NZ appeals to long-term migrants

BNZ chief economist Tony Alexander
BNZ chief economist Tony Alexander

I'm writing this week's column while sitting in the BNZ branch in Westport on the West Coast of the South Island having yesterday morning finished walking the Heaphy Track and then spending the night in lovely Karamea at the Last Resort motel, writes Tony Alexander.

The flight back to Wellington doesn't leave until 5.40pm so it is good to have somewhere to while away the time and, having arranged for my PC to be sent here from Nelson, it is good to get a few days worth of accumulated emails out of the way.

I've walked the Heaphy Track three times before and have always done it in winter to avoid the crowds. I can't stand tramping huts filled with people, be they locals or foreigners - it takes away from one of the experiences of tramping - enjoying the peace and quiet not just of the bush but of a little house with no electricity, no TV, no radio even.

I love spending time on the West Coast where there are so many nature-oriented things to do. Speaking of visiting here, I have a theory not about foreigners visiting but about foreigners coming to New Zealand to live permanently. I think we are going to see a lot more of them in the coming three years.

Since late 2009 after our migration numbers got a boost from a sharp drop in the number of Kiwis shifting overseas, our net migration numbers have largely been deteriorating. Whereas in the year to January 2010 we enjoyed a net gain of almost 23,000 people, in April this year the net change was a loss of 4006. But things are starting to turn. In seasonally adjusted terms net flows have been positive for three of the past four months and the annual loss fell to 3191 for the year to June.

The main thing changing appears to be an increase in the number of people coming here.

Since late 2009 a lot of people who were thinking of shifting to New Zealand have not done so because of weakness in their housing equity and a sharp climb in the New Zealand dollar. But more people now realise the strength in the New Zealand dollar against the greenback, British pound and euro is a long-term thing. In addition, expectations for a quick end to hard times in Europe in particular but the United States also to some extent have gone out the window. That means a lot of people are probably thinking more in terms of where would be a good place to bring up their children.

For the coming 1-3 years this probable rise in long-term migrants to our shores will be clouded by the obvious increase to be caused by builders coming in to work in Christchurch. But for regions outside Christchurch my message is this. Don't think in the next three years that people shifting here will be interested only in Christchurch.

Many will be open to the idea of living in Southland, Otago, the West Coast, Nelson and, of course, the North Island even though its scenery is quite boring compared with the beauty of my home island.

Tony Alexander is chief economist at the BNZ.

The Southland Times