Boost for Hawke's Bay economy

By LAWRENCE GULLERY

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People gladly parted with their cash in retail stores in Hawke's Bay/Gisborne to bump up the region's consumer confidence by the largest margin in New Zealand towards the end of 2012.

The Westpac McDermott Miller's study on regional economic and consumer confidence for the fourth quarter of last year was released this week, spelling out some long-awaited good news for local retailers.

In the consumer confidence section of the study, Hawke's Bay/Gisborne was significantly up from 96.3 per cent for the third quarter of 2012 to 113 per cent for the fourth quarter, sitting above the national average of 111.1 per cent.

It was an increase of 16.7 per cent, almost double the national average increase of 8.6 per cent.

The survey was conducted from December 1 to 10, 2012.

Senior economist Felix Delbruck said the consumer confidence section summarised responses to questions about households' financial situations, their expectations for the New Zealand economy and willingness to buy major household items.

"The fact that consumer confidence has picked up will be welcome news to local retailers," Mr Delbruck said.

"The increase is quite a big leap which suggests people are saying that now is a good time to buy major household items. We are not sure why, it's only a small sample, but there is definitely some improvements."

In the regional economic confidence section of the study, Gisborne/Hawke's Bay households "hang in the balance".

"We see that regional economic confidence in September 2012 was -13 per cent, which means there were more pessimists than optimists," Mr Delbruck said.

"But the fourth quarter shows confidence in the region has increased by 13 per cent, which brings it up to a figure of zero. What the zero actually means is that there were as many optimists as pessimists, when it came to respondents speaking about the economic times."

Exporters in the region continued to face pressure from a high dollar but global economic conditions "look a little brighter than earlier in 2012".

Napier Inner City Marketing manager Meg Rodel said feedback from CBD retailers in the past week indicated consumer confidence was on the rise.

"If we just take a step back from that, we run a free gift wrapping service for people at Christmas and in the leadup we went through way more paper than we've ever done in the past which is certainly one way of showing confidence was up," Ms Rodel said.

"One retailer I spoke to just prior to Christmas Day said it was shaping up to be the best December for them in 35 years in business."

Retailers were still experiencing a lot of buoyancy and confidence during the first few weeks on the New Year.

"We've had the doom and gloom for so long and it feels quite good to have things heading the other way." Ms Rodel said. She had heard from retailers working in clothing, jewellery and homewares who reported healthy trading results towards the end of 2012.

Napier and Hastings Mitre 10 Mega stores director Stephen Ricketts said the December quarter was one of the best for the business.

"That was a very strong quarter for us, it showed greater strength than the previous quarter and for a number of others it appeared that there was definitely more confidence in the market," Mr Ricketts said.

"It has certainly reflected in a strong quarter of sales for us."

Mr Ricketts said he was not sure why Hawke's Bay/Gisborne region would perform above all others when it came to consumer confidence.

"We have gone through some very tough times for the best part of four years now and there are signs that things are improving. People want a bit of good news and are generally feeling better.

"Whether it's going to be long term, naturally we would hope so. The likelihood is that it is going to be sustainable," he said.

Hastings Plaza centre manager Robyn Burns said Boxing Day trading was "substantially higher" than the previous year.

"The first few weeks in December at the Plaza was standard trading," Mrs Burns said. "The third week elevated and the fourth week was just crazy.

"I think at the moment retail is still very buoyant and consumers are confident. Retailers are doing what they can to generate sales and to keep the tills ticking over."

Mrs Burns, who is also a director for Focus On Retail, said people were big consumers of technology and electronic items during the fourth quarter, which she believed was tied into the upswing in confidence.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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