Post-election boost for shares
Domestic travel slumps; Petrol hits 6-month high
Petrol prices; Domestic air travel; Housing affordability
- Weekly Petrol Price: According to the Australian Institute of Petroleum, the national average price of unleaded petrol rose by 3.7 cents in the past week to a 6-month high of 152.8 cents a litre.
- Election & financial markets: The Aussie dollar spiked half a cent higher this morning to near US69.4 cents before easing. The ASX 200 share index lifted more than 100 points (1.6 per cent) at the start of trade.
- Fewer people flying: There were 5.28 million passengers carried on Australian domestic commercial aviation (including charter operations) in March 2019, a decrease of 2.8 per cent on March 2018. Rolling annual passenger growth on the Sydney-Melbourne route is at 41⁄2-year lows.
- Housing affordability: The Housing Industry Association reported that HIA Affordability Index rose by 2.2 per cent in the March 2019 quarter – the strongest gain in 51⁄2 years.
Movements in the petrol price can affect consumer spending, and in turn, prospects for retailers. Domestic aviation data is a key indicator for airline and airport performance as well as the broader economy.
What does it all mean?
- The terminal gate or wholesale unleaded petrol price in Australia is just below 134 cents a litre. Add to that a gross retail margin of 10-12 cents a litre and this suggests that motorists should be paying around 150 cents a litre at the petrol pump. The national prices is a touch higher due to the ending of discounting cycles in Sydney and Brisbane.
- Global oil prices closed slightly lower on Friday. Investors monitored developments in the China-US trade dispute as well as the tensions between the US and Iran. The Brent crude price fell by US41 cents or 0.6 per cent to US$72.21 a barrel. And the US Nymex fell by US11 cents or 0.2 per cent to US$62.76 a barrel. But over the week Brent rose by 2.3 per cent and Nymex was up by 1.8 per cent.
- In Asian trade today, Brent and Nymex crude prices lifted by 1.0-1.5 per cent. Tensions continue in the Middle East between Iran and the United States. Reuters reported “a rocket was fired into the Iraqi capital Baghdad’s heavily- fortified Green Zone, which houses government buildings and foreign embassies, on Sunday but caused no casualties, the Iraqi military said.”
- Following Saturday’s Coalition election victory, the Aussie dollar kicked higher this morning from near US68.70 cents to almost US69.40 cents. The currency has since retreated to US69.2 cents. The Australian sharemarket lifted by more than 100 points at the start of trade today after the Morrison government election victory meant that there would be no change to the tax policies affecting franking credits and the negative gearing of residential property.
- The economy clearly lost momentum over the election period and this has showed up in domestic air travel data. Passenger numbers have dropped in annual terms for four straight months. And on the key Melbourne-Sydney route, passenger numbers are growing at the slowest rate in 41⁄2 years. With the election out of the road, and with airlines trimming fares, business passenger numbers are expected to strengthen in coming months.
What do the figures show?
- According to the Australian Institute of Petroleum, the national average price of unleaded petrol rose by 3.7cents to 152.8 cents a litre in the past week. The metropolitan price rose by 5.2 cents to 154.4 cents a litre with the regional price up by 0.8 cents to 149.5 cents a litre.
- Average unleaded petrol prices across states and territories over the past week were: Sydney (up by 14.1 cents to 154.4 c/l), Melbourne (down by 3.9 cents to 152.7 c/l), Brisbane (up by 19.1 cents to 163.3 c/l), Adelaide (down by 14.1 cents to 148.3 c/l), Perth (up by 0.9 cents to 150.3 c/l), Darwin (down 0.1 cents to 144.8 c/l), Canberra (down by 0.1 cents to 147.3 c/l) and Hobart (up by 0.2 cents to 154.3 c/l).
- The national average diesel petrol price rose by 0.3 cents a litre to 151.2 cents a litre over the week. Themetropolitan price rose by 0.4 cents to 150.5 cents a litre with the regional price up by 0.2 cents to 151.7 cents a litre.
- Today, the national average wholesale (terminal gate) unleaded petrol price stands at 133.7 cents a litre, up only 0.1 cents over the week. The terminal gate diesel price stands at 140.1 cents a litre, up by 0.6 cents over the past week.
- Last week, the key Singapore gasoline price rose by US$3.15 or 4.1 per cent to US$80.50 a barrel. In Australian dollar terms, the Singapore gasoline price rose by $4.50 or 4.1 per cent last week to $115.08 a barrel or 72.38 cents a litre.
- MotorMouth records the following average retail prices for capital cities today: Sydney 156.6c; Melbourne 146.6c; Brisbane 160.7c; Adelaide 139.8c; Perth 139.8c; Canberra 147.1c; Darwin 144.7c; Hobart 153.8c.
- There were 5.28 million passengers carried on Australian domestic commercial aviation (including charter operations) in March 2019, a decrease of 2.8 per cent on March 2018.
- There were 5.06 million passengers carried on regular passenger transport (RPT) flights in March 2019, a decrease of 3.1 per cent on March 2018. This was the fourth consecutive monthly decrease in the number of RPT passengers. For the year ending March 2019 there were 60.88 million RPT passengers, an increase of 0.7 per cent on the year ending March 2018 – slowest growth in more than three years (38 months).
- Capacity, measured by available seat kilometres (ASKs), decreased by 1.5 per cent compared with March 2018 to a total of 7.27 billion. With RPT passenger traffic decreasing at a faster rate than capacity the industry wide load factor (RPKs/ASKs) decreased from 80.4 per cent in March 2018 to 78.7 per cent in March 2019.
- On the key Melbourne-Sydney route, passenger numbers were down 1.8 per cent on a year ago. On a rolling annual total (smoothed) basis, annual passenger growth was just 0.6 per cent – a 41⁄2-year low.
- The Housing Industry Association (HIA) Affordability Index rose by 2.2 per cent in the March 2019 quarter – the biggest rise since September quarter 2013.
- The HIA Affordability Index is calculated for each of the eight capital cities and regional areas on a quarterly basis and takes into account the latest dwelling prices, mortgage interest rates and wage developments.
- Five of the eight capital cities saw improved affordability over the year to March 2019. Sydney posted the biggest rise, up by 12.4 per cent. This was followed by Melbourne (+9.6 per cent), Perth (+7.7 per cent), Darwin (+5.9 per cent) and Brisbane (+2.5 per cent). Affordability, however, deteriorated in Hobart (-5.1 per cent), Canberra (-5.1 per cent) and Adelaide (-1.1 per cent).
What is the importance of the economic data?
- Weekly figures on petrol prices are compiled by ORIMA Research on behalf of the Australian Institute of Petroleum (AIP). National average retail prices are calculated as the weighted average of each State/Territory metropolitan and non-metropolitan retail petrol prices, with the weights based on the number of registered petrol vehicles in each of these regions. AIP data for retail petrol prices is based on available market data supplied by MotorMouth.
- The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) releases data on domestic and international aviation each month. The data is useful in tracking consumer spending and airline performance as well as broader economic activity.
- The Housing Industry Association publishes a quarterly index of housing affordability. If homes are more affordable this can lead to increase buying and lending activity.
What are the implications for interest rates and investors?
- The Opposition Labor Party had proposed changes to the tax policies affecting negative gearing of residential property and dividend imputation or franking credits. The surprise victory by the ruling Coalition Government has clearly removed those fears. In response, investors have again embraced bank shares with the major banks today lifting by 5-8 per cent. Shares in Medibank have lifted by around 10 per cent. The Labor Opposition had proposed to limit premium increases by health insurers.
- Petrol prices are unlikely to recede markedly anytime soon. Sabre-rattling in the Middle East continues. And key oil producers are still keen on maintaining crude prices at current levels. The lower Aussie dollar is doing no favours for motorists, especially as Australia is a net importer of refined oil product.
- A key measure of economic activity is the growth of airline passenger numbers – especially the key business route between Sydney and Melbourne. An expected lift in passenger numbers post-election will be a signal of generally firmer economic momentum.
- Financial markets have priced in a rate cut for the June Reserve Bank Board meeting. A speech by the Reserve Bank Governor on Tuesday will be closely assessed.
Reserve Bank signals rate cut for June
Reserve Bank Governor speech; RBA Board minutes; Consumer confidence
- Interest rate outlook: In a speech titled “The Economic Outlook and Monetary Policy” today in Brisbane, Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe said that “a lower cash rate would support employment growth and bring forward the time when inflation is consistent with the target. Given this assessment, at our meeting in two weeks’ time, we will consider the case for lower interest rates.” Experts expect interest rates to be cut in June and August.
- Reserve Bank Board Minutes: The Reserve Bank has acknowledged that an interest rate cut may be needed should conditions in the labour market deteriorate, noting “members considered the scenario where there was no further improvement in the labour market in the period ahead, recognising that in those circumstances a decrease in the cash rate would likely be appropriate.”
- Consumer confidence: The weekly ANZ-Roy Morgan consumer confidence rating rose by 2.1 per cent to 117.2 points. Consumer sentiment is above both the short-term average of 114.4 points held since 2014 and the longer term average of 113.1 points since 1990.
The consumer confidence figures have implications for retailers, and other consumer-focussed businesses. The Reserve Bank Board minutes provides guidance on interest rate settings.
What does it all mean?
- Reserve Bank policymakers have laid the groundwork for an interest rate cut in June. In fact, Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe has included an explicit easing bias in his speech in Brisbane today, confirming that “at our meeting in two weeks’ time, we will consider the case for lower interest rates.” Experts now expect interest rates to be cut in June and August.
- Given recent Reserve Bank emphasis on labour market developments, it appears that Dr. Lowe has ‘thrown in the towel’ after the mixed April jobs report: “recently, though, some labour market indicators have softened a little: the unemployment rate ticked up to 5.2 per cent in April; the underemployment rate has also moved a little higher as there are more part-time workers who are seeking additional hours; job advertisements have declined; and hiring intentions have come off their earlier highs.”
- But Reserve Bank Board members are reluctant rate cutters, emphasising in the May 7 Board minutes that “the effect on the economy of lower interest rates could be expected to be smaller than in the past.”
- Policymakers, however, have seemingly acknowledged through gritted teeth that a rate cut could act as a mild stimulus to the broader economy as “a lower level of interest rates could still be expected to support the economy through a depreciation of the exchange rate and by reducing required interest payments on borrowing, freeing up cash for other expenditure.” And its forecast scenario implies that “without an easing in monetary policy over the next six months, growth and inflation outcomes would be expected to be less favourable than the central scenario.”
- The Governor has also implored the re-elected Morrison government to continue to stimulate the economy through fiscal spending initiatives, such as tax cuts and public transport-related infrastructure spending.
- The Federal election has been and gone. Some people surveyed by Roy Morgan and ANZ would’ve known the election result on Sunday, but next week’s survey will provide a clearer picture of what consumers really think of the re-election of the Morrison government and Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe’s speech today.
- News that the government may be forced to delay the implementation of personal income tax cuts effective on July 1 because of a procedural hold up over the return of Parliament will frustrate electors. That said, tax offsets worth up to $530 a year were legislated in 2018. And the increasing likelihood of an official cash rate and potential reduction in variable mortgage rates (fixed mortgage rates have already been cut) could boost sentiment.
What do the figures show?
- The weekly ANZ-Roy Morgan consumer confidence rating rose by 2.1 per cent to 117.2 points. Consumer sentiment is above both the short-term average of 114.4 points held since 2014 and the longer term average of 113.1 points since 1990.
- All five major components of the index rose last week:
- The estimate of family finances compared with a year ago was up from +8.6 points to +9.1 points;
- The estimate of family finances over the next year was up from +27.6 points to +29.1 points;
- Economic conditions over the next 12 months was up from +3.4 points to +7.3 points;
- Economic conditions over the next 5 years was up from +10.7 points to +11.7 points;
- The measure of whether it was a good time to buy a major household item was up from +23.9 points to +29.0 points.
- The measure of inflation expectations fell from 4.5 per cent to 4.0 per cent.
Reserve Bank Board meeting minutes
- Interest rate stability: “Taking into account all the available information, including the various uncertainties about the outlook, members judged that it was appropriate to hold the stance of monetary policy unchanged at this meeting, noting that holding monetary policy steady had enabled the Bank to be a source of stability and confidence over recent years.”
- Rate cut scenario: “…members discussed the scenario where inflation did not move any higher and unemployment trended up, recognising that in those circumstances a decrease in the cash rate would likely be appropriate.” And “members noted that the central forecast scenario was based on the usual technical assumption that the cash rate followed the path implied by market pricing, which suggested interest rates were expected to be lower over the next six months. This implied that, without an easing in monetary policy over the next six months, growth and inflation outcomes would be expected to be less favourable than the central scenario.”
- Job market outlook: “Leading indicators of labour demand had eased over recent months and provided a mixed picture of the near-term outlook.”
- Wages outlook: “Members noted that the forecasts for the labour market suggested that there would be some spare capacity in the labour market throughout the forecast period, although there was uncertainty about how quickly the spare capacity would decline and how progress would feed into wage pressures.”
- Inflation outlook: “Members noted that the recent CPI data had led the Bank to reassess the disinflationary effects of the weak housing market. Combined with the lower GDP growth outlook, this had led to a downward revision to the inflation outlook, although there was also some uncertainty about the persistence of downward pressure from utilities and administered price changes and the effect of housing market weakness.”
- On its forecasts, including consumer spending: “…members also recognised that there were risks to the forecasts in both directions. The risks to the global economy remained tilted to the downside, with uncertainty remaining around the evolution of international trade policy. Domestically, the outlook for household consumption remained a key uncertainty, with the risks tilted to the downside given ongoing low income growth and the adjustment occurring in housing markets. On the upside, it was possible that the combined effects of continued accommodative financial conditions, the increase in Australia’s terms of trade, a renewed expansion in the resources sector and the expected lift in household disposable income growth would result in stronger growth in output than in the central forecast scenario.”
What is the importance of the economic data?
- The ANZ/Roy Morgan weekly survey of consumer confidence closely tracks the monthly Westpac/Melbourne Institute consumer sentiment index but the former measure is a timelier assessment of consumer attitudes and is now closely tracked by the Reserve Bank.
- The Reserve Bank releases minutes of its monthly Board meeting a fortnight after the event. The minutes give a guide to Reserve Bank thinking on interest rate settings.
What are the implications for interest rates and investors?
- The Reserve Bank, in our view, is likely to cut interest rates at both the June and August Board meetings, acknowledging some recent weakness in the labour market. However, Dr. Lowe has acknowledged that “the labour market has surprised on the upside over recent times, and it could do so again. While we can’t rule out this possibility, the recent flow of data makes it seem less likely.”
- The Reserve Bank Governor had previously thought that if unemployment fell below 5 per cent, then inflation was likely to rise. The Governor now believes that the jobless rate can fall further without leading to a spike in inflation.
- And in his Question & Answer session Dr. Lowe said “Australia can and should have a lower unemployment rate.”Worries about consumer spending were highlighted with “delay in tax cuts will slow household income growth by 0.3 per cent.” And while the “inflation target remains central to the policy framework”, Governor Lowe said that it“will take some time to get inflation above 2 per cent.” On APRA’s decision today to ease home lending rules, Dr. Lowe said that the “move [was] complimentary to monetary policy, not a substitute.”
- The May 7 Board minutes were decidedly less upbeat and optimistic than the previous month, laying the groundwork for Dr. Lowe’s easing bias later in the day. The previous assessment in April that “members agreed that there was not a strong case for a near-term adjustment in monetary policy” was removed. And “members also discussed the scenario where inflation did not move any higher and unemployment trended up, noting that a decrease in the cash rate would likely be appropriate in these circumstances.”
- With inflation contained, consumer spending restrained, the global economic backdrop less favourable due to trade tensions and weaker leading indicators of jobs growth, further monetary policy support for the economy is required. Proposed tax cuts, infrastructure spending and policies to support the housing market are providing additional stimulus.
- Consumer confidence is OK without being super-positive. Investors reacted favourably yesterday to the Morrison government’s re-election with the Australian sharemarket rising by the most in three months to close at its highest level since December 2007. But perhaps more important is the reaction of the business community. Business confidence is near five-year lows and job hiring intentionsappear to have peaked. Business investment, job creation and pay rises remain critical to the consumer and interest rate outlook. The next NAB survey will be very interesting.
- Experts expect interest rates to be cut in June and August.
Record construction in three states
Construction work done
- Construction activity: Construction work done fell by 1.9 per cent in the March quarter after a 2.1 per cent fall in the December quarter.
- Record activity: In the 12 months to March, construction work done was at record highs in NSW, South Australia and Tasmania.
- Construction inflation: Construction costs rose by 0.1 per cent in the March quarter, with building costs flat and engineering costs up by 0.4 per cent. On the year, construction costs were up 3.3 per cent, down from the 9-year high of 3.6 per cent in the December quarter.
The data on construction work is important for builders, building material companies and developers.
What does it all mean?
- Nationally, construction activity eased for the third straight quarter in the March quarter. But construction was up in three states. And looking at work done over the entire twelve month period to March, construction activity was at record levels in three states. The amount of construction done each quarter has doubled over the past 17 years.
- While construction costs in the engineering sector continue to lift, there has been an easing of building inflation in home and commercial building in line with the slowdown of work, especially in the residential sector.
- Engineering work fell by 3.9 per cent in the March quarter with declines across all regions except NSW and South Australia. In Western Australia, engineering work done was at a 131⁄2-year low with Northern Territory engineering work near 8-year lows. But looking ahead, the significant amount of new transport infrastructure projects across the nation will boost engineering work in 2019.
What do the figures show?
- Construction work done fell by 1.9 per cent in real (inflation-adjusted) terms in the March quarter. Work done is down by 6.0 per cent on a year ago.
- Public sector construction work fell by 3.7 per cent in the quarter and private sector activity fell by 1.3 per cent.
- Construction work fell across five states and territories in the March quarter: NSW (up 0.7 per cent); Victoria (down 2.2 per cent); Queensland (up 1.6 per cent); South Australia (up 3.3 per cent); Western Australia (down 10.8 per cent); Tasmania (down 4.7 per cent); Northern Territory (down 28.1 per cent); ACT (down 3.3 per cent)
- Engineering work fell by 3.9 per cent in the March quarter, and is down 12.4 per cent over the year.
- Commercial (non-residential) building rose by 3.6 per cent in the March quarter and was up 3.1 per cent on the year.
- Residential building fell by 2.5 per cent in the March quarter and was down 3.2 per cent over the year. Alterations & additions fell by 4.4 per cent in the quarter, while new residential work fell by 2.3 per cent.
- Construction costs rose by 0.1 per cent in the March quarter, with building costs flat and engineering costs up by 0.4 per cent. On the year, construction costs were up 3.3 per cent, down from the 9-year high of 3.6 per cent in the December quarter.
- Annual building inflation was 2.4 per cent and engineering inflation was 4.5 per cent.
What is the importance of the economic data?
- The Bureau of Statistics releases quarterly estimates of Construction work done. The estimates are based on a survey and cover around 85 per cent of the construction work done in the period. Revised estimates will be released in coming months. The data is useful largely for historical purposes but the work yet to be done estimates provide an early warning signal of future activity. The residential work figures give a good early guide to the strength of residential investment in the national accounts.
What are the implications for interest rates and investors?
- While construction activity has eased, the amount of work still to be completed is at historically-high levels. In the engineering sector, demand for workers and resources is pushing up costs. In fact engineering costs have lifted by 4.5 per cent over the past year.
- Builders and developers need to watch fluctuating activity levels across regions while at the same time taking action to trim costs where possible.
- Despite easing in some parts of the country, the amount of construction work completed over the past year has never been higher in three states – NSW, South Australia and Tasmania. And activity is only a smidgen down from record levels in Victoria.
- Experts expect interest rate cuts in both June and August. The Reserve Bank believes the economy can grow at a faster pace (and unemployment can fall further) without causing an inflation break-out.
Investor Signposts: Week Beginning May 26 2019
Australia: Business investment and credit growth data in focus
- In the coming week updates on business investment, building approvals and credit growth feature on the data docket. The figures on investment spending will help formulate views on economic growth for the March quarter.
- The week kicks off on Tuesday when the weekly Roy Morgan-ANZ measure of consumer sentiment is released. Consumer reaction to the re-election of the Morrison government and new Reserve Bank commentary on interest rates and the economic outlook will be closely observed.
- On Thursday the Bureau of Statistics (‘ABS’) issues the publication “Private New Capital Expenditure and Expected Expenditure” for the March quarter. In the December quarter new business investment (spending on buildings and equipment) rose by 2 per cent to be up 1.9 per cent over the year.
- The report also includes estimates of future investment. The first estimate of spending in 2019/20 was $92.14 billion, up 11 per cent on the first estimate for 2018/19 and the strongest growth in seven years.
- Economists forecast new business investment (spending on buildings and equipment) to fall by 0.7 per cent in the March quarter.
- Also on Thursday one of the major leading indicators for home building – council approvals to build new homes – is released. Approvals fell by 15.5 per cent in March to be down by 27.3 per cent over the year.
- In March, the total number of new council approvals on a rolling annual basis fell below 200,000 units for the first time since June 2014. While there is still a reasonably healthy pipeline of residential building taking place, dwelling commencements have fallen to three-year lows, reducing demand for residential construction workers.
- On Friday the Reserve Bank releases its “Private Sector Credit” data (a measure of loans outstanding). Annual credit growth fell to a five-year low of 3.9 per cent in March due to the decline in housing finance and falling home prices. Annual investor housing credit growth is the weakest on record.
- Also on Friday the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (‘APRA’) releases credit card data. Bank lending to households by credit card fell by 4.8 per cent in the year to March – the second biggest annual decline since June 2002. Debit cards and ‘buy now, pay later’ platforms, such as Afterpay, are increasingly being used by younger Australians to finance their purchases of goods.
Overseas: US economic growth and inflation data released after Memorial Day holiday
- The Memorial Day public holiday is observed in the US on Monday. Financial markets are closed. But over the week the second estimate of US economic growth, an update on US income and spending (including the US Federal Reserve’s key inflation measure) and China’s official factory gauge will dominate headlines.
- The week begins on Monday in China when industrial profits data is released for April. Annual profits for China’s industrial companies grew by 13.9 per cent in March. Profit margins, however, are being pressured by slowing domestic demand and US tariffs on imported Chinese goods. That said, the cut in the Chinese government’s Value Added Tax (‘VAT’) effective from April 1 may support profit growth for manufacturing enterprises.
- On Tuesday in the US, data on consumer confidence and home prices are issued with the influential Dallas Federal Reserve manufacturing index. And the regular weekly reading on chain store sales is scheduled.
- On Wednesday, the weekly mortgage applications data is released by the Mortgage Bankers Association. And the Richmond Federal Reserve manufacturing gauge is also scheduled.
- On Thursday data on pending home sales is issued with the advance reading on goods trade and weekly figures on new claims for unemployment insurance.
- Also on Thursday, the second estimate of economic growth (GDP) for the March quarter is released. The annual growth rate is forecast to be revised down by just 0.1 per cent to 3.1 per cent according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg. The composition of growth drivers will be of most interest to investors with household and government spending both slowing at the start of 2019.
- On Friday in the US, the Chicago business barometer is tipped to lift by 3.4 points to 56 points in May. In April, business activity in the Chicago region registered its biggest slowdown since January 2017.
- Also on Friday, the US personal income release includes a key inflation reading. The personal consumption deflator is the preferred inflation measure of US Federal Reserve policymakers. The annual growth rate of the core personal consumption expenditures price index is forecast to remain subdued at around 1.6 per cent in April.
- US Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell has cautioned that low inflation in the US is likely be “transitory”. Chair Powell has cited categories including portfolio management and investment advice services, clothing and footwear, and air transportation for depressing prices. But rising gasoline prices and increased customs duties (such as tariffs) on Chinese imported goods are likely to boost US producer and consumer prices.
- On Friday in China, the National Bureau of Statistics manufacturing and services purchasing manager indexes are scheduled for May. Factory activity expanded at weaker pace in April after a solid rebound in March.
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