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Brian Fallow

The Economics Editor of the NZ Herald

Business confidence slips

ANZ National chief economist Cameron Bagrie. Photo / Mark Mitchell
ANZ National chief economist Cameron Bagrie. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Business confidence has dropped for the sixth month in a row in ANZ's Business Outlook survey.

A net 24 per cent of respondent firms still expect general business conditions to improve over the year ahead, but that is down 16 points on July and 46 points off its peak last February.

Firms' expectations for their own activity have also declined. A net 37 per cent expect improvement, down eight points from last month and the lowest level for this indicator since May last year.

Though the trend was clearly downward, the level of confidence was still consistent with solid momentum and growth, said ANZ chief economist Cameron Bagrie.

"Agriculture led the decline across most indicators. The milk price is projected to decline from $8.30 [per kg] of milk solids [last season] to $6 and even the latter estimate looks a stretch given where dairy prices are trading today.

"That's a $3.9 billion hole across the economy," Bagrie said.

"In contrast, construction and services, whilst easing, remain top of the class in terms of confidence levels."

Investment intentions eased from a net 23 per cent positive to a "still okay" 17 per cent.

"A net 18 per cent of businesses expect to be hiring more staff over the year ahead - still positive but well down from its peak," he said.

A net 21 per cent expect higher profits, down five points from July and 45 points from the peak last February.

Pricing intentions crept lower, with a net 23 per cent expecting to raise their prices over the next three months, down from a net 26 per cent last month.

"That's a good sign," Bagrie said. "The Reserve Bank's pause in its tightening cycle could last a while."

The economy had clearly passed its peak in terms of growth rates.

"Dairy prices are well down from their turbo-charged highs, the New Zealand dollar is still elevated, house prices have started to go backwards quarter on quarter, and the official cash rate is 100 basis points higher than at the start of the year."

But while the economy might be moderating, it was a case of slowing from a gallop to a canter, Bagrie said, which was not a bad thing in terms of the longevity of the expansion.

There was still strong support from construction, migration and natural resource-related investment such as in irrigation. Commodity prices outside of dairy and forestry were holding up well.

"The economy has moved from recovery, when you see strong growth rates coming off lows, into Goldilocks mode with solid growth with low inflation. That's the optimal mix."

Westpac economist Michael Gordon said the ANZ survey showed business confidence was now more consistent with the middling pace of economic growth over 2011 and 2012, when gross domestic product grew around 0.7 per cent a quarter on average.

- NZ Herald

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