'Look at all the cranes," said the 10-year-old on the ride into the city.

We counted about nine across the Auckland skyline. There's likely a few more obscured by buildings and hiding in the gullies.

Regardless, it is a good sign that Auckland is feeling confident. Or at least that it is forging on with its property-led boom regardless of the downturn risk throughout the rest of the country.

"Yes," I said to my daughter, "there'll probably be even more soon and then the market will crash and there will be none."


"How do you know that," she asked.

"Because that is what happens in Auckland," I said.

It was a bit glib, perhaps. Maybe I'm overly pessimistic, maybe it won't happen like that next time.

But I doubt anyone who has followed the central Auckland property market since the 1980s would believe anything different.

The question really is when do we reach peak cranes? At what point do the silhouettes on the skyline become an ominous warning of an impending economic crash rather than a sign of economic confidence?

Perhaps not for a while yet.

But when the disconnect between the Auckland activity and the rest of the country becomes too great, then something has to give.

There's a time lag around big property projects that puts their completion a risky distance from the solid market data on which investment decision must be made.

When the music stops, there are always unfinished projects left stranded, usually for a few years until the next economic upswing kicks in - although Auckland still has undeveloped holes in the ground that date back through several booms and busts.

It's a risky business. At the best of times.

The economy is currently treading water. The dairy shock is being absorbed, and with tourism still strong and and some of the other commodity exports - like meat and wood - still holding up reasonably well, we're still growing.

Interest rates are still coming down and money will stay cheap for those in the property sector that need to refinance.

There are two big risks that could shock this economy out of the comfort zone: China's economic slowdown and the weather.

The blustery winds of the El Nino weather system are already doing their bit to ruin the pre-Christmas barbecue season.

As they whip across the country sucking moisture from the soil, they carry with them the more serious threat of drought and recession.

We know this because we've been there before.

The last really bad El Nino was the summer of 1997/98. The severe drought it caused was eventually estimated by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research to have caused a loss to agriculture of $618 million, close to 1 per cent of GDP.

When you throw in the impact on downstream agricultural production and rural business, the likely total cost to the country was estimated to be in excess of $1 billion.

We don't need another summer like that.

With economic growth already dipping below 2 per cent, there is real risk of economic stagnation if we have serious drought - if not outright recession.

Then there is China, so important to our export earnings and so important for our biggest trade partner Australia.

Will China have a hard landing or a soft one? There's more than enough commentary on the topic out there for you to take your pick. But will that even matter? The landing will shake the world regardless; it already is.

Big players like Goldman Sachs are now picking an even longer slump for commodities on the back of decreased China demand.

A worrying report by the Oxford Economics research team last week looked at the impact China's slowdown to 7 per cent growth has had on global growth and imagined what a hard landing might look like.

Although New Zealand was not included in their 21-country analysis of risk by level of export dependence, the conclusion was pretty stark: the biggest losers as China slows are those with the closest trade links and those whose economies are most open.

And the report certainly pointed to more bad news for Australia. That in itself flows through as bad news for New Zealand.

The bright spot for us right now appears to be Tourism. Travel by China's large middle class is on such a growth curve that even it if tails off a bit, we are still likely to see record-breaking visitor numbers in the headlines for some time yet.

Property investment out of China is unlikely to fall off a cliff either. A weaker Chinese economy may bring some risk aversion but we know the flow of money out of the country is still on a sharp growth curve.

Interest in getting a property foothold in environmentally clean and politically stable places remains a dream for many in China and one that involves longer-term vision than Auckland's property cycles.

But the building boom will peak and end at some point.

Perhaps we'll see an orderly wind-down as supply comes slowly into sync with demand and new developments slow. Perhaps.

Anything is possible, but when the winds of change blow for commercial property investors it is usually a sudden shift.

Keep a close eye on that skyline.