Data Wrap - Job vacancies rebound strongly

Abstract picture of light columns

In today’s Data Wrap we review the latest South Australian outcomes for retail sales, job vacancies, population growth and building approvals.

Retail sales moderate from strong level
Retail sales data released by the ABS today indicate that retail sales eased in August but remain at a high level following some volatile fluctuations during the pandemic.

South Australian retail sales in seasonally adjusted terms fell by 0.9 per cent in August, but were still 12 per cent higher than a year ago. In comparison, national retail sales fell by 4.0 per cent in August and were 7.1 per cent higher than a year earlier. The recent national fall was driven by a sharp decline in Victoria (down 13 per cent) amid the reintroduction of lockdown measures to curb a surge in coronavirus infections.

Looking more closely at sectoral changes for South Australia, there were very large increases in retail sales through the year to August 2020 for household goods such as furniture, electronics and hardware (up 30 per cent), clothing and footwear (up 27 per cent), takeaway food services (up 15 per cent), food and liquor (up 11 per cent), and department stores (up 11 per cent). In contrast, sales were down sharply for cafes, restaurants and catering services (down 20 per cent) and newspaper and book retailing (down 16 per cent), and were weaker for pharmaceutical, cosmetic and toiletry goods retailing (down 8.3 per cent).

Job vacancies enjoy strong recovery
Job vacancies in South Australia have recovered strongly since community spread of COVID-19 was brought under control and lockdown measures eased. A total of 12,500 vacancies were recorded in August, which represents an increase of 84 per cent from May.

Job vacancies for South Australia have now fully recovered their pre-crisis levels after recording their second largest aggregate fall on record in the May quarter. The level of job vacancies in August exceeded their level in February by 6.8 per cent. In contrast, job vacancies for Australia were still 9.4 per cent below their pre-COVID level. Job vacancies have now fully recovered in Western Australia (up 17 per cent from February), Queensland (up 9.6 per cent) and the Northern Territory (45 per cent), but remain well down in Victoria (down 23 per cent) and New South Wales (down 22 per cent).

The large fluctuations in job vacancies during the pandemic have been driven by the private sector, although job vacancies for both the private and public sectors have now improved compared to their pre-crisis levels. By August, job vacancies in the private sector were up 6.0 per cent compared to their level in February, while public sector job vacancies were up 5.9 per cent.

Population growth strengthens prior to COVID-19 impact
South Australia’s population grew by its strongest rate in over seven years prior to the arrival of COVID-19. The ABS estimates that the state’s resident population rose by 1.0 per cent through the year to the March quarter 2020, a rate not seen since 2012. However, it remains short of national population growth which the ABS estimates at 1.4 per cent.

The improvement in population growth for South Australia was a product of larger gains from overseas migration and smaller losses via interstate migration. The gain from overseas migration in the year to March 2020 was 16,100 people, up 12 per cent from 14,400 people in the previous year. Meanwhile, the net loss through interstate migration over the last year was 3,200 people, down 21 per cent from a loss of 4,000 people a year earlier. Population gains via natural increase – i.e. births less deaths – were little changed (around 5,000 people).

To the extent that population growth in South Australia has been heavily reliant on overseas migration, the closure of the nation’s borders to non-residents and non-Australian citizens from 20th March will have a significant detrimental impact on the state’s population growth in the short term. National data indicates that the total number of permanent arrivals to Australia in the four months to July 2020 was down 92 per cent compared to the corresponding period a year earlier.

Building approvals decline
Forward indicators suggest that activity levels in the South Australian residential building sector will moderate in the short-term. ABS data on building approvals, released last week, indicate that the total number of dwelling units approved in the three months to August 2020 were down 15 per cent compared to the same time last year. A much more gentle decline was observed at the national level between these periods, with approvals falling by just 1.3 per cent.

The decline in dwelling approvals for South Australia has been concentrated in higher density development, especially high level apartment building, rather than detached housing. Approvals of dwellings excluding houses in the August quarter of 2020 were down 57 per cent (548 units) compared to a year earlier. In contrast, approvals of houses were up 3.8 per cent (80 units).

To receive email updates when articles are posted to the SACES Economic Policy Forum, please sign up through the front page.

Tagged in Data Wrap