Transtasman migration flow reverses

Kiwis continue to flock home from Australia as the New Zealand economy and labour market continue to outperform those in Australia.

Previously, the number of New Zealanders packing up and moving across the Tasman for jobs and better pay was used by Opposition political parties as a sign of the country's demise.

However, Labour and the Greens now avoid talking about the issue.

Statistics New Zealand figures released yesterday show annual migration had already surpassed the Reserve Bank's forecast of a peak of around 29,000.

With inwards migration adding to domestic demand and housing pressures, ASB economist Daniel Smith said he expected the Reserve Bank to lift interest rates this morning.

The official cash rate is expected to rise 0.25%, to 3%, but there is now speculation the central bank may not lift again until much later in the year, because of falling dairy prices and the continually strong New Zealand dollar.

Mr Smith said net migration inflows were now at the highest level since February 2003. Compared to February, March arrivals were 2.9% higher and departures were 1.4% lower.

''We expect annual net migration to peak at just below 40,000 later this year - which implies some slowing from the current pace. Additional workers will help meet strong demand in the Canterbury construction sector but stronger population growth overall is likely to add to domestic demand and exacerbate housing market pressures, particularly in Auckland.''

That was one of the reasons why interest rates would continue to rise of the next couple of years, he said.

Statistics NZ figures showed the number of migrants arriving in New Zealand was now around 16% higher than a year ago. The lift was driven by higher arrivals from Australia, Europe (excluding the United Kingdom) and China.

Compared to a year ago, arrivals from Australia were up 31%, China up 7% and Europe up 4%.

Mr Smith said both in percentage terms and absolute numbers, the shift in arrivals from Australia dominated the changes.

''We have good reason to believe the shift is being driven by more New Zealanders returning from Australia. Those numbers are now 35% higher than a year ago but do look to be stabilising.''

At the same time as arrivals were increasing, the number of permanent and long-term departures continued to ease, he said.

Even more so than with departures, transtasman migration was the key driver. Departures to Australia were down nearly 40% from a year ago and nearly 50% from two years ago.

The change in departures to Australia was also much more significant than the change in arrivals. March departures to Australia were down 1663 from March last year while arrivals from Australia were up 479.

Regionally, net inwards migration continued to be focused on the Canterbury and Auckland regions, Mr Smith said.

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