Weekly Payrolls continue to improve but there are some concerns for Small Business (and Townsville)

The ABS weekly payrolls data (sourced from the ATO Single Touch Payroll system) updated its latest series yesterday and today. What we see is a clear national improvement being driven largely by the recovery in Victoria as the state continues to come out of lock-down. Victoria registered a 1.4% improvement over the last 4 weeks (when looking at the 4-week moving average) while both NSW and QLD saw only a slight 0.2% pick-up.

The Payrolls data cannot be directly compared to the ABS Labour Force Survey but, as the graph below shows, there is clearly a close correlation between the two (as we would expect). Given the likelihood, and historical precedent, of the Payroll data being upwardly revised it would seem likely that the employment number within the LFS (to be released tomorrow for November), and which was collected towards the middle of the month, might be up about 0.5% which would equate to an increase of some 66,000 from October.

When we consider the data by way of business size we see a clear improvement in larger businesses (>200 employees) up almost 2% in the past 4 weeks. Medium size businesses have also moved higher, but by just 0.8%, while small businesses (<20 employees) appear to be down sharply (having fallen 2%). The results for QLD have been consistently better than at the national level for both small and medium businesses since the middle of the year when the better health outcomes became apparent, although the State is now slightly falling behind in those larger businesses.

However, we should be aware that due to the nature of collection of this data, and the fact that many small businesses are slow to input STP data, the data for smaller businesses has tended to be revised significantly higher in future releases. This is something that Justin Fabo (@justinfabo) on Twitter has been particularly well across (see here for more detail from a couple of weeks ago). Nevertheless, even allowing for some nominal upgrades to the SME indexes in coming weeks, it would now seem clear that the transition to JobKeeper 2.0, and its tougher requirements, has had a strongly negative impact on small business payrolls through October and November.


The data at the SA4 regional level shows Cairns having been relatively flat for the past few months (at about 4% below pre-COVID levels) while Townsville has seen about a 1.5% decline since the middle of September (although it still sits somewhat above Cairns). The apparent under-performance likely to be due to a higher reliance on the smaller end of town compared to State and National averages, and possibly therefore more susceptible to upward revisions in coming releases.

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