The National Bank's latest business confidence survey shows an improvement in confidence - but a rise in the number of firms that expect their own situation to worsen.
The survey indicates a net 35% of firms expect general business conditions to deteriorate over the coming year, which is eight percentage points better than the November reading.
But a net 22% of firms expect their own business activity to worsen over the coming year, a reading which outstrips the previous record low from April 1988.
National Bank's chief economist Cameron Bagrie said the figure on companies' intentions paint a clearer picture than the headline figure on business confidence.
Mr Bagrie says inflation expectations and pricing intentions both fell sharply in the survey, which he says clears the way for the Reserve Bank to cut interest rates further.