Economy okay but fine tuning a good idea

00:45, Aug 19 2014

Memo to politicians: As you were.

There are no big surprises in today's opening of the books that should cause political parties to panic into major changes to their election campaign plans - though a bit of fine-tuning might be in order.

The growth outlook is slightly softer and the size of the next surplus is less than $100 million lower than tipped in the May Budget.

But in essence nothing is significantly less affordable or riskier today than it was yesterday, based on the numbers in the pre-election economic and fiscal update.

Nor on first blush is there any sign the Government has to scramble to cut spending to preserve its short-term surplus forecast.

The small deterioration in the outlook lowers Finance Minister Bill English's talisman surplus from $372m to $297m in 2014/15 and $500m is sliced off forecast surplus each year from 2016 to 2018. That ought to be small enough not to significantly harm the campaign platforms already being rolled out, although Labour had earlier signalled it would trim its spending plans if necessary.

It also leaves hope alive in National that it will be able to achieve a small tax-cut programme "when there is room to do so" as English put it.

Treasury does, though, note an easing in housing demand with price increases falling from 10 per cent in 2013 to 6.2 per cent and sales down 14 per cent from a year ago. That could potentially take some heat out of a key election battleground.

But residential building, especially in Christchurch, remains the major engine of growth.

Growth is slightly softer at 3.8 per cent against 4 per cent in the Budget, but otherwise the outlook is little changed with growth falling to just over 2 per cent by 2017.

Because of the weaker outlook cash deficits now run for another year until 2019, before nominal debt can start to be reduced.

The update notes that the final fiscal impact of the earthquake rebuild remains uncertain. The latest estimate of the cost to the Government is $15.8b, up $400m on the Budget estimate.

If there are any concerns they are tucked away in the fiscal risks and alternative economic scenarios Treasury has covered.

The biggest internationally is a fall in demand from China. Domestically it is the pace and cost of the Canterbury earthquake rebuild, which will be updated in December, the level of immigration and householders' reaction to higher interest rates.

But they are mostly slow burners that will change little between now and September 20.