Pete on radio 4CA this morning talking about our submission to the Productivity Commission’s Transitioning Regional Economies report

Pete was on radio 4CA this morning with John MacKenzie talking about his submission to the Productivity Commission’s Transitioning Regional Economies report (you can download the full submission from the PC website here). You can listen to the interview below.

New Conus Industry Trend data shows the problems Townsville faces

Each quarter the ABS produce data showing the levels of employment in each industry for the various labour force regions. Unfortunately this data is only provided on an unadjusted, 4-quarters average basis and as a result is a very lagged indicator. So, in the same way that we have been doing for some time with the monthly ABS regional labour force data, we wanted to produce a series, utilising this raw ABS data, that would give clients and policy-makers a more timely and responsive data-set when considering industry employment in the regions.

We still have some work to do before we’re ready to launch the full data-set for all the QLD SA4 regions (we anticipate a full launch in time for the next quarterly release of ABS data in June) but at this stage wanted to share with readers some initial findings with regard to Townsville.

To construct this data-set we have had to dis-aggregate the 4-quarters average data from the ABS. We’ve then adjusted and trended that dis-aggregated data to create the Conus Industry Trend for regional employment.

Looking across the 19 ANZSIC industry categories in Townsville, and comparing to the data from a decade earlier highlights the breadth of the slow-down seen.

We can see that only 6 of the 19 industry sectors have seen any increase in employment numbers (this during a period in which the population of Townsville increased by at least 37,000). Of those 6 industries only 3 have seen growth of 2,000 or more (Public Admin, Health Care and Transport). Major declines have been seen in Construction (down almost 6,000), Manufacturing and Retail Trade (both down almost 2,000) and falls of about 1,000 in many other sectors. The downturn in the Townsville economy has clearly been broad-based and impacted a large majority of industry sectors with a total loss of almost 6,000 jobs over the decade.

The full Conus Industry Trend series for all QLD SA4 regions is anticipated to be available after the release of the ABS Quarterly Labour Force data in June.

Note: The ABS Regional Jobs data will be released this Thursday (25th) at which time we will be updating our monthly Conus Trend Regional QLD Labour Force series.

QLD unemployment rate stays static, but this is a strong report for the State

Today saw the release of the ABS Labour Force data for April and it came in well above market expectations. Total employment (seasonally adjusted) rose 37,400 (expected +4-5,000) with the headline unemployment rate falling to 5.7% (from 5.9%). Unlike March, when the gains all came in the full-time sector, April saw full-time jobs drop 11,600. Nevertheless, full-time positions are up over 100,000 in the past 6 months. On the less volatile (and preferred) Trend measure we saw 19,900 new jobs with March data revised stronger. In the past 6 months the Trend series shows 120,000 new positions.

In Queensland the headline, seasonally adjusted, unemployment rate remained stuck at 6.3% (and the Trend at 6.4%) despite some good jobs growth; the reason being a Participation Rate that moved to its highest level in a year. Seasonally adjusted jobs were up 14,500 (with March revised up to +32,600 from +28,800) although, like at the national level, full-time positions dipped by 800. The Trend series shows an increase in employment of 6,600 after March was revised up to +6,800 (from +4,400). In the past 6 months Trend jobs are up by 31,100; which is the strongest period of jobs growth in Queensland since Dec 2015 (see second chart below).

Regional Building Approvals improve slightly in the North

Today saw the release of the March regional building approvals data from the ABS at both SA4 and LGA level. Following the (very) modest improvement in the Trend data at a state level last week (see here for details) we have seen a similar story emerge in the Far North.

Starting with the SA4 level data we see the Cairns Conus Trend improve to 77, after Feb was revised up from 71 to 75. Townsville fell very slightly to 70, but only after Feb was revised up from 67 to 71.

At the Local Government level we also see improvements. Cairns Regional Council (incl Douglas Shire) improved to 49 (Feb revised to 47 from 40). Tablelands Regional Council (incl Mareeba Shire) dipped to 18 (Feb revised up from 18 to 19). The Cassowary Coast Regional Council was unchanged at 6 while Townsville City Council was also unchanged at 67 (although Feb was revised up to 67 from 62).

Looking at the split across the State we see that this generally positive move in the North has occurred in the face of a somewhat weaker picture across the Rest of Queensland.

The full SA4 data set for the Conus Trend series for Queensland is available for download below. Please feel free to use this data (for non-commercial uses) but we would appreciate you acknowledging Conus when you do so.

Conus Trend Regional Building Approvals QLD – March 2017

Building Approvals disappoint, but the Trend turns positive

Today’s building approvals data for March have come in well below market expectations, although the Trends at both state and national level were positive for the month; the first time they’ve both been positive since early 2016..

March’s approvals across the nation fell by 13.4% for the month (expected down 3.9%) after an 8.9% pickup in Feb. This takes the seasonally adjusted yearly figure to a 19.9% decline. The weak numbers are on the back of weak (volatile) units data. When we consider the Trend series (which smooths out much of the volatility caused by the lumpiness of the units data) we see an increase of 0.8% for the month, year on year levels remain down 13.1%.

In Queensland seasonally adjusted approvals fell 21.3% (again on the back of weak units data) for a 37.2% decline over the year. The Trend series, however, was up 0.5% for the month but remains down 31.4% for the year. As the chart below makes clear, the sharp declines seen over recent months look as if they may be reaching a bottom; we might see some improvements in coming months.

Regional approvals will be released by the ABS next Monday at which time we will update our Conus Trend series for the SA4 regions in QLD, as well as those for our regional Local Government Areas.

Treasury data shows QLD economy recovery picking up

The QLD Treasury data for State Accounts for the final quarter of 2016 shows the economy picking up nicely.

Whilst the ABS only produce Gross State Product data on an annual (financial year) basis, the Treasury produce their own quarterly estimates. These show GSP rose by 0.9% q/q after the third quarter numbers were also revised stronger (+0.9% from +0.5% original). This equates to an annual increase of 2.1% (after Q3 was revised up from +1.9% to +2.2%).

Even State Final Demand (which does not include the strong trade sector) showed improvement (+0.4% q/q) with the annual change moving into positive territory (+0.7%) for the first time since Sept 2014. Although we should note that the ABS estimate is just a 0.4% increase (also the first positive plot since Sept 2014).

Household expenditure rose 2.6% annually, although this is the weakest annual increase for this sector since June 2015. More encouragingly Private Business Investment rose 0.5% for the quarter, although a decline in Private Dwellings Investment saw total Private Sector Investment decline by 0.3%. Nevertheless, the annual change in Private Investment (-6.7%) is the best result since Sept 2014.

Media still pushing old news about unemployment in Cairns

A piece in today’s Australian (read it here) perpetuates the old news that youth unemployment in Cairns is running at crisis levels. In this case the article quotes Cairns youth unemployment rate at 27.5%. As regular readers will know, this figure would appear to be the “official” 12 month moving average of the unadjusted original ABS data. The article quotes a Treasury document prepared for the Queensland government “late last year” at which time the 12 month moving average youth unemployment rate was about the quoted 27.5% level.

However, this extremely lagged measure of unemployment can be improved upon by utilising the Conus Trend which, at the end of last year, already had Trend Youth unemployment in Cairns down to 14.0%; and has subsequently fallen further still.

The problem with this focus on the 12 month moving average data can be seen clearly when we consider the most recent (March) data. The “official” 12 month moving average number remains elevated at 21.6% (note this is already a sharp decline from the number quoted in The Australian’s article today) but the Conus Trend sits at just 10.2%. With the “official” data still telling us that youth unemployment remains very high in Cairns, it is worth noting that the ABS original data hasn’t had a rate above 17.5% for 6 months and the most recent reading was just 7.3% (the lowest in almost 5 years). The 12 month moving average is simply not responsive enough to changes in the underlying data to allow for sensible decisions and positions to be taken based upon it.

In the past 6 months the original average level of youth unemployment in Cairns is just 12.4%. If nothing significant happens with regard to youth employment in the next six months then by September the Treasury will be reporting youth unemployment in Cairns at just 12.4% and those who believed the “official” numbers will be scratching their heads wondering what on earth happened since March to bring it down so sharply from 21.6%! In fact nothing will have happened during that period; the improvement had already happened but their data hadn’t picked it up.

I fully accept that our Trend estimates are subject to revision and the scale of the improvement seen over recent months may well be exaggerated, and therefore liable to revision, but the fact remains that to suggest that youth unemployment in Cairns is still at crisis levels is simply misleading. 

The Treasury report from the end of 2016 is quoted as saying that “there has been a relatively slow pick-up in labour-market demand” in Cairns. If we are only considering the lagged Treasury 12 month moving average data that may well be true. But since July last year those with an eye on the Conus Trend employment data for Cairns have been well aware of a significant pick-up in jobs which, even as early as the end of last year, had identified almost 8,000 new jobs over the previous 5 months; with another 1,000 added since.

It’s time that the Treasury and media stopped pushing the old, tired news that Cairns is some kind of employment black-hole when the reality proves different. This kind of negative reporting and thinking not only leads to bad policy making but it also negatively impacts sentiment in the region, an impediment to future improvements.


Jobs data makes for interesting reading

We’ve just returned from a couple of weeks in SE Asia so have some catching up to do. First thing on the agenda was the labour force data for March released last week. We saw the headline (seasonally adjusted) unemployment rate remain stable at 5.9% despite a very sharp addition of 60,900 new jobs; the reason an increase in the Participation Rate to 64.8. The much stronger jobs number came after the Feb data was revised to a 2,800 increase (rather than a 6,400 drop). Even more positively, full time employment was up a thumping 74,500 for the month.

The rather less dramatic, and therefore preferred, Trend measure was also better with 16,500 new jobs added (Feb was revised higher to +17,700 from +11,600) although the Trend unemployment rate actually nudged higher to 5.9% (from 5.8%) on the back of those higher PR numbers. However you look at it, this is a strong set of data for the nation. Seasonally adjusted employment is now up 145,900 over the past 12 months with 67,800 of those full time positions.

Queensland also saw improvements. The headline data showed an extra 28,800 new jobs (of which 33,100 were full time) and the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped sharply to 6.3% (from a revised 6.6% in Feb). Participation was also much firmer at 64.6 (up from 64.1) and this will have stopped the unemployment rate dropping even further.

The Trend series also improved with 4,400 new jobs and Feb revised from +1,600 to +4,300. March’s increase in Trend employment is the strongest since Dec 2015. As the second chart below makes clear, things are certainly improving in the Sunshine State. Further analysis of the QLD data can be found from Gene Tunny at Adept Economics here and here.

The regional labour force data which was released this morning makes some very interesting reading. We shall be spending more time analysing the data tomorrow; but having crunched the numbers and formulated the Conus Trend series a number of major points become obvious.

Regional QLD is rapidly closing the gap on Greater Brisbane

In March, Trend employment in the Rest of Queensland was up 3,800 while Greater Brisbane could manage just 700 (note that totals may not add to the ABS Trend data due to rounding). Even more significantly, the Rest of Queensland increase included 3,000 full time positions while Greater Brisbane added just 100. Over the course of the past 6 months Greater Brisbane has shed 10,300 full time positions while the Rest of Queensland has added 9,300; and almost all of these are coming from the Bush (i.e. Rest of Queensland minus SEQ). Regions that have contributed to this growth are Townsville (see commentary below) which added 8,100; Wide Bay +4,100, Mackay +3,000, Cairns +2,400 and Toowoomba +1,400.

Townsville’s recovery is well underway

There can now be little doubt that things have turned a corner in Townsville. Trend employment was up 2,200 in March, this is the 8th consecutive month of Trend increases. The Trend unemployment rate has fallen sharply to 9.3%, although it remains the second highest in the State (after Outback at 12.8%). Employment growth over the past 12 months (admittedly from a weak base) now sits at +7.6% pa and is the third best in the State.

However, in spite of this solid employment growth the number in jobs remains well below the highs seen back in 2011.

The improvements in Cairns remain on track

Last month saw some deterioration in the Cairns Trend data on the back of a weak original number. We cautioned at the time reading too much into one month’s numbers and suggested that things could well get revised later. That has indeed happened with a return to some good numbers in March. Trend employment rose just 100 (Feb was revised to +200) but the Trend unemployment for Feb was revised sharply lower to 5.7% and has edged slightly higher this month to 5.8%. One month of a small worsening tells us next to nothing. What the data shows us over the past 12 months is that Trend employment in Cairns has been increasing at an average of about 670 per month and the unemployment rate has fallen from 9.1% to 5.8%.

The rate at which the employment:working population measure has improved in both Cairns and Townsville highlights the ongoing improvements being seen in the North generally.

Of particular interest is the level of Trend youth unemployment which has now fallen below the levels seen in Greater Brisbane and sits at just 10.2%. The scale of this decline needs to be treated with a great deal of caution (high volatility within the sub-set Trend series is to be expected) but, nevertheless, it is clear that the issue of very high youth unemployment in Cairns can no longer be touted as a major concern.

The complete Conus Trend data set for regional Queensland is available for download below (free for non-commercial use). Please feel free to use the data but we would appreciate you acknowledging Conus when you do so.

Conus Trend Regional Jobs QLD – March 2017

Building Approvals in Queensland jump on the back of units

The ABS Building Approvals data for February shows a sharp improvement at both a state and national level with unit approvals being the main leader of the improvement.

Seasonally adjusted data for Australia shows approvals up 8.3% m/m for a decline of 4.9% y/y (after some upward revisions to previous months). Approvals for house rose 5.7% for the month but remain 4.4% weaker from a year ago while unit approvals were up 11% and are down 5.4% for the year. The less volatile Trend series showed a 0.8% increase for the month and a 11.5% decline over the year.

In Queensland we saw total approvals (seasonally adjusted) jump by 33.7% although the year on year data is still down 14.2%. This dramatic jump was solely on the back of unit approvals which rose 80.4% from last month while houses fell 12%. Over the year house approvals are up just 0.7% while unit approvals (despite this month’s surge) are down 28.3%. The Trend series shows total approvals down 0.7% for the month and down 31.6% over the course of the year.