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Economic Performance: New Zealand versus Japan

In this article, I will simply present the numbers for the key performance indicators (taken from And then I'll give an update on GDP (gross domestic product) data, given today's data release from Statistics New Zealand, and with the definition of 'recession' in mind.

An important part of the context is that for many years, the principal economic commentary about Japan we hear in Aotearoa New Zealand is that the Japanese economy is "sluggish" and has been so for many years.

GDP growth per capita Y:Y
Interest Rate (OCR equivalent)
Inflation Rate (CPI) 
Unemployment Rate 
Current Account as % of GDP
  * estimate
Government Budget as % of GDP
  * estimate
Government Debt as % of GDP
  * estimate

Locating Recessions

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The table below highlights recessions using two different definitions, for aggregate GDP growth and for GDP growth per person in the population.

 Locating Recessions: New Zealand versus Japan     
       per capita per capita 
 GDP growth Q-to-Q GDP growth Y-to-Y|GDP growth Q-to-Q GDP growth Y-to-Y 
 NZJapan NZJapan|NZJapan NZJapan 
 %% %%|%% %% 
Dec-20130.3-0.1   |0.0-0.1    
Mar-20141.50.8   |1.00.8    
Jun-20140.4-1.8   |-0.1-1.8    
Sep-20141.30.1 3.5-1.0|0.80.1 1.8-0.8 
Dec-20141.50.4 4.8-0.5|1.00.4 2.8-0.3 
Mar-20150.41.6 3.60.3|-0.11.6 1.60.4 
Jun-20150.80.1 4.12.2|0.30.1 2.02.3 
Sep-20151.00.1 3.72.2|0.50.1 1.62.2 
Dec-20151.1-0.2 3.31.6|0.6-0.2 1.11.6 
Mar-20161.20.8 4.20.8|0.60.8 1.90.8 
Jun-20160.9-0.2 4.30.5|0.3-0.2 2.00.6 
Sep-20160.90.2 4.20.6|0.30.2 1.90.7 
Dec-20160.30.1 3.30.9|-0.20.1 1.11.0 
Mar-20171.00.8 3.10.9|0.50.8 1.01.0 
Jun-20170.90.4 3.11.5|0.40.4 1.01.7 
Sep-20170.70.9 2.92.2|0.20.9 0.92.4 
Dec-20171.00.1 3.62.2|0.50.1 1.72.4 
Mar-20180.80.1 3.41.5|0.40.2 1.51.7 
Jun-20181.10.3 3.61.4|0.70.4 1.81.7 
Sep-20180.2-0.5 3.10.0|-0.2-0.4 1.40.3 
Dec-20181.5-0.2 3.6-0.3|1.1-0.1 1.90.1 
Mar-20190.70.2 3.5-0.2|0.20.2 1.70.1 
Jun-20190.30.3 2.7-0.2|-0.20.3 0.90.1 
Sep-20190.80.2 3.30.5|0.30.2 1.40.7 
Dec-20190.8-2.8 2.6-2.1|0.3-2.8 0.6-1.9 
Mar-2020-1.20.5 0.7-1.8|-1.50.5 -1.1-1.7 
Jun-2020-10.2-7.8 -9.9-9.8|-10.5-7.8 -11.3-9.7 
Sep-202014.15.5 2.0-5.0|13.75.5 0.6-5.0 
Dec-20200.21.9 1.4-0.4|-0.11.9 0.2-0.5 
Mar-20211.80.2 4.5-0.7|1.70.3 3.5-0.6 
Jun-20211.20.4 17.88.2|1.10.5 16.98.4 
Sep-2021-3.9-0.5 -0.82.0|-4.0-0.4 -1.32.4 
Dec-20213.61.2 2.61.3|3.51.3 2.31.8 
Mar-2022-0.1-0.7 0.70.4|-0.3-0.6 0.20.9 
Jun-20221.01.2 0.51.2|0.81.3 -0.11.7 
Sep-20221.8-0.2 6.41.5|1.6-0.1 5.72.0 
Dec-2022-0.60.4 2.10.7|-0.80.5 1.21.1 
Mar-2023-0.21.0 2.02.4|-0.91.2 0.63.0 
Jun-20230.51.0 1.52.2|-0.21.2 -0.32.8 
Sep-2023-0.3-0.8 -0.61.6|-1.0-0.6 -2.92.3 
Dec-2023-0.10.1 -0.11.3|-0.80.3 -2.82.1 
 NZJapan NZJapan NZJapan NZJapan 

The two definitions are essentially those given on 21 March, but with small modifications. The definition using Q-to-Q data (quarter to quarter, seasonally adjusted), is when two subsequent quarters have a lower GDP than a given quarter. For example, in New Zealand in 2021, both the December and September GDP values were lower than the June value.

The second definition applies to Y-to-Y data, meaning when a quarter is compared to the same quarter of the previous year. Any negative value counts as a recession. Additionally, that recession may be backdated; an example is New Zealand in June 2023, where the GDP for that quarter is less than the GDP for September 2022.

It may be noted that there are more recession quarters in New Zealand when per capita data are used, because of a general pattern of rising population in New Zealand. This is particularly relevant in 2023. Japan on the other hand has fewer quarters in recession when the data is adjusted for population change; this is because Japan's population is falling, and that rate of decline has sped up in recent years.


While all of the data presented is important for the reflection of policymakers, I would particularly like to emphasise the importance of interest rate settings (monetary policy), and government budget settings (fiscal policy). In this regard, and given the ongoing political attention given in New Zealand to government debt, that New Zealand is about number 140 in the global government debt league, whereas Japan is number 2.

And we should note that the current account data indicate that New Zealand as a country – ie considering the country as a whole, not just the government – is a significant debtor country whereas Japan is not. Desirable current account numbers are within three percent (plus or minus) of GDP. (Interestingly, New Zealand's current account data for the December 2023 quarter were released on 20 March, but to much less fanfare than the GDP data release today. There would appear to be a degree of media self-censorship in this regard.)


Keith Rankin (keith at rankin dot nz), trained as an economic historian, is a retired lecturer in Economics and Statistics. He lives in Auckland, New Zealand.

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