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Shifting Tides: Diverging Paths for Consumers and Businesses in Australia

Shifting Tides: Diverging Paths for Consumers and Businesses in Australia

As data from recent surveys illustrate, Australian households are sinking deeper into financial gloom, while businesses are finding a glimmer of optimism amid persisting challenges.

Westpac's latest consumer sentiment survey, released this Tuesday, indicates an escalating sense of pessimism among consumers. The bank's index, which reflects expectations for variable mortgage rates over the next twelve months, soared by 12.8% in July. This spike marks the highest monthly rise since the inception of the survey at the beginning of 2022.

"Consumer sentiment has remained entrenched in a deeply pessimistic zone for two years now," remarked Matthew Hassan, Senior Economist at Westpac.

Despite government incentives like the stage three tax cuts and fiscal support measures initiated from July 1, many households haven't experienced immediate financial relief due to banking payment cycles that often extend fortnightly or monthly. "Inflation pressures and the looming threat of more interest rate hikes continue to overshadow consumer sentiment," Hassan observed.

A staggering 60% of consumers anticipate a rise in mortgage rates over the next year. With the Reserve Bank's meeting on August 5-6 being deemed "live" for a potential interest rate hike to 4.6%, caution seems warranted. Added to this, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) expressed concerns in its June meeting minutes that returning inflation to the target range of 2-3% might take longer than desired.

Family finances appear to be a primary source of consumer stress, with the corresponding sub-index plummeting by 8.4% in July, almost entirely reversing the previous month's 9.7% gain. This underscores the fragile state of household budgets.

In contrast, the same day also saw the release of National Australia Bank's (NAB) business confidence data, which painted a more optimistic picture. Business confidence rose last month, buoyed by a broad-based uptick across various industries, marking the highest level seen this year. However, business conditions continued on a downward trajectory, following a peak in late 2022.

NAB's head of Australian economics, Gareth Spence, noted a significant decline in the employment index during the month. "Though it's just one month's reading, the employment index dropping below its long-term average might indicate weakening labour demand paralleling a broader economic slowdown," Spence commented.

Other economic indicators delivered mixed signals. Forward orders dipped deeply into negative territory, mainly dragged down by the retail and wholesale sectors. Labour cost growth eased to 1.8% on a quarterly equivalent after May's 2.3%. On the other hand, purchase cost growth declined from 1.7% to 1.3%.

Despite these contractions, Spence highlighted a positive turn. "Encouragingly, key price and cost growth metrics have rolled back their increases from the previous month," he said. Retail price growth remained steady but notably high, notwithstanding the sluggish outlook and dented industry confidence.

Overall, these recent survey results portray a nuanced economic landscape. As articulated by Commonwealth Bank of Australia's Head of Australian Economics, Gareth Aird, the combined insights from Westpac, NAB, and job advertisement data from Seek depict an Australian economy gradually softening, with disparate impacts on consumers and businesses alike.

Published:Wednesday, 10th Jul 2024
Source: Paige Estritori

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