Traffic level shows economy slowing

JAMES WEIR
Last updated 08:53 14/11/2012

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The economy is losing steam fairly rapidly, from its current respectable pace of 2.5 per cent, according to an ANZ Bank report on truck and car traffic.

The bank's Light and Heavy Traffic Indexes both bounced back up in October, but only partly recovered ground lost in September.

"The headwinds the economy is facing would make such a slowdown [in growth] quite understandable," ANZ's latest Truckometer report says. But traffic flows would not pick up activity from the Christchurch rebuild, which is starting to kick into gear.

"A two-speed economy beckons," ANZ's report says.

The Heavy Traffic Index rose 4.5 per cent in October, after slumping 5.4 per cent in the previous month. The trend remained "flat at best" and suggested the economy could shrink in the September quarter after relatively strong growth in the first half of the year.

Much of New Zealand's freight is moved by road, so traffic flows are a timely measure of economic shifts.

The Light Traffic Index rose 1.5 per cent in October, after falling 2 per cent in September. The trend on that index was flat to falling.

The index reflects car movements on nine key roads around the country and is a strong indicator of economic growth six months ahead.

The light traffic flows suggested the economy would remain sluggish in the first quarter of 2013. Light traffic is seen as a leading indicator for growth six months ahead.

"It would appear that willingness to buy and drive a car is the ultimate measure of 'money where your mouth is' consumer confidence," ANZ's report says.

That confidence, or lack of it, was later reflected in other spending, and hiring and investment decisions.

But ANZ warned that the traffic indexes were better indicators of "momentum" and turning points in the economy rather than spot predictors of actual GDP growth in any quarter. Despite that proviso, the heavy traffic flows were closely matched to GDP and light traffic was a good lead on growth six months ahead.

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