18 Apr 2023

Recession to be deeper, longer than expected, ASB bank predicts

2:05 pm on 18 April 2023
Money loss, Business concept. Gold coin stacks. Finance down with world map and cityscape background.

"We expect rising living costs to add around $150 a week to household spending this year," ASB's Nick Tuffley said. Photo: 123RF

The potential recession could be deeper and more prolonged than previously thought, with the economy forecast to contract at levels last seen during the global financial crisis (GFC).

ASB predicted the economy would contract about 2 percent by early next year - that's more than half the decline seen during the GFC - as living costs outstrip wage growth for many households.

Chief economist Nick Tuffley said if the country was not already in a recession, it appeared to be heading that way, with stubbornly high inflation and a drum-tight labour market.

He said it was going to be a tough year for many, with the cost of living unlikely to ease until early next year.

"Things have overheated, and the stimulus to get us through the pandemic has been arguably too successful at keeping the economy running along, so now we're feeling the effects of that and the economy being stretched," he said.

"We expect rising living costs to add around $150 a week to household spending this year, and income growth is not likely to keep pace with this, despite another year of strong wage growth.

"Overall, we're going to have to endure a year of things cooling down and that putting a bit of pressure on finances, so people will be putting away their wallets for a period and reining in their spending."

Tuffley said home borrowers and those with higher debt levels would disproportionately feel the brunt of the downturn, with inflation expected to remain above 7 percent for the first half of this year.

Consumer habits have been changing over the past year: retail spending has been falling and people are more likely to spend on experiences, such as concerts and travel, rather than durable goods and furniture as they did during lockdowns.

"The continuing tourism recovery is another positive," he said.

"We're back to about two-thirds of pre-pandemic visitor numbers to New Zealand and there's still some scope for markets like China to recover, so that's really going to help our tourism and entertainment businesses, although we expect labour shortages to hamper growth."

Tuffley expected the Reserve Bank would be in a position to start gradually pulling interest rates down to a more neutral level in the first half of 2024, the equivalent of monetary rehydration, he said.

Before then, he expected house prices would continue to decline, with a 25 percent peak-to-trough fall forecast.

House prices were already down about 16 percent in most centres, and over 20 percent in Auckland and Wellington, he said.

Infometrics chief economist Brad Olson said the country was definitely on a collision course with a recession, but that he was more optimistic about where the economy was heading.

"It's not going to be an easy ride, but certainly there will be very different outcomes with New Zealand's economy over the next year, depending on what sort of household you are and where you are in the country."

Economic resilience seen in the last few years, particularly from regional New Zealand, gave cause for hope, but inflation remained stubbornly high, he said.

Infometrics expects inflation, when the figures are announced for the first quarter later this week, will come in at 7.2 percent on an annual basis, he added.

"That's still near a generational high, and highlights that again, households are feeling the pinch, no matter what they're going to buy in the shops at the moment, that has got to go away, and the Reserve Bank to try and achieve that is having to put a lot more pressure on the economy.

"The fact that we still haven't got inflation under control does and make everyone in the economics arena a lot more nervous and fearful about just how much more work has to be done to try and drag the economy into a more sustainable position.

"I say that because we saw the Reserve Bank recently have to make a further 50 basis point increase the official cash rate more than any forecaster was expecting, and we haven't seen that movement.

"We've now seen annual inflation remain at or above 7 percent for nearly an entire year, and again, we expect those figures to remain that way."

He said in other parts of the world like the US or Australia, inflation had started to curb, and expected to see the economic pain for communities last into 2024.

"We've done a lot of the heavy lifting with those higher interest rates, we don't think there's a lot more to go... Throughout 2023 New Zealand households will be spending more on their mortgage, and therefore not be able to spend as much in the economy, and that should bring down the temperature of the economy enough to try and arrest inflation and bring it back under control.

"That will hurt continuously throughout the rest of 2023 and until 2024."

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