South showing signs of overheating

Eight of 11 regions around the country took a nose-dive in household confidence. The February...
Eight of 11 regions around the country took a nose-dive in household confidence. The February fires around Nelson saw confidence decline more than 50%, given the evacuations, damage and property losses. Pictured: fire takes hold in Walters Bluff on the outskirts of Nelson in early February. PHOTO: NELSON WEEKLY
Regional household confidence in Otago and Southland has taken a plunge alongside eight of 11 regions around the country, as the southern provinces cool their economic heels. 

Going back to almost mid-2018, Otago and Southland repeatedly claimed top spots in numerous confidence surveys of households, consumers and businesses, but those stellar results appear to have peaked.

Tourism, hospitality, accommodation, firm to record commodity prices, rising house prices and values plus population growth and high employment rates all combined to underpin positive sentiment and growth.

The latest Westpac-McDermott Miller regional economic confidence survey for the quarter to March saw a reversal of Otago and Southland's fortunes.

Westpac chief economist Dominick Stephens said some regions which had "outperformed in recent quarters" had "fallen away quite sharply".

"Gisborne/Hawke's Bay, Southland and Otago have all enjoyed an extended run of strong economic growth to the point where most, if not all, have overheated.

"As economic activity in these regions has begun to cool, so confidence levels have started to drop," Mr Stephens said.

"Despite this fall, households in the region still remain pretty upbeat about the future."

The positive mood in Otago reflected favourable conditions in the agricultural sector, increased tourist arrivals, close to double-digit house price growth and falling unemployment.

"However, with construction activity weakening and house sale volumes beginning to fall, there are signs that this overheating economy might be starting to cool."

Confidence in Southland fell 15% for the March quarter to a net 26% of households expecting their economy to improve in the coming year.

"Southlanders have traditionally been among the most confident in the country, so the magnitude of the fall in confidence is quite surprising."

Most of the drop was likely to be because economic activity in Southland had started to plateau, with unemployment picking up, house sales volumes falling and spending slowing. Dry weather conditions were also a concern.

In the Nelson/Marlborough/West Coast regions, Mr Stephens said there was a "huge drop" in confidence, with confidence falling from 51% to 26%

"Confidence in the region's future is likely to have been adversely affected by large wildfires that wreaked havoc in the Tasman region, resulting in large-scale evacuations and property losses," he said.

A net 26% of those households now expect their region's economy to improve over the next 12 months.

Across the country, Mr Stephens said the "standouts" were in the North Island, with confidence in Waikato and neighbouring Bay of Plenty the only regions which saw rises.

"With the exception of Wellington, [unchanged on 38%] confidence in the rest of the country has dipped," he said.

Some of the biggest falls were in Auckland and Canterbury, with housing affordability increasingly being cited as a key issue in Auckland, while the key factor in Canterbury was the slowing post-earthquake rebuild.

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