22 Sep 2011

NZ economy slows sharply

6:04 pm on 22 September 2011

New figures show the economy slowing sharply but Finance Minister Bill English says people shouldn't be surprised by the patchy nature of the economic recovery.

Economic growth fell sharply in the three months to June compared to earlier in the year, the latest official figures from Statistics New Zealand show. GDP rose by 0.1% compared with 0.9% in the first quarter.

Speaking from North America, Mr English says an uncertain outlook for the world economy is likely to weigh on growth prospects.

"The pattern is now pretty consistent and that is that the New Zealand economy has been growing for I think eight of the last nine quarters.

"But there are some head winds ahead and we're going to have to work pretty hard to lift our incomes and create more jobs, because the world's not going to make it easier for us."

Agriculture's best quarter for three years

The biggest drag on growth in the June quarter was a drop in building activity, which fell by 4.3% - the second consecutive quarter of significant retraction for the sector.

Manufacturing output, a strong performer in recent quarters, fell by 0.1%. In contrast, agriculture had its best quarter since September 2008, lifting production by 4.3%.

Finance, business services and insurance also contributed to June quarter growth, posting the category's biggest quarterly increase since 2005.

The sharp slowdown in the June quarter helped pull the nation's overall annual economic growth down to 1.5% from 1.6% at the end of March.

Labour points finger at high dollar

The Labour Party's finance spokesperson, David Cunliffe, says manufacturing is struggling with the high dollar, and monetary policy needs to play a bigger role in bringing it down.

But Mr English says the Government's focus is making the economy more competitive to counter the high dollar and weaker export markets.

BNZ economist Stephen Toplis says the farming sector is keeping economic growth positive.

The clear message of the new figures, Mr Toplis says, "is that the strength in our primary production sector - and, coupled with that, the strength in the terms of trade - are actually leaving New Zealand in a relatively good position on a global stage which is looking increasingly shaky."