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Inflation Risk In NZ

As I approach retirement, inflation (which was formerly my friend) is becoming my foe. While saving for retirement I’ve used cheap debt (mortgages) to fund various investments which have returned higher rates than the cost of the debt. Essentially I’ve leveraged the bank’s money to profit, rather than my own (comparatively pitiful) savings. This has had a two-fold benefit over the years. Firstly it has enabled me to get rich from someone else’s money, and secondly inflation has made the cost of my debt lower as time goes by. For example, a $240k mortgage to buy a $300k house 10 years ago isn’t much when the house is now worth $1m and my salary is double what it was.

Unfortunately inflation is the enemy of the retired. The value of the savings a retiree has are eroded by inflation. So as a “young” retiree (I’ll be nearly 40 when I retire next year) my retirement strategy will have to consider inflation. Whilst my strategy does consider inflation (I plan to have a component of my income to cover my costs and another component to grow), recently proposed political policies have made me concerned. Specifically I’m concerned that inflation may not be evenly spread across all asset classes, which creates risk to business (and therefore potentially my investments) and risk to my future living costs / lifestyle choices. I’m also concerned that inflation may be greater than the growth on my income.

It’s important to be aware of inflation whether you’re retired, planning retirement or currently investing because it will probably affect your strategy / opportunities.

Lewis Hurst

Let’s look at the inflation risks that are present in the current economic and political environment (existing policies put in place by the current government are in darker text, while policies proposed in the recent Climate Change Report are accented in a lighter colour. As I’m an opinionated fellow, I couldn’t help adding my opinion of the policy, but I’ve put this in italic so you’re free to ignore the italic text if you wish):

  • Increased minimum wage. This should cause general inflation as people have more money to spend, which creates increased demand and an ability to pay more for any particular goods or services. It has been hypothesized by economists that distributing more money amongst the poorest of the populace is the best way to spur an economy as all the extra money gets spent, vs. more affluent people who may save some of the additional money.
    At the time I thought this was a bad policy because the inflation would cancel the some of the gains, and therefore there are better ways to achieve what the policy set out to achieve. Additionally the policy was risky because it could put many businesses out of business. The policy also came at a really bad time with COVID19. However, after the policy was implemented, most businesses seemed to be able to handle the new costs, so it was probably the right thing to do (although I think there was a lot of luck in the success of this policy).
  • Quantitative Easing (QE, AKA Printing Money). There is currently a massive amount of QE going on in NZ and around the world. Both QE and increasing the minimum wage are policies that create general inflation.
    I believe that Western countries around the world have been using QE in a battle to reduce the value of their currency, in order to make themselves more competitive exporters and at the same time deflating their debt with the inflation that goes along with QE.
  • Banning oil exploration. This policy is inflationary because it reduces supply of oil, which therefore pushes the price up.
    I believe that this is another of Labour’s policies that does the opposite of what was intended because it doesn’t reduce demand, so demand will just be fulfilled from oil imports – which will create more strain on the environment as extra fuel is used to import the fuel. The argument for the policy was to create strain on the market to produce motors that use alternative fuel sources, but as NZ has no such motor industry, will import the fuel anyway, and is too small to influence foreign motor industries, I believe that no such technology will emerge from this change. Again, there are better ways to achieve what this policy set out to achieve.
  • KiwiBuild. This policy is inflationary because builders were attracted away from the NZ private sector (who would have otherwise been building houses) to build houses for the government. This inflates the price of builders as it creates extra demand, while at the same time not increasing supply as those builders would have otherwise been fulfilling private demand for housing. Increasing the cost of builders makes new housing more expensive.
    Additionally the government bought houses from the private sector for political reasons, so they could tout the success of the failing build rate of the KiwiBuild policy. This temporarily inflates the price of housing because it creates temporary extra demand as the private sector bids for housing against the government.
    Another Labour policy that did the opposite of what it was intended to do, whilst at the same time adding inefficiency into the market in terms of admin cost, and in the case of houses that were built as part of the KiwiBuild policy, placing houses where people didn’t want them – further increasing house prices due to an effective reduction of supply due to lack of housing in areas that required it.
  • Reducing the amount of dairy cows to reduce methane emissions. This will reduce the supply of meat, which will inflate the price.
    I imagine it would be better to put restrictions on the thing they are trying to regulate (the emissions) rather than the thing creating the emissions. That way the free market can find the best way to reduce emissions, leaving the reduction of herds as a last resort.
    There is talk suggesting that NZ dairy farms have lower emissions than foreign farms. If this is true, this will be another Labour policy that does the opposite of what it intends, because demand for dairy will not decrease, so foreign supply will fill the gap, resulting in an over all increase in emissions.
  • Phasing out natural gas. This will decrease the supply of energy, increasing the demand on other sources such as green electricity. Probably a good thing, but this will cause inflation in the price of alternative sources as supply decreases.
  • Ban the importing of cars with combustion engines. Again, reducing supply increases prices.

Regardless of political views, these policies are inflationary. Having a quick look at the list, it seems that existing policies are generally inflationary, with a leaning towards inflating transport and housing; while proposed policies could cause inflation in food, energy and transport.

To summarize my position, as I intend to get part of my income from rental income, NZX.SUM, NZX.SCL and gentailers, I only have transport costs to worry about. Still, with all this additional inflation, I may need to ensure that the growth rate of my income is more heavily weighted. This means that I may need more money to be able to retire safely. As usual, I’ll be playing it by ear, and evolving my strategy to my situation as it changes.

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