Friday, April 28, 2006

Sideswipe

James Marris noticed this tuna special while shopping in the Browns Bay Foodtown yesterday. He figured it wasn't really worth printing the special card because the Swedish rounding system that supermarkets use will round the price up to $1 anyway.

By Ana Samways

Terry has noticed the Manukau City Council is doing its bit for power conservation. "Powerful spotlights light up the outdoor staff carpark both night and day (no matter how sunny). When I mentioned it to the security staff who permanently patrol the staff carpark, I was told that they cannot find where to turn them off. Perhaps a $20 sensor system from Mitre 10 could be purchased so I can have hot showers this winter?"

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Visitors to cnn.com have voted for their worst song ever. Here they are:

5. Seasons in the Sun, Terry Jacks (No 1 for three weeks, 1974). Voter comment: "A melody you couldn't play for your dog, combined with inane lyrics."

4. I've Never Been to Me, Charlene (No 3, 1982). Voter comment: "I'm thinking that in her case, 'Me' probably wasn't such a fun place to go to."

3. You Light Up My Life, Debby Boone (No 1 for 10 weeks, 1977). Voter comment: "How can anything so insipidly slow light up anything?"

2. Muskrat Love, The Captain and Tennille (No 4, 1976). Voter Comment: "A song about aquatic rodents doin' the wild thing? Eeeeeew!"

1. (You're) Having My Baby, Paul Anka (No 1 for three weeks, 1974). Voter comment: "What a lovely way of sayin' how much you love me' - if that isn't the most egocentric, solipsistic, revolting line of all time."

Editorial: City needs Parker's boldness

David Parker's pending return to Cabinet is welcome on several counts. In the first instance, he should never have been consigned to six weeks in the wilderness. His exile owed more to pressure on the Prime Minister arising from David Benson-Pope's difficulties and a prima facie case of election misspending than what always appeared to be a minor piece of business corner-cutting. As it is, a Companies Office inquiry has emphatically cleared Mr Parker of filing false returns. Nothing stands in the way of him reclaiming the energy, climate change and transport portfolios.

His return to the latter is particularly significant. In his short time as Minister of Transport, he had shown every indication of confirming the widely held belief that he is the best of the Government's newcomers. If his brightness was never in doubt and his business nous was a major plus, his urging of a solution to Auckland's traffic woes also suggests a much-needed boldness. Barely was he in the minister's chair before Aucklanders found before them a set of alternatives for relieving congestion by charging for peak-time road use. The Ministry of Transport had long contended that pricing was required, but no minister had been prepared to meet the issue head on.

This is new territory for Aucklanders, and their initial reaction has been far from positive. Yet that accentuates why Mr Parker should be welcomed back to the transport portfolio. He brings a fresh and vigorous perspective to a problem that has bedevilled and bamboozled successive local and regional councils. This week's division and dissent around the table at the Auckland Regional Council over the continued investigation of road pricing was merely the latest symptom.

Many Labour MPs, with an eye on electoral fallout, would probably also sleep easier if the concept was pressed a little less assiduously. Nonetheless, of the options up for consideration, there is a growing head of steam among Cabinet ministers and at the Auckland City Council for the area charge. This scheme, inspired by central London, would entail a $5 daily charge for driving in morning weekday peak hours anywhere in an almost 40 sq km sector of central Auckland. Not only does it seem the fairest alternative but it would generate the highest cashflow of any scheme, amply covering extra public transport services and roading improvements.

Submissions on the Ministry of Transport study close today. If amid all the public rancour, the area charge is confirmed as the most acceptable, its viability should be the subject of intense investigation. The minister can play a key role in galvanising progress. It needs to be established, for example, whether a one-off daily charge of $5 would be enough to get people out of their cars. Or if congestion would continue unchecked while the authorities gobbled up revenue. We also need to be assured that if people change their commuting habits, the public transport system will be able to cope. Part of Mr Parker's brief must, therefore, be to also recognise if a scheme cannot deliver a solution. He must be ready to withdraw and study other options, albeit while never losing sight of the urgency of the situation. It may be that, rather than a system based on cordons, the answer lies in electronic tolling. At the very least, this would introduce an element of fairness based on motorists' ability to avoid a toll.

Either way, there is reason to think that something can now be achieved. Finally, Aucklanders are receiving concrete proposals. Mr Parker's reinstatement will enhance the prospect that these will be followed by action.

Te Radar: A salutary lesson in how to appreciate the wife

It was with a heady sense of nationalistic pride that I read of the magnificent maritime misadventure of two of our most intrepid seafarers, and their valiant near-crossing of the treacherous waters of Cook Strait.

The men, Ellis Emmett, from Cheviot, and Dutchman Sander Verbiest, (a modern- day Not So Able Tasman), were reported as having tried to cross the Strait in a rotten dinghy, with a single sail and broomsticks for oars.

Though roundly derided by many, they will rightly go down in the annals of this nation's nautical history. No doubt even Captain Cook himself would have been impressed with their efforts.

Such was the audacity of their endeavour that it prompted Picton policeman, Senior Constable Paul McKenzie, to remark, "It was the most dangerous thing I've seen. [It was] complete stupidity". With this kind of adulation ringing in their ears, I hope the men are feeling justifiably chuffed, despite the lamentations of those who consider their actions to be totally thoughtless.

Not only could they have perished, wailed the worrywarts, they could also have endangered the lives of those who would have been dispatched to rescue them.

Now, while I hold the folk who conduct these rescues in the utmost regard, it is worth remembering that the job they do, albeit rather heroic, is not compulsory.

If they no longer wish to risk their lives saving imbeciles from themselves then perhaps they should consider another occupation. Maybe they could become sous chefs.

The men's actions illustrate the odd dichotomy between the concept of the noble adventurer and the absolute moron. Many of the great adventurers of history were no doubt, when considered rationally, morons.

This country was founded on what were no doubt considered at the time to be rather audacious maritime excursions.

Into canoes shaped from logs people set out into the never-never. After who knows what privations, some finally arrived here to set foot on land, no doubt thankful to be off the canoe so they could finally relieve themselves without everybody listening.

As for Emmett's and Verbiest's waka, the 3.5m boat, for which they paid $200, was not a rotten dinghy but a very small yacht. Nor were their paddles constructed from broomsticks. They were shovel handles, they declared.

Speaking about the prevalence of these kinds of antics, National Rescue Co-ordination Centre spokesman Steve Corbett said: "The problem is we have this incredible culture of thinking 'She'll be right' and disregarding the information."

I have a feeling that he didn't really think this was such a good national trait. I beg to differ. Were their actions stupid? Absolutely. Should they be saluted? Without doubt. What will they do next? Who knows, but I for one can't wait to find out.

And the reason for the trip? The pair said: "It was one of life's goals." And these kinds of life-challenging experiences, said Emmett, help to make you appreciate the wife more. What better reason could you have?

Jim Hopkins: Heroic Greens save the innocents from a fizzy peril

Everyone knows about Coca-Cola; the miracle beverage first discovered gushing from springs high in the Andes by starving pygmies desperate for sustenance after their epic voyage across the uncharted Southern Ocean in a fleet of fig leaf coracles.

And we all know how the rapacious conquistadors, greedy for gold, later destroyed the peaceful Pygmy Inca empire (to this day, no trace of their tiny stone cities has ever been found) and how all knowledge of their sacred libation was lost to a grieving world.

Until, as we all know, a dusty manuscript was discovered mouldering in a Peruvian museum, describing how to brew Quetza Quola (as it was known) thus inspiring some vile and unscrupulous dental entrepreneurs to synthesise the wondrous brew for the express purpose of rotting children's teeth.

But what we didn't know, until this week, was how to thwart this repulsive gang and prevent their rotting the molars and burgeoning the waistlines of our sugar-soaked youth.

Mercifully, the Greens have cracked it. While deemed unsuitable as coalition partners, they nevertheless remain an essential part of gummint; with special responsibility for ensuring that Tiger Woods gets stuck in traffic and eliminating those unspeakable nutritional perils that confront our young.

Accordingly, the real gummint (Helen, Winston, Peter and Jim) are giving the unreal gummint (Jeanette and the dowager Lady Kedgeree) $5 million of other people's money to compensate any gummint-funded schools that choose to remove any Toxi Cola vending machines on their premises, thus forfeiting the $3000 annual rental they receive from the hideous purveyors of this lethal concoction.

The brilliance of this is indubitable. In a country where people are already borrowing money hand over fist to make up for what they've lost through taxation, nothing could be more logical than hoovering another $5 mill out of their pockets.

Yet there will be people who believe the Greens have not gone far enough and should probably seek another fund to compensate schools who elect to ban pencils because their lead could poison young brains. And another fund to compensate schools which scrap computers because their electromagnetic radiations could cause madness, misogyny and terminal OOS.

Plus an additional fund to compensate schools which get rid of books because they cause myopia and astigmatism. Come to think of it, there should probably be a fund to compensate schools which decide to close down altogether in order to spare us all those ghastly accounts of boys' underachievement.

It's all very well sceptics saying, "Keep it up, lads. The system's so insufferably naff you shouldn't be succeeding anyway. Try life, it's a much better classroom!" But if our young stallions have already been gelded by Toxi Cola, pencils, computers, books, txt bullying and counselling, there's no way they'll benefit from any tuition in the larger world.

So our message to the remorselessly anxious Sue Kedgeree must be clear and unambiguous. "Press on, dear heart," we must say. "And cease not your heroic endeavours till you have negotiated a compensatory fund that will see the scourge of compulsory education, with all its attendant ills, abolished forever."

Until that great day dawns the Greens might consider putting their money where someone else's mouth is. Specifically, they use their $5 million to buy organic memory pills for anyone about to join, or rejoin, the Cabinet.

Young David Parker seems an ideal candidate for such medication. It was heartening to learn on Wednesday that the wee fellow had joined the lengthening line of important persons spared prosecution. But also disturbing to discover that he'd only ever pleaded guilty because he'd forgotten he had a note from the teacher, as it were, relieving him of the need to do what he'd already shamefacedly confessed he hadn't!

Having thus caused the gummint much unnecessary embarrassment, he should probably be left languishing absent-mindedly on the back benches for at least three weeks. Let's face it, a politician who hasn't got an alibi is deplorable but a politician who forgets he's got an alibi is utterly inexcusable!

It raises an interesting moral question for any unCola'd minds that have managed to sneak through to Philosophy 101: If someone repeatedly does something they know to be wrong only to discover (in the nick of time) that it wasn't actually wrong at all because the Official Alibee had said it wasn't, would that person still be: a) morally culpable since they believed the act was wrong, b) a dangerous amnesiac who's unlikely to remember his own roading policy, c) a Cabinet Minister.

The answer, of course, is "Yes" but that doesn't explain how such a dreadful memory lapse could occur. To answer that inexplicable mystery, we are entitled to conclude that the malign effects of Toxi Cola are equally evident in the corridors of power as they are in the classroom. And that the Greens would therefore be well advised to postpone their nutritional cleansing of our schools until they have put their own House in order.

Before doing anything else, they should use their richly deserved $5 million to purge parliament of any carbonated waters and pernicious confections that might rot the minds, ruin the physiques and destroy the prospects of unwitting youngsters like little Master Parker.

Graham Reid: The things you find in the back streets

I wish I could remember the name of the place so I could recommend it - but then again, maybe it's best I can't.

I had spent a tiring week travelling around Taiwan by myself, negotiating train timetables and ticket offices, finding hotels, temples and places to eat. By the time I got back to Taipei where I could count on a tiny bit of English being spoken I was weary and just wanted a place to sleep where I could sort myself out.

My previous hotel had been a horror show: a rundown, cockroach-ridden place populated by oddball English kids and Americans who were in the country illegally teaching English. I had no desire to go back there.

Nothing flash like the gilt-filled Ambassador, just a place where I'd be able to get out if the kitchen caught fire, as it looked ready to do in my former accommodation.

At the end of Chungshan Rd I looked to my right. Just another block of small street-cafes and restaurants, electronics shops and the local equivalent of the 7-11.

I dragged my suitcase along the rough footpath and at the end of the noisy, motorbike-jammed street looked up. There on about the 6th floor of a building opposite was the word "Hotel".

I made my way through the traffic and got into the lift. The doors opened to reveal a large and attractive lobby with a marble floor and two women behind a desk who were clearly surprised by me appearing in their hotel. I assumed they saw few Europeans. Neither spoke any English.

Through my faltering Chinese and a series of gestures, miming sleep, a lot of giggling on their part, then some figures scribbled on a piece of paper I got myself a room for the night. It was more than I had expected to pay, but I didn't have the energy to walk the streets again.

The women had obviously enjoyed the transaction and laughed as they handed me a key.

I was given a room near the lift, opened the door, and gazed slack-jawed at what was before me. The walls, carpet and curtains were a vivid, blood-red, the fittings around the bed were gold, and there were mirrors everywhere. It was an especially garish style of decor and I started laughing the minute I closed the door behind me.

I stopped when I saw the bath which could accommodate three people, comfortably. I ran the taps knowing it could take an hour to fill the damn thing and was trying out the vibrating bed when there was a knock at the door.

A young woman was offering me towels. I accepted them and she stood waiting for a long time. I thought she was waiting for a tip, but then suddenly she spun around and delicately ran off laughing.

After my bath I was lying on the bed and there was another knock. Another woman was standing there smiling. And smiling.

I had no idea what she wanted then suddenly one of the women I had seen at the desk bustled her off with what I took to be apologies. It seemed the young woman had come to the wrong room.

I came back after dinner and the place was busy with people coming and going. All night high heels clicked, the heavy tread of shoes was outside my door, and the lift doors kept opening and closing.

But I slept well enough and in the morning paid my bill, thanked the older woman at the desk and made my way down to the street.

It was in the bus to the airport that I did the maths and realised I had got a pretty good deal on my room. I'd also had it all night. Most people only took theirs for an hour.

Brian Rudman: Tunnels for power lines make more sense than ugly pylons

By now Transpower must surely be getting the message that no one supports its 19th century plan to replace the 220kV electricity cables draped across South Auckland to Otahuhu with even bigger and uglier 400kV power lines.

Yesterday the Electricity Commission gave its broadest hint yet that in July it will give the proposed new wirescape a final thumbs down.

Commission chair Roy Hemmingway said that "based on a wide range of advice and the analysis undertaken to date, there are alternatives that provide the same level of electricity security but are less expensive than the proposed 400kV line. Therefore, at this stage the commission cannot approve the proposal."

He said it had already approved several transmission upgrades that would deliver improved security of power supply into Auckland in the short and medium term. This would, he said, put off until at least the middle of the next decade the need for a major new transmission line for Auckland and Northland.

No doubt to the disappointment of those living underneath, there was no indication that the social effects of the new pylons might have contributed to the commission's interim decision ... although Mr Hemmingway did signal that the commission was "interested in people's views on the desirability and practicality of acquiring a transmission corridor in advance of the need for a new transmission line".

Being an optimist, I'm presuming he's including the possibility of a tunnel as an alternative to stringing cables over South Auckland roof tops.

At least the commission's interim solution will provide the breathing space in which a commonsense decision can be made as to how best to provide for Auckland's power needs.

Last year Transpower's announced proposals were accompanied by threats that without a quick decision Auckland risked power cuts by 2010. Local lines company Vector increased the fear factor by warning that outages could occur by summer 2007.

Leading the opposition is the lobby group Underground in Manukau, which is driven by those most affected by Transpower's proposed new lines.

But that doesn't make their arguments any less justified. Indeed, back in August 2004, Murray Jackson, chief executive of electricity producer Genesis Energy, expressed incredulity at the existing distribution set-up.

"Opportunities exist to underground high-voltage conductors in Auckland to avoid limitations brought about by existing right-of-way access across roof tops."

He said "how town planners could accept right of way and not insist on easements is beyond imagination, making it near impossible to upgrade voltage on existing tower structures".

He was referring to the vast South Auckland housing estates where high-voltage cables drape across household roofs, so low they appear to play footsie with household television aerials.

Mr Jackson said "an underground tunnel from the Bombay Hills to Penrose is an investment that will satisfy Auckland's environmental and residential development requirements over the next 50 years. Such a scheme may initially appear too expensive, but the alternative does not work."

In a subsequent interview with Metro magazine, Mr Jackson came up with a "back of the envelope" estimate of $250 million for a 25km tunnel to underground high-voltage electricity from the south into Auckland.

Dr Rowena Poole, the deputy chair of Underground in Manukau, says such a tunnel would be the ideal solution. "If it's economical for Meridian Energy to build a 34km long tunnel to carry water to a new power station proposed for the Waitaki River, it must also be economical to build a tunnel to ship electricity into Auckland." A fair point.

Unfortunately for affected residents, the commission's alternatives to the new 440kV overhead cables includes pumping 50 per cent more power through existing lines. Dr Poole says that for people living underneath these lines, this is "profoundly disturbing".

The health effects of power cables is a topic of much debate. But as Mr Jackson said, that town planners allow high-powered electricity cables and family homes to co-exist in humming proximity "is beyond imagination".

For both health and aesthetic reasons, it's time to enter the 21st century. Transpower, start tunnelling.

Peter Sheppard: Solomons need more time

I have just spent a month in the Solomon Islands and would like to provide some perspective on the situation in Honiara. Two of the most important issues in the election were the corruption of the previous government in its relations with Chinese businessmen and the Government of Taiwan, and the future of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (Ramsi), to which New Zealand contributes resources.

Racist anti-Asian politics are not new to the region. For many years Chinese Solomon Islanders have formed a class of shopkeepers and many people resent their success and wealth and their apparent failure to integrate. As one person told me, "They have secret societies, you know".

In the past five years many Chinese have entered the country, many seemingly from the People's Republic of China. Many are wealthy businessmen who have financial ties to China. They have invested heavily in the Solomons, including in the Pacific Casino Hotel complex, destroyed in the rioting. These men are involved in national and local politics.

Taiwan and China have been playing cheque-book diplomacy as they fight for influence in the Solomons and in the greater Pacific region.

Rumours allege these governments pay politicians and the ruling party. These claims ring true for the people in the villages who have first-hand experience with Asian logging companies that routinely solve local problems by under-the-table deals.

As one Asian businessman told me, "We are closing down our logging business and leaving the country because too many people want money. We just pay off one guy and someone else appears."

The New Zealand Government must consider how it can provide aid and help eliminate corruption. Perhaps Taiwan and China need to be brought on board.

The future of the assistance mission was of concern to people in the Solomons. On the one hand they are afraid it might disappear, while on the other they resent the Australian dominance. Often the average person says Australians are racist but considers Kiwis to be "Island people, just like us, who understand us and our problems."

Ex-pat friends who have provided country orientation courses for the assistance mission say Australians consider them a joke. A common feeling in Honiara last weekend was that the assistance mission members was too heavy-handed in their use of teargas at Parliament and elsewhere, enraging what had been a peaceful protest and forcing people down the hill into the town.

Solomons police are described as badly equipped compared with the assistance mission members, who are fully armed.

It is to the assistance mission's credit that they did not fire on the crowd and we must remember that no one died and not one gun was fired. In this respect the troubles were much less frightening than when I was in the country in 2000 during the ethnic tensions when young men carried automatic weapons.

The success of the no-confidence motion will take some of the heat off the assistance mission, and our Government must try to give it more of a public face as a multi-country operation and try to moderate the hard edges of the Australians. If John Howard wants to carry a big stick as Bush's sheriff, he needs to walk softly or he will find himself frozen out of the region by the people he means to "protect".

We hear much about corruption in the Solomons and it is true that corruption, or what many Solomon Islanders would see as a familiar form of patronage, is common.

In a resthouse in a remote village four weeks ago, the cleaner approached me with a large wad of $5 bills she had found under the bed. I told her they weren't mine and she said they probably belonged to the last occupants, campaigning politicians.

Democracy is a cultural construct. It takes time to grow and can be destroyed overnight. Democracy in the Solomon Islands is barely 30 years old and I would wager it was not long ago that politicians in Auckland, Sydney or New York carried wads of $5 bills.

The Solomon Islands is a neighbour with ties to New Zealand that go back to the mission at Mission Bay. We should not fail to help a neighbour in need. The people of the Solomons are hard working. The country is beautiful, with world-class diving and fishing. Just ask the New Zealand assistance mission members, who like to extend their stays or go back for further tours of duty.

* Peter J. Sheppard is an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology, University of Auckland.

Stock takes: Time is on their side

As the generation of 1960s ragers such as Mick Jaggerheads into their actual 60s, time does indeed appear to be on the side of the aged-care industry.

No doubt with that in mind, First NZ Capital has initiated coverage of Ryman Healthcare, giving it an Outperform rating and a relatively conservative valuation of $7.79 plus a a 12-month price target of $8.41.

The demographic argument for Ryman is pretty obvious. The number of people 65 and over has doubled since 1970. By 2031 that age group will make up about one-quarter of the population.

But a good "big picture" story doesn't mean much if a company can't survive long enough to cash in.

Ryman is looking healthy in the short to medium term, concludes First NZ analyst Jason Familton.

On top of the rapidly increasing demand for its products, he says, Ryman is a well-established brand with high-calibre management. Its business model - which allows it to benefit from any appreciation in the value of its serviced and unserviced apartments - has also built up considerable reserves thanks to the property boom of the past few years.

In the short term, First NZ is picking Ryman to deliver a net profit of $36.6 million for the 2006 year - up 55 per cent on last year.

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LEAGUE TABLES

Ryman is one of several stocks that has been steadily climbing the league tables for best performance on the NZSX-50 this year. Unsurprisingly, Waste Management has soared to the top of the heap thanks to the solid premium that goes with the TransPacific "merger" plan.

More impressive is Nuplex (featured here last week), which has grabbed second spot with an impressive year-to-date return of nearly 40 per cent.

Back in February, the insurers AMP, Promina and Tower were hogging the top three spots. Other strong performers of late include F&P Appliances, Mainfreight and Fletcher Building, all of which make the top 10 with returns in excess of 25 per cent.

Top fiveYr-to-date return

Waste Management 45 pc
Nuplex 39.7 pc
Promina 35.7 pc
AMP 33.6 pc
Ryman Healthcare 33.6 pc

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OOPS

Last week's piece about Citigroup contained a couple of unfortunate errors.

It has appointed Andy Bowley as a senior member of its research team - covering leisure and retail - but he is not head of research. That title stays with Kar Yue Yeo in the Wellington office. Also, while Bowley does come from the consumer and beverage team at CSFB in London, he isn't a returning Kiwi. Sorry about that, Stock Takes hates making mistakes.

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GPG REBOUND

Looks like GPG shares are starting to recover from the Government tax changes furore and the battle between Tony Gibbs and Peter Dunne (although one suspects that was just round one). All the publicity about the changes wasn't good for the share price, which shed 20c or nearly $200 million in market cap within days of the tax announcement. But the stock has regained nearly three-quarters of that.

It looks like those who see the change as a big negative have sold, and the strong run which GPG has had this year is back on track.

"It's back to business as usual," says Pete Sigley of Goldman Sachs JBWere. "I thought initially it was way overdone in that the underlying asset base hasn't changed."

He says what will happen is that there will be a change in the composition of the share register over time.

If something isn't done to mitigate the changes - either through the Government allowing an exemption or management finding a way around it - then it's likely the register will migrate from New Zealand to Australia and further afield.

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PUMPKIN PATCH

Pumpkin Patch shares are still looking good despite the fact that they aren't exactly cheap, Goldman Sachs JBWere says in its latest report on the kids' clothing retailer.

Pumpkin Patch shares have long since eclipsed the Goldman base valuation of $3.30. They closed at $4.05 yesterday, but the report says they remain a long-term buy because the company still looks likely to continue on its strong growth path for the foreseeable future.

In fact, if a range of more aggressive growth possibilities are considered, it could have a future value of up to $5.61. Those scenarios combined with a bit of subjective reasoning about the probability of various outcomes leads to a conclusion that Pumpkin Patch has an expected value of $4.12.

So while they aren't a cheap stock in the absolute sense, investors are still paying a fair price for the amount of "blue sky" on offer, writes analyst Terry Tolich.

The probability game is an interesting one.

The report calculates that to hit the $5.61 valuation, Pumpkin Patch would have to successfully roll out 400 US stores and 200 UK stores. That's a pretty big ask, but the fact that the scenario even features in calculations shows how much confidence there is about this great Kiwi brand.

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JET FUEL PRICES

Judging by the market reaction to the Air New Zealand fare price hike (almost no share price movement), it looks as though the airline has done the right thing in the eyes of investors.

OK, it's not the most liquid stock, given the Government holds 82 per cent, but it is walking a fine line between covering costs and maintaining demand. You could bet on negative market reaction if investors had thought the airline had got it wrong.

But it got it about right, said Forsyth Barr research head Rob Mercer.

Basically, the airline needed about a 3 per cent increase in yield to cover another $100 million in fuel costs. A 10 per cent increase shakes down to about that.

"It's still a balancing act. It will be trial and error. But the most important thing is filling those planes at the higher prices," Mercer says.

Domestically, it has a strong market, so it is unlikely to have much of a negative impact there, he says.

US routes were also likely to withstand the hikes. More problematic are the more competitive Asian routes.

Wednesday's smaller fuel surcharges hike by Qantas has highlighted how much more Air NZ is struggling with fuel cost.

The Australian airline has more breathing space because the Aussie dollar has fallen less dramatically against the greenback than the kiwi has. Air New Zealand shares closed steady at $1.27 yesterday ... up 3c since last week's announcement.

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YES, WE HAVE NO BANANAS ...

What's worse than a banana republic? New Zealand apparently. At least that's the way a headline in the Sydney Morning Herald put it on Monday: "Banana republic? No, worse: like NZ".

The article notes the upcoming 20th anniversary of former Prime Minister Paul Keating's infamous banana republic warning. More interestingly, it references a new report by Access Economics. The report makes the point that Keating's comments are as relevant as ever to the lucky country.

It's all about current account deficits and the risk they pose to general economic well being. Access Economics director Chris Richardson goes so far as to describe Australia as a "New Zealand waiting to happen".

If that sounds a little harsh, consider this remark from the report: "Every lesson of history is that markets ignore current account deficits for a long time and then exact a sudden and messy vengeance in a belated over-reaction."

The March surplus announced yesterday was a positive blip, but New Zealand still faces a shocker of a $7 billion-plus deficit on an annualised basis.

Of course, if you take a look at the world current account rankings, you'll notice that it's mostly rich countries such as the US and UK with big deficits while plenty of extremely poor countries run a surplus.

It seems countries such as Chad, Equatorial Guinea and Haiti seem to have shaken off their deficit concerns by becoming so poor that they can't afford to import anything.

New Zealanders seem keen on following that model. But until then, we'll continue to wear our deficit like a First World membership badge.