Election year begins in earnest today with the resumption of Parliamentary Question Time at 2 pm today, but the pre-vote positioning is already well under way.
Last week Bill English sprinkled a few personal anecdotes into his first set-piece address of the year, but a Woman's Weekly profile of the Prime Minister and his wife Mary out today has certainly upped the ante in a deliberate campaign to flesh out the public's mostly dry view of the former Finance Minister.
Headlined "Their most intimate interview: 'Our incredible love story'," the article goes into lots of detail (too much?) about their three-year courtship, including Bill's early awkwardness and medical student Mary's view of Bill's acne. "It was the worst acne I have ever seen in my whole clinical life," she was quoted as telling the Women's Weekly.
This sort of 'soft' personal profile is not unusual for political leaders and their families -- Helen Clark, John Key and Andrew Little have all done them -- but it certainly shows a concerted effort is being made by the ninth floor to give voters a more personalised view of the new Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, the Waitangi weekend was completed without too many complications or awkward images for the Government.
English's decision not to attend the events on the lower marae at Waitangi appeared vindicated by the messy scenes on the day. The media was banned from the event after they refused to pay big koha so Winston Peters walked out in protest and Andrew Little said he would not attend next year.
"You know it's bad when I'm defending the media," Peters told the media scrum before walking away from the Marae.
Auckland house prices up again...
In another sign the Auckland housing market is far from slumping, Barfoot and Thompson reported the first sales figures for January on Friday, including further rises in average and median prices in January from December.
Peter Thompson said the rise between December and January was the first in 13 years, although he cautioned that it may have been skewed by an unusually high proportion (31.2%) of sales being for more than NZ$1 million and that the number of sales for the month (629) were the lowest for a January in 5 years. Prices remained around 13% up on a year ago.
New listings (1,142) rose in January and were almost double the number of sales, which boosted inventories, although they remain near record lows.
ASB's Kim Mundy wrote the higher inventories may take some pressure off prices and pointed to a 9% fall in sales volumes in seasonally adjusted terms in January, but was wary of suggesting any large falls.
"Inventory levels (although higher) remain near historical lows and combined with strong population growth, this should keep a floor under prices," she wrote.
It's hard to see any great collapse in prices when new house building is still lagging new housing demand from population growth at a rate of 5,000 to 10,000 a year, and when record high net migration to Auckland of around 35,000 a year shows no sign of abating.
New car sales humming...
House values are still rising across the most of the country and so are new vehicle sales.
The Motor Industry Association reported on Friday that new vehicle registrations of 13,823 in January were up 16% from the same month a year ago and were a record high for a January. That was also up from the annual growth rate of 9.5% seen through calendar 2016.
Passenger car and SUV registrations rose 14% from year ago, while commercial vehicle sales rose 23%.
"As 2017 gets underway, nothing has changed with the economic environment that existed for most of 2016," MIA CEO David Crawford said.
"The key drivers to high levels of new vehicle sales are the continued high levels of net immigration, low costs of debt and a strong national economy," Crawford said.
The Ford Ranger, which is popular with tradies, remained the top-selling vehicle, followed by the Toyota Corolla, which is popular with rental car fleet buyers. Only 3 of the top 10 vehicles sold in January were traditional passenger vehicles (Corolla, Holden's Commodore and Suzuki's Swift), while the rest were utes or SUVs (Toyota's RAV 4 and Hilux, Holden's Captiva and Colorado, Kia's Sportage and Nissan's Navara).
Coming up this week...
The Reserve Bank of New Zealand is scheduled to publish its Business Survey of Inflation expectations for the March quarter at 3pm today. A sharp fall in the one-year ahead expectations to 1.09% in the March quarter of last year preceded a surprise rate cut in March last year, although the rate has risen back to 1.68% by the end of the year. The Reserve Bank has emphasised its focus on inflation expectations over the last 18 months.
The Reserve Bank of Australia is expected to leave its Official Cash Rate at a record low 1.5% when it publishes its first monthly decision of the year at 4.30 pm New Zealand Time today. Australia's annual inflation at 1.5% is just below the bank's 2-3% target band, but the bank is seen as worried that further rate cuts would further inflate household debt. Australian household debt is almost 120% of GDP, making it the second most indebted household sector in the world behind Denmark, according to a BIS paper published last month. New Zealand is the 6th most indebted relative to GDP on that list at just under 90%.
Parliament resumes sitting again at 2pm today for a two week sitting session, its first of an election year. There are just 57 sitting days left before Parliament rises on August 17 ahead of the September 23 election. The Parliamentary caucuses will hold their respective meetings this morning from 10 am. The full sitting programme for the year is here.
The Reserve Bank of New Zealand is also expected to leave its OCR on hold at a record low 1.75% on Thursday at 9 am, given annual inflation at 1.3% is at the bottom end of the bank's 1-3% target band and showing few signs of rising fast. Economists do not expect any rate hikes until next year at the earliest, while markets have been pricing in one hike later this year. The bank itself forecast in November that the OCR was on hold for the forseeable future. Graeme Wheeler is also widely expected to confirm he will not stand for a second term this week, before speaking publicly for the first time this year at the bank's Monetary Policy Statement news conference at 10 am on Thursday.
Have a great week.