It's my fault. I should be more careful with my words.

A Herald Focus viewer watched me talking about ASB's Regional Economic Scorecard last week. The research showed Auckland economic growth slowing relative to regions.

I noted this was probably a good thing as long as Auckland's property didn't actually crash - which it has had a tendency to do in past economic cycles.

"You also mentioned crash 'quite a few times' and this always leads to people thinking the worst," my interested viewer wrote.


"So ... do you think we are on the brink of a crash? It's a trillion-dollar question I know."

It sure is. It would have been much easier if she asked me simply: will the market crash?

Of course it will, it always does eventually. History suggests that after eight or nine years of solid growth, for both the property and stock market, we are firmly in the second half of the economic cycle - that is, closer to the next downturn than the last one.

But are we on the brink of a crash?

I don't think so.

I am deeply suspicious of anyone who thinks they can call the timing of a crash.

We often see experts touted to the media who claim they accurately predicted the 2008 financial crisis, or the bubble or some similar market meltdown.

They may well have made a good call in advance but it doesn't make them gurus.


There are always people warning us about the risk of a crash. Eventually some are right.

Crashes are dramatic points in time, so picking there will be one tends to look more prescient than picking there won't be one.

Meanwhile, money is getting made every day by optimists with the confidence to invest on the expectation the market has life in it yet.

Averaged over time they win, otherwise we'd all have our money in the bank or under our mattress.

Professional investors know this.

The opportunity cost of moving to a defensive position too early can make you look sillier than getting caught with the herd in a crash.

To put it another way, consider my options as an economic commentator.

Predicting a crash is a far safer call.

If I write with confidence the market is about to crash and at any stage in the next few months it does, I'll look like a genius. If it doesn't, then the whole thing will be a non-event. Most people won't notice because there is not much news value in things not crashing.

If I write with confidence that there won't be crash and there is, I'll look like an idiot.

But there's no upside. If the market keeps chugging along it's a non-event and most people won't notice my call.

I'm not suggesting the negative bias of commentators is really that conscious.

There are other reasons for a gloomy outlook - like grabbing headlines.

Capitalism exists in a constantly imperfect state. The conditions for a crash are ever present.

And they are generally the more interesting bits - reckless risk taking, excessive borrowing, greed, fear, corruption and fraud.

Shakespeare didn't get famous writing about people with stable happy lives. So, too, the media exhibits a bias towards drama which - despite occasional tales of heroism and inspiration - tends to be pretty dark.

There's no doubt that Auckland's property market is flat lining now. It has been for about six or seven months.

Likewise, the NZX-50 has been tracking sideways for weeks.

Neither of these trends are particularly dramatic. And that's a good thing for investors.

It gives company earnings to catch up with company valuations.

It gives those looking to buy their first home more time to save a deposit and a half chance at finding a bargain.

In theory these slowdowns are letting the hot air out of the market bubble.

The only trouble is we still don't know what happens next.

If we look at the fundamentals underpinning both markets they remain strong. It seems likely that new Loan to Value Ratio (LVR) rules, tougher bank lending practices and (some in the industry say) a drop off in direct investment out of the People's Republic of China seems to have knocked the top off the housing market.

But we know Auckland's housing supply is still well behind the demand created by population growth.

Unless we face some kind of funding crisis as we saw in 2008 the most likely scenario is that prices will start to tick up again slowly come spring.

The New Zealand stock market outperformed the rest of the world for a couple of years as global investors fed up with low bank rates took advantage of our relatively cheap dividend stocks.

As the US economy improves and interest rates start to rise that trend has reversed.

Again, we've seen the top knocked off the market.

But as long as global markets and the local economy are strong it seems likely the NZX will tick back into growth territory.

These are the logical assumptions.

Or ... we could get a fresh external shock from out of the blue and it could all come crashing down.

Just remember - whether it's a crash, another boom or just a long slow sideways slide - you read it here first.