Data Vault – A weekly wrap up of key economic releases in Australia and beyond

August 6, 2011

Economic Data Vault

August 6th 2011

Welcome to our weekly Data Vault. The Vault is put together by one of our team here at Lighthouse and edited by me – we offer it as a resource to readers and clients who want to quickly get a feel for the data over the week without having to read a full blog or economic report. It will be released each Saturday morning and while our primary focus is Australia we also include our key overseas indicators.

Australian Data

At was another big week in Australia with the a number of the key monthly releases showing further deterioration in the non-mining sectors of the economy while the trade balance was a shinning light with another strong performance. The RBA also updated their medium term forecasts which are looking increasingly optimistic relative to reality.

TD-MI Inflation Index

The monthly TD-MI Inflation gauge rose 0.3% in July, up from the flat result last month. This has kicked the year on year change up to 3.2% while the trimmed mean, which is really what matters to policy makers was up a more benign 0.2% and the last 6 months has only risen 1%. The headline rate is still expected to fall as prices for fresh fruit and vegetables, driven higher by the floods fall back and the impact of higher fuel prices washed through however the core reading provides little cause for alarm at this stage.

New Home Sales

New home sales were terrible in June with the HIA new home sales index tumbling 8.7% from a month earlier for the second consecutive fall. Sales fell across the board with unit sales down 8.2% while ex-unit sales were 8.8% lower. By state Queensland saw a 17% decline while Victorian sales were down 10% with Western Australia down 6.3%. NSW performed relatively well with sales only dropping 1.8%. The national sales index is now precariously close to the low set during the GFC.

Building Approvals

Building approval, like new home sales, were weak in June with the fall in private approvals accounting for the entire fall after public approvals were unchanged. Private approvals fell 3.6% from a month earlier with housing approvals down 3.2% and remain in a clear down trend while more volatile non-housing or medium density approvals, including townhouses and apartments, fell 4.2%.

ABS Capital City House Price Index

The slide in Australian house prices that has been evident in a number of private data series was confirmed with the ABS capital city house price index falling for the third time in the past 4 quarters in Q2. Nationaly prices were down 0.1% over the quarter which is a little better than the private readings with the annual fall now at 1.9%. There remains a number of headwinds for house prices and they look biased downward given the lack of demand for credit and the important part this plays in house prices.

Retail Sales

Retail sales fell for the third time in the past four months in June with a drop of 0.1% falling short of the markets expected 0.4% increase. The falls were broad-based with household goods, department stores and cafes and restaurants all going backwards. Spending on clothing was up a touch while the increase in food spending largely offset the falls in other areas with sales ex-food much worse than the 0.1% headline fall. The key was that total sales ex-food fell 0.5% after a 0.7% fall the previous month.

Trade balance

The June trade numbers were a welcome bright spot in a week of otherwise poor data. While the trade balance narrowed from a revised $2.7bln in May to $2.05bln in June the composition of the numbers was more positive. Imports rose 2.6% over the month courtesy of a 7.3% increase in capital goods imports and a 3.6% increase in intermediate and other merchandise but exports were only down 0.1% after exports of non monetary gold dropped 55.2% in June, after jumping 49.3% the previous month. Of the other export categories, rural goods rose 3.1% and non-rural goods rose 4.3% while the service exports were little changed.

AiG Performance of Industry Indices

The Australian Industry Group released their monthly performance indices  with all three reading back below 50 indicating activity fell over the month. The manufacturing index collapsed, dropping from 52.9 to 43.4% with activity falling for 7 of the past 9 months. The service industry has been considerably weaker and has been below 50 for 13 of the past 15 months and currently sits at 48.8. The pace of decline in the Construction industry eased slightly however the index remain well below 50 at 36.1 and has been below 50 for 14 consecutive months.

RBA SoMP – Updated Forecasts

Yesterday the RBA released their quarterly Statement on Monetary Policy for August and contained within it was an updated set of forecasts.

The RBA’s GDP forecast has been revised significantly to reflect the much lower starting point than what was expected as recently as the May SoMP. The new forecasts expects growth in the second quarter of this year to have been 1.65% before easing back at an average increase of 1.4% during Q3 and Q4. Growth is then expected to slow to just below 1% each quarter out to December 2013. While there is a possibility that we get a bounce back in growth in Q2 this year we feel that the pace of growth in Q2 and the remainder of 2011 is likely to undershoot the RBA’s expectations.

On first blush it looks as if the RBA has made some significant upward revisions to their inflation forecast, for both headline and core prices, which it partly due to the slightly higher starting point after the impact from the floods lingered through the second quarter.

However due to the introduction of the Carbon Tax, the RBA released a secondary set of inflation forecasts excluding the effects of the Carbon Tax with the only change to their outlook for inflation a reflection of the higher starting point.

All in all the RBA has left their central scenario largely unchained over the medium term however there are clearly growing risk to that tendency which is likely to result in actual outcomes falling short of their expectations in our view.

As we noted yesterday the SoMp look like a backward looking document.

Offshore Data

Offshore it was US data which dominated with a number of key indicators suggesting the momentum in the US economy continues to fade.

Chinese PMI

The July Purchasing Managers Indices provided a mixed read on the Chinese economy with the manufacturing PMI continuing its trend lower with the official index falling from 50.9 to 50.7 while the private reading produced by HSBC fell below 50 to 43.9 indicating that activity fell over the month. The Services PMI fared a little better rising from 57 to 59.6 however there was a bigger divergence with the HSBC index which fell from 54.1 to 53.5.

In a week where Rio Tinto’s results showed it was all about prices driving the improvement even as volumes fell we should all worry about this mining boom and what is really driving it. The key for Australia is whether or not the persistent slowdown in manufacturing will eventually feed into lower demand for our raw materials which impacts prices and thus investment intentions and jobs.

US ISM

A poor ISM manufacturing index reading really got markets moving south early in the week when the index slump far more than the market was expecting. The index dropped to 50.9 in July, indicating that the pace of activity almost stalled with the slowdown in the second quarter dragging on early into the 3rd quarter. The market had only been expecting a small decline from 55.3 to 54.5. The non-manufacturing ISM was also softer, but the fall was a little less significant that the manufacturing index, as it fell from 53.3 to 52.7, however it was expected to rise to 54.5.

US Consumer Income and Spending

While the manufacturing ISM shook the markets on Monday night, the surprise fall in consumer spending which was released Tuesday night tipped them over the edge. Consumer spending had been slowing since February however the negative 0.2 in June was the first fall since September 2009 and only the second drop since the spending climbed out of its GFC induced slump in April that Year. The fall shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise given the GDP figures showed personal consumption only rose 0.1%over the quarter. What is concerning is that the drop has followed an enduring slowdown , suggesting it is not a one off despite incomes still slowly rising.

German Industrial Production

While the European periphery is getting all the attention over the debt problems, industrial production in the Euro-zones biggest and strongest economy continues to lose momentum with production falling for the second time in the past three months. Industrial production fell 1.1% in June which was its biggest monthly drop since October 2009. The annual growth continues to slow, falling to 6.6%  down on its recent peak of 14.5% in February. We think this slowdown will continue given the relationship we see with Chinese Leading Indicators.

US Non-Farm Payrolls

The headline number beat expectations with total nonfarm payrolls growing by 117k in July which was ahead of the 85k the market was expecting ahead of the release. Interestingly the final outcome was very close to where the market was expecting nonfarm payrolls to print earlier this week before expectations were downgraded as the week progressed. However it wasn’t all good news with the household survey showing total employment actually fell by 38k meaning that the fall in the unemployment rate from 9.2% to 9.1% was a result of more American’s leaving the workforce. Interestingly the employment to population ratio fell to 58.1%, the lowest level since 1983 while the participation rate fell to 63.9% to its lowest level since 1984, meaning the actual unemployment rate is much higher than the 9.1% suggests.

Yours in data – The Lighthouse Research Team.

greg@lighthousesecurities.com.au

www.twitter.com/gregorymckenna

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