Confidence among Australian businesses slumped in the final three months of last year, suggesting a slow start to 2013.
The National Australia Bank's (NAB) quarterly business survey, released on Thursday, showed both conditions and confidence deteriorated to levels not seen since the first half of 2009, when the Australian economy was emerging from the depths of the global financial crisis (GFC).
Business confidence fell to an index level of minus five in the December quarter, the weakest result since the three months to March 2009, while conditions slumped to minus six, a level not seen since the June quarter of 2009.
The negative index readings indicate the number of businesses that believe conditions worsened during the quarter outnumber those that believe conditions improved, and that pessimists outnumber optimists about the outlook for early 2013.
"It is consistent with many other indicators now telling us that the economy was pretty weak at the end of last year," NAB chief economist Robert Henderson told AAP.
The NAB report said recent interest rate cuts appeared to have done little to alleviate business worries about the soft state of the economy.
And, Mr Henderson added, the survey's leading indicators pointed to continued soft growth in early 2013.
"I mean it's not a disaster, but it's probably too weak an economy to generate enough employment to stop the unemployment rate from rising," he said.
Mr Henderson said the quarterly survey's highlighted weak conditions in some parts of the economy, including the wholesale sector.
"So there's a lot of things sort of saying to us that ... the outlook remains fairly grim in the first half of the year," he said.
UBS economist George Tharenou said business confidence and conditions had been hit by the sharp fall in commodity prices late last year.
"That really dented the outlook for the mining sector," he said.
"But we have to keep in mind that the more recent trend has been a rebound in iron ore prices and a moderately improving global backdrop, which leans towards a better outlook for businesses over the coming year."
Mr Tharenou said Australia's non-mining sectors had struggled to gain the momentum it needs to drive growth, but expected to see a positive flow-on effect from more recent rate cuts in coming months.
"I do think looking forward, the RBA's (Reserve Bank of Australia) rate cuts to date over a sustained period of time will help to see growth tilt back towards the broader parts of the economy," he said.
"We should a see more noticeable improvement in some of these areas like retail sales, building approvals, house prices and so on."