Consumer sentiment collapsed in August especially in NSW: Bill Evans

Consumer sentiment collapsed in August especially in NSW: Bill Evans
Consumer sentiment collapsed in August especially in NSW: Bill Evans


The Westpac-Melbourne Institute Index of Consumer Sentiment fell 9.5% to 79.5 in August from 87.9 in July.

The scale of the fall comes as a major surprise. At 79.5, the Index is back near the extreme low of 75.6 seen back in April when Australia entered a national lockdown.

Since the July survey we have seen Victoria enter Stage 4 restrictions and evidence of some ‘hot spots’ in New South Wales. Under those circumstances it is certainly reasonable to have expected a sizeable fall in Consumer Sentiment.

However, collapsing to only 5.1% above the lows we saw in April when consumers were first confronted with a national lockdown may well prove to be a significant overreaction.

The biggest surprise was in NSW where sentiment collapsed by 15.5% – well in excess of the 8.3% fall in Victoria. Remarkably, the index in NSW has reached 77.8, below Victoria’s read of 78.

Even in Queensland, where cases have been largely eliminated, there was a fall of 8.1% putting the index in Queensland at 79.7, only slightly above NSW and Victoria.

The index in South Australia fell by 5.8% to 81.8 while only Western Australia was stable, falling by 1.5% to 85.9.

While some of the weakness in NSW and Queensland will reflect the direct economic drag from Victoria’s lockdown and the closure of interstate borders, the overall response seems disproportionate to the evidence on developments around the virus.

This emphasises the fear of the unknown.

Consumers across the nation appear to have been rattled by the developments in Victoria and fear that other states may also succumb to the ‘second wave’ outbreak.

NSW has seen several clusters although, after more than a month, there has been no evidence that these cases will develop into a Victorian-style disaster.

Queensland has seen even fewer cases and faces even more secure prospects.

Our view is that these fears are likely to have become overblown. While consumers are right to be concerned, virus risks still look low outside Victoria. Even in NSW new case counts remain well below the levels seen when Victoria’s outbreak started to ramp higher in the second half of June.

Certainly, the prospect of Victorian-style outbreaks taking hold across all of Australia seems remote. Fears across the nation will be lowered further as and when lockdown measures start to improve the situation in Victoria

Victoria’s progress in containing the virus with its current heavy lockdown policies will be much clearer by the first week in September when we conduct the next survey.

BILL EVANS is Westpac's chief economist

NSW Consumer Sentiment


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