Building costs rise at the fastest pace in 7.5 years: CommSec's Savanth Sebastian

Building costs rise at the fastest pace in 7.5 years: CommSec's Savanth Sebastian
Building costs rise at the fastest pace in 7.5 years: CommSec's Savanth Sebastian

GUEST OBSERVER

Construction work done in the June quarter by 3.7 percent, to be down 10.6 per cent on a year ago.

Engineering work fell by 9 percent in the June quarter – biggest quarterly fall in 151⁄2 years. Engineering construction is down by 24.9 percent on a year ago – biggest annual fall on record. Residential work rose by 0.8 percent in the June quarter to record highs, while commercial building lifted by 2.1 percent.

Building inflation: Building inflation rose by 0.6 percent in the June quarter. The annual rate of construction inflation rose from 2.1 percent to 2.7 percent – marking the fastest annual growth rate in 71⁄2- years.

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Building costs rise at the fastest pace in 7.5 years: CommSec's Savanth Sebastian

Construction work fell in four of the states and territories in the June quarter. Leading the falls was Western Australia (down 19 percent), followed by Northern Territory (down 3.2 percent), NSW (down 1.3 percent) and Tasmania (down 0.4 percent). Construction rose in Victoria (up 5.2 percent), Queensland (up 2.7 percent), the ACT (up 0.5 percent) and South Australia (up 0.1 percent). 
The data on construction work is important for builders, building material companies and developers. 


What does it all mean?

Inflation in the building sector is lifting. Not only is the annual rate of construction inflation the fastest in over seven years. But inflation in three out of the past four quarters is amongst the strongest results recorded in the past four years. In addition recent construction industry reports forecast a further rise in hourly rates over the medium term at unionised building sites due to new enterprise bargaining agreements and labour shortages. Overall the lift in inflation in the building sector would not concern the Reserve Bank at present given the lack of inflation across the rest of the economy.

The ‘baton pass’ from engineering to residential building is clear for all to see. Engineering work continues to recede while home building has hit new highs. In fact engineering work record the sharpest quarterly decline in almost 16 years. Interestingly the gap between building (residential and commercial) and engineering in terms of total work is the largest in almost 10 years. The results are even more staggering when you consider that just over two years ago engineering work surpassed total building by more than $8 billion. The speed of the turnaround has shown up in the patchiness across the national economy and in effect highlights the difficulties faced by policymakers in trying to shore up growth

Today’s data is unlikely to alter the Reserve Banks thinking when it comes to rates. Focus now turns to the June quarter business investment data released on September 1. And while the Reserve Bank will be particularly interested in estimates of completed non-mining investment, there will be a much greater focus on future spending plans - especially in light of the fact that private sector construction activity continues to disappoint. 

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Building costs rise at the fastest pace in 7.5 years: CommSec's Savanth Sebastian

What do the figures show?

Construction Work

Construction work done fell by 3.7 per cent in real (inflation-adjusted) terms in the June quarter after sliding by 0.3 per cent in the March quarter. Work done is down by 10.6 per cent on a year ago. Public sector construction work rose by 5.3 per cent in the quarter while private sector activity fell by 5.7 per cent.

Construction work fell in four of the states and territories in the June quarter. Leading the falls was Western Australia (down 19 per cent), followed by Northern Territory (down 3.2 per cent), NSW (down 1.3 per cent) and Tasmania (down 0.4 per cent). Construction rose in Victoria (up 5.2 per cent), Queensland (up 2.7 per cent), the ACT (up 0.5 per cent) and South Australia (up 0.1 per cent).

Engineering work fell by 9 percent in the June quarter – biggest quarterly fall in 15 1⁄2 years. Engineering construction is down by 24.9 percent on a year ago – biggest annual fall on record.

Commercial (non-residential) building rose by 2.1 percent in the June quarter to be up 0.4 percent over the year.

Residential building rose by 0.8 percent in the June quarter and was up by 9.4 percent over the year. Alterations & additions rose by 5.4 percent in the quarter while new residential work rose by 0.1 percent.

The measure of inflation in the construction sector (deflator) rose by 0.6 per cent in the June quarter. The annual rate of construction inflation rose from 2.1 per cent to 2.7 percent – matching the fastest annual growth rate in almost 71⁄2 years. Engineering prices rose by 0.6 percent in the quarter (up 2.6 percent over the year) while building prices rose by 0.4 percent in the quarter (2 per cent over the year).

What is the importance of the economic data?

The Bureau of Statistics releases quarterly estimates of Construction work done. The estimates are based on a survey and cover around 85 per cent of the construction work done in the period. Revised estimates will be released in coming months. The data is useful largely for historical purposes but the work yet to be done estimates provide an early warning signal of future activity. The residential work figures give a good early guide to the strength of residential investment in the national accounts.

What are the implications for interest rates and investors?

There is plenty of work in the construction sector. But there are winners and losers across states and industry sectors. The Reserve Bank will not be overly concerned with the current trends in construction. Overall activity is correcting as expected and adjusting to the new realities.

While policymakers will continue to discuss the merits of another rate cut, it really comes down to the inflation outlook. CommSec expects a low inflation result over the September quarter should result in the central bank cutting the cash rate once again in November. 

Savanth Sebastian is an economist for CommSec

 

Tags: 
Home Building Residential Construction

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