CORRESPONDENT,with Patrick O'Meara

6:40 pm on 29 April 2014

New Zealand has been called the rock star economy, a phrase coined in January by investment bank HSBC. Its Sydney-based chief economist Paul Bloxham predicted New Zealand's economy would outperform most developed nations this year, led by the Canterbury rebuild and robust global dairy prices.

Activity is certainly picking up pace. The Reserve Bank estimates the economy grew 3.5 percent in the March year. On that basis alone, New Zealand could be considered the Mick Jagger or Bono of rich nations.

Of course, this needs to be put into perspective: many developed countries are still struggling to fix their economies six years on from the global financial crisis. And we should remember that New Zealand actually grew faster in the early 2000s.

Still, like any successful rock star, New Zealand's output appeals to a wide global audience.

For instance, while growth will be driven mainly by rebuilding Christchurch, it's China's growing middle class and their insatiable appetite for meat and dairy products that are setting the foundation for a sustainable economic future. This is one reason why global investors love the New Zealand dollar.

Yet, most experts appear uncomfortable with the rock star moniker. The Treasury's chief economist, Girol Karacoaglu, was loath to describe the economy in such glowing terms at a parliamentary select committee in January. Even in an election year, the furthest Finance Minister Bill English was prepared to go when the economy grew 3.1 percent in 2103 was say it's "on the right track". Less Bono and Jagger then, and more like the steady performers in their bands, the drummers Larry Mullins and Charlie Watts?

Indeed, Mr English clearly stated why he's not getting over-excited. He noted "… we still have plenty of work ahead of us to ensure these positive indicators are translated into real opportunities and progress for New Zealanders and their families." Read this to mean we need more jobs and higher wages.

Certainly, any evidence that New Zealanders are enjoying a rock star income is thin on the ground. The latest data found wages grew at their slowest pace in more than 13 years and only half of employees received a pay rise. Mr English predicts better wage growth this year. Many workers will hope so too.

But if there's one rock star curse New Zealand will be hoping to avoid, it's the accidental overdose.

American analyst Jesse Columbo warns the county's economy is on the cusp of collapsing, led by a housing bubble. Is New Zealand set for an untimely fall like Jimi Hendrix?

While the housing market is vulnerable in the event of another global downturn, a disaster appears unlikely.

The Reserve Bank has already taken steps to take the heat out of the market through lending restrictions. Higher interest rates will slow the market further. The Government's books are also in relatively good shape, with net debt set to peak below 30 percent of GDP. Britain's is over 70 percent the United States 100 percent and Ireland 120 percent.

So, an OD doesn't appear on the cards. Nevertheless, describing the economy in health terms appears a better analogy. Right now it's in good health, though there are signs of inflation pressure for which the Reserve Bank has prescribed interest rates hikes.

Is that good enough? No. Growth in New Zealand has tended to come in fits and starts. And despite assiduously adopting the policies advocated by the OCED and IMF, New Zealand remains a puzzle of low growth and low wages.

Politicians of all stripes will get their chance in September to convince voters they have the prescription that will bring about the high growth, high wage economy that has eluded New Zealand.

If they can actually do it, then New Zealand would truly deserve the title of a rock star economy.