INDEPENDENT NEWS

Manufacturers: Candle in the Wind?

Published: Wed 14 Dec 2005 03:06 PM
Candle in the Wind?
It may be Christmas, but for many companies it is not a happy time. Companies are facing more challenges than they can cope with. The ability to cope is complex, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. What is important to one may not matter to another and what matters today may not matter tomorrow. So in both type and time there is no ‘off-the-peg’ fix.
We have seen capital flows outstrip trade flows in terms of exchange rate impacts. Trading banks borrow offshore to satisfy local borrowing demands to enable the purchase of yet more property. For over a year and half commentators have been saying the currency must fall soon – when? The headache is worsening for New Zealand exporters as the local market comes under pressure from low cost countries off the back of an overvalued currency.
The risk for small to medium sized, elaborately transformed manufacturers in New Zealand is now in the “far to risky to bother” zone. This increasing risk has massive consequences for the productivity of the New Zealand economy in the long run.
Convention suggests nothing can be done, capital and trade does what it will and there is next to nothing a small nation can do about it. If this is the case then we really are a ‘candle in the wind’.
It might be regulators can do nothing about global flows of capital and trade but they can change local policy, for example, taxation support for companies committed to research and development, early stage investment in start up companies or faster depreciation rates on productive plant. This could help relieve the worst impacts of the volatility of the New Zealand dollar.
Other policies might change the demand for debt, the most obvious issue in this area would be tax on capital gain and correct some of the imbalances in the economy. What is it New Zealand knows that the majority of OECD countries, who have capital gains tax, doesn’t know? Until New Zealand can get a grip on these issues, increases in labour productivity will not fix the problem. One local manufacturer invested to increase throughput from 1200 to 5000 units per person over four years, only to see returns decimated by the exchange rate over the same period. Is it worth the risk? Would you invest in such circumstances? More and more manufacturers are saying ‘no’ and the productivity of the New Zealand economy will suffer as a result.

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