New Zealand's services sector activity slipped further in April, touching the lowest level in more than six years and adding to concerns about an economic slowdown.
The BNZ-BusinessNZ performance of services index fell 0.5 of a point from March to a seasonally adjusted 51.8. That was 3.9 points lower than a year earlier and the lowest reading since September 2012. The index remains below the long-term average of 54.4. A reading above 50 indicates expansion.
Services account for about two-thirds of the national economy and the index is "starting to struggle," said BNZ senior economist Craig Ebert.
BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope said that the ongoing decline in expansion is a concern, exacerbated by a few factors during April, including extended holidays.
"The proportion of positive comments for April (43.9 per cent) decreased significantly from March (55.8 per cent). The decline was partly due to a number of comments centred on the ANZAC/Easter break disrupting usual business activity. Others noted a general economic downturn and slowing demand".
Ebert said unless there is a "sizable bounce" in May's result "we'll be left with the distinct impression of a slowing services sector." Overall, this is starting to "challenge the view that New Zealand's GDP growth will pick up through the course of 2019," he added.
"To the extent GDP growth does struggle, it could well encourage the RBNZ to respond with further monetary easing."
In terms of the sub-index values for April, activity/sales fell 1.2 points to 51.1, while employment fell 2.1 points to 48.6 and stock/inventories eased 1.4 points to 48.3.
In the other direction, new orders and business inched up 0.2 of a point to 55.1 while the supplier deliveries measure rose 0.7 of a point to 51.6.
The PSI's sister survey, the performance of manufacturing index, was released on Friday. It showed April's manufacturing activity expanded versus March but was well down from a year earlier as demand growth continues to cool.
Combining the two surveys, the composite index fell 0.1 of a point from March to 51.6 on a GDP-weighted basis. It was at 55.7 in April last year. On a free-weighted basis, the measure fell 0.4 of a point to 51.3. It was at 56.6 a year ago.