Data wrap – employment growth continues but building approvals remain weak


In today’s Data Wrap we review the latest statistical releases for South Australia in respect of the labour market, job vacancies, retail trade, building approvals and house prices.

Employment conditions improve

The South Australian labour market continued its trend of modest improvement in June 2019 according to ABS Labour Force Survey data released today.

Total employment increased by 0.1 per cent in June 2019 and reached a level 1.7 per cent higher than in June 2018 (trend estimates). Full-time employment has flattened in recent months but its level in June 2019 was still 1.6 per cent higher than a year earlier.

The State’s civilian population aged 15 years or more has grown by 1.0 per cent over the year to June, and the last time working-age population growth was this strong was in 2014. ABS demographic data—available only until the end of 2018—indicate that South Australia’s net loss of population to other States has shrunk while net overseas migration to South Australia has increased.

The employment to population ratio rose from 59.2 per cent to 59.6 per cent through the year to June 2019, and is now at its strongest level since 2012.

South Australia’s unemployment rate was 5.9 per cent in June 2019, up from 5.6 per cent a year earlier. This rise is not due to job loss but rather to an increase in the number of people wanting jobs as indicated by the increase in the labour force participation rate from 62.7 per cent in June 2018 to 63.3 per cent in June 2019.

The rise in the participation rate is suggestive of ‘encouraged worker’ effects, the phenomenon in which people who would otherwise be inactive in the labour market switch to active participation when job opportunities improve. However, it is possible that increased stresses in household finances have also contributed to the rise.

The national labour market showed an improvement stronger than South Australia’s, with employment rising by 0.2 per cent in June to reach a level 2.6 per cent higher than a year earlier. Australia’s unemployment rate fell from 5.4 per cent to 5.2 per cent through the year to June 2019.

The strongest labour market conditions are in New South Wales and Victoria, which have unemployment rates of 4.5 per cent and 4.7 per cent respectively. South Australia and Western Australia have unemployment rates of 5.9 per cent, while conditions are somewhat worse in Queensland (6.3 per cent) and Tasmania (6.7 per cent).

Job vacancies hold up

South Australian job vacancies have held up over the last year or so and are reasonably strong by historical standards. The published data show a 1 per cent fall in vacancies through the year to May 2019 (original estimates) but the result was not significantly different from zero in a statistical sense.

Nationally there was a small rise through the year, also not significantly different from zero.

The current level of SA levels of job vacancies is above average by the standards of the last decade, although not as strong as in 2010 and 2011. It is consistent with continuing employment growth over the coming year but the linkage between vacancies and employment growth is imprecise.

Retail turnover growing moderately
Latest ABS retail trade data for South Australia show continuing growth. In May 2019, SA retail turnover was 2.9 per cent higher than a year earlier (trend estimates).

This result was broadly in line with 2.6 per cent growth in household final consumption expenditure over the four quarters to the March quarter 2019. Household final consumption expenditures has considerably greater scope than retail trade, and includes in addition outlays on housing, health, education, entertainment and travel.

Through the year to May 2019 there was a 2.7 per cent nationwide rise in retail turnover.

Building approvals stabilise but remain weak

The value of SA building approvals reached a trough late in 2018 but remains quite weak in spite of some recent improvements. The value of approvals in May was 21 per cent lower than the values seen a year ago and it was also weaker than the averages of the past 5 years (trend estimates).

The value of SA building approvals reached a trough in November 2018. But although approval values had risen 10 per cent by May 2019, they were still 21 per cent lower than the strong result of May 2018 (trend estimates).

The value of SA residential approvals rose by 5 per cent over the 6 months to May 2019, but was still 20 below the value in May 2018. The weakness emanates particularly from a slump in the number of ‘other dwellings’ (e.g. semidetached, row or terrace houses, townhouses) approved. Approvals for construction of houses were virtually unchanged from May 2018 to May 2019 (in number).

The value of non-residential approvals rose by 20 per cent over the 6 months to May 2019 but was still down 22 per cent from a year earlier. Non-residential approvals can be quite volatile. The May 2019 result was 4 per cent below the average monthly approvals value of the last 5 years.

Adelaide house prices record small decline

House prices in South Australia recorded a small fall in the March quarter, their first decline in six years.

The latest data from the ABS indicates that residential property prices in Adelaide fell by 0.2 per cent in the March quarter. In comparison, prices for the eight capital cities were down 3.0 per cent, led by large falls for Sydney (-3.9 per cent) and Melbourne (-3.8 per cent).

Despite the recent fall, residential property prices in Adelaide in the March quarter 2019 were still 0.8 per cent higher than a year earlier. In contrast, for the eight capitals were down 7.4 per cent. There were relatively large falls in Sydney (-10 per cent) and Melbourne (-9.4 per cent), and small falls in Perth (-2.7 per cent) and Brisbane (-1.3 per cent).

Data from CoreLogic suggest that SA house prices had a further small fall in the June quarter.

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