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Latest news & views from market economics / April 2020

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Insights on Covid-19 #1

Covid-19 Population Implications?

Market Economics has been examining a number of aspects of Covid-19, including how impacts are likely to be shared among sectors, and across regions. In this article we provide initial comments on population implications.

Understanding the population in an area is a fundamental step in economic modelling and planning. Population and demographic projections are widely used by councils, government and private organisations to plan their operations and guide decision making. Working with population projection and demographic data is a key component of our work across New Zealand. So, it is a core issue for us and our clients to understand the potential implications of Covid-19 to the population, today and in the future.

Modelling population outcomes is even more important at the moment as there is likely to be a delay in official information available from Statistics New Zealand, as well as recognised quality issues with Census 2018. Currently the most recent official population projection sets are still based on Census 2013, which were to be updated and released mid-2020. That release timing is looking increasingly challenging given the impacts of Covid19 on top of the quality issues of Census 2018. This highlights the importance of reliable data from which to plan for changes in the population.

We will be working to update our population and household models to include the effects of Covid-19. From first principles, we can already offer some generic comments on the key drivers of population change, that is mortality, fertility, international migration and internal migration.

First, it is clear that Covid-19 is likely to have some implications for mortality rates in the short and potentially long terms. The choice to move early to Level 4 on the 25th of March seems likely to result in much lower rates of infections than had that implementation been delayed, and mortality may not be significant in New Zealand. It seems increasingly unlikely that New Zealand will follow the infection paths shown in Italy, USA, or other nations that were slower to respond. That said, while the number of deaths in Italy and elsewhere is tragic, the Italian death rate equates to 0.023% of the total population to date. Longer term, unless a vaccine is forthcoming, population projections would need to be updated to include new mortality rates. In the short term, while we may keep the number of fatalities relatively low, the impacts are likely to be felt more acutely in locations that have higher presence of older residents, at risk groups and fewer healthcare facilities (i.e. rural areas and disadvantaged urban areas). Also, other fatalities are likely to reduce, especially road and workplace deaths.

Second, on the brighter side, the lockdown may result in a small baby boom. Some commentators have noted that people have more time on their (carefully washed) hands, which could result in a higher fertility rate over the coming months. There is a reported shortage of contraception, with Pharmac rationing both male and female contraception. However, while there may be such a baby boom, the effects are likely to be relatively small, with little consequence to the future population of New Zealand.

The third effect, on international migration, is larger. The closing of borders to all non-domestic migrants and official advice that New Zealanders should return has effectively stopped international migration. The inflow of international migrants is a significant driver of population growth for New Zealand. Until recently the net inflow of migrants has exceeded 56,000 people per annum, a large net inflow of internationals (+62,000) more than offsetting the small net outflow of New Zealanders (-6,000). While there will be (limited) repatriation flows in and out, the net migration is expected to be effectively zero in the short term. Inflows are also likely to be constrained in the medium and possibly longer term, particularly if New Zealand is effectively free of Covid-19 and other nations are not. This change in population flows will have a material impact on population growth, and short-term population projections will need to be updated to include the migration changes.

Fourth, there may also be changes in internal migration. Some residents may delay plans to move. More significantly, employment opportunities are a key driver of migration, and these will be affected especially by the economic effects of Covid-19 and the lockdown, and the reduction of international migration which will redistribute employment opportunities, and result in changes to the available workforce. Key examples are harder hit sectors like tourism and hospitality which are more significant in Queenstown and other South Island locations, and the primary sector which has a considerable overseas workforce in both horticulture and pastoral farming, including many on shorter-stay visas. These changes are likely to play out across the next 6-18 months, as effects cumulate.

The size and distribution of our populations will drive major decisions about future infrastructure, funding (health/schools), services (libraries, pools, etc), taxes (rates, DC). The challenges from Census 2018 will be compounded by the effects of Covid-19, and Market Economics will be working with public and private sector clients to develop updated population projections to take these into account, especially its impacts on employment opportunities and the workforce.

Meanwhile, please stay healthy and safe in your bubbles.

Rodney Yeoman and Douglas Fairgray


   
 

Market Economics Ltd
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Takapuna 0740, Auckland, NZ
www.me.co.nz

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