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Australia consumer sentiment rises from ultra-low level

Australia consumer sentiment rises from ultra-low level
A rare super blue moon appears in the night sky over Ben Buckler Cliffs at Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia, 31 August, 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE/Dan Himbrechts)

Australian business conditions showed ongoing resilience to elevated price pressures while consumer confidence remained in “deeply pessimistic” territory, highlighting the contrasting responses of firms and households to tighter monetary policy.

Business conditions, which measure sales, employment and profitability, eased 3 points to 11 in September, while holding above the average level since the start of the year, a National Australia Bank Ltd. survey showed on Tuesday. Confidence was steady at 1 point.

“The economy has remained in reasonable shape through the middle of the year,” said Alan Oster, chief economist at NAB. “The survey showed some positive signs for inflation with cost pressures and price growth easing.”

A separate household survey from Westpac Banking Corp. released an hour earlier showed consumer sentiment advanced 2.9% to 82 points in October, with pessimists heavily outnumbering optimists. The index has held in a range of 78-86 over the past year.

The surveys underscore the persistent divergence between Australia’s heavily-indebted households and its corporate sector that suggests businesses are better able to cope with higher interest rates. 

NAB’s survey showed leading indicators such as forward orders were in positive territory. 

The RBA is currently in watch-and-wait mode after 4 percentage points of rate hikes since May last year as it tries to get control over inflation. While consumer prices have begun to abate, a tight labour market and strengthening wage growth mean policymakers are ready to move again if needed.

Westpac’s poll was conducted Oct. 2-5, spanning the Reserve Bank’s meeting on 3 October when it kept the cash rate unchanged at 4.1% for a fourth month. 

“The consumer mood has improved slightly but optimism remains in extremely short supply,” said Matthew Hassan, a senior economist at Westpac. “While there are some faint glimmers of hope around family finances and the outlook for jobs, these are being overshadowed by still-high inflation and renewed rate rise concerns.”

A gauge of the outlook for household spending, “the time to buy a major household item” sub-index jumped 7.6%. The lift, if sustained, may be signalling that inflation pressures for consumers are beginning to ease, Hassan said.

The RBA next meets on 7 November and in the same week will publish a detailed set of forecasts. Economists are divided on whether the central bank will raise rates one final time to 4.35%.


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