10 Oct 2012

More firms expect worsening economic conditions

7:22 am on 10 October 2012

Business confidence has declinedamid weaker trading activity, indicating that the pace of economic activity has slowed.

The Institute of Economic Research's Quarterly Survey of Business Opinion found pessimists outnumber optimists, with a seasonally adjusted net 5% of firms expecting economic conditions to worsen in the next six months.

That compares with a net 1% expressing pessimism in the previous survey.

A sharp fall in manufacturing sales and a weaker services sector has dented trading activity, prompting weakening job growth, and indicating economic growth will slow will slow from 2.6% in the June quarter to 1.5% in the second half of the year.

NZIER principal economist Shamubeel Eaqub says the recovery is patchy, with Auckland growing, but the post-quake surge in Canterbury easing, and activity has slowed in other regions.

Canterbury had previously been rebounding strongly, but its new weakness has also affected job growth and fewer people are being hired.

"The Canterbury weakness is surprising. We had expected to see Canterbury pretty strong for quite some time," Mr Eaqub says.

"This pullback is a warning sign ... the fact that we have some weakness in Canterbury is a cause for concern and something that we need to investigate more."

Overall, the amount of spare production tightened, with the capacity utilisation rate edging up to 90%.

But Mr Eaqub says Canterbury's demand for resources is behind that, and it's not spilling into general price inflation, which remains subdued.

The NZIER says the Reserve Bank will keep interest rates steady for some time.

Though the export sector remains positive, there are signs of softening, and there is a pullback in the domestic sector, Mr Eaqub says.

Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund has slightly pulled back its growth forecasts for New Zealand.

It is picking the New Zealand economy will expand 2.3% this year, rising to 3% next year.