Rates, inflation undermine confidence

Confidence among Australians fell to a 20-month low after the first official interest rate rise in more than decade, while business sentiment has been jarred by rising cost pressures.

Consumer confidence has fallen for four straight weeks, with the latest decline coming after the Reserve Bank of Australia raised the cash rate last week following inflation spiking to its highest level in more than 20 years.

The weekly ANZ-Roy Morgan consumer confidence index – a pointer to future household spending – declined by a further 0.2 per cent to 90.5, well below the monthly average of 112.4 stretching back to 1990.

The index had dropped six per cent the previous week.

“This suggests that consumers had anticipated the likely increase in interest rates by the RBA,” ANZ head of Australian economics David Plank said of the latest result.

However, confidence among people who are paying off their home loan tumbled by five per cent, reinforcing the 9.6 per cent drop in the previous week.

This was partially offset by the increase in confidence for those who already own their home or are renting, rising by 1.3 per cent and 2.6 per cent respectively.

The National Australia Bank business survey showed little let-up in cost pressures during April, but indicated the economy is faring quite well so far in the face of higher inflation.

The timing of the survey did not take into account last week’s interest rate rise.

NAB’s business condition index rose five points to 20 points, building on gains recorded in March, but confidence eased six points to 10 index points.

However, confidence remained above its long-run average after several months of steady increases.

“Business confidence remains relatively high across industries and in most states, with only Tasmania showing noticeably weaker levels,” NAB chief economist Alan Oster said.

“The strong business conditions, including trading conditions and profitability, show that the economy is faring quite well and so far, demand is holding up in the face of higher inflation.”

More dated figures showed retail spending grew 1.2 per cent in the March quarter after overcoming the impact of the COVID-19 Omicron variant at the start of the year.

It followed a 7.9 per cent jump in spending during the December quarter as coronavirus restrictions eased after the earlier Delta variant lockdowns.

Retail sales volumes were at a record high of $93.2 billion for the March quarter to be 4.9 per cent higher than a year earlier, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said..

“Most discretionary spending industries experienced rises in volumes, despite price increases,” ABS director of quarter economy-wide statistics Ben James said.

“However, food retailing fell 1.5 per cent with strong price increases for fresh food and grocery items combining with more consumers choosing to dine at hospitality venues.”

NAB economists expect retail sales to contribute around 0.2 percentage points to the March quarter economic growth result when the national accounts are released on June 1.

Looking ahead, the CommBank household spending intentions index fell by 3.8 per cent in April after reaching a record high in March.

The survey – which analyses CBA payments data, loan applications and publicly available search activity on Google Trends – found home buying, health and fitness, and transport spending led the falls in April.

These were partially offset by gains in travel, entertainment and retail sectors.

“We are seeing a post-COVID normalisation of consumer spending patterns,” Commonwealth Bank senior economist Belinda Allen said.

 

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