Just as investor confidence was being battered for the second day in a row by a surprise from a leading bank, there’s a new forecast of a further downturn in business confidence.

The ANZ joined the National Australia Bank today in revealing larger than anticipated write-downs and bad debt provisions, and a profit drop for the 2008 financial year. That sent the market down 1% by around 11am to build on Friday’s near rout when the market dropped 3% off the back of the NAB’s shock $830 million write-down.

Both announcements will further unsettle investors and consumers whose confidence is already at 17 year lows, thanks to the credit crunch, high interest rates, a slowing economy and high oil prices. Now the NAB has forecast a further fall in business confidence. The NAB’s quarterly business survey, to be released tomorrow, is expected to show that business confidence is expected to fall further in the September quarter. In a statement today, the NAB said:

Many firms report negative expectations — especially home builders, household goods and car retailers, real estate agents and transporters. Only mining and health are positive about near term.

Overall expectations for business confidence have fallen further to relatively pessimistic levels for the September quarter 2008, according to the latest quarterly surveys of both corporate/larger firms and small, medium and emerging (SMEs) businesses by National Australia Bank (NAB).

NAB’s Business Confidence Expectations Index is down 4 points to negative 8 points for the September quarter – 18 points lower than a year ago or its largest four quarter fall in over a decade — relatively pessimistic albeit still well above levels reached in the early 1990s.

A triple whammy of reduced activity/lower customer confidence, rising costs (borrowing, oil & other key purchase costs) and volatile & lower equity markets continue to weigh on the business outlook.

That is, almost 30% of Australian businesses expect a minor deterioration in their industry conditions in the September quarter, in contrast to about 20% of firms that expect a minor improvement, while only a few businesses anticipate either a significant improvement or deterioration and over 40% of firms expect no change. The bank said that business confidence has fallen to a broadly similar level across all business segments – both SMEs (small, medium & emerging) and larger businesses.

For the September quarter, there were further significant falls in confidence expectations across most sectors amongst both SMEs and bigger businesses; only near term confidence amongst mining and larger business services rose for the September quarter.

Furthermore, only the former has higher confidence than recorded since the recent peak in overall confidence in mid 2007. As a result, confidence in the near term for most SMEs and bigger businesses is significantly negative for the September quarter across most sectors, with the lowest confidence amongst SMEs and bigger firms in residential construction, household goods and car retailers and property services (mainly real estate agents) and transport related to weak housing markets and rising oil prices.

In contrast, positive expectations for confidence remain in mining and to a lesser extent SME health professionals, SME construction services (i.e. trades) and larger business services (mainly big legal and accounting firms).