Data Wrap - retails sales remain sluggish as confidence declines


In this edition of the Data Wrap we review the latest ABS data on retail sales and building approvals, and explore what the latest Bank SA State Monitor has to say about consumer and business confidence in South Australia.

Retail turnover remains stagnant
The ABS yesterday released its latest retail turnover estimates, which provides insight into recent developments in household spending.

South Australian retails sales fell by 0.1 per cent in the September quarter 2019 in real trend terms, continuing a pattern of stagnation since mid last year. In year-on-year terms retail sales were down 0.4 per cent.

Retails sales have also been sluggish at the national level for some time. Australian retail sales were flat in the recent September quarter, and down 0.1 per cent from the corresponding quarter of 2018.

The weakness in national sales, which is evident across almost all states and territories, indicates that broader underlying factors are holding back consumer spending at present. In particular, subdued wages growth, uncertainty regarding the broader economic outlook, high household debt levels, and falls in residential property prices would all have weighed on household spending over the past year.

Value of building approvals rises strongly, but there remains some weakness in residential building
The value of building approvals for South Australia has rebounded strongly over the past year, although digging deeper into the latest ABS data reveals some ongoing weakness in the residential building sector. The value of total building approved rose by 6.1 per cent in September 2019, in trend terms, and was up 30 per cent compared to a year ago. However, the value of approvals was still 9 per cent below the previous peak reached in October 2017.

The lift in building approval values over the past year was mainly driven by a strong rise in approvals of non-residential buildings (up 54 per cent), while approvals of residential buildings also rose solidly (up 14 per cent). It is worth noting that non-residential building tends to be quite lumpy in nature, so large ebbs and flows in non-residential approval activity are not uncommon.   

While the recent rise in the value of residential building approvals is heartening, such strength is not apparent in the number of dwelling units being approved. In spite of recording their eighth consecutive monthly increase in September 2019, the total number of dwelling units approved in South Australia was still down 2.8 per cent compared to a year earlier, and remained at a below average level by the standard of recent years.

The recent divergence in performance between the value of residential building and number of dwelling units being approved points to an increase in the average value of residential building approvals, which could in part be explained by compositional changes in the types of residential building structures being approved.

Consumer and business confidence fall sharply
BankSA’s latest State Monitor indicates that consumer and business confidence in South Australia has contracted sharply over recent months.

The consumer confidence index fell by 8.6 points between July and October to a record low of 95.2 points. (An index below 100 indicates that there are more pessimists than optimists.)

The deterioration in consumer confidence was attributed to various factors, including high unemployment, global uncertainty and cost of living issues associated with high petrol prices and slow wages growth.

Business sentiment also took a large hit over the three months to October, dropping by 10 points to 105.2 points. Although business confidence remains in net positive territory, it has now fallen back to the subdued level at which it has typically resided since 2011. On a more positive note, business respondents did report that they intend to create additional jobs over coming months.


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