Business confidence unexpectedly rallied last month even as consumer confidence recently turned unexpectedly gloomy, three long-running sentiment surveys indicate.
NAB’s Monthly Business Survey, involving inquiries at more than 400 non-farm businesses conducted from 19 July to 29 July, showed business confidence rising five points to +7 – just above its long-running average.
A metric known as “capacity utilisation” – how close a business is to running to its limits – was at 86.7 per cent, the highest level recorded in the 25-year history of the survey.
It’s generally in the low 80s and the economist who oversees the survey called the result “really stunning”.
But two surveys of consumers, also released on Tuesday, showed confidence dropping again last week as the Reserve Bank increased interest rates for a fourth month in a row.
The Westpac – Melbourne Institute Survey of Consumer Sentiment recorded its ninth consecutive monthly decline, while the weekly ANZ-Roy Morgan Australian Consumer Confidence also showed consumer confidence sinking, more than offsetting the index’s gains from the three previous weeks.
“It’s a definitely an interesting situation, and I think it’s fair to say the rebounding in this survey caught us a bit by surprise,” NAB senior economist Brody Viney told AAP.
“We know inflation, rising interest rates are starting to weigh on consumers, and we’re seeing that in some of our real-time data.
“It’s been really interesting to see how how conditions have held up really strongly from a business perspective, and it seems like that’s translating to bit of confidence as well.
“That’s something we’re watching really closely, and I don’t think we have a really strong explanation as for why that’s the case. It’s an interesting, surprising outcome.”
One measure NAB looked at closely, forward orders, declined slightly over the past few months but was still at very robust levels, Mr Viney said.
“Maybe they’re not seeing the slowdown in their forward orders and in demand that had been expected over the last couple of months and it’s helped bolster the outlook a little bit,” Mr Viney said.
The capacity utilisation metric indicates that businesses were running “close to their limits,” he said, based on constraints such as staffing, machinery and equipment.
Yet the aforementioned Westpac and ANZ consumer surveys were pretty gloomy. Both were conducted last week, respectively involving surveys of 1200 and 1528 Australian consumers.
The surveys showed consumer confidence was on par with the levels last seen at the start of the COVID pandemic in 2020.
“It seems likely that inflation, which we still see as the major negative for confidence over this period, has been weighing particularly heavily on the attractiveness of consumer durables,” Westpac chief economist Bill Evans said, using a term to refer to consumer goods that last at least three years.
“It is ominous that the pace of these price increases has been increasing rapidly.”
ANZ senior economist Adelaide Timbrell told Ausbiz TV while sentiment was low, consumers were still spending, which likely meant Australia would be able to avoid a recession.
(Australian Associated Press)