There are fears a slump in sales for the year to September will mean an export-led economic recovery is even more unlikely.
The latest Manufacturers and Exporters Association survey of business conditions also reveals that pessimists are continuing to drown out optimists in the sector.
In the year to September, export sales for New Zealand crashed by 35%. The figure was partially offset by a 20% increase in domestic sales.
Business confidence remains in the negative but did rise 10 points from August to a net score of minus 17.
Meanwhile, staff numbers for September fell 21% on the same month last year.
Manufacturers and Exporters chief executive John Walley says exporters in particular are struggling, with the high New Zealand dollar still the main problem.
Mr Walley says with firms moving overseas and others downsizing, it is clear that real recovery for the economy has not yet arrived.