Former Economics Editor of the NZ Herald

Firms full of confidence: survey

Companies' export expectations rise for the third month in a row, despite the high New Zealand dollar.

Supporting the upswing is a huge construction sector pipeline. Picture / Greg Bowker
Supporting the upswing is a huge construction sector pipeline. Picture / Greg Bowker

Businesses are still brimming with confidence, ANZ's monthly survey has found.

A net 65 per cent expect an improvement in the general business situation over the year ahead.

That is down three points from the month before, the second monthly decline.

"But we are still talking elevated levels of confidence,' ANZ chief economist Cameron Bagrie said. "The long-term average has been plus 10 [per cent net positive]."

Other survey indicators remained well above historical averages and in most cases in the upper quartile of historical levels, he said.

A net 53 per cent of firms expect their own activity to increase, down five points on March but still double the long-run average.

Hiring intentions rose three points to a net 30 per cent expecting to increase employment. The historical average is a net 7 per cent.

Investment intentions dipped from a net 31 per cent positive to a net 30 per cent.

"That's a blip," Bagrie said.

For the third month in a row export expectations rose, the high dollar notwithstanding.

A net 30 per cent expect to raise their prices over the next three months, unchanged from the month before.

"Pricing intentions are off their lows but far from galloping away," Bagrie said.

"The same can be said for inflation expectations, which were unchanged at 2.6 per cent."

However, Bank of New Zealand economist Craig Ebert takes a less sanguine view of the pricing intentions reading.

At a net 30 per cent they were consistent with inflation picking up towards 3 per cent rather than the 2 per cent the Reserve Bank's forecast had it at for the foreseeable future, Ebert said.

"Exclude the agriculture sector - which is coming off cloud nine, in a way - and pricing intentions were a net 36 per cent. This is consistent with annual CPI inflation going above 3 per cent this year. It's not just the Reserve Bank's GDP forecasts that might be looking too light, in other words," Ebert said. Bagrie said that in spite of interest rate rises, with the prospect of more to come, and a high dollar the economy seemed firmly stuck in the groove of expansion.

Supporting the upswing were a huge construction sector pipeline, strong commodity prices (even with the recent easing in dairy prices), a massive net migration inflow and firms now feeling sufficiently confident to put cash to work in the form of investment and hiring.

It could always be derailed by an external shock.

"Forget the antics in Ukraine, the real risk is China," Bagrie said.

Its economic objective of more balanced growth was going head-to-head with a social one, more people in jobs, at a time when the drug of the US Federal Reserve's quantitative easing, which benefited emerging market economies and resulted in a large build-up of debt, was gradually being withdrawn.

Another potential slip across the tracks is complacency.

"Populism starts to trump leadership, pre-2008 style habits reappear, and the hand gets taken off the productivity lever."

Happy days

• Net 65% of firms expect an improvement in the general business situation.
• Net 53% expect their own activity to increase.
• Net 30% expecting to increase employment.

- NZ Herald

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