businesses selling products over the internet would have some insulation against the economic shock and online commerce could grow intensely even after the crisis was over, Stephens said.

"What you do tend to find during this type of event is that trends that were already in place tend to get accelerated.

Donald Trump continues to predict swift victory over coronavirus as US cases soar and deaths continue to rise. Video / CNN

"So commerce was already moving online - what we might get is three years of that trend all happening in a single month. And it will never reverse."

All four economists spoken to by RNZ praised the Government's actions in responding to the immense challenges for the economy and for public health.

Eaqub said that without a lockdown, the number of deaths in the worst-case scenario outlined by the Government would have a financial cost of about $150 billion - or half of GDP.

Advertisement

"I think that frames it in terms of just how big the potential downside is and that is not a scenario we should even contemplate," he said.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

"We should not let this disease kill our friends, families, parents and grandparents. It's just not an acceptable alternative."