New Zealand policy makers in the dark after quake upends stats bureau

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 30, 2016 10:38 PM

By Swati Pandey

Wellington (Reuters) - New Zealand policy makers are flying blind as the nation's statistics agency struggles to restore the flow of vital economic data more than two weeks after a major earthquake battered its Wellington base.

Statistics New Zealand has been forced to delay a raft of releases after the 7.5 magnitude earthquake rocked the South Pacific island nation on Nov. 14. The deadly tremor damaged roads and buildings, and disrupted communication lines for days.

Its current calendar is under review with economists clueless whether it will release as scheduled crucial trade and gross domestic product data, due in about two weeks.

On Thursday, it released statistics on the country's terms of trade but the seasonally adjusted figures which policy makers focus on were still not available.

Shane Oliver, chief economist at AMP Capital, said the delay and partial information release had made it harder to analyze the NZ$250 billion economy.

"The Stats office is between a rock and a hard place. They cannot put out a data that's unreliable but if you don't release the data you don't know what's happening in the economy anyway."

Statistics NZ has reiterated that it will push out the complete suite of economic figures once its systems are back up, but has not given a time frame.

It has put off the release of value of building work done and goods and services trade, which were both due on Dec. 2, and has yet to update its calendar for next week.

"We have not lost any data but a number of our systems need to be brought back up to restore all our services," the agency said in an email.

Some of its 500 or so staff have been moved to a temporary office in Wellington, while more will move into other floors in the same building over coming weeks.

"It's still up in the air whether they'll be able to get GDP data on time," said Philip Borkin, senior economist at ANZ. "It's whether data can be collected and collated."

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While the disruption makes it difficult to take the pulse of the economy, it has come at a time when the central bank was already on hold on interest rates after cutting to a record low 1.75 percent last month.

"The situation would have been different if you are approaching a central bank meeting that's a conscientious one, for example," said JP Morgan economist Ben Jarman.

"We are going into a period where the central bank is on holiday anyway. And presumably by the time they come back in the New Year, things would be back on line."

(Reporting by Swati Pandey; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)