Newsroom Pro's 8 things at 8 am and Weekend Reads

The foreign buyer share of property transfers could be somewhere between four percent and 22 percent, and the debate over the quality of data remains unresolved. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

In today's email we check out the latest data from Land Information New Zealand and whether it makes the foreign buyer debate any less murky.

1. Slightly less murky data

Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) yesterday released the first set of results from its updated data set on property transfers and tax residency.

Initially promoted by the Government as a way of measuring foreign ownership, the first five quarterly reports were plagued by a questionnaire design flaw that meant it was unclear how many buyers held student or work visas.

The revised questionnaire has now produced the first data set that captures the numbers of buyers with such visas, although only 85 percent of the quarter's data uses the new questionnaire in the first quarter. It found that 729 or two percent of the buyers nationwide were not New Zealand citizens or residents in the March quarter, with 258 being students or temporary workers, and the remainder being neither.

The percentage of non-citizen or resident buyers rose to four percent or 360 in Auckland, with 126 being students or temporary workers, with 234 having neither types of visas.

However, the data remains slightly murky because of the very large share of buyers who categorise themselves as corporate or business entities. The survey found 22 percent of Auckland buyers declared they were such entities in the March quarter.

LINZ confirmed to me that, unlike the OIO, it does not delve deeper to see where the beneficial ownership of these companies lies, which means some, none or all of the buyers could be non-residents. It also confirmed that the corporate or business entity category does not include family trusts.

So the end result is the foreign buyer share could be somewhere between four percent and 22 percent, and the debate over the quality of data remains unresolved.

2. Migration pressures

The pressure on both social and physical infrastructure in Auckland from its population shock of the last four years remains intense.

Newsroom's Lynn Grieveson reports on the effects on schools having to teach kids with English as a second language. Lynn points to a rise in funding in the Budget for English as Second Language teaching.

Newsroom's Shane Cowlishaw also reports on the latest chunk of capital pumped into Auckland's schools.

3. A food labelling clash

Shane was also busy yesterday covering the Primary Production Select Committee where Green MP Steffan Browning’s Private Member’s Bill mandating country of origin food labelling sparked a few clashes between MPs and the food industry - in particular the Food and Grocery Council CEO Katherine Rich.

Here's Shane's full report on Newsroom Pro, which includes a look at the various policy quirks and unintended consequences of the bill, which the Government supported through the first reading debate.

4. Numbers of the day

5.1 percent - The rise in New Zealand's terms of trade in the March quarter to just below an all-time high set in June 1973, as reported by Statistics NZ. The terms of trade refer to the amount of imports able to be bought with a given volume of exports, which essentially measures the purchasing power of our export receipts. An 18 percent rise in dairy prices helped drive the increase and counter an 11 percent rise in fuel import prices.

$240 million - The capital being spent by the Government in Auckland to build four new schools, expand another school, relocate a school and add extra classrooms over the next four years. Education Minister Nikki Kaye announced the details of the spending yesterday. It is part of the $456.5m of capital spending on education announced in Budget 2017.

3,422 - The number of people measured by MSD as being on the social housing register at the end of March and as having severe and persistent housing needs. That includes 1,389 in Auckland.

1,000th - Social Housing Minister Amy Adams and Upper Harbour MP Paula Bennett visited the Hobsonville Point development yesterday to open the 1,000th home built at the Hobsonville Land Company (HLC) development owned by Housing NZ. They said one home a day was being delivered and 630 were currently being built on the site. Of the 1,000 built, 409 were sold for less than $550,000, they said.

5. People on the move

Attorney General Chris Finlayson announced that Employment Court Judge Christina Inglis has been appointed Chief Judge of the Employment Court to replace Chief Judge Colgan who will retire in July.

  1. While you were sleeping

Donald Trump formally announced America would withdraw from the Paris Climate Change Accord. (Reuters).

Sacked FBI Director James Comey will testify on the Trump campaign's links to Russia before a Senate committee next Thursday, unless Trump uses his executive powers to stop the appearance before then. (NBC)

7. Some weekend reads

China’s President Xi Jingping is arguably the most important politician in New Zealand’s future beyond our borders. This Graham Allison piece in The Atlantic goes into some depth into the scale of President Xi’s ambitions, and whether China can avoid a dangerous collision with America. Allison wonders how China and America can avoid war as China inevitably challenges for global supremacy.

Elsewhere in North Asia, Allison uses this New York Times Op-Ed to describe the current stand-off between North Korea and the United States as a Cuban Missile Crisis in slow motion. He also puts the conflict into the context of the rise of China to become more powerful than America and notes: “A Harvard study I led found 16 cases over the past 500 years when a rising power threatened to displace a ruling power. In 12 of them, the outcome was war.”

The OECD recently published a policy brief on whether a Universal Basic Income made sense. It’s a useful lap around the arguments and ultimately concludes it would be too expensive to do easily, and risks hurting those who currently receive targeted support. The brief instead suggests introducing a UBI in stages and having a parallel debate about the major redistribution of income it would entail.

The China story is everywhere for us. Bloomberg has taken a nice deep dive into the growing appetite for Chinese companies for premium food investments, in the wake of an often failed approach to buy farms in developing countries.

8. One fun thing

This could be a fun Senate hearing. The Guardian reports that the FBI is now investigating Nigel Farage as part of its probe into the Trump campaign's links with Russia.