Auckland retained the top spot as the country's strongest economic region in the December quarter, thanks in part to the Rugby World Cup, according to the ASB/Main Report's latest regional scoreboard.

Tasman and Nelson both edged closer to the top of the table, reaching second and third place respectively, reflecting a boost to population following the arrival of quake-affected Cantabrians, the report said.

Canterbury looked to be regaining its feet despite the challenges presented by ongoing earthquakes, with housing market activity in particular picking up over the second half of 2011 - a trend that was expected to continue into this year once reconstruction gets under way.

The scoreboard takes the latest quarterly regional statistics and ranks the economic performance of New Zealand's 16 regional economic areas.


Auckland remained at the top of the rankings for the 10th consecutive quarter, reflecting a strong showing across a broad range of measures, including employment growth, housing market activity and guest nights.

The hosting of key Rugby World Cup games, particularly in the knock-out stages, provided an extra boost to activity in the region.

Beyond this boost, the region's relatively strong housing market activity was underpinning the recovery in its household sector, the report said.

Waikato remained in the top half of the rankings, with the region also receiving a boost to activity from the hosting of Rugby World Cup games.

This was especially reflected in the relatively robust increase in retail sales and guest nights over the past year.

The effects of increased dairy sector earnings were yet to flow through into the Waikato economy.

Bay of Plenty fell sharply in the economic rankings - reflecting the effects of the Psa outbreak on the kiwifruit producing region, and the fall-out from the Rena shipwreck on its tourism industry.

Hawke's Bay remained in the bottom half of the rankings. This reflects weaker housing market activity and retail sales, relative to the nationwide average in NZ. Weaker employment in the wider Gisborne-Hawke's Bay region also weighed on the region's prospects.


The high NZ dollar is one headwind facing the wine export sector in the region.
Despite encouraging developments in its labour market, consumer confidence in Taranaki was the weakest of the regions in the country.

The Manawatu-Wanganui region had improved from its bottom ranking in the previous quarter, but remained in the bottom half of rankings in the latest scoreboard.

Employment in the Wellington region was flat over 2011 and the unemployment rate had risen to above the nationwide average, likely reflecting public sector cutbacks.

Nelson climbed one place in the rankings, up from 4th to 3rd. Population growth continued to be quite strong in the region, likely due to the relocation of quake-affected Cantabrians.

The report said this relocation had been underpinning the improving economic fortunes of the top of the South Island, where the number of jobs grew by 12 per cent last year.

Tasman moved up one spot, from 3rd to 2nd. The story here was much the same as for Nelson.

Canterbury remained in the middle of the rankings, with many of the problems arising from the earthquakes continuing to dog the region.

Otago was another region that has benefited from an influx of displaced Cantabrians, which has lead to a surge in both population and employment in the region.

After several strong quarters, Southland slips slightly in the rankings. The drier than usual weather conditions more recently may provide some challenges for dairy production levels later on in 2012, the report said.