Why New Zealand is the new Ireland

New Zealand's economy has been the subject of plenty of hype lately, but some say a reality check is coming, and it's going to hurt.

New Zealand is "like Ireland in 2007" and it's only a matter of time before its currency takes a hit according to one analyst.

Stephen Jen, a partner at London-based hedge fund SLJ Macro Partners and former IMF official, said that while "the case for kiwi seems compelling," the reality is "quite different".

"New Zealand has severe structural weaknesses that are very similar to those of crisis-hit Southern European and Southern emerging-market economies. The Kiwi may be 20 per cent overvalued," Jen and colleague Fatih Yilmaz wrote in a research note.

At US83.42¢ (99.53¢) yesterday, the New Zealand dollar is trading about US5¢ below a post-float record against the greenback and reached an eight-year high of A95.3¢ ($1.03) last month.

NZ's central bank has signaled it will become one of the first in the developed world to start raising interest rates this year as the economy gathers pace and inflation pressures mount, with economists and investors forecasting a hike as soon as next month.

New Zealand's economic growth will accelerate to 4.2 per cent this year, Westpac predicted this week, propelled by the $40 billion rebuild of earthquake-damaged Christchurch and record-high terms of trade. Westpac expects the currency to stay above US80¢ and A93¢ this year.

'Easy' story

"It's easy to tell a good story for kiwi," Jen and Yilmaz wrote.

"The economy has high growth, high terms of trade, and the currency is high-yielding. However, the case for kiwi is, in our view, much less persuasive."

They said New Zealand's economy resembles those in Europe and the emerging market just before they were engulfed by crisis - "a growth model based on debt and credit, low savings rates, and current-account deficits."

Ireland went from Celtic tiger to European debt-crisis victim, requesting a €67.5 billion bailout in November 2010 when the near-collapse of its banks meant bond markets were shut to the country.

New Zealand runs a relatively high current-account deficit and its economy has a "fragile core," making it susceptible to external shocks such as slowing growth in China and the Federal Reserve's withdrawal of monetary stimulus, the analysts wrote.

'Grossly exaggerated'

The impact of improved terms of trade on the kiwi has been "grossly exaggerated," Jen and Yilmaz said.

"New Zealand's terms of trade improvement is significantly lower and less impressive than that seen in Australia."

The analysts also said facts don't support the image of New Zealand as an agriculture-based economy dominated by dairy, with agriculture accounting for only 5 per cent of the country's total gross domestic product.

"In sum, while there may be some temporary cyclical factors that may be supportive of the kiwi, there are serious structural demerits that will one day weigh on the kiwi," they said.

"From a medium-term perspective, we see considerable downside to the kiwi dollar, in contrast to the overwhelmingly positive prevailing view in the markets."

Sydney Morning Herald