Trends in household spending: CBA's Kristina Clifton

Trends in household spending: CBA's Kristina Clifton
Trends in household spending: CBA's Kristina Clifton

GUEST OBSERVER

Household spending can be divided into three broad categories, services, retail trade, and non-retail goods. Where households spend has implications for overall economic activity.

For example, spending in labour intensive services sectors, such as health, or restaurants, will typically have a larger impact on overall economic and jobs growth than spending on some retail goods, such as furniture and clothes, which are largely imported. In this note we look at the broad long- term trends in the three expenditure categories.

Retail trade share of household spending has stabilised

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Trends in household spending: CBA's Kristina Clifton

 

The retail trade share of household spending was on a long term downward trend but looks to have stabilised. In the early 1980’s retail trade accounted for over 40% of household spending compared to 31% today. The main beneficiary has been the services sector. Households have increased their share of spending on services from around 50 percent in the early 1980’s to around 60 percent now.

The long run decline in the retail trade share of household spending reflects the fall in prices of retail goods relative to other goods and services. In volume terms, the retail trade share of total household spending has stayed very close to 30 percent since the data began in the early 1980’s.

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Trends in household spending: CBA's Kristina Clifton

 

However, for the last three years the retail trade share of household spending has been flat. With volumes also being broadly steady, this shows that that the discounting of retail goods relative to other goods and services has eased.

Part of the stabilisation of retail prices relative to services is due to the depreciation in the Australian dollar. This has helped to lift import prices in Aussie dollar terms. However RBA research shows that this lift has not been as large as would have been expected given the size of the depreciation. Increased competition is limiting the pass through from imported prices to sales prices.

It also reflects a sharp slowing in services inflation since late 2013. Services inflation has typically been higher than for inflation for goods. However, both are now running at an annual rate of just 1.5 percent over the year to September. Inflation of market based services, such as meals out and hair cuts, has slowed more sharply to an annual rate of just 0.9 percent over the year to September.

The slowing in services inflation, and inflation more generally, reflects a number of factors. Firstly there is spare capacity in the economy, which can be seen in the high rate of labour market underutilisation. Secondly, increased competition globally and advances in technology have reduced the pricing power in many markets.

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Trends in household spending: CBA's Kristina Clifton

 

In a recent speech, RBA Governor Lowe spoke about how reduced pricing power was not just effecting the manufacturing sector, but service sectors too. Thirdly, job security fears have been heightened since the GFC. This means that workers are less inclined to push for wage increases, in sectors where part- time work is replacing full-time permanent positions.

But services share is still increasing

The share of household spending on services has increased over time. Spending on purely discretionary services, such as restaurants, accommodation and recreation, accounts for around 15% of household outlays. This share has been broadly stable over time. Contrary to popular perception, the share of spending on meals outhas declined over time, now accounting for 5.2 percent of spending compared to 6.2 percent 30 years ago.

So the upward trend has been driven by an increasing share of spending on non-discretionary services, such as rent, health, education, transport and communications. These categories account for 45 percent of household spending, having increased from around 30 percent 30 years ago. The shift in spending reflects relatively stronger price increases for these services as well as a change in preferences towards these areas.

For example:

Insurance and other financial services – growth in this category is running at 6.5 percent over the year to June. As a share of housing spending, insurance and other financial services now accounts for 9.2 percent, compared to 8.4 percent three years ago.

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Trends in household spending: CBA's Kristina Clifton

Growth in this category has been driven by an increase in the volume of spending. Excluding price effects, the proportion of spending on this category has also increased by a similar magnitude.

Consumers have shown a higher degree of caution around employment prospects in recent years. As a result they may be taking on a greater degree of insurance to guard against the loss of income, a decline in health or loss of other assets. There are also a larger number of products on offer.

Spending on health services rose by almost 10% over the year to June. The share of household spending continues to increase, accounting for around 5% compared to 4% ten years ago. The increase has been driven by both relatively strong price increases as well as an increase in volume of spending. The ageing population has also boosted spending on health and this trend will continue. A higher proportion of the population now has (subsidised) private health insurance which has boosted the number of elective procedures.

Education has also grown at an above average pace, with spending up 5.8% over the year. Education accounts for 4.7% of household spending compared to 3.5% 10 years ago. The increase in the share of spending is due to relatively strong price increases and also a larger volume of spending on this category. For example, a greater proportion of people are finishing year 12 and undertaking further education.

One category of discretionary services spending which has increased over time is overseas travel. As a share of household outlays, expenditure on travel has increased from 2.5 percent in the early 1980’s to around 3.7 percent now. The share of spending on flights has fallen as the relative cost has declined.

However outlays on overseas accommodation and other travel costs has increased.

Spending on non-retail goods is falling

The retail trade share of household spending has stabilised in recent years. And the services share continues to increase. This means the share of spending on non-retail goods has declined. 

In particular, the share of spending on vehicles and their maintenance has fallen by 1 percent point over the past three years. There has been a long run downtrend in spending on these categories with the share of households spending around currently 7 percent compared to a peak of 11 percent in the 1980s. This largely reflects price falls – the price deflator for vehicles has declined by 25% since late 2007, while the deflator for the maintenance of vehicles is 7 percent lower over the past three years. Vehicles are cheaper, more reliable and can be funded via mortgage redraws at a lower cost.
 
 
Trends in household spending: CBA's Kristina Clifton

Summary

Changes in relative pricing, which have reduced the price of goods relative to services, have contributed to some very long run trends in household spending. Households have spent an increasing share on the consumption of services, while spending on retail and other goods has declined.

However the good news for retailers is that their share of household spending has been stable in recent years. This reflects a lower Australian dollar, which has lifted the price of some retail goods. However it also reflects a fall in the price of other consumption goods, such as cars, and a slowing in services inflation.

With plenty of spare capacity in the labour market, wages growth and non- tradeables inflation are likely to remain soft for many years. This means the relative price of services is likely to remain subdued. And the upward trend in the services share of household spending may flatten out. 
 

Kristina Clifton is economist, Commonwealth Bank, and can be contacted here.

 

Tags: 
Inflation Spending

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