Monday, May 31, 2010

Inflation makes savers the biggest Budget losers

There's been a lot of discussion about the inflationary effects of the GST increase since the Budget, but everyone is looking in the wrong direction. They're talking about consumers and interest rates and ignoring savers who are taking the biggest hit.

Labour is pointing to the combined effect of the GST hike, increased power and petrol prices from the Emissions Trading Scheme, and increased ACC levies as a sign the Government is increasing taxes and making consumers poorer. Even the Treasury is forecasting annual inflation will hit 5.9 per cent in 2011.

The Government responds it has structured the income tax cuts and various top-ups to ensure both middle and lower income earners are not disadvantaged.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Property pundits at odds over Budget

A property seminar promoter says the Budget will not force out landlords and drive down house prices.

Arron Davis, who runs Investments and Projects, disagrees with SuburbWatch's Kieran Trass who predicts house prices will fall 5 to 10 per cent in the next year.

Trass told Campbell Live moves in the Budget would be extremely detrimental to investment housing.

His prediction is based partly on the loss of the depreciation tax write-off.

"Many developers have sold negatively-geared properties, and used the tax benefit of depreciation to justify the purchase price in the first place, to people who now will lose the benefit of that depreciation.

Of course some people will exit the market," Trass said, adding that he expected rental property to be in short supply and rents to rise.

But Davis said the Budget would create a stronger economy.

"When the economy is growing and there is inflation, property prices go up," Davis said.

Davis, originally from Australia, said he had run about 500 seminars.

"The main financial impact for property investors arising from the Budget is changes to rules on depreciation - changes that will cost an investor on average only another $15 a week per home.

"The fact that GST will increase means that the cost of new housing and section prices has to go up which will bring along established home values with them," Davis said.

Richard Carver, director of house-builder Jennian Homes, said building would not get cheaper because rising GST would push up the price of land and buildings.

Any staged payments by people in the midst of building made after October 1 would incur higher GST, he said.

"Builders will be under pressure to have homes completed before the increase date," he said.

Andrew King, vice-president of the Property Investors Federation, said his organisation was not entirely happy with all aspects of the Budget.

But he was pleased that the Government had "seen through many of the false claims made against rental property and resisted calls for large and discriminatory tax increases for the industry".

Those claims partly centre on the value of residential property investment, variously estimated to be worth between $60 billion and $200 billion.

King said landlords would not consider big rent rises which had been predicted if harsher tax increases were introduced last week.

"Withdrawing the ability of rental property owners to depreciate their rentals is disappointing, although chattels can still be depreciated which will limit the adverse effect," King said.

The GST increase would have a minor inflationary effect on rental prices, although GST does not apply to mortgage interest costs which are often the largest expense for rental property providers, King said.

Reducing income to increase Working for Families entitlements was never a realistic reason for investing in rental property, he said.

The changes to loss attributing qualifying company structures was aimed to tax profits at the investors' top marginal tax rate rather than the lower company rate.

"There is concern about the level of losses that can be claimed and this will need to be looked at more closely."

Tax cuts: How much extra you will get?


Low-income couple Munish and Sarah Pathak have gained almost twice as much as expected from the Budget, despite paying GST even on their rent.

They will gain almost $27 a week from the income tax cuts, about $6 a week more than expected, because the tax rate on income between $14,000 and $48,000 a year has been cut from 21 per cent to 17.5 per cent instead of the predicted 19 per cent.

They will still pay an extra $14 a week in GST, as expected. But their net gain from the tax switch alone will now be $13 a week compared with the $7 they expected.

Mr Pathak, 26, works for 60 hours a week at $13.26 an hour, just above the minimum wage, as a security guard at Auckland City Hospital. He earns $41,371 a year gross, giving him almost the maximum benefit from the cut in the 21 per cent tax rate.

His wife, Sarah Pathak, 20, is a fulltime nursing student on a student allowance of $150 a week. Her allowance will go up by $3 a week in line with a 2 per cent increase in all benefits to compensate for the GST hike.

The couple pay $245 a week for a room in a hostel. Rents in such long-stay accommodation are subject to 60 per cent of the standard GST rate, so the GST on their rent will go up from 7.5 to 9 per cent.

Their net $13 gain could still be wiped out if their rent and other costs rise by more than 2 per cent.

Their landlord, Abacus Unitel general manager Mike Newman, said this week that their rent would rise by more than that because he held off the annual adjustment in February so he would not have to raise prices twice in one year.

"I don't think there will be enough balance," Mr Pathak said last night.

"With increasing GST, that means an increase in everything else like your rent. The tax cuts are not going to give you that much money anyway, so it will be pretty much the same thing."


Average-income couple David Hall and Anne Mason will be only marginally better off after yesterday's Budget - and could end up worse off depending on the impact on their investment property.

Mr Hall, a Hamilton teacher, earns the average wage of $50,000 a year. Ms Mason earned $12,000 last year as a part-time English teacher for foreign students, making their household income only fractionally short of last year's national median of $63,900.

Figures released with the Budget show that, if they have a typical spending pattern, they will pay $19 a week in higher GST from October, but income tax cuts of $25 a week will put them $6 ahead.

But they could be hit by three other changes.

First, they will get slightly less in Working for Families tax credits than they might have expected because the $36,827 income level at which credits start reducing has been frozen, instead of adjusting with inflation.

Second, they benefit from the 20 hours free childcare policy for most of the 24 hours a week that their 3-year-old spends in childcare. They are unsure how the Budget's changes in childcare funding will affect them.

Third, they own an investment property through a loss-attributing qualifying company, which currently allows them to deduct losses at Mr Hall's marginal tax rate of 33 per cent but have their profits taxed at the company rate of 30 per cent.

The Budget will make their company a "flow-through" entity. This appears to mean that Mr Hall's new marginal tax rate of 30 per cent will apply to both losses and profits.

"It will probably affect us slightly," Ms Mason said.

She noted that experts thought the Budget was "good for the economy".

"We might start spending more and feel more relaxed."


Superannuitants Les and Ngaire Williams will get a double boost from the Budget - they get the same tax cuts as everyone else, plus a 2 per cent lift in their pension.

World War II veteran Mr Williams, who is 90 next month, and his wife, 77, rely largely on their married superannuation of $489.42 a week, apart from a small "something in the bank".

Their super will go up in October to $511.06 after tax, a rise of 4.4 per cent, because of the combination of tax cuts and a 2.02 per cent increase in the actual rate of super.

They could also be hit harder than usual by the GST increase because they own their own house. The GST hike will be softened for many younger people still paying rent or mortgages, because rents and mortgage payments are generally exempt from GST.

But Mr Williams said the couple managed on their existing pension and were "not great high flyers".

Even if they spent their entire pension on items subject to GST, their GST bill would go up in October by only $10.87 a week, leaving them $10.77 a week better off.

Mr Williams was sceptical last night.

"They get out and quote a lot of figures but you have no way of checking on those figures whatsoever," he said.

"I thought Key shouldn't have gone on the way he went when he was going at Goff [on TV]. I thought Goff put it over quite well."

Other welfare beneficiaries will not get the same double benefit as superannuitants. For example, the gross unemployment benefit for a single adult will actually be cut by $5 a week to offset the tax cuts and keep the increase in the net benefit to just 2.02 per cent - up from $194.12 a week to $198.04.

Gross benefit rates will also be cut to keep the net increase to 2.02 per cent for sickness, invalid and domestic purposes benefits and student allowances.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Rich-poor gap basically same after Budget, English claims

A Budget that delivers thousands a week in tax cuts to the super wealthy and a few dollars to those on the minimum wage will leave the gap between rich and poor "about the same", Finance Minister Bill English said yesterday.

Labour and the Greens have strongly criticised the Budget for delivering windfalls in real terms to high earners while leaving lower-income earners with small gains to cope and facing a spike in the inflation rate next year to 5.9 per cent.

Speaking on TVNZ's Q+A , Mr English said that overall, the Budget would have no significant impact on the rich-poor gap.

"We've achieved a shift in our tax system without making that problem significantly worse in a static sense."

He said other measures in the Budget would make people save more and strive to earn more, as people would keep a greater share of their income.

Last week's tax package will give across-the-board cuts and reduce the thresholds when higher income taxes apply.

A chief executive on $5 million a year will get $4800 extra a week, while a minimum wage earner will be $6.36 better off.

But looked at proportionally, Treasury numbers show that household income across the board will rise by between 0.4 and 0.7 per cent of their current levels, taking into account tax cuts, GST, and other measures such as increases in benefits.

Prime Minister John Key has said those on higher incomes contribute greatly to the economy and need incentives not to take their skills and experience overseas.

Mr English rejected keeping the high tax rate of 38c for incomes higher than $100,000, which Labour has said it will look at.

"We've gone for a comprehensive tax package, we've decided to close as many of the loopholes as we can at the top end."

He said people such as Trade Me founder Sam Morgan, who infamously said he pays virtually no tax, can now focus on investing in economic growth and new jobs, rather than trying to dodge the tax system.

The highest income tax rate will be aligned with the trust rate at 33c, meaning there will no longer be a benefit for those hiding their incomes in trusts. But some business analysts have said the drop in the company tax rate to 28c will mean a new tax dodge will emerge as people hide their incomes in firms.

Mr English also said the Government had not considered state asset sales. He floated the idea on Friday at a post-Budget function by saying there would be strong interest in shares in Kiwibank, but yesterday moved to calm speculation about the issue.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Labour not buying govt's tax cuts line

The Labour Party is ripping today's Budget apart before it has been delivered, and it doesn't buy the government line that the tax cuts are a fair deal.

Prime Minister John Key says "really wealthy" people will probably find themselves paying considerably more tax because of changes to the property regime and the closing of tax avoidance loopholes.

Finance Minister Bill English says that "by and large" the high income earners will be paying higher effective tax rates on property.

"National is in overdrive hyping up this budget as fair for all and nobody loses out," Labour's finance spokesman David Cunliffe said

"Tell that to someone on $40,000 or $70,000 who are going to get $5 a week maximum out of this budget - and that's before you take into account their rent going up or those sneaky little price rises that come in on the back of GST, or the downstream inflation that causes."

Cunliffe said people are going to find out that someone on the prime minister's salary is getting an extra $350 a week, and the top private sector chief executives are getting $2000 a week more.

"Kiwi fairness is about spreading it around and allowing everybody to get ahead, not just the guys at the top getting further ahead."

Cunliffe said he didn't believe the government's claims that wealthy people are going to pay more tax.

"The main hit is only through rental property, and high wealth individuals don't get all of it from property income," he said.

"The fat cats with the corporate trusts won't be hit."

In Parliament yesterday Key faced questions from Labour leader Phil Goff about why people shouldn't envy rich people who are going to get even more money.

Key said those paying the top personal rate - which cuts in at 38%on income of $70,000 and is expected to come down to 33 - included skilled professionals like doctors, engineers and scientists who were critical to the economy.

"Those people are in demand all around the world and we need to have their careers here, and for them to be put to work in New Zealand," he said.

Goff said if the tax changes are going to be fiscally neutral, as the government says they will, then middle and lower income earners will get less.

Key said that wasn't the case.

"The good news for them is that they will be getting more," he said.

"The interesting thing is that someone earning $60,000 a year, with no children, who waited 10 years under a Labour government to get absolutely not a cracker, will be getting more in the budget tomorrow than he or she might expect."

Tax cuts for all, but rich fiddlers may not smile

Prime Minister John Key has confirmed that all personal tax rates will be cut in today's Budget.

He has heralded a sock-it-to-the-rich approach towards those who fiddle with their tax liability by sheltering income in trusts and companies.

And, in a bid to counter Labour's pre-emptive attack against the highest paid getting the biggest tax cuts, Mr Key is promoting it heavily as a "fairer tax system".

"We will be making sure that all New Zealanders, the wealthy included, pay their fair share," he told Parliament yesterday.

"The rich, by and large, do not pay the top personal tax rate. Really wealthy people will probably find they are paying considerably more tax as a result of the Budget ... not less."

Mr Key spent yesterday building the expectation of low- and middle-income earners, at least those not receiving Working for Families tax credits.

He effectively rejected speculation, including in the Herald, that middle-income earners will not get much out of the Budget once the GST rise from 12.5 per cent to 15 is factored in.

He told reporters that all rates - including the 33c rate - would be cut.

But he would not comment on whether thresholds might be adjusted to allow people to earn more before the next rate kicks in.

Someone earning $60,000 a year with no children "who waited 10 years under a Labour Government to get absolutely not a cracker" would be getting more in the Budget than they expected, the Prime Minister said.

He was acutely aware that low-income earners would like to earn better wages, and that was done through economic leadership.

"For nine years [under Labour], we waited for that and it never came. Tomorrow, the bus is arriving here in Parliament."

Personal tax rates at present are 12.5c (on income up to $14,000), 21c ($14,001 to $48,000), 33c ($48,001 to $70,000) and 38c ($70,001-plus).

One scenario would see the 38c rate cut to 33, the 33c to 30c, the 21c to 19c and the 12.5c to 10c.

Mr Key rejected suggestions by Labour leader Phil Goff that curbing tax breaks on investment properties would force rent rises from landlords and add to the burden of the 30 per cent of New Zealanders who rented.

The PM said the Treasury's advice was that the effects would be negligible.

Finance Minister Bill English said the tax system had been "allowed to fall into a state of disrepair". The tax base would be extended beyond the current definition of income.

The present diversity of rates encourages people to shelter income in trusts, companies and portfolio investment entities to cut their tax liability.

The current top personal tax rate is 38c, the trust rate 33c and the company rate 30c. This has led to many on the top rate organising their affairs to cut their tax liability or reduce income for the purposes of receiving Working for Families payments, calculating child support and making student loan repayments.

The Tax Working Group report in January argued for alignment of tax rates.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

GST rise will give overseas web firms edge say retailers

Retailers say the looming rise in GST will give online merchants overseas an even bigger price advantage.

Private imports under $400 in value come into the country free of GST so the rise from 12.5 per cent to 15 per cent - likely to be announced in next week's Budget and imposed in October - makes overseas-sourced goods even more attractive.

The sharp appreciation of the New Zealand dollar against European currencies during the past six months has made online shopping even cheaper, although retailers who import from that region have also benefited.

Retail Association chief executive John Albertson said his members wanted GST on all goods bought privately overseas, excluding gifts. This would help New Zealand businesses and give the Government tax revenue worth as much as $500 million.

"It's not a fair cop. We don't mind competing but it's very hard competing with 15 per cent already tied behind your back," he said.

"We are not wanting to turn the clock back and deny the existence of web sales but we would appreciate a level playing field."
Especially galling for retailers was when customers used them to research products in their shops then bought them through overseas websites.

"You'll get people putting staff to tremendous trouble trying on sports shoes, say 'thanks very much' and go off an buy them online," Albertson said.

It is estimated between $1.2 billion and $3 billion is spent on goods by New Zealanders and, according to researchers The Nielsen Company, 17 per cent of this is spent overseas.

Most overseas online shopping is done in Australia and the United States.

Easy-to-ship goods such as DVDs, CDs, computer software and books are the most popular, accounting for more than 35 per cent of online buys abroad in each category.

More than 40 per cent of online spending on travel-related services is done through overseas websites, Nielsen says.

Albertson said the problem of tax on online purchases was an international one. In the US courier companies were charged with collecting state taxes in some cases. Albertson said it might be possible to collect tax through credit-card transactions.

NZ dollar gains on euro after rescue package

After strengthening throughout the day yesterday against the greenback and the yen - as markets reacted to a €750 billion ($NZ1.3t) emergency loan plan to prevent a European sovereign debt crisis from spreading - the New Zealand dollar started weakening from about 8pm.

The kiwi climbed from around US70.70c early Saturday to near US72.95c before falling away to be at US72.27c by 8am today. Similarly it climbed from around 65 yen to above 68 yen, then eased to 67.37 yen at today's local open.

The euro initially rallied against the US dollar after the emergency plan was announced but then gave up gains as enthusiasm for the bailout faded and investors focused on whether the plan would be effective.

The NZ dollar started rising from below 0.5570 euro around 10pm to be at 0.5649 euro by 8am today.

In its morning briefing notes, ANZ said currencies went through "wild gyrations" yesterday and overnight as markets took stock of the European package.

"It appeared to be heavy on hope and desperate for detail delivering a subsequent move down for the EUR."

After a bumpy night against the Australian dollar, the kiwi was slightly higher at A80.08c at 8am from its 5pm level of A79.95c.
ANZ said that resulting aussie strength from the Australian budget coming out today, with expectations of a return to surplus two years earlier than previously forecast, should ensure the cross did not move above strong selling interests around the A80.50c level.

The trade weighted index lifted to 68.54 at 8am from 68.20 at 5pm.


Eurozone bailout lifts Oz market

The Australian sharemarket closed sharply stronger on renewed investor confidence after a crisis package was agreed to help bail out troubled eurozone economies.

Brokers said bargain hunters bought into market-leading resource and banking sectors, in contrast to Friday's sharp selloff that capped five consecutive trading days of losses.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index gained 119.1 points, or 2.66 per cent, to 4599.8, while the broader All Ordinaries index added 114.8 points, or 2.55 per cent, to 4622.2 points.

On the Sydney Futures Exchange the June share price index futures contract was 145 points higher at 4619 points, on a volume of 57,580 contracts.

The announcement in Europe of a €750 billion ($1.34 trillion) package of crisis aid for troubled eurozone countries boosted sentiment from the local market's opening.

Sharp rises in the big mining and banking stocks may have also been as much a result of investors buying stocks that had been cheapened by the severe falls on the market last week, RBS Morgans private client adviser Bill Bishop said. "Investors think the two huge mining companies got pretty cheap, and that probably accounts for it as much as anything," he said.

BHP Billiton gained A$1.50, or 4 per cent, to A$39 and Rio Tinto added A$3.82, or 5.88 per cent, to A$68.80.
A lot more explanation was needed on how the European package would work before confidence could be restored in the global economy, Bishop said.

"The market is assuming it is all fixed, on the other hand the reports I have seen suggest it only looks like it has been all fixed," Bishop said.

"I think the Dow Jones futures have helped and the market is wishing desperately to believe that the Europeans are going to fix their problems."


$1 trillion to rescue Europe

The European Union's 27 finance ministers have agreed on the creation of a 'European stabilisation mechanism'. Photo / AP
The European Union's 27 finance ministers have agreed on the creation of a 'European stabilisation mechanism'. Photo / AP

European policymakers have unveiled an unprecedented loan package worth more than $1 trillion and a programme of bond purchases as they spearheaded a global drive to stop a sovereign-debt crisis that threatened to shatter confidence in the euro.

Jolted into action by last week's slide in the currency and soaring bond yields in Portugal and Spain, the 16 euro nations agreed to offer financial assistance worth as much as €750 billion ($1.3 trillion) to countries under attack from speculators. The European Central Bank will counter "severe tensions" by purchasing government and private debt.

"The message has gotten through: the euro zone will defend its money," French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said after the 14-hour meeting.

Under pressure from the US and Asia to stabilise markets, the European governments gambled that the show of financial force would prevent a sovereign-debt crisis and muffle speculation that the 11-year-old euro might break apart.

The two-pronged offensive pushed up the euro 1.4 per cent. New Zealand's NZX-50 rose 0.37 per cent, while Australia's ASX200 climbed 2.66 per cent. In Japan, the Nikkei gained 1.6 per cent.
"This is Shock and Awe, Part II and in 3-D," said Marco Annunziata, chief economist at UniCredit Group in London.

"This truly is overwhelming force, and should be more than sufficient to stabilise markets in the near term, prevent panic and contain the risk of contagion."

The steps came after failure to contain Greece's fiscal crisis triggered a 4.1 per cent drop in the euro last week, the biggest weekly decline since the aftermath of Lehman Brothers' collapse. European stocks sank the most in 18 months, with the Stoxx Europe 600 Index tumbling 8.8 per cent to 237.18.

The ripple effect in the US, including a brief 1000-point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, prompted President Barack Obama to call German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy to urge "resolute steps" to prevent the crisis from cascading around the world.

Under the loan package, euro-area governments pledged €440 billion in loans or guarantees, with €60 billion more in loans from the EU's budget and as much as €250 billion from the International Monetary Fund.

"I think they will have bought themselves a significant amount of time to do the right thing," said Barry Eichengreen, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

In a step that skirts EU rules barring direct central bank lending to governments, the ECB said it will conduct "interventions" to ensure "depth and liquidity" in markets.
The purchases will be sterilised, meaning they won't increase the overall money supply in the financial system.

The ECB also reactivated unlimited fixed-rate offerings of three-month loans, a key tool in the ECB's efforts to fight the credit crisis. It will also reactivate dollar swaps with the Federal Reserve.

In Brussels, finance ministers from the 16-nation euro region - joined by ministers from the 11 EU countries outside the euro - raced against time to weld the contingency lending arrangements before markets opened in Asia.

Inability to craft a convincing package in time would have left deficit-plagued countries at the mercy of the "wolfpack behaviour" of speculators, Finance Minister Anders Borg of Sweden, a non-euro member, said as the meeting began.

The new war chest would be used for countries such as Portugal or Spain in case their finances buckle.

Deficits are set to reach 8.5 per cent of gross domestic product in Portugal and 9.8 per cent in Spain this year, above the euro region's 3 per cent limit.

Both countries pledged "significant" additional budget cuts in 2010 and 2011, which will be outlined in May, an EU statement said.

Greece, the epicentre of the debt crisis, has already won a €110 billion aid package after agreeing to unprecedented austerity measures.

The cuts sparked riots in Athens last week, leading to three deaths and stoking concerns that the Government won't be able to implement all the steps.
European governments endorsed their €80 billion share last week, and the IMF cleared the way to pay its €30 billion share on Sunday.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Google Readies Its E-Book Plan, Bringing in a New Sales Approach

Google Inc. plans to begin selling digital books in late June or July, a company official said Tuesday, throwing the search giant into a battle that already involves Inc., Apple Inc. and Barnes & Noble Inc.

Google has been discussing its vision for distributing books online for several years and for months has been evangelizing about its new service, called Google Editions. The company is hoping to distinguish Google Editions in the marketplace by allowing users to access books from a broad range of websites using an array of devices, unlike rivals that are focused on proprietary devices and software.

Chris Palma, Google's manager for strategic-partner development, announced the timetable for Google's plans on Tuesday at a publishing- industry panel in New York.

Google says users will be able to buy digital copies of books they discover through its book-search service. It will also allow book retailers—even independent shops—to sell Google Editions on their own sites, giving partners the bulk of the revenue.

The company would have copies on its servers for works it strikes agreements to sell. Google is still deciding whether it will follow the model where publishers set the retail price or whether Google sets the price.

While Mr. Palma didn't go into details, users of Google Editions would be able to read books from a web browser—meaning that the type of e-reader device wouldn't matter. The company also could build software to optimize reading on certain devices like an iPhone or iPad but hasn't announced any specific plans.

By contrast, Amazon's digital book business is largely focused on its Kindle e-reader and Kindle software that runs on some other hardware.

The project is Google's attempt to crack into the market of distributing current and backlist works.

Publishers have yet to publicly commit to participate in the service but Google isn't expected to run into much trouble getting them to join. Publishers tend to believe the more outlets to sell books the better. Even the smallest independent bookstore will have access to a sophisticated electronic-book sales service with a vast selection of titles.

"This levels the retail playing field," said Evan Schnittman, vice president of global business development for Oxford University Press. "And as a publisher, what I like is that I won't have to think about audiences based on devices. This is an electronic product that consumers can get anywhere as long as they have a Google account."
He said Google Editions will also be critical because it represents "the ultimate test" of whether the ability to search, find and instantly buy content will generate significant gains in revenue. "This tears down barriers," he added.

Retail isn't Google's calling card, but the company has an online store for Android apps, sells software for businesses and it sells a phone.

Google may struggle to build awareness about the service. It is hoping users click to buy books through its Book Search product, which has a relatively small following compared to its overall search service. It is also betting on other book resellers to push and promote Google Editions themselves. Whether they do so will probably depend on how much revenue they are generating.

The online sales effort is separate from Google's fight to win rights to distribute millions of out-of-print books through its digital book settlement with authors and publishers. U.S. District Court Judge Denny Chin is expected to rule in that case soon.

Tuesday's industry event, at Random House's Manhattan offices, was titled: "The Book on Google: Is the Future of Publishing in the Cloud?" Tuesday's panel was presented by Publishers Weekly and sponsored the Book Industry Study Group.