There was a very important stat that came out just before Christmas that everyone missed.
It was the third quarter growth number, third quarter of GDP growth. The number was 0.7 percent.
The significance of that is two-fold. One, it's, by anyone's measure, a very, very good number. And two, it was a mile above what everyone thought it would be. Most people expected 0.3 or 0.4 percent.
There are several ironies here. The first one is, we missed the number because we had clocked off for Christmas and were all in the shops racking up yet another spending record. Yes, once again we spent more in shops leading up to Christmas than we ever have.
What's that tell us? It tells us the economy is solid, it tells us we have confidence. The irony there is we spent the year being told confidence was in the dunny, growth was slowing, and the economy was tanking.
So is what we are being told wrong? Are we kidding ourselves? When we see the business confidence numbers around hiring, selling, spending, and looking forward all in the red or pointing south, are they making that up? Are we in fact just fine, but we don’t like to admit it? Could we dare suggest this government is actually running the place pretty well, and they can spend election year crowing about their accomplishments?
Well, that depends. Without bamboozling you with too many numbers here is where we stand. The current annualised growth rate is 2.7 percent, and any country right now would take that and trumpet it. But we have that figure because in quarter four of 2018, we got one percent growth.
Quarter four of 2019, i.e October, November, and December, won't be out till March at which point the 2018 one percent drops out. As it drops out. what it's replaced is the critical part of the equation.
If it's a poor number like 0.3 or 0.2 percent, we suddenly have annualised growth of less than two percent. That is bad news, embarrassing news, and we are in real trouble.
So you see the government's dilemma? Right now things look good, but are they artificially good? Or if we believe the quarter three number of 0.7, are we just wandering around pretending things are bad when they're not?
So there's a lot to play for here. Why? Because economies make or break governments.
This government has made a hell of a mess of a lot of things. They have serious credibility issues around housing, transport, taxes, mental health, and the various social promises they made but haven't delivered on.
But, and it's a major but, the thing the National Party would most like to nail a left leaning government on is the economy. National traditionally mop up votes around economic management.
Remember the past 9 years, before the current lot, we had the "rockstar economy." Get one of those and you get three terms.
So what do you reckon? Are we travelling well or not? Are we deluding ourselves or not? Could this government be regarded as fiscally credible or not? The answer lies in the fourth quarter numbers.
And given everyone called the third quarter completely wrong, there are going to be a lot of nervous observers. The number might well make or break election year.