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Although consumer confidence in the region continued to lag many of the other regions, it did pick up in the last quarter, ASB chief economist Nick Tuffley said.
Retail spending had seen a material improvement over the past year and employment growth had also been strong.
''Continued strong demand for New Zealand meat and dairy exports is likely to have supported the increased volumes going through Port Chalmers during the first quarter.''
A great ski season would a ''real shot in the arm'' for the region's impressive comeback, he said.
''Otago has been the standout region over the first quarter, surging up the rankings to share second-equal place with Auckland, on the back of strong growth in employment and retail spending,'' Mr Tuffley said.
Southland also picked up a third star as it rose from the bottom to the middle of the rankings in the latest scoreboard.
Mr Tuffley said it seemed the benefits of the strong dairy sector were finally flowing through to the region.
Consumer confidence improved to just above the nationwide average in the first quarter and new car sales had risen substantially over the past year.
However, the contraction in employment and the weaker housing market over the past year posed continued challenges for the region.
''With the dairy sector a vital part of the Southland economy, the income boost from higher dairy prices should, hopefully, continue to flow through to broader activity over the remainder of the year.''
Canterbury held on to its top place in the latest scoreboard as the earthquake rebuild gained further momentum, he said.
Besides the boost to construction activity, the rebuild was also flowing through to stronger demand in other areas.
People were moving back into the city and with population growth came increased household spending.
The relatively high confidence of Canterbury households was also underpinning the strengthening in spending.
''With employment ramping up, and more visitors to the region, there is much for Cantabrians to be optimistic about.''
Otago also scored well in the latest ANZ Job Ads Series, particularly in advertisements carried in the Otago Daily Times, one of the contributors to the series.
The seasonally adjusted number of newspaper job advertisements lifted 0.7% in April, partly rebounding from a fall in March. On a regional basis, the data was volatile and ANZ economist Sharon Zollner said it was best to look at a rolling three-month average.
Despite the bias, the relative regional story was still informative.
The annual change in the three-month measure was strongest in Auckland. Otago was the next-best performer. Waikato and Manawatu were the laggards and Wellington staged a recovery.
Nationwide, the relationship between the unemployment rate and job ads had been less reliable of late, she said.
''Nonetheless, the marked acceleration in job ads now evident offers encouragement the improvement observed in the labour market will persist and the unemployment rate will continue to trend down.''
The ANZ-Roy Morgan New Zealand consumer confidence survey did not break out Otago as a region but the South Island, excluding Canterbury, was the sole region to record a lift in confidence this month, rising two points to 134.
Canterbury continued to have the highest level of confidence across the regions.
ANZ chief economist Cameron Bagrie said nationally, consumers remained upbeat but the level of sentiment had eased to a six-month low.
Weaker household sentiment was reflected across most demographics.
''While the finger can be pointed at higher interest rates as undermining confidence, we're still tracking high levels of confidence across the economy,'' he said.
At a glance
ASB Main Report
Canterbury: Five stars - the place to be
Otago: Four stars - be there or be square
Southland: Three stars - fair to middling
New Zealand: Four stars
ANZ Job Ads
Advertised Otago jobs second-best performer on three-month average
ANZ-Roy Morgan Consumer Confidence Index
The rest of the South Island, excluding Canterbury, only region to record a lift in confidence this month