Tame wages and home building at record highs: Savanth Sebastian

Tame wages and home building at record highs: Savanth Sebastian
Tame wages and home building at record highs: Savanth Sebastian

Construction activity eases: Construction work done in the December quarter fell by 3.6 percent, driven by a 9.5 percent slump in engineering work. Residential work lifted by 2.8 per cent to record highs while commercial building rose 2.5 percent.

Building inflation: Building inflation rose by 1.1 per cent in the December quarter, the biggest quarterly gain in seven years. The annual rate of construction inflation rose from 1 per cent to 1.9 percent – matching the fastest annual growth rate in four years.

Slow wage growth: The wage price index rose by 0.5 percent in the December quarter after a 0.6 percent rise in the September quarter. Annual wage growth eased from 2.3 percent to a record (18-year) low of 2.2 percent.

Industry with fastest annual wage growth: Financial and insurance services (up 2.8 percent) followed by education & training (up 2.6 percent).

Industries with slowest annual wage growth: Administrative and support services (up 1.4 percent), followed by Mining (up 1.5 percent).

The data on construction work is important for builders, building material companies and developers.

What does it all mean?

The ‘baton pass’ from engineering to residential building is clear for all to see. Engineering work continues to recede while home building has hit new highs. Interestingly building (residential and commercial) has surpassed engineering in terms of total work for the first time in five years. The results are even more staggering when you consider that just two years ago engineering work surpassed total building by more than $11 billion.

The speed of the turnaround has shown up in the patchiness across the national economy and in effect highlights the difficulties faced by policymakers in trying to shore up growth.

Click to enlarge

Tame wages and home building at record highs: Savanth Sebastian

The wages data confirmed that inflation is well and truly in check. However an area to watch over the next couple of quarters is inflationary pressures in the high-flying home building sector. Inflation in the construction sector rose by the 1.1 percent in the December quarter – the fastest quarterly growth rate in seven years. The lack of inflation in the rest of the economy should ensure that for the moment the latest result doesn’t trouble the Reserve Bank.

Click to enlarge

Tame wages and home building at record highs: Savanth Sebastian

Clearly, the job market is improving because the cost of labour has become more affordable for businesses. While low wage growth is good for keeping costs down for businesses, modest real wage growth (wages less prices) makes it more difficult for consumer-focussed businesses.

Real wage growth remains positive – around 0.5 percentage points if judged against “headline” inflation (15-year average 0.7 percentage points) and around 0.2 percentage points when judged against “underlying” inflation.

Today’s data is unlikely to alter the Reserve Banks thinking when it comes to rates. While policymakers may discuss the merits of another rate cut, they are unlikely to pull the trigger on domestic conditions. Rather a rate cut would be driven by changes in the global environment.

What do the figures show?

Construction Work

Construction work done fell by 3.6 per cent in real (inflation-adjusted) terms in the December quarter after sliding by 1.8 percent in the September quarter. Work done is down by 4.3 percent on a year ago. Public sector construction work rose by 1.2 percent in the quarter while private sector activity fell by 4.6 percent.

Construction work fell in five of the states and territories in the December quarter. Leading the falls was Northern Territory (down 17.7 percent), followed by Western Australia (down 9.5 percent), Tasmania (down 4.3 percent), South Australia (down 3.1 percent), and Queensland (down 1.4 percent). Tasmania (down 1.8 percent) and ACT (down 0.6 percent). Construction rose in Victoria (up 1.1 percent), ACT (up 1 percent) and NSW (up 0.2 percent).

Engineering work fell by 9.5 percent in the December quarter and has now fallen almost 25 percent in the past three years. Engineering construction is down by 14.7 percent on a year ago.

Commercial (non-residential) building rose by 2.5 percent in the December quarter to be up 2.2 percent over the year.

Residential building rose by 2.8 percent in the December quarter and was up by 11.5 percent over the year.

Alterations & additions fell by 1.2 percent in the quarter while new residential work rose by 3.3 percent.

The measure of inflation in the construction sector (deflator) rose by 1.1 percent in the December quarter, the biggest gain in 7 years. The annual rate of construction inflation rose from 1 percent to 1.9 percent – matching the fastest annual growth rate in four years. Engineering prices rose by 1.5 per cent in the quarter (up 0.8 percent over the year) while building prices rose by 0.5 percent in the quarter (2.7 percent over the year).

Wage price index

The wage price index rose by 0.5 percent in the December quarter after a 0.6 percent rise in the September.

Annual wage growth eased from 2.3 percent to a record (18-year) low of 2.2 percent.

Private sector wages rose by 0.5 percent in the quarter while  public sector wages also rose by 0.5 percent.

Annual growth of private sector wages fell from 2.1 percent in the September quarter to a record low of 2.0 percent in the December quarter. Public sector wage growth fell from 2.8 percent to 2.6 percent in the December quarter.

Click to enlarge

Tame wages and home building at record highs: Savanth Sebastian

 

Including bonuses, wages rose by 0.5 percent in original terms in the December quarter to be up 2.2 percent on a year ago – a record low. Private sector wages including bonuses rose by 0.5 percent in the quarter to be up 2.1 percent on a year ago (or up 2.2 per cent at a total hourly rate).

Industries with fastest annual wage growth: Financial and insurance services (up 2.8 percent), followed by education & training (up 2.6 percent) and Manufacturing and retail trade (both up 2.5 percent).

Industries with slowest annual wage growth: Administrative and support services (up 1.4 percent), followed by Mining (up 1.5 percent), Professional, scientific and technical services and Construction (both up 1.6 percent).

Annual wage growth across States & Territories: NSW, 2.1 percent; Victoria, 2.4 percent; Queensland, 1.9 percent; South Australia, 2.3 percent; Western Australia, 1.8 percent; Tasmania, 2.2 percent; Northern Territory, 2.4 percent; and ACT, 1.6 percent.

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 percent 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.

The Wage Price Index has been compiled since September quarter 1997 and measures quarterly changes in wage and salary costs for employees. The index is based on a representative sample of employees, and includes measures of non-wage costs including superannuation, payroll tax, public holiday and workers compensation.

The Wage Price Index is useful in measuring wage pressures in the economy. While strong growth in wages would boost domestic spending, it could also serve to lift employer costs and prices and add to economy-wide inflationary pressures. The wage price index is a measure of hourly pay rates (excluding bonuses).

What are the implications for interest rates and investors?

There is plenty of work in the construction sector. But there are winners and losers across states and industry sectors. Construction activity in Queensland remains a concern. In the past two years, construction work has slumped by 45 percent in Queensland – the most of any state or territory. The lack of construction work in Queensland needs to be addressed by the State Government as it is robbing the economy of momentum.

In contrast to Queensland, construction activity in Victoria hit record highs in the December quarter. Builders, tradespeople and construction firms need to be mobile in the current environment.

The Reserve Bank will be pleased about current trends in construction. Overall activity is correcting as expected and adjusting to the new realities. And while inflation in the home building is higher than in the rest of construction and higher than consumer prices, that is to be expected given soaring activity.

We expect the Reserve Bank to stay on the interest rate sidelines over coming months.

Click to enlarge

Tame wages and home building at record highs: Savanth Sebastian

Tags: 
Home Building Construction Work

Community Discussion

Be the first one to comment on this article
What would you like to say about this project?