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Migration continues to strengthen


New Zealand's net migration has gone from strength to strength during the past few years, consistently defying the most bullish of forecasts, Westpac chief economist Dominick Stephens says.

Migration continues to strengthenIt now looked ‘‘highly likely'' annual net migration would surpass 70,000 by June, taking the population growth rate to a post-1974 high of 2.1%.

Commenting on the latest Statistics New Zealand migration and visitor numbers, Mr Stephens said strong population growth was generating strong demand for residential construction activity and was supporting economic growth.

Population growth was also boosting the supply side of the economy, limiting wage and inflation pressures.

The Reserve Bank was reducing the official cash rate at a time of ‘‘reasonable'' GDP growth, he said.

Seasonally adjusted figures showed a net gain of 6100 migrants in February, unchanged from the rounded figure for January.

Monthly net migration had remained relatively stable, fluctuating around the 6000 mark since October last year.

Government Statistician Liz MacPherson said the annual net gain of migrants had continued to rise, with an unadjusted figure of 67,4000 in the February 2016 year - the 19th consecutive month to show a record annual net gain.

Migrant arrivals reached a new of high of 124,200 and departures fell slightly to 56,900.

Net migration from Australia continued to rise with a net gain of 1600 migrants, she said.

‘‘This is the highest annual net gain of migrants from Australia since September 1991 and the fifth consecutive month to show an annual net gain.''

ASB economist Kim Mundy said although net migration continued to run at record levels, there was some ‘‘tentative evidence'' those flows could be close to peaking.

Strong population growth provided support to the New Zealand economy through increased demand for goods and services but also placed additional strain on New Zealand's tight housing market.

Net migration had also seen labour growth outpace jobs creation.

‘‘This has contributed to a softer labour market and subdued wage inflation pressures.''

A key source of arrivals over the past two years had been Australia, reflecting the relative strength of the New Zealand labour market compared to Australia, she said.

Recently, the Australian labour market had been improving while New Zealand's was slowing.

Also, recent Australian policy announcements might, at the margin, convince some New Zealanders residing in Australia to gain citizenship.

Arrivals from India, a key source of student inflows, also appeared to be peaking, Ms Mundy said.

In the meantime, tourism continued to boom, although numbers were down slightly from January.

‘‘This is likely due to the slightly earlier timing of Chinese New Year bringing forward some of the tourist arrivals that would have normally taken place in February.''

Over the past year, growth in short-term arrivals had been led by increased numbers of holiday makers from China, the United States and Australia, she said.

Statistics NZ figures showed visitor arrivals reached 373,400 in February, up 9% from February 2015. Holiday makers were up 18,000, or 9%, from February last year.

Population statistics manager Jo-Anne Skinner said an increase in holiday makers, coupled with 2016 being a leap year, helped boost visitor arrivals to a record high for a February month.

In the February year, visitor arrivals hit a record 3.2 million, up 10% from the February 2015 year. Half were holiday makers (1.61 million) and of those, Australia contributed nearly a third with 526,700 visitors.

Tourism New Zealand chief executive Kevin Bowler said this year's Chinese New Year resulted in a record number of Chinese visitor arrivals, up 15.2% on the same holiday period last year - making it New Zealand's biggest Chinese New Year to date.

When we compare the two weeks either side of the actual New Year's day, which fell on February 8, New Zealand received 51,200 Chinese visitors, or 6770 more than in 2015 - setting another new record for China.

‘‘This year's Chinese New Year really was bigger and better than ever before.''

Arrival figures for the United Kingdom and Germany had also shown solid growth, with holiday arrivals for Germany up 15.3% and the UK up 12.8% year on year, he said.

‘‘It is fantastic to see such strong holiday growth from these mature visitor markets that stay longer and visit more regions while they are here.''

The US market was also showing growth, total arrivals up 9.4%, while holiday arrivals also continued to show strong growth, up 10.5% for the same period.

Tourism New Zealand's targeted emerging markets of Indonesia, India and Brazil continued to grow, with total arrivals up 6.7%, 18.8% and 6.2% respectively for the year ending February, Mr Bowler said.