/Business conditions tumble with job prospects hit hard as economy cools

Business conditions tumble with job prospects hit hard as economy cools


May 14, 2019 11:36:35

Business conditions have deteriorated sharply, with steep falls in employment prospects, as well as sales and profits, according to the NAB business survey.

Key points:

  • The NAB business survey points to the economy cooling and unemployment rising in coming months
  • While business confidence edged up, it is still below average, suggesting an improvement in conditions is unlikely in coming months.
  • Employment, sales and profit all fell sharply and are also below average readings

The long running and respected survey found business conditions unwound rapidly last month, after a surprise jump in March.

Crucially, the survey’s employment index — considered by many, including officials at the Reserve Bank to be an accurate leading indicator of labour market trends — tumbled to a below average reading for the first time since 2016.

Price pressures, including wages, remained weak, suggesting not only is business activity slowing but there is still plenty of spare capacity in the jobs market and little pick up in the inflation pulse.

The weakness in employment and wages comes ahead of official figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which are seen as highly influential in the RBA’s thinking on interest rates.

Weak readings in the Wage Price Index (Wednesday) and jobs data (Thursday) will put the RBA under increased pressure to cut rates as early as next month.

The survey noted that, while leading indicators of the jobs market have been mostly positive to date, they could be expected to decline based on the prior slowing in economic activity.

NAB’s chief economist Alan Oster said it appeared the bounce in business conditions in March was short-lived and prospects for the jobs market were a particular concern.

“While trading and profitability have previously dipped below average, this is the first time the employment index has shown signs of weakness,” Mr Oster said.

“Employment has previously held up better — similar to official data — the impact of slowing activity and a weak outlook may now be flowing through to the labour market.”

Mr Oster said the employment index reading, based on historical context, pointed to jobs growth of around 14,000 a month.

“This is a slowing from the rates seen through the second half of 2018 and early 2019 … [and] is in accordance with our view that the slowing in growth will likely mean that no further progress is made on reducing the unemployment rate,” he added.