Employment Remains A Mixed Picture

The ABS reported their monthly employment data today, showing that trend full-time employment increased for the 10th straight month in July 2017 but both the trend unemployment rate in Australia was steady at 5.6 per cent in July 2017, and the labour force participation rate remained at 65.0 per cent.

Let’s be clear 5.6% hardly a great result as The New Daily highlights, bearing in mind the unemployment rate in the US, is 4.3%, 4.5% in the UK, 3.9% in Germany and 2.8% in Japan.  Note also that wages are depressed in these countries too. We should not get deflected by the rising number of jobs, which is where the Government would like us to look.  We should be doing better. This does not reflect “full employment”.

Full-time employment grew by a further 29,000 persons, while part-time employment decreased by 3,000 persons, underpinning a total increase in employment of 26,000 persons. The trend monthly hours worked increased by 5.2 million hours (0.3 per cent) to 1,696.4 million hours in July 2017.

Over the past year, trend employment increased by 259,000 persons (or 2.2 per cent), which is above the average year-on-year growth over the past 20 years (1.9 per cent).

The rate of employment growth (2.2 per cent) was greater than the growth in the population aged 15 years and over (1.6 per cent), which was reflected in an increase in the employment to population ratio (which is a measure of how employed the population is). This ratio increased by 0.4 percentage points since July 2016, up to 61.4 per cent, the highest it has been since April 2013.

“Full-time employment has now increased by around 220,000 persons since September 2016, and makes up the majority of the 250,000 person increase in employment over the period,” Chief Economist for the ABS, Bruce Hockman, said.

Over the past year the three states and territories with the strongest growth in employment were Tasmania (4.0 per cent), Victoria (3.1 per cent) and Queensland (2.7 per cent).

Trend series smooth the more volatile seasonally adjusted estimates and provide the best measure of the underlying behaviour of the labour market.

The seasonally adjusted number of persons employed increased by 28,000 in July 2017. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 5.6 per cent and the labour force participation rate was 65.1 per cent.

Income Growth Stagnant

The latest data from the ABS shows that income growth remains in the doldrums, putting more pressure on households who are experiencing rising costs (including mortgages), as our Household Finance Confidence Index shows. Given where inflation sits (1.9% on the official figures, but understated we think), many continue to go backwards. This also kills the Treasury budget assumptions. We do not see any reversal of this trend, despite recent positive business lending.

The seasonally adjusted Wage Price Index (WPI) rose 0.5 per cent in June quarter 2017 and 1.9 per cent over the year, according to figures released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

The WPI, seasonally adjusted, has recorded quarterly wages growth in the range of 0.4 to 0.6 per cent for the last 12 quarters (from September quarter 2014).

ABS Chief Economist Bruce Hockman noted: “Low wages growth continued in the June quarter 2017, with annual wages growth continuing to hover around 2 per cent. This low wages growth reflects, in part, ongoing spare capacity in the labour market. Underemployment, in particular, is an indicator of labour market spare capacity and a key contributor to ongoing low wages growth.”

The annual trend is clear to see. Public servants are doing a little better than the private sector.

Seasonally adjusted, private sector wages rose 1.8 per cent and public sector wages grew 2.4 per cent through the year to June quarter 2017.

In original terms, through the year wage growth to the June quarter 2017 ranged from 1.1 per cent for the Mining industry to 2.6 per cent for Health care and social assistance industries.

Western Australia recorded the lowest through the year wage growth of 1.4 per cent and South Australia and Northern Territory the highest of 2.1 per cent.

 

 

 

 

Business Lending Stirs

The ABS data on lending finance released today for Jun 2017, provides the last piece of the lending jigsaw puzzle. Here is the overall picture, in one chart.

The key take outs are that proportion of lending for housing is falling, whilst the proportion for business lending is rising. The share of lending for investment property fell slightly.

The total value of owner occupied housing commitments excluding alterations and additions rose 0.5% in trend terms.

The trend series for the value of total personal finance commitments fell 1.8%. Fixed lending commitments fell 2.6% and revolving credit commitments fell 0.5%.

The trend series for the value of total commercial finance commitments rose 1.8%. Fixed lending commitments rose 1.8% and revolving credit commitments rose 1.8%. This includes lending for investment housing purposes. We separate that out in the chart.

The month on month movements, depicted below, show a rise in business lending unrelated to housing by 3%, whist lending for investment housing fell 0.85% month on month. So, perhaps, finally, we see lending by business beginning to gain momentum! This is needed for sustainable growth. The yellow triangles show the % change (reading the scale on the right), whilst the value is shown by the blue bars (reading the sale on the left).

The bulk of lending for investment housing still came from NSW, then VIC, where the markets are still hot.

There were a number of revisions to earlier months data, which the ABS said was a result of improved reporting of survey and administrative data. These revisions have affected the following series:

  • Commercial Finance for the periods between March 2017 to May 2017.
  • Personal Finance for the periods between March 2017 to May 2017.
  • Investment housing finance for the month of April 2017

June Home Lending Says Property Has Further To Run

The latest data from the ABS shows home lending finance in June 2017 remained robust. In fact, overlaid with the latest home price data, and auction clearance rates, it looks like the property market has further to run, at least in the main markets of Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. Loans for construction were up.

Or in other words, household debts will continue to climb, despite the “risk trimming” measures imposed by APRA.

Whilst the trend estimate for the total value of dwelling finance commitments excluding alterations and additions was flat, owner occupied housing commitments rose 0.5% while investment housing commitments fell 0.9%. However, in seasonally adjusted terms, the total value of dwelling finance commitments excluding alterations and additions rose 0.8%.

In original terms, the number of first home buyer commitments as a percentage of total owner occupied housing finance commitments rose to 15.0% in June 2017 from 14.0% in May 2017.

More first time buyers are entering the market now, reacting to the attractive rates selectively on offer.

Overlaying the first time buyer investors, which was also quite strong, we see momentum building.

In original terms, in the past month, owner occupied lending flows grew by $7 billion, whilst investment loans grew $2.1 billion.

Looking at the trend adjusted stock, the mix of loans remained about the same at 35.9%, and overall loans pools grew.

We see a rise in borrowing for both owner occupied and investment construction.

So here are the trend adjusted flows, with owner occupied loans on the rise, investment loans down a little, and refinanced loans also down.

Worth noting that if you remove refinancing though, investment loans are still 46% of new loan flows. This is hardly indicative of a cooling of the property market.

Finally, the ABS says that in trend terms, the number of commitments for owner occupied housing finance fell 0.2% in June 2017.

In trend terms, the number of commitments for the construction of dwellings rose 1.9% and the number of commitments for the purchase of new dwellings rose 1.3%, while the number of commitments for the purchase of established dwellings fell 0.5%.

Finance for new dwellings appear to be getting a second wind with all eight state and territories showing growth in owner occupier loans for new dwellings during the month.

 

 

Retail Turnover Remains Pretty Flat

The trend estimate for Australian retail turnover rose 0.4 per cent in June 2017 following a 0.4 per cent rise in May 2017. Compared to June 2016, the trend estimate rose 3.6 per cent, according to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Retail Trade figures.

In seasonally adjusted terms, Australian retail turnover rose 0.3 per cent in June 2017 , following a rise of 0.6 per cent in May 2017.

“In seasonally adjusted terms in June 2017, we saw rises in Household goods retailing (0.9 per cent), Cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services (0.5 per cent), Clothing footwear and personal accessory retailing (0.8 per cent) and Other retailing (0.2 per cent),” said Ben James, Director of Quarterly Economy Wide Surveys. “There was a fall in Department stores (-0.3 per cent), while Food retailing (0.0 per cent) was relatively unchanged.”

The trend by state shows Tasmania and ACT ahead of the average, with Western Australian and NT, continuing to trail.

In seasonally adjusted terms there were rises in New South Wales (0.5 per cent), Queensland (0.7 per cent), South Australia (0.3 per cent), Tasmania (0.6 per cent), the Northern Territory (1.2 per cent) and Western Australia (0.1 per cent). There were falls in Victoria (-0.3 per cent) and the Australian Capital Territory (-0.1 per cent).

Online retail turnover contributed 4.1 per cent to total retail turnover in original terms.

In seasonally adjusted volume terms, turnover rose 1.5 per cent in the June quarter 2017, following a rise of 0.2 per cent in the March quarter 2017. The largest contributor to the rise was Household goods retailing, which rose 2.5 per cent in seasonally adjusted volume terms in the June quarter 2017.

Here’s why it’s so hard to say whether inequality is going up or down

From The Conversation.

Is inequality rising or falling? The answer, if recent public debate is anything to go by, may appear at first to depend on who you ask.

Part of the reason why we get such conflicting narratives about whether it’s rising or falling is that economic inequality can be measured in different ways, using different data sets.

And you might get a different answer depending on whether you’re talking about income inequality or wealth inequality. Income is the flow of economic resources over a certain time period, while wealth is the stock of resources built up over time.

We can draw some insights from the newly released Household Incomes and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) 2017 report, which reveals the latest results of a longitudinal study that has been running since 2001.

But it doesn’t show the whole story. Combining HILDA’s results with data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ income surveys gives a more comprehensive picture of trends in economic inequality in Australia.

HILDA data show lower income inequality than the ABS

Firstly, you need to know that when we are talking about income, most people are referring to the disposable income of the household, not individuals.

That’s all the income that members of a household receive from various sources, minus tax. You can then then adjust for the number of people in the household, accounting for the differing needs of adults and children to get what economists call “equivalised household disposable income”.

The HILDA survey, funded by the Department of Social Services and conducted by the Melbourne Institute, has followed some 17,000 individuals every year since 2001. (The most recent ABS income survey final sample consists of 14,162 households, comprising 27,339 persons aged 15 years old and over.)

One commonly used way to measure inequality is called the Gini coefficient, which varies between zero (where all households have exactly the same income) and one (where all the income is held by only one household). The Gini coefficient for equivalised household disposable income varies between about 0.244 in Iceland to 0.397 in the United States (with most other high income OECD countries falling between these two levels), but is as high as 0.46 in Mexico and 0.57 in South Africa.

The latest HILDA report puts Australia’s Gini coefficient at 0.296 and notes that it has “remained at approximately 0.3 over the entire 15 years of the HILDA Survey.”

The HILDA surveys show a lower level of income inequality than the ABS figures do. Some of the differences between these estimates will reflect the broader definition of income used by the ABS, and the significant changes in this definition over time.

In a sense, the HILDA longitudinal survey is like a video where the same people are interviewed every year, whereas the ABS surveys are like a snapshot of the Australian population taken every two years.

But there are also problems with longitudinal surveys because participants often drop out of the survey over time. Also the survey is based on people who were living in Australia in 2001, thus leaving out immigrants who have arrived since that time. While the survey has refreshed the sample in 2011 to address this problem, this attrition may reduce the representativeness of the sample. In addition, the sample size of the ABS surveys is about 50% greater than HILDA, which will reduce sampling errors.

ABS data show inequality has risen

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has conducted income surveys since the late 1960s, although it is only surveys since 1982 that are comprehensive and available for public analysis. These ABS surveys are also used in most of the international data sources that compare income inequality across countries – the OECD Income Distribution database and the Luxembourg Income Survey.

The ABS data show a clear increase in both wealth and income inequality over the mid- to long run.

The chart below shows two long series of estimates from the ABS surveys – those published in 2006 by researchers David Johnson and Roger Wilkins (who now oversees the HILDA survey) from 1981-82 to 1996-97, and official figures prepared by the ABS, from 1994-95 to 2013-14.

Despite the differences in income measures and equivalence scales, the long run trend from the ABS figures is clear.

There are periods in which inequality fell, but overall inequality rose over the whole period – including in the most recent period to 2013-14. The Gini coefficient in 2013-14 is a little lower than its peak just before the Global Financial Crisis, but the difference is not large.

True, there have been changes in the ABS’ survey methodology over the years but these changes should not have an effect after 2007-08, as income definitions haven’t changed in a major way since then.

Wealth is much more unequally distributed than income

The ABS also publish information on the distribution of net worth – that’s household assets minus liabilities. Wealth is much more unequally distributed than income.

According to the ABS, the Gini coefficient for net worth in 2013-14 was 0.605 (compared to a Gini coefficient for income of 0.333). This is a clear increase from a Gini of 0.573 in 2003-04.

Put another way, ABS data show a high income household in the richest 20% of the income distribution has an income around 5.4 times as high as the average household in the bottom 20% of the income distribution, as this chart demonstrates:

In contrast, ABS data show that on average households in the richest 20% of the distribution of net worth have wealth of around $2.5 million or more than 70 times higher than the net worth held on average by households in the bottom 20% of the wealth distribution, as this chart demonstrates:

Somewhat surprisingly, however, the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report puts wealth inequality in Australia at below the world average (and the mean and median levels of net worth at among the highest in the world).

This largely reflects the still high level of home ownership in Australia and the high levels of wealth in home ownership, which accounts for nearly half of total net worth on average.

Reconciling conflicting trends

While these two major sources of data show conflicting trends on income inequality, the ABS sample size is much greater. Ultimately, however, the reasons for the differences between the findings of the ABS and the HILDA survey are not obvious.

One way forward would be for the ABS and the Melbourne Institute to jointly analyse the differences between their findings to identify why their estimates of inequality diverge.

Author: Peter Whiteford, Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

Building Approvals Just A Little Stronger

The number of dwellings approved rose 0.1 per cent in June 2017, in trend terms, after falling for three months, according to data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) today.

Dwelling approvals increased in June in the Australian Capital Territory (5.9 per cent), South Australia (3.2 per cent), Western Australia (1.7 per cent), Queensland (1.1 per cent) and Tasmania (0.7 per cent), but decreased in the Northern Territory (2.7 per cent) and Victoria (1.9 per cent) in trend terms. Dwelling approvals were flat in New South Wales.

In trend terms, approvals for private sector houses rose 0.8 per cent in June. Private sector house approvals rose in Queensland (1.8 per cent), New South Wales (1.1 per cent) and Victoria (0.5 per cent), but fell in Western Australia (0.6 per cent) and South Australia (0.1 per cent).

In seasonally adjusted terms, dwelling approvals increased by 10.9 per cent in June, driven by a rise in total dwellings excluding houses (20.1 per cent), while total house approvals rose 4.0 per cent.

The value of total building approved rose 1.3 per cent in June, in trend terms, and has risen for five months. The value of non-residential building rose 3.4 per cent while residential building fell 0.1 per cent.

“Dwelling approvals have been relatively stable in trend terms over the first six months of the year, after falling from record highs in mid-2016,” said Daniel Rossi, Director of Construction Statistics at the ABS. “The June 2017 data showed that the number of dwellings approved is now 15 per cent below the peak in May 2016”.

Inflation subdued in the June quarter

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 0.2 per cent in the June quarter 2017, the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures reveal. This follows a rise of 0.5 per cent in the March quarter 2017.

So nothing here to reinforce the need to raise the cash rate! However, our data suggests many households are experiencing much faster price growth, especially for power and child care.

The most significant price rises for the quarter were medical and hospital services (+4.1 per cent), new dwelling purchase by owner-occupiers (+0.9 per cent) and tobacco (+1.0 per cent). These rises are partially offset by falls in domestic holiday travel and accommodation (-3.2 per cent) and automotive fuel (-2.5 per cent).

The CPI rose 1.9 per cent through the year to June quarter 2017 having increased to 2.1 per cent in the March quarter 2017.

Chief Economist for the ABS, Bruce Hockman, said: “Inflation in Australia remains low. Price falls for automotive fuel; and ongoing competition in the clothing and food retail markets has contributed to this quarter’s result. In addition, the ABS continues to closely monitor the impact of Cyclone Debbie on fruit and vegetable prices. While strong price rises were recorded for select fruit and vegetables such as tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, melons, berries and bananas in the June quarter 2017 – these rises were offset by falls in seasonally available fruits such as oranges, mandarins and apples.”

Trend full-time employment growth continues

Monthly trend full-time employment increased for the ninth straight month in June 2017, according to figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) today. The trend unemployment rate in Australia decreased by less than 0.1 percentage points to 5.6 per cent in June 2017.

This is good news, in that more people are employment, but of course household income growth is still sluggish and underemployment remains a continuing issue.

Full-time employment grew by a further 30,000 persons, while part-time employment decreased by 4,000 persons, underpinning an increase in total employment of 26,000 persons.

The state by state data (based on original stats) shows an improvement in SA, but a fall in ACT. The smaller states tend to be more volatile.

“Full-time employment has increased by around 187,000 persons since September 2016, with particular strength over the past five months, averaging around 30,000 persons per month,” Chief Economist for the ABS Bruce Hockman said. “Full-time employment now accounts for about 68 per cent of employment, however this is down from around 72 per cent a decade ago.”

Over the past year, trend employment increased by 227,000 persons (or 1.9 per cent), which is the same as the average year-on-year growth over the past 20 years. It has increased since December 2016, when the year-on-year growth was at 0.8 per cent and reflected relatively low employment growth through most of 2016.

The trend monthly hours worked increased by 6.2 million hours (0.4 per cent) to 1,691.5 million hours in June 2017. Most of this increase was hours worked by full-time workers.

The trend unemployment rate in Australia decreased by less than 0.1 percentage points to 5.6 per cent in June 2017.

Trend series smooth the more volatile seasonally adjusted estimates and provide the best measure of the underlying behaviour of the labour market.

The seasonally adjusted number of persons employed increased by 14,000 in June 2017. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained steady at 5.6 per cent, after the May 2017 number was revised up to 5.6 per cent, and the seasonally adjusted labour force participation rate increased to 65.0 per cent.

Finance Momentum Sags

The ABS published the final piece of their May 2017 finance data, showing the flows to May 2017.  It really is a rather sad tale. Owner Occupied housing apart, all other lending flows were lower, whether you look at the trend or seasonally adjusted figures.

Looking at the moving parts, Secured housing flows rose 0.4% or $80 million, whilst secured housing alterations rose 1.9% or $5m.

Personal credit continues to fall, the flows fell 3.2% of $193 million, with similar rates of decline across both fixed and revolving loans.

Total commercial lending fell 0.8% of $314 million. Within that lending for investment housing fell 1.5% or $194 million, whilst other fixed commercial lending fell 0.5% or $96 million. Revolving commercial credit fell 0.3% or $24 million.  If business confidence is really so strong, why no growth in borrowing – something does not add up!

As a result, the total proportion of business lending to total lending stood at 29.9% down from a peak of 30.9% in December 2016. The proportion of investment property lending flows slipped to 18.1% of all lending, and 37.4% of all housing lending.

So whilst the regulatory tightening is crimping demand for investor finance, it is not being replaced with a rise in productive business lending, so commercial finance has fallen. This will put downward pressure on growth, at a time when mortgage interest rates are rising. We cannot see how the future growth expectations from the RBA are going to be met on these figures.

It is clear however, that secured lending for owner occupation which is up a little, will not fill the void. Interestingly the state by state figures show that investor lending remains strongest in the two overheated markets of Sydney and Melbourne. Much of the fall in investment sector lending resides in the other states, who are already experience economic pressure.

The total value of owner occupied housing commitments excluding alterations and additions rose 0.4% in trend terms, and the seasonally adjusted series rose 2.9%.

The trend series for the value of total personal finance commitments fell 3.2%. Fixed lending commitments fell 3.2% and revolving credit commitments fell 3.1%.

The seasonally adjusted series for the value of total personal finance commitments fell 0.5%. Revolving credit commitments fell 3.1%, while fixed lending commitments rose 1.2%.

The trend series for the value of total commercial finance commitments fell 0.8%. Fixed lending commitments fell 0.9% and revolving credit commitments fell 0.3%.

The seasonally adjusted series for the value of total commercial finance commitments fell 6.4%. Revolving credit commitments fell 12.5% and fixed lending commitments fell 4.9%.

The trend series for the value of total lease finance commitments fell 3.3% in May 2017 while the seasonally adjusted series rose 1.1%, following a rise of 4.3% in April 2017.