June quarter saw a bump up in dwelling costs: Westpac's Justin Smirk

June quarter saw a bump up in dwelling costs: Westpac's Justin Smirk
June quarter saw a bump up in dwelling costs: Westpac's Justin Smirk

GUEST OBSERVER

Westpac’s forecast for the headline CPI is 0.9 percent qtr which lifts the annual pace to 1.5 percent/yr from 1.0 percent/yr.

September is traditionally a stronger quarter (mostly due to the annual price resetting for administrated prices) with the ABS seasonal factor worth 0.3ppts. This results in the seasonally adjusted CPI rising a smaller 0.6 percent/qtr.

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June quarter saw a bump up in dwelling costs: Westpac's Justin Smirk

 

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June quarter saw a bump up in dwelling costs: Westpac's Justin Smirk

 

Key to the solid rise is the strong price gains for food, housing (mostly via utilities) and recreation. Helping to hold the gains down in the quarter were falling prices for auto fuel, communication and clothing & footwear.

Overall, traded prices are forecast to rise 0.9 percent, despite the 3.4 percent fall in auto fuel prices, which boosts the annual pace from 0.0 percent/yr to 0.6 percent/yr. Excluding fruit, vegetables, fuel and tobacco, traded goods prices are forecast to rise 0.3 percent/0.6 percent/yr in Q3 highlighting just how modest imported inflationary pressures are.

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June quarter saw a bump up in dwelling costs: Westpac's Justin Smirk

 

Housing costs remain key to core and non-traded inflation. September quarter saw a significant jump in electricity bills lifting utility costs 5.7 percent/qtr. In 2015Q3 utility prices fell 0.5 percent. Other housing costs remain benign with rents falling in Perth, Darwin and Canberra while dwelling purchase prices have moderated in Sydney, Melbourne & Brisbane while the declines are gathering pace in Perth.

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June quarter saw a bump up in dwelling costs: Westpac's Justin Smirk

 

Core inflation (average) is forecast to print 0.4 percent/qtr (0.39 percent at two decimal places) which will see annual core inflation lift to 1.6 percent/yr from 1.5 percent/yr. The trimmed mean is forecast to rise 0.38 percent while the weighted median forecast is 0.40 percent. The six month annualised pace of the average of the core measures is forecast to lift to 1.7 percent/yr from 1.3 percent/yr in Q2 which remains a modest inflationary pulse.

 

The pass through from the early weakness in the AUD did not provide the normal boost you would expect and so we doubt the recent appreciation of the currency will act as a further brake on prices. Outside of housing, where we are forecasting a modest gain following a statistical bounce in Q2, the risks to our forecast are balanced. 

A quick recap on the June quarter CPI

The headline CPI came in as expected rising 0.4 percent in Q2. The annual rate is now just 1.0 percent/yr compared to 1.3 percent/yr in Q1, which is the lowest rate of annual inflation since June 1999.

The core measures, which are seasonally adjusted and exclude extreme moves, rose 0.48 percent compared to the market’s expectation of 0.4 percent rise; Westpac was slightly lower at 0.35 percent. The annual pace of the average of the core inflation measures is now 1.5 percent, the lowest print we have yet seen for this measure.

The key observations from the June quarter CPI was some recovery in housing costs, a lift in health costs and some sign of AUD pass-through with a 2.0 percent lift in clothing & footwear prices. Given the core print in Q2, and our expectations for Q3, we do think we have seen the low in the annual pace of core inflation. 

Some solid ‘knowns’ but, as always, many ‘unknowns’!

In the June quarter, while there was still no broad based acceleration in prices, there were some promising signs that we may have found a base in the disinflationary cycle. For the September quarter, we expect a number of one off positive factors will boost the headline measure well above the underlying momentum of core inflation.

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June quarter saw a bump up in dwelling costs: Westpac's Justin Smirk

 

There is a known boost (partly seasonally) from fresh fruit & vegetables plus the usual seasonal rise in utilities and domestic holiday travel. Partially offsetting these gains is a fall in automotive fuels, the seasonal fall in pharmaceuticals, domestic holidays and further declines in communication prices.

However, as always, a large number of unknowns remain. In particular, while we expect house purchase prices will return to a more modest pace than we saw through 2015Q4 and 2016Q1 we wonder if the 0.9 percent/qtr bump in Q2 the start of a new stronger trend.

We also don’t have access to a lot of the data the ABS uses and, in many cases, it is not possible to replicate the survey process the ABS uses causing many small errors along the way. We use many alternative sources and surveys as a guide but our forecasts are, in the end, subject to a significant amount of personal judgement.

Automotive fuels are a meaningful drag this quarter.

One of the most obvious events in the last few quarters has been the extreme volatility in the pump price of automotive fuels. Starting the quarter at $1.22/l the pump price then fell to a low of $1.10/l around mid-August before rallying to a high of $1.18/l at the end of the quarter. In terms of the quarterly averages, we forecast that the price of automotive fuels will fall around 3.4 percent contributing –0.12ppts to the CPI. Fuel is the most significant negative we have identified for the September quarter CPI.

Fruit & vegetables set for strong bounce.

For the September quarter we forecast an 8 percent rise in vegetable prices plus a very robust 14 percent rise in fruit prices. All up, the 11.3 percent rise in fruit & vegetable prices will add 0.33ppt to the CPI.

Running into the spring flush we are looking for softer meat & seafood prices (–0.4 percent) but rising wholesale price late in the quarter means the decline is less than you would usually expect. We are also very aware of the ongoing price discounting in the very competitive groceries space and what appears to be a lack of pass through from the weaker AUD to imported foodstuffs. Our forecasts see food & non-alcoholic beverages contribute 0.35ppt to the CPI.

Partial re-index of the tobacco excise.

Tobacco excise is re-indexed to the CPI in the month of September so we incorporate 1/3 of this increase in the September quarter average and the other 2/3 will appear the in December quarter. We are looking for the usual modest gains in alcoholic beverages but note we should be past the greatest pressure from the weaker AUD for imported beverages.

Seasonal rise for domestic holiday travel costs.

The BITRE (Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport & Regional Economics) data on best price economy airfares is pointing to the usual seasonal bump for domestic airfares in Q3. So for the September quarter we are forecasting a 1% rise in domestic holiday costs, while the previous weaker AUD will help boost international holiday travel, at the margin (remembering that prices are applied to when the travel is taken not when it was booked). As such we are looking for a 2.6%qtr rise in holiday travel & accommodation.

Dwelling prices to moderate from Q2 bump.

The June quarter saw a bump up in dwelling costs (0.9 percent/qtr on average, prices lifting by this much in Melbourne and Brisbane thus supporting the 1.5 percent bounce in Sydney). We are looking for the gains to fall back to around their three quarter average for the cities (0.6 percent/qtr of Sydney and Melbourne, 0.4 percent in Brisbane, 0.3 percent in Adelaide while prices continue to fall in Perth) resulting in a modest 0.4%qtr the price of dwellings purchased.

Housing overall makes a solid contribution of 0.31ppts.

Rents are expected to remain on a very benign path with a gain of just 0.2 percent. This follows a 0.2 percent in Q2, 0.1 percent in Q1 and a 0.2 percent in Q4. While rents are clearly under pressure in WA and easing in other capital cities, in aggregate they tend to be relatively sticky given the way they are measured in the CPI and so we would expect any downside risk to this forecast to be very modest.

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June quarter saw a bump up in dwelling costs: Westpac's Justin Smirk

 

However, electricity prices surged in the September quarter and power companies adjusted prices in the face of rising wholesale prices. All up, electricity prices are expected to rise 8.4 percent. In total utilities are forecast to rise 5.7 percent as the usual Q3 price rising in other utilities is somewhat less than that for electricity.

Ex-housing, the CPI is forecast to rise 0.6 percent.

The impact of the AUD is shifting to appreciation without the earlier depreciation having any meaningful impact.

We also expect that we are nearing the end of the inflationary impact, if there has been much impact, of the earlier AUD depreciation. In Q2 and again in Q3 the AUD has strengthened a little. As such, we are making a very small allowance for a bit more pass-through in clothing & footwear and household contents & services. The September quarter normally experiences post-June sales discounting for clothing & footwear and this year we expect the discounting to be a bit less usual. Westpac is forecasting a 0.1 percent fall in clothing and footwear and a 0.8 percent rise (0.07ppt) in household contents & services.

The one area we do expect to see some pass-through from the weaker AUD is in car prices as the fall in the AUD against the Japanese Yen has been much greater than other currencies given the significant appreciation in the Yen to the US dollar. We are forecasting a 0.2% rise in car prices contributing 0.01ppt to the CPI. Car prices fell 1.4 percent in Q2 and our Q3 forecast is very modest compared to the 1.1 percent gain in 2015Q3.

Overall seasonality tends to be significant positive in Q3.

With seasonal re-pricing for administrated goods (ie. rates, utilities, public transport etc), the ABS reports Q3 with a seasonal positive. That is, our seasonally adjusted estimate is 0.3ppt weaker at 0.6% than our headline CPI forecast. There is a caveat however: the ABS conducts concurrent seasonal re-analysis and the revisions to the seasonal factors can be quite significant.

Core inflation to remain well below the bottom of the band.

Westpac is forecasting the average of the core measures to rise by 0.39 percent in Q3 with the annual pace lifting to 1.6 percent/yr from 1.5 percent/yr. Traded goods & services are forecast to rise 0.9 percent/qtr with the annual pace accelerating to 0.6 percent/yr from 0.0 percent/yr; non-traded prices are also forecast to rise 0.9%qtr for an annual pace of 2.1 percent/yr from 1.6 percent/yr. The six month annualised pace of the average of the core measures is forecast to lift to 1.7 percent/yr from 1.3 percent/yr in Q2.

Risks balanced for headline.

We expect that the pass through from the earlier AUD weakness has all but passed and the fall in petrol prices more than offset by rising housing costs. But core inflation remains well contained. There may be some upside risk for housing, particularly if Sydney is on a new stronger trend, but we are cautious that traded goods in particular may be softer than what we are expecting. 

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

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