Consumer sentiment consolidates after post-rate cut bounce: Bill Evans

Consumer sentiment consolidates after post-rate cut bounce: Bill Evans
Consumer sentiment consolidates after post-rate cut bounce: Bill Evans


The Westpac–Melbourne Institute Index of Consumer Sentiment dipped 1 percent in June to 102.2 from 103.2 in May.

Coming after an 8.5 percent surge in May, the small decline in June mostly represents a consolidation at improved levels.

Last month’s surprise rate cut from the RBA was the main catalyst behind May’s rally and although confidence has slipped back a touch in June this is a fairly common pattern following an interest rate driven bounce. At 102.2 the Index is still in slightly ‘positive’ territory overall – recall that readings above 100 indicate optimists outnumber pessimists.

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Consumer sentiment consolidates after post-rate cut bounce: Bill Evans

Responses to additional questions on ‘news recall’ point to a somewhat calmer backdrop compared to March although the majority of consumers still assessed news as being unfavourable. The highest recall levels were for news on ‘economic conditions’ (27.8 percent) and ‘Budget & tax’ (25 percent) but both were notably lower than in previous quarters. That is despite the May Budget and campaigning in the lead up to next month’s Federal election.

News on ‘international conditions’ was also much less prominent with the 10 percent level of recall on this item the lowest read in over a decade. Unsurprisingly, there was higher recall for news on ‘interest rates’ (16.5 percent) with the news on this topic viewed less negatively than in the previous four quarters.

Responses to additional questions on the ‘wisest place for savings’ showed a slightly less risk averse tone but attitudes still appear to be more conservative than seen throughout 2015. The proportion of consumers nominating ‘pay down debt’ fell from 24.4 percent in March to 20 percent in June.

This compares to an average reading of 17 percent in 2015. Consumers continue to heavily favour ‘safe’ options as well, with the proportion nominating bank deposits rising from 27.4 percent in March to 29.5 percent in June. That contrasts with continued lower readings for the proportion nominating real estate (15.8 percent in June vs 14.7 percent in March and average 25.4 percent in 2015) and shares (8.0 percent in June vs 7.6 percent in March and an average of 8.9 percent in 2015).

Consumers’ assessments of labour market conditions also consolidated on recent improvements. The Westpac Melbourne Institute Index of Unemployment Expectations declined 0.1 percent from 136.3 in May to 136.2 in June. This Index measures respondents’ assessments of the outlook for the unemployment rate so lower reads indicate improved confidence in the employment outlook. The Index has fallen 7.5 percent over the last three months and is now down 10.9 percent on levels a year ago but is still 4.9 percent above its long run average – assessments have shown a steady improvement but are still more negative than usual.

The component detail behind the headline sentiment index showed firmer reads on ‘family finances’ but a softening in expectations for the economy. Most notably, the sub-index tracking respondents’ assessments of ‘family finances compared to a year ago’ – a component the RBA has emphasised as an indicator of demand – increased 4.3 percent. The sub-indexes tracking the one and five year outlook declined 3.8 percent and 5.2 percent respectively, with falls following particularly strong gains in May, of 13.2 percent and 14.8 percent respectively. The ‘time to buy a major household item’ sub-index was unchanged.

Consumer views on housing also consolidated in June. The ‘time to buy a dwelling’ index declined 2.7 percent but the retracement followed a strong 12.1 percent surge in May. Price expectations firmed in the month with the Westpac Melbourne Institute Index of House Price Expectations up 3.6 percent to the highest level since September 2015. Both buyer sentiment and price expectations are still well below the readings seen a year ago but have shown a clear firming from the weak levels in early 2016, the RBA’s May rate cut clearly a supporting factor.

The Reserve Bank Board next meets on July 5. A move at that meeting is highly unlikely. The key considerations for the Bank are around the outlook for inflation. On its current forecasts
the RBA does not expect inflation to return to the bottom of the band until 2017, and that is on the assumption of a further rate cut given that the Bank’s forecasts are based on ‘market pricing’ for rates.

The most important and immediate information about whether the RBA’s May assessment is correct will come from the June quarter inflation report which prints on July 27, after the July Board meeting but ahead of the August 2 meeting. It is our assessment that the information in this report will confirm to the Board that another cut is indeed necessary.


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Consumer sentiment consolidates after post-rate cut bounce: Bill Evans

Bill Evans is chief economist of Westpac.


Consumer Spending


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