The economic data around wages continues to disappoint: Westpac's Justin Smirk

The economic data around wages continues to disappoint: Westpac's Justin Smirk
The economic data around wages continues to disappoint: Westpac's Justin Smirk


It is true that wage inflation has lifted off its record low of 1.9%yr in June 2017 but running at a 2.3%yr at March 2019 it can hardly be described as running at a breakneck pace. We expect wage inflation to drift higher from here - our forecasts have it peaking around 2.75%yr in 2020 - but given how well contained the wage inflation is across the nation, and between sectors, even this modest increase looks optimistic with the risks to this forecast more to the downside than upside.

In the March quarter, total hourly wages ex bonuses rose 0.5% compared to a market median (and Westpac) expectation for 0.6%. The print was 0.54% at two decimal places with a 0.54% rise in private sectors wage rates and a smaller 0.45% rise in public wages - the smallest quarterly rise in public sector wages since March 2000. It appears that state governments, where revenues are under pressure from declining stamp duty collection, are pushing back against rising wage costs.

Private sector wages printed 0.54% in the last two quarters, but with base effects, the annual pace did drift a little higher to 2.4%yr - the fastest pace since December 2014 but still not exciting. Public sector wage inflation eased to 2.4%yr from a recent peak of 2.6%yr in September 2018, and on current trends, is likely to continue to moderate from here.

An annual pace of wages growth of 2.3%yr is a modest lift from the 2.1%yr pace it held from December 2017 to September 2018 which, in itself, was a very modest improvement from the record low of 1.9%yr in the four quarters before 2017 Q3. So while it is clear that wages have picked up a little and are off the record lows wage inflation is well contained and holding under the historical average.

Since 2018, Westpac watched the rapid fall in the Victorian unemployment rate, and because of this, we are now looking for signs of an acceleration in wage inflation there. In the March quarter, Victorian wages lifted 0.5%qtr, a moderation from the 0.8% gain in Q4, but with base effects, the annual pace was flat at 2.7%yr - the fastest pace by any state and the fastest pace in that state since December 2014.

JUSTIN SMIRK is ‎a senior economist for Westpac.

You can read the  full report here: WPI First Impressions pdf 390kb.

Economy Wages

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