Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

31st October 1997

Copyright © 1997 Russell Brown

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It's down! It's up! It's down again! But mostly, it's down. Frankly, if the stock market was a person, it'd be diagnosed manic-depressive and dosed up on Prozac. Well actually, in New Zealand it'd probably be refused admission to a hospital and wander off and kill someone.

Yes, however sharp the minds of those individuals who buy and sell shares on the world's markets, their collective psychology is frankly, flakey. It's been hard this week not to smirk at the fortunes of some of those people who spent last week telling journalists writing 10-years-on pieces that an 87-like crash wasn't going to happen to them with their strong fundamentals, no sir. Yeah, right.

Ironically, it seems business confidence here was at a three-year high before the global "correction" kicked in. And yet, on the big day, the NZSE 40 dipped 12.7% while Australia's fell only 7.2%. Everybody said we just didn't deserve that, because our fundamentals were right. But that's like saying our cricket team doesn't deserve to lose. Actually, I take that back. If our stock market was as weak as our cricket team, there really would be a crisis.

The relentless unreality of it all has made watching the markets for most of us like following some vast sporting event of which we have only a passing knowledge, and whose players we don't particularly like anyway. It's as if it doesn't concern us. But, of course, it does.

The current crash is generally assumed to have begun in Asia, spawned by something even weirder. That was the currency crisis which began in Thailand and spread through the region as a handful of speculators played off governments and their money. Add a bout of post-handover hangover in Hong Kong, and boom, before you know it the banks are having their credit ratings downgraded.

Maybe some of them deserved it. A friend of a friend has just come back from working for a bank in Bangkok, where, he said, a good 30% of the bank's loans were non-performing. That's trouble, and the bank wasn't telling anyone about it, which is arguably even worse.

What occurs to me is that a few Auckland property developers might be sweating a bit. The offshore Asian owners of some of those pricey apartments downtown might be tempted to just walk away from their big mortages, especially if the currency crash has already made them difficult to service.

Anyone engaging in new metropolitan property development, on the other hand, cannot now expect to find Asian investors staggering around the streets with piles of money to spend. Which might bring us to a silver lining of the whole smelly cloud - it makes the Britomart even less likely to proceed.

Under the Britomart plan, if the 11 overground "development pods" on the site are not sold, we the ratepayers have to buy them back. An estimate in Tom Hyde's excellent Britomart story in the current issue of Metro says that rents will have to be about $400 per square metre to make any office block viable - that's $150 more than anybody's getting in downtown Auckland at the moment. The Britomart simply cannot fly, and the sooner we all get our heads around that, the better.

Metro itself - or Modern Lunching magazine, as we now know it - continues to find its feet under the Ralston regime. Ralston continues to do dejeuner like there's no tomorrow, and he may soon have to be innoculated against attacks of the luvvies, but the magazine has atmosphere, identity and a bit of zip. I'm still, however, waiting for a cover that I like. The yoof TV feature by that student of the culture, Steve Braunias, is pretty good; although I'm struggling to grasp what Kevin Black was on about in his interview.

Regarding the yoof TV, I'd just like to say that the pre-recorded 'The Making of Of' show of Havoc on Labour Day was one of the funniest things I've seen on TV in ages and it suggested there may be a future beyond the armchairs and the live-in-the-studio thing.

It remains to be seen, however, how well TV4's groovy yoof image will bear up under the strain of showing test cricket from Australia, where, over seven hours daily, our team will be tortured by men who chew gum and call each other "mate" all the time.

But wait! There's more! There's the All Black tour to the UK, too, which, apart from providing for a welcome cessation of provincial hostilities, will give the British press a chance to go completely mad over Jonah Lomu. Again. Never mind that he's neither fit nor fast at the moment, and he still appears to have no positional sense at all, he'll be the star of the show. He's younger than Havoc, bigger than Jennifer and he's taller than News.

Yes, Jonah, with his moving story of kidney disease and recovery and all, is someone to look up to, literally. And by Christ, we need it if the arrogant and, indeed, barely credible performance on Holmes this week of the Minister of Youth Affairs, Deborah Morris, is an indication of the quality of political leadership.

Some kids wanted to stage a show to address the problem of youth suicide. They wanted Youth Affairs to put up a $2000 bond so they could play Aotea Square. Piss off, said Youth Affairs. Not, well perhaps we could discuss your message, have a meeting, help out, support or advise. But piss off.

Then Morris, in the same breath as she claimed her job was to foster a sense of belonging and a role for young people in society, said "double piss-off" - and a uttered a phrase which she deserves to have hung around her neck for ever more: "We're not here to provide a slush fund for rock concerts." Thanks, Deb. Nice to know where you stand. You will follow your party down the gurgler in two years anyway - unless you jump ship to the Tories. Or should that be jump Shipley? Looking at Morris, the body language, the clothing, the pompous manner, you could almost see her mutating on the spot into Shipley herself. Be very bloody afraid


    ==  ==      Russell Brown
  [ @ / @  ]                      
     /        ________________________________________
    (_)         "The views expressed on this programme
    ____)       are bloody good ones." Fred Dagg, 197?

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