Migration at six-year high

By ADRIAN CHANG – BusinessDay

New Zealand’s annual net migration shot up in May, and annual visitor numbers from Australia topped 1 million for the first time, providing more hopes “green shoots” are growing through the economy.

According to Statistics New Zealand data released today, long-term or permanent migration to New Zealand in the year to May saw a net gain of 11,200 people, a 129 percent leap from the year to May 2008 where the net gain was just 4900.

This came about through 3 percent fewer resident departures in May compared to the same period last year and a corresponding 5 percent increase in permanent or long-term arrivals. On a seasonally adjusted basis, long-term arrivals exceeded departures by 2700 in May, up from 2200 in April and 1700 in March.

This made May’s net inflow of migration the largest since July 2003. TD Seurities senior strategist Annette Beacher said though the increase in migration was “tiny” by international standards, to New Zealand migration flows can mean the difference between upswings and downswings in the economy.

“For New Zealand, it doesn’t matter if it is people arriving, or residents not leaving, the bottom line is increased population to spend, invest and shore up activity,” said Beacher. She also noted migration could help boost house prices. “While housing is showing some signs of life the combination of improved affordability and rising population are providing fodder for a solid housing recovery this time next year.”

Goldman Sachs JBWere economic strategist Bernard Doyle said if May’s migration growth was annualised and seasonally adjusted, it would translate to 32,000 more migrants entering the country than leaving it. “We are conscious that net migration was one of the key drivers behind the 2003-2007 economic upswing, and was particularly important for the construction sector.

Accordingly the longer net migration persists around these levels, the more optimistic we become on prospects for the domestic economy,” said Doyle. Kiwis continued to flock to Australia, though in fewer numbers than seen in December and January where those moving to the Lucky Country – which has yet to technically enter recession – were at record highs.

Though there were 1500 fewer departures to Australia in May than in the previous month, net monthly migration was a loss of 1200 kiwis to Australia. However, this is significantly lower than the 2800 in May 2008 or 2200 in 2007. Annual migration across the ditch was 30,500 in the year to May, down only 700 from last year, and well off the record outflows seen in December and January where net migration topped 35,000.

On the bright side, annual visitor arrivals from Australia exceeded 1 million for the first time in the May year, reaching 1.002 million.

That was up 4 percent from the May 2008 year, and are double the figure of 10 years ago. Ad Feedback At 141,900, May total visitor arrivals were up 1 percent from May 2008’s 140,500.

This was the highest figure ever recorded for visitor numbers in May. Despite this, the estimated number of visitors in the country on any particular day in May was 103,500, down 5 percent on last year.

This was due to the average intended length of stay for visitors dropping from 19 days in 2008 to 18 days in 2009.