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Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Alan Bollard and the Smiling Curve

Last week I went to a presentation by former Reserve Bank Governor Alan Bollard hosted by the New Zealand Initiative. The key concept Dr Bollard used was the "smiling curve", a way of emphasising where value is created in a modern economy. In years past, the curve was flatter - it was the fabrication of products that created the lion's share of the value in the economy.

The relentless expansion of technology and growth of the service economy has changed all of that.

Keep on smilin'
Now, more value is created at the start of the production process - patents, technology, research and development - and at the end of the process - brand, service and marketing. Dr Bollard then related this to New Zealand's economy and specifically to the dairy industry, using figures from the FMG Institute. The numbers showed that the production of milk power had a return on capital of 9%, where as marketing had a 17% return, and 29% for research and development. Oliver Hartwich, Executive Director of the New Zealand Initiative, asks:
...what would it mean for a New Zealand dairy company that is seeking to do increase its business in Asian markets? They might be aware that the return on assets is only 7 percent for farming, 9 percent for powder plants whereas it is 17 percent for marketing and even 29 percent for R&D and processing.
Which is where it gets interesting. There seems to be agreement that increasing our R&D spend is a good thing, but we need to make sure we take advantage of it. On the other hand, there are also lots of people who seem to think New Zealand should focus on the middle of the curve.