COMMENT:

So business confidence is now the worst it has been since May 2008.

Seriously?

Anyone can see that the real world conditions are not nearly as bad now as they were in 2008.

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In May 2008 the economy was in recession and we were nearing the peak of the worst global financial crisis since the Great Depression. Finance companies were collapsing.

The economy now is at the sharp end of a nine-year expansion. Growth is slowing – maybe to 2.5 per cent, maybe to two per cent. But what it is not doing is contracting.

Immigration remains extremely high by historic standards. The cost of borrowing remains cheap.

Perhaps business has forgotten what a real downturn looks like.

National leader Simon Bridges has seized on the latest survey as an indictment of the current Government's policies.

It's certainly an indictment of their popularity with business.

But to make a compare confidence in the economy now and confidence in 2008 is ridiculous.


In 2008 we needed an Act of Parliament to guarantee our bank deposits.

The extremity of sentiment in the survey just serves to highlight how politically driven these things have become.

As a political narrative, it is very powerful for business and the Opposition. It creates a sense of creeping decline - that month by month things are getting progressively worse.

In fact, as ANZ chief economist Sharon Zollner herself points out, there is a risk that this is self-fulfilling.

What it also does is buy business some hope on key policy issues that are still being worked through by the Government.

Key among them is employment law reform which is still going through select committee.

Simon Bridges' comparing confidence in the economy now and confidence in 2008 is ridiculous. Photo / Dean Purcell
Simon Bridges' comparing confidence in the economy now and confidence in 2008 is ridiculous. Photo / Dean Purcell

Business lobby groups desperately want to see aspects of the proposed policy softened – in particular they are looking a pull back on reforms that would allow unions back into every workplace by default.

What is also clear is that the Government's strategy of quietly playing down the surveys – or attempting to dismiss them as inaccurate - is not working.

Despite predicting it, and actively trying to head it off, they now have their own full-blown Winter of Discontent – a repeat of the big standoff Helen Clark faced with business in 2000.

From here the issue is a crucial and very difficult one for the Coalition.

Do they ignore it and forge on, focusing hard on real-world economic stats and hoping they hold up?

Should they appease business by backing down on labour law reform – upsetting their left wing but knowing that they'll have nowhere else to go?

Or do they punch back?

With just two days left as acting Prime Minister the honourable Winston Peters must be tempted to pick up his populist baseball bat and go the full "Joe Pesci" on business leaders.

He could mine the powerful seam of anti-business sentiment that runs through the New Zealand population, before heading off into the sunset, leaving Jacinda Ardern to broker a peace treaty.

It would a bold approach – although not dissimilar to the way Clark and Michael Cullen played it in 2000.

Regardless of the Government's next move, it is unlikely that business confidence will rebound any time soon.

Our economy is delicately poised. The risk of a downturn - as outlined by John Key last week - is real.

It is external forces - Chinese growth, trade wars, commodity prices, stock market turmoil - that will ultimately decide which way things break.

But in the meantime the Government needs to find a way to break the deadlock with business to keep the nation upbeat and ready for whatever comes our way next.