Waikato growth strongest in seven years

The Waikato region has recorded its strongest growth year-on-year since 2007, and scored fourth place in the regional growth stakes for the last quarter of 2013 according to an ANZ bank report.

In the three months to December, the Waikato grew by 2 per cent, beaten out by the West Coast and Northland on 2.4 per cent, and Canterbury on 2.1 per cent. It reached year-on-year growth of 4.5 per cent. The boost comes from higher business and consumer confidence, a better job market and a lift in consumer spending.

However, the breakdown of figures was a mixed bag, with the region doing well in some metrics, but rating poorly in others.

In the December quarter, Waikato recorded the third strongest rates of increase in both residential and non-residential building permit values, up 14 and 39 per cent, respectively.

However, consumer confidence in the region, which topped the ANZ report in September, had dropped to fifth place by December. Unemployment was also at its highest rate in two years compared to 2012. It was at 7.1 per cent, according to the report.

Waikato Chamber of Commerce chief executive Sandra Perry said she found some of the figures in the report perplexing.

She said the unemployment figures could be due to the Waikato having a higher-than-average number of University-aged students, who would be looking for jobs in the last quarter of last year.

Housing figures, which showed the region's decline in sales was twice the national average of six per cent in the last quarter, were also at odds with other reports she said.

"We're surprised at this ANZ report. All other indicators have pointed to a buoyant housing market."

She said growth in the region was very strong, as it was across the rest of the country.

"It's a little bit scary that everyone is so extremely positive. When you look at us and you look at Australia, we're in a very safe environment."

Across the country, Auckland was the only region to fall, but it was down just 0.1 per cent, after four quarters of strong expansion. Wellington was sluggish with regional growth of 0.2 per cent in the December quarter.

The Reserve Bank's speed limits on low-deposit home loans, brought in from October, had slowed down the residential real estate market, but higher commodity prices were lifting farm sales, ANZ said.

For the calendar year, Canterbury and Auckland were the standout growth leaders, with the quake rebuild helping boost Canterbury to year-on-year growth of 5.6 per cent. Auckland's region expanded 4.8 per cent, while Wellington came in third at 4.6 per cent.

As a group, the three most urbanised regions recorded growth of 4.9 per cent in 2013. The other 11 regions, which are more rural-based, averaged growth of 3.6 per cent.