Budget 2021: What it will mean for NZ government borrowing

The Government’s borrowing requirement is likely to fall substantially at this week’s Budget, but it will still be high by historical standards.

At last year’s budget, when concern over Covid-19 was at its peak, the Government announced a $60 billion bond tender programme for the current fiscal year – up from a pre-pandemic forecast of just $10b.

Over time, that forecast had been whittled down to $45b, thanks to a surprisingly resilient economy and lower-than-forecast government spending.

With just a few weeks left in the current financial year to run, that number is unlikely to change but in the years ahead, bond tenders will be lower than official forecasts, ANZ says.

The bank expects $25b to be raised in each of the June 2022, 2023 and 2024 years, before falling to $20 billion in 2025.

That compares with last year’s fiscal update totals of $30b a year through to 2024, then $25b in 2025, for a total of $115b.

Just six months after the update, ANZ expects the total to be $20b less than that at $95b.

Of that $20b reduction, $15b could be put down to the better-than-expected performance from the economy, it says.

The likely lower borrowing requirement would reflect a range of factors – less Government spending and better tax revenue and there could be further bond issuance downgrades in the years to come, ANZ senior strategist David Croy said.

Still, they are big numbers.

A $25b bond programme for 2022 would be large in pre-Covid terms – and would exceed the record $20b raised in response to the 2010/11 Christchurch earthquakes.

“It’s a vast improvement on where we thought we might be when Covid broke,” Croy told the Herald.

“But it is still a significant task compared to where we were,” he said.

While the bond market faced a historically large amount of issuance, the Reserve Bank was – and still is – buying government bonds in the secondary market to anchor interest rates at very low levels.

“That kept financial conditions easy and gave the recovery the best possible chance that it could have, as well as enabling the Crown to issue all this debt at very favourable interest rates,” Croy said.

“Without doubt it has been successful,” he said.

The pace of Reserve Bank’s bond buying over 2021/22 is expected to be met with a “mechanical” downgrade as issuance declines.

ANZ expects the programme to “fade into the background” as the end of the June 2022 financial year approaches.

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