Economy 'still doing pretty well' - Grant Robertson

Unemployment is up, business confidence is down and two building firms have gone under in the past week - but Grant Robertson says it's not time to panic.

Not even a third successive month of falling house values has fazed the Finance Minister, who insists talk of an economic slump is just that - talk.

"The fundamentals of the economy are good - we've still got a healthy surplus, debt as a percentage of GDP is coming down," he told The AM Show on Monday.

"While there was a little blip in that unemployment number, actually it's down from 4.8 percent when we took over - 94,000 more people in work at this time this year, compared to this time last year.

"So yes, there are some issues out there, and we're obviously working with business on those, but actually as an economy we are still doing pretty well."

According to the latest ANZ Business Outlook survey, a net 45 percent of respondents said they expect business conditions to deteriorate over the next year.

"That's a sign that the economy is dangerously close to what we call the 'stall speed'," economist Cameron Bagrie said last week.

Mr Robertson said there is little correlation between what business thinks and the reality.

"The last time Labour was in Government, 82 of 99 months business was pessimistic - but the growth rate averaged over 3 percent, so the correlation between the survey and what's actually happening in the economy isn't always there."

Mr Bagrie acknowledged the survey contains "a little bit of political bias", with business owners perhaps more likely to lean blue, rather than red.

"In the end, if people have got perceptions about a particular party they're pretty hard to change," said Mr Robertson.

"I can't tell someone how to feel... I accept that that's how people feel, who fill out the survey. What I'm saying is when I talk to businesses around the country, the feeling is quite different from that."

Grant Robertson.
Grant Robertson. Photo credit: The AM Show

He said economic growth was likely to remain under 3 percent this year thanks to the US-China trade war, but should pick up over 2019 and 2020. Annual growth peaked at 4 percent at the end of 2016, and has been declining since.  

National Party leader Simon Bridges, on The AM Show earlier on Monday morning, said the Government needs to take action to prevent an economic downturn - or perhaps stop what they're doing altogether.

"I wouldn't be going down the barmy track they are on industrial relations. I wouldn't be banning oil and gas, I wouldn't be banning mining, I wouldn't be going through ridiculous changes in the overseas investment regime and immigration, I wouldn't be slapping on more taxes."

Asked by host Duncan Garner what he would do, Mr Bridges said he "wouldn't be doing those things".

He said it was far too early to promise tax cuts at the 2020 election, but added that "when you work hard it's your money, not the Government's".