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19 Dec 2018

Property Assets Soar

New Zealand's collective household wealth has soared in value over the past decade, thanks mostly to an increase in the value of property assets. According to Statistics New Zealand, the net worth of New Zealand households rose from $886 billion in 2007 to $1.5 trillion today, a jump of 69 percent. Kiwis are not feeling the direct effects of these riches, however, with wealth tied up in real estate and pension funds, household debt levels high, savings rates low, and the distribution curve far from equal.

Most of the rapid increase in wealth can be attributed to the property market, with property assets owned by households rising by $316 billion over the decade. Most of this growth occurred after 2012, which is when the Auckland real estate market really started to bubble. Growth in pension fund assets has also been incredibly strong since March 2012, with value in this sector up $51 billion, or 204 percent, since March 2007. About 88 percent of this rise was from contributions to funds.

It's important to be realistic about rising household wealth, however, with Infometric chief forecaster Gareth Kiernan saying the real increase was only 24 percent over the decade when adjusted for inflation. While this figure jumps to 40 percent in the last five years, it's still a long way from 69 percent over ten years when inflation is not accounted for. There are other reasons why you may not be feeling particularly rich, with the vast majority of wealth tied up in real estate, which you can't access until after you sell a property, and pension funds, which you can't access until you're 65. 

According to Cameron Bagrie from Bagrie Economics, Kiwis are richer but not everyone is feeling it: "Asset prices have risen sharply.  Shares, property prices, you name it and it's up. That partly reflects the impetus to asset prices from extraordinary policy stimulus from central banks post the global financial crisis...We're seeing the benefit of the likes of KiwiSaver, and a bit more diversification in terms of where people put their money though housing is still a fair chunk of the balance sheet. However, those wealth gains haven't accrued across the board to everyone."

With so much money tied up in housing and other assets, and household debt levels high as a result, people are not saving as much as they should be. According to Bagrie, "The household savings rate is negative, so for a lot of households there is more money going out the door than what is coming in... Though, one reason for a low savings rate could be growth in the value of assets, which means people feel less need to save. I think the low savings rate reflects how expensive New Zealand is to live and there are a few sectors the Commerce Commission should have in their sights."


Image source: Dooder/Shutterstock