Migration fall tipped to hit home boom
5:00AM Wednesday March 21, 2007
By Brian Fallow
New Zealand Herald
The net inflow of migrants dwindled to 520 last month, a possible early signal of weaker economic growth and a more subdued housing market ahead.
It was the second consecutive month in which net immigration, seasonally adjusted, was weak. In January it was 410. These figures contrast with an average monthly inflow of 1235 over the past year.
The annual tally, unadjusted for seasonal effects, was 13,151 which is in line with Reserve Bank expectations.
But the net inflow for the past three months, if sustained for a year, would be under 8000, which would make it the weakest since the three net outflow years around the turn of the century.
But economists are reluctant to proclaim a turning point in the trend on the strength of two weak months.
They point to an emerging disparity between the permanent and long-term (PLT) migration figures, which reflect what people put on their arrival or departure cards at the airports, and the net flow of all departures and arrivals, including short-term ones.
The total net inflow was 19,890 in the year to February – half as large again as the PLT inflow.
Normally they track closely together, as the short-term flows reverse, but lately the total net inflow has been stronger than the PLT one.
“We think it quite possible this reflects 'category hopping', that is, people who arrive with the intention of staying short-term but who find a job and apply for residency onshore,” said Deutsche Bank chief economist Darren Gibbs.
“If so this suggests more upward pressure than a focus on the permanent and long-term arrivals alone might indicate.”
Goldman Sachs JB Were economist Shamubeel Eaqub said if a trend of slowing arrivals and rising departures persisted, the demographic support to a moderately soft landing for the economy would be at risk.
Over the year to last September the GDP growth of 1.3 per cent was largely due to population growth, he said. Per capita GDP grew only 0.2 per cent.
Data from the Immigration Service suggested visa issuance is likely to have peaked late last year, Eaqub said, and has been moderating across all categories: work, residence and student visas.
“A downturn in net migration would have the most direct and immediate impact on housing – construction and property turnover – with amplified impacts on consumption and the broader economy further down the track.”
For the year ended February 48,889 New Zealanders left, intending to stay away for at least a year, the largest outflow for five years, while the 23,764 who returned, having been overseas for at least a year, was the smallest number for six years.
The net inflow of non-New Zealand citizens, at 38,276, was the strongest for three years.
More by Brian Fallow
Email Brian Fallow