CEOs want policies to avert a perfect storm of economic factors, writes Fran O'Sullivan

Chief Executives are calling it straight, saying it's time for the Government to produce a new "rolling maul" of policies to avert a perfect storm.

Views have shifted since the heady days of the 2014 election campaign when we last tested CEO sentiment, just two weeks before the September 20 polling date. Back then, the Dirty Politics saga and Kim Dotcom's internet Party took the shine off a compelling third election victory for National's John Key.

But business confidence was high.

New Zealand was still lauded as the Rock Star economy. Australian political and business leaders looked across the Tasman with frank envy as their own economy stayed becalmed off the rocks of an iron ore slump.


The Herald's 2015 Mood of the Boardroom CEOs Survey, taken in association with BusinessNZ confirms the resilience level is still high in the nation's boardrooms despite the fact that 63 per cent of respondents were expecting an economic slowdown. CEOs are working hard to book increased profits -- the biggest factor keeping many of them awake at night. But big changes in markets like China and Australia and the impact of digital disruption and other technological change is making their jobs more complex.

The 110 respondents to the Herald's 2015 CEOs Survey have dug deep into some critical issues that are crying out for political leadership and frank debate in business circles. Among them:

-The Chinese economic slowdown, which has caused many to question whether New Zealand is too reliant on China;

-The need for a Plan B to offset a dairy slump taking billions of dollars out of the economy;

-Shortcomings with NZ's negotiating position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP);

-An Auckland housing "bubble" which has been fuelled by speculative fever from both on and offshore; and

-Under-investment in the regions.

By international comparisons the NZ economy is still rock solid (the description Finance Minister Bill English has always preferred).

The Warehouse chief executive Mark Powell told the Herald he was optimistic. "There are tailwinds, we have low interest rates and a lower exchange rate which is good for exports. Net migration is positive and Government fiscal policy is sound."

Thomas Pippos from Deloitte said it was difficult to generalise about a national slowdown as the NZ economy operates on multiple speeds. "Clearly some sectors are faced with considerable challenges over this next period, given current commodity prices."

"What was an incredible terms of trade story has proved to be correct -- it was not credible," said Local Government Funding Authority chairman Craig Stobo.

When National swept to power in 2008 it was confronted with the impact of the Global Financial Crisis. Its answer was a "rolling maul" -- Government spending on big roading projects dominated but there was also help for stressed companies, an approach it rolled out again after the devastating Canterbury earthquakes.

The 110 respondents to the survey have suggested it is time for a new rolling maul to deal with the big issues of 2015.

Herald cartoonist Rod Emmerson's front-cover illustration aptly depicts the vacuum that exists at the top political tables for frank talking on the issues that matter to New Zealand's future.

John Key and Bill English are still displaying the confidence that comes from nearly seven years of sustained political leadership.

But there is a vacant chair when it comes to leading debate on the next wave of change towards building a sustainable future for New Zealand.

Labour is on to its fourth leader since that 2008 election.

Andrew Little and Grant Robertson are beginning to forge a new conversation on issues that matter, like the future of work. But it is yet to cut through for them.

What matters though is the open conversations that business itself is leading.

In this report, CEOs like NZ Super Fund's Adrian Orr and Air New Zealand's Christopher Luxon talk about new concepts like Inclusive Capitalism and Supercharging New Zealand's success.

If politicians vacate the chair then business should step up.