Port of Tauranga, New Zealand's biggest port company, registered strong growth in container volumes in the first quarter, helping boost the Bay of Plenty economy, Westpac Banking Corp said in a report.
In the three months to March 31 economic conditions in the Bay of Plenty improved marginally from the prior quarter as the horticultural, agricultural and forestry sectors benefited from higher commodity prices, said Westpac New Zealand industry economist Paul Clark in the bank's latest quarterly roundup.
However, "increased activity in the manufacturing, utilities, and retail sectors also made a meaningful contribution, while the Port of Tauranga has experienced strong growth in volumes handled," he said.
The improving economic backdrop is feeding through into improving economic and employment confident.
In the latest quarter regional economic confidence lifted to 27 versus 13.4 in the prior quarter, slightly below the five year average of 28.9. Regional employment confidence was at 122.6 versus 112 in the prior quarter, above the regional average of 106.1.
In February, Port of Tauranga raised its full-year earnings guidance after posting a 13 per cent gain in first-half profit that was driven by growth in cargo volumes.
In the six months to December 31, company figures showed import volumes rose 21 per cent led by increases in grain and dairy feed supplements, while exports rose 9.4 per cent, led by a 13 per cent gain in log volumes.
Growth has accelerated following the September 2016 completion of a major dredging project that was the culmination of a $350 million expansion programme.
Westpac's Clark said he looked at the trend in volumes rather than an actual data point and that the trend is moving higher.
Data from Statistics New Zealand points to a strong lift in the March quarter from the same period a year earlier, with the gross weight in tonnes of total imports through the port rising 17 per cent while total exports, also as gross weight in tonnes, were up 13 per cent.
Port of Tauranga shares, of which 54 per cent are held by the Bay of Plenty Regional Council's investment arm, closed up 6c today at $5.16.
The stock reached a record $5.23 on February 23, after accounting for a share split to improve liquidity in 2016.