News: Business Conditions Remain Strong Despite Fall in Confidence, NAB Says

Australia’s businesses reported strong conditions despite declining confidence, the National Australia Bank’s (NAB) May business survey found.

The survey, containing responses from more than 400 firms, showed a slight ease in conditions – encompassing trading, profitability and employment – with one index point decline to +12. The drop was attributed to the sluggish construction, finance, property and business services. Despite the fall, it is still well above the average of +5.

“The business sector is looking quite upbeat, maintaining the apparent disconnect with a rather melancholy household sector,” said Alan Oster, chief economist at the NAB. “It is good to see that the strength has been quite broad-based, and even at the state level we have seen some significant improvements in Western Australia, which signals that the worst of the mining sector drag is probably behind us.”

Oster also predicted improvements in profitability and employment. “Profitability has remained elevated for some time now, backed up by solid profit outcomes in the first quarter National Accounts,” Oster said.

“Similarly, the current level of employment conditions is consistent with the recent improvements in ABS employment growth. That has helped to close the previous departure between the NAB and ABS measures of employment, while the NAB index suggests that we can expect more solid employment growth to continue over coming months.”

However, the survey also found a fall in confidence from +13 to +7, two points above the long-run average.

“The wedge between confidence and conditions is likely a reflection of the heightened uncertainty around the outlook, although the degree to which this reflects global versus domestic factors is difficult to gauge,” the bank said.

The bank said economic growth is expected to rise for the second half of the year, but the longer term outlook may not be as positive. “Significant structural headwinds still pose a hurdle that will prove difficult to overcome, keeping wages growth subdued and consumers cautious with their spending,” said Oster.

“The longer-term outlook could be less sanguine as important growth drivers (LNG exports, commodity prices and housing construction) begin to fade.”

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