Rent inflation is holding a 22yr low: Justin Smirk

Rent inflation is holding a 22yr low: Justin Smirk
Rent inflation is holding a 22yr low: Justin Smirk

GUEST OBSERVER

The Q4 CPI printed 0.5 percent compared to Westpac’s forecast for 0.6 percent.

The market median was also 0.6 percent. The annual rate is now 2.1 percent/yr compare to 1.5yr in Q4, 1.3 percent/yr in Q3 and 1.0 percent/yr in Q2. The June quarter was the lowest rate of annual inflation since June 1999.

The core measures, which are seasonally adjusted and exclude extreme moves, rose 0.4 percent on average compared to the market’s expectation of 0.5 percent rise.

Westpac’s forecast was also 0.5 percent. In the quarter, the trimmed mean gained 0.48 percent while the weighted median lifted 0.38 percent, both on the softer side of expectations highlighting just how modest the broader inflation picture is outside a few isolated sectors. The annual pace of the average of the core measures is now 1.8% from 1.5%yr in Q4 and Q3.

The six month annualised pace of core inflation came in 1.8%yr, a modest lift from the 1.6%yr pace in Q1, making this The Eighth quarter in a row the six month pace has been below the bottom of the target ban. Our current forecasts do not see the six month annualised pace of core inflation returning to the band till the March quarter 2018.

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Rent inflation is holding a 22yr low: Justin Smirk

As always there were surprises in the quarter even from the components we have some data on but this time they were quite modest. Our forecast 0.6%qtr was based on large contribution from power bills, auto fuels and the usual seasonal bump in health care, domestic travel and education being partially offset by falling fruit & vegetables, seasonal discounting for clothing, footwear and household contents plus the steady decline in audio visual & computing prices.

What stood out compared to our forecasts was the stronger rise in dwelling prices (1.0%qtr vs 0.5%qtr expected) but this was the only significant upside surprise. Food prices overall fell –0.2% (0.0% expected) while household contents & services were down 1.0% (1.0% expected), health costs rose just 2.0% (2.6% expected), car prices continue to fall (–0.5% vs 0.5% expected) and a surprising 1.9% fall in holiday travel (+0.9% expected) due to an unexpected fall in domestic travel costs.

The March quarter continues the run of softer inflation prints as the competitive margin squeeze appears to remain in place. Dwelling costs have lifted a bit (we don’t know if that is due to the inclusion of attached dwellings prices) and rising power bills are coming through but rent inflation remains very modest. So even with inflationary expectations drifting back towards the long-run average (we suspect fuel and power bills are responsible for this) there is little in this release to suggest that inflation is gathering any momentum. 

Our preliminary estimate for the core measures for Q2 2017 is 0.5%qtr/1.7%yr holding inflation below the bottom of the RBA’s target band. 

Fuel prices and rising power bills does not change the fact competitive pressures continue to prevent inflation from accelerating.

Rising fuel prices were there, as was the usual seasonal bump in education and health as well as the jump in power bills. And we did see a bit of a lift in dwelling prices (which now includes attached dwellings) associated with strong jumps in Sydney and Brisbane which added to the expected lift in electricity prices. However, as we noted in our preview, there was clear risk that the recent appreciation in the AUD, along with intense competition in the retail space, would limit the upside risks and, in fact, could present some downside risks to our forecasts.

In the end this came through with falling prices for clothing & footwear household contents & services, car prices, audio visual & computing & international travel.

ABS estimates small negative seasonality in the March quarter.

The ABS analysis points to some seasonality in the March quarter CPI with the seasonally adjusted estimate rising 0.55% a percentage point up on the headline 0.45% estimate.

After trimming the core measures rose 0.4 percent/qtr.

The core measures, which are seasonally adjusted and exclude extreme moves, rose 0.4% on average compared to the market’s expectation for 0.5% rise. Westpac’s forecast was also 0.5%. In the quarter, the trimmed mean gained 0.48% while the weighted median lifted 0.38% highlighting just how modest the broader inflation picture is outside a few isolated sectors. The annual pace of the average of the core measures is now 1.8% from 1.5%yr in Q4 and Q3.

The six month annualised pace of core inflation came in 1.8%yr, a modest lift from the 1.6%yr pace in Q1, making this The Eighth quarter in a row the six month pace has been below the bottom of the target ban. Our current forecasts do not see the six month annualised pace of core inflation returning to the band till the March quarter 2018.

For a broader core inflation measure, more in line with some international measures, all groups excluding food & energy rose 0.3%qtr/1.5%yr.

Competition is holding back traded goods inflation as the AUD appreciation lowers import prices.

As always there were surprises in the quarter even from the components we have some data on but this time they were quite modest. Our forecast 0.6%qtr was based on large contribution from power bills, auto fuels and the usual seasonal bump in health care, domestic travel and education being partially offset by falling fruit & vegetables, seasonal discounting for clothing, footwear and household contents plus the steady decline in audio visual & computing prices.

In the quarter, the ABS reported a 0.2% decline in food prices with falling fruit & vegetables prices (–1.9% we expected –2.1%) adding to a broader than expected weakness. The rise in auto fuel was much as we expected (5.7%) as were the gains in tobacco & alcohol (1.1%). However, traded goods prices continue to fall overall as clothing & footwear fell 1.5% (our forecast was –1.9%), household contents fell 1.0% (forecast was –0.6%), car prices fell 0.3% (forecast was –0.5%) while the seasonal lift in domestic holiday travel did not happen. In fact domestic holiday cost fell (–0.3% vs 4.0% forecast) compared to the rise that the BITRE data was suggesting.

All up traded prices fell 0.2% in Q1 but due to base effects the annual pace lifted to 1.3%yr from 0.1%yr. We would argue that this soft pace of traded price inflation highlights just how competitive the retail space has become and how retailers have very little ability to pass on any upstream price pressures.

Non-traded prices lifted less than 1.0% in the quarter.

Housing is a key factor underpinning the momentum in core and non-traded inflation. The 0.8% rise in Q1 was much as expected (0.7% forecast) but the composition was interesting. Dwelling purchases gained 1.0% with outsized gains in Sydney and Brisbane (1.3% and 1.9% respectively) adding to the steady 1.0% gain in Melbourne. There has been something of a turnaround in Perth with a 0.2% rise in Q4 but prices fell 0.8% in Q1. We also have to note that we don’t know what impact the inclusion of attached dwelling prices have had on this series. Rents continue to move very gradually higher with a 0.1% gain in the quarter.

Rising energy bills are starting to appear in the CPI with a 2.2% rise in utilities bills in Q1; we had forecast a 2.4% rise. We expect that power bills inflation with gather some momentum through 2017 and there is a clear risk this could extend into 2018.

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Rent inflation is holding a 22yr low: Justin Smirk

Holding back the pace of non-traded price gains was a more modest 3.1% rise in education (3.8% was expected) and a 2.0% gain in health (2.6% expected). The Federal Government has been targeting rising health costs and the Q1 lift in pharmaceutical in particular was smaller than it has been in recent years (4.9% vs 5.7% expected).

Non-traded prices rose 0.9% lifting the annual pace to 2.6%yr from 2.1%yr. Rising housing costs are key to this and without the constraints on education and health non-traded inflation would be rising at a more rapid pace placing some upwards pressure on core inflation. 

Looking forward housing remains key as other price pressures remain subdued and the AUD pass through is restrained.

The March quarter was another soft update on inflation. Competitive margin squeeze remains in some consumer sectors while the gains for health and education have been more modest than expect. Dwelling costs have gathered momentum adding to the pressure from power bills but rents inflation is holding a 22yr low. So despite the recent rise in inflationary expectations towards the long run average, the March CPI update suggests that inflation remains well contained.

Our preliminary estimate for the core measures for Q2 2017 is 0.5%qtr/1.7%yr holding inflation below the bottom of the RBA’s target band. Our projections do not see core inflation return to the band until September quarter 2018 while headline inflation is set to ease back below the band by early 2018. 

 

Justin Smirk is ‎senior economist, Westpac Group and can be contacted here.

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Cpi Dwelling Inflation

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