21 Sep 2011

$10b shaved off NZ debt

7:47 pm on 21 September 2011

New figures show New Zealand is not as deep in debt as previously thought.

Changes to methods used by Statistics New Zealand have shaved $10 billion off the country's net debt.

The government's statistician has included student loans of New Zealanders living abroad and Australian shares owned by trusts as assets for the first time.

The country's net debt still managed to rise by $4 billion in the three months to June to $140 billion.

ANZ economist Khoon Goh says the country's overall debt - at 70% of gross domestic product - is still very high.

Council of Trade Unions economist Bill Rosenberg says the revisions prove that New Zealand's indebtness has been overplayed in the past.

However, Mr Rosenberg says more needs to be done to stem the outflow of money overseas in profits paid to foreigners and interest on debt.

Current-account deficit widens

The current-account deficit has widened because of higher profits earned in New Zealand by foreign-owned companies.

Statistics New Zealand figures show that the seasonally adjusted deficit for the three months to June was $2 billion - $500 million more than in the previous quarter.

The improving economy helped to lift earnings for foreign investors, creating a larger investment income deficit, which makes up the bulk of the shortfall.

Higher commodity prices helped the goods side of the ledger, while weaker tourist numbers due to earthquakes and the high New Zealand dollar dragged down income from services.

The annual current-account deficit has more than doubled in 15 months.

In the year to March 2010 it stood at $3.5 billion, as local profits paid to foreigners slumped and New Zealanders bought fewer goods from overseas.

But Statistics New Zealand says the profit recovery coupled with rising imports has pushed the deficit up in every quarter since. At the end of June it was a seasonally adjusted $7.5 billion, or 3.7% of GDP.