Economist reveals the 'long-term' problem stifling Kiwi businesses

An economist says the economy has a "long-term fundamental problem" that's leading to higher house prices and starving businesses of the funds they need to expand.

Cameron Bagrie spotted a small detail in the most recent ANZ Business Outlook survey he thinks deserves more attention. 

"There was one figure in it which didn't get picked up - the fact that businesses are reporting the worst credit conditions ever," he told The AM Show on Tuesday,

"This is not just a function of COVID - if you go back and look at July, July was the second-worst... so I think we've got a fundamental problem out there at the moment."

The survey found a net negative 52.6 percent of respondents are finding it easy to access credit at present - down from July's negative 51 percent. 

Questioning took place over the switch from alert level 1 to level 4 - before the lockdown sentiment was already worsening at negative 52.1 percent. Those who responded after the restrictions came on had an even bleaker outlook - negative 54.3 percent. 

The results are the worst since ANZ started asking about access to credit in 2009. 

"If you look at what's been going on for a number of years now, houses have been the biggest game in town. Banks have been incentivised to put more money into housing because they need to carry less capital against a housing-based loan - so more money is going into housing, less money is going into the business sector," said Bagrie, who used to be the bank's chief economist. 

"But... let's think about the big picture. Housing and wellbeing needs an economic base, and that economic base is provided by the business sector. If the business sector is not being supported by credit functionality, you're going to have a problem down the track."

With record-low interest rates, the housing market was rocketed in the past year-and-a-half, throwing off early predictions the pandemic would bring values down. 

Bagrie said it's not entirely the banks' fault.

"On some levels banks are economically incentivised to put more money into housing by the risk-weighting regime; the other thing banks have been dealing with is an awfully big increase in compliance costs - responsible lending, all this sort of stuff, all the courses, training modules they've got to do."

But they have to shoulder some of the blame, Bagrie said.

"Their systems are outdated, they haven't been investing in those systems and people capability. They've been screwing the scrum too much towards housing at the expense of the business sector. The spotlight just needs to be turned on the issue. 

"This is a real long-term, fundamental problem we need to think about... housing needs an economic basis and the economic base is provided by the business sector."

Elsewhere in the survey, respondents reported a worsening profit outlook - almost entirely thanks to the lockdown - and an expectation of higher inflation, above 3 percent. 

Employment expectations remain static, with employers still expecting to make new hires in the near future. 

"The economy had significant momentum going into this, and we know the wage subsidy works," ANZ's team wrote. "People will be a lot more confident than last time that their job will be there for them on the other side of this."