Conditions moderate, but still positive: Westpac's Andrew Hanlan

Conditions moderate, but still positive: Westpac's Andrew Hanlan
Conditions moderate, but still positive: Westpac's Andrew Hanlan


The Australian Chamber-Westpac Survey of Industrial Trends, the longest running business survey in Australia, dating from 1966, provides a timely update on the manufacturing sector and insights into economy-wide trends.

The Westpac-AusChamber Actual Composite index moderated in the December quarter to 53.5, down 3.2pts, from 56.7 in September. This is a still solid reading, above the historic average of 49 and up from an average of 52.4 for 2014.

The trend strengthening of the Composite index in 2015 has been centred on new orders, output and overtime, with some moderation in new orders and output in the final months of the year.

Manufacturing is benefitting from a strong upswing in new home building activity, as well as the lift in renovation activity and from the significant improvement in competitiveness flowing from the sharply lower currency, down 25% against the US dollar from mid-2014. However, the cycle remains constrained. Consumer spending is below trend, mining investment is turning down sharply and global fragilities persist. 

Exports are rising modestly, supported by the lower currency but constrained by still sluggish world growth. A net 3% of firms reported a lift in exports.

Expectations are positive, centred on new orders and output. Firms expect to respond to this strength by increasing overtime. The Expected Composite index is at 60.8, up 1.0pt on September. A net 38% expect the general business environment to strengthen over the next six months, up from 19% in September.

Businesses are looking to 2016 to be a positive year for profitability, driven by increased turnover and a lower Australian dollar boosting export returns. A net 19% expect profits to increase.

There are tentative signs that investment by the sector is nearing a turning point, consistent with a trend reduction in the sector's spare capacity. A solid net 15% of firms expect to increase equipment spending in the next year. The improvement has, to date, been centred on fewer firms looking to reduce spending.

On jobs, the survey's Labour Market composite was at a solid 52.2 in December, albeit down from a five year of 55.9 in September. The Index correctly foreshadowed the strengthening in economy wide jobs growth evident over the past year. It points to further solid gains into 2016.

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Conditions moderate, but still positive: Westpac's Andrew Hanlan

Andrew Hanlan is senior economist for Westpac and can be contacted here

Andrew Hanlan

Andrew Hanlan

Andrew has been with Westpac since 2002. After starting his career in the public sector, Andrew worked at the Commonwealth Treasury in Canberra, before enjoying a stint at Parliament House, where he worked as an adviser to the Finance Minister. His main focus is analysing the Australian macro economy.

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