Editorial: The sun rises in the south

Last updated 05:00 21/12/2013

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OPINION: Here in the south we are proud to say that the sun shines for longer. And so it does, especially today, the summer solstice.

But today the sun seems to be shining brighter too. A slew of economic reports in the past week or two have shown an ever-sunnier view ahead for New Zealand, and especially Otago and Southland.

Business New Zealand's latest surveys of services and manufacturing sectors showed strong expansion under way across the country but with stellar scores Otago-Southland region far eclipsing all other regions. In Westpac's survey of regional economic confidence Southland scored second highest.

And just on Tuesday The Southland Times reported that the latest figures from Paymark - the company that processes most of the nation's electronic transactions - show Southlanders' December spending up 7.3 per cent on last year. Looks like some of us will be having an extra-merry Christmas.

It is not hard to pick the source of the extra optimism here in the south. Take a bow, Mrs Cow.

Bill English even joined in the sunshine show with an unusual appearance as Santa Claus, or at least as one of the less ebullient elves. Releasing the December Economic and Fiscal Update on Tuesday he grudgingly admitted that after years of tight belts, a small cup cake could be permitted. Only a small one though, we wouldn't want to get indigestion would we?

The forecast surplus in the Government's accounts for 2014-5 remains tiny at $86 million. But considering the eye-watering $18 billion plus deficit recorded in the 2010-11 year that's some achievement.

Treasury is forecasting economic growth next year of 3.6 per cent.

Barely a day later Statistics NZ announced that a 17 per cent surge in agricultural production had helped growth to hit 3.5 per cent already. Higher than Australia.

We can laugh at that, but it should be remembered that it is not unusual for New Zealand to grow faster than Australia, or even beat them at cricket. The problem is that it always proves a one-off. While the Kiwi economy puts on bursts of speed, the Aussie trucks along steadily and just like the fabled tortoise, wins the race.

Just as on the rugby field, the champion team is the one that performs consistently, week-in, week-out, not the one that plays the occasional blinder, then falls apart a week later. Graphs of New Zealand's growth rate tend to be too much like Fiordland's landscape: leaping and plunging in a fashion adventure tourism operators might appreciate but stolid Southlanders should not.

In the past, the attitude of both individuals and Governments has all too often been "Great! Crisis over. Lets go back to the bad habits that created it."

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We still carry too much debt. We continue to run nasty current account deficits. And the evidence is that Aucklanders at least have not yet cured their mania for property bubbles.

It is easy to go on a diet, to quit smoking, to start saving for the future. The harder part is to keep doing it. The reward for losing a kilogram is a cream cake. And all too quickly, the old habits return.

The secret to sustained economic success is not a bottle of miracle oil, or a lucky puff of the economic trade winds. It is discipline and perseverance.

Solid southern men and women know that. We should set an example for those northerly types: eat the cupcake, but sell the cream.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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