29 March 2020
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Australia: Assessing the impact of the coronavirus crisis

Craig James
20 March 2020

On Tuesday

The week kicks off on Tuesday with the regular weekly reading on consumer confidence to be published by ANZ and Roy Morgan. Consumer confidence was surprisingly stable in the week to March 15, with the economic stimulus package receiving widespread acclaim. Also, on Tuesday, CBA will issue early survey data for March (‘flash’ or preliminary reading) on activity in the manufacturing and services sectors.

On Wednesday

On Wednesday, the Department of Education, Skills and Employment will release the Skilled Vacancies data for February – an important gauge on employment intentions. In January, the skilled vacancies index rose by 0.7% (or 1,100 job advertisements) – the biggest gain in over 2 years. Also, on Wednesday the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) releases updated data on engineering construction in the December quarter. There is a bevy of infrastructure work being done at present. The ABS also issues regional population data for the 2018/19 year on Wednesday.

On Thursday

On Thursday there will be two data releases from the ABS: The Finance and Wealth publication for the December quarter and detailed Labour Force data for February. Total household wealth (net worth) rose by 3.0% to a record high $10,912.4 billion in the September quarter. The Finance and Wealth figures should show that household wealth was at fresh record highs just prior to the coronavirus crisis taking hold. Clearly the situation will look a little different at the end of March 2020. The detailed job market figures will contain estimates on employment by industry. 

Overseas: Gauging the coronavirus impact

In the coming week a raft of indicators will be issued covering February and March. The interest is in gauging the early impact of the coronavirus on economic activity.

On Monday

The week kicks off in the US on Monday when the Chicago Federal Reserve releases the National Activity Index for February. The index is tipped to ease from a reading of minus 0.25 points in January.

On Tuesday

On Tuesday, the regular weekly reading on US chain store sales is issued with new home sales figures and the Markit survey of purchasing managers for March. The ‘flash’, or early reading, of activity for both the manufacturing and services sectors in March will be closely watched for the impact of COVID-19. New home sales rose by 7.9% in January to a 764,000 annual rate – the highest since July 2007, highlighting the strength of the housing sector ahead of the coronavirus crisis. Also, on Tuesday the influential Richmond Federal Reserve manufacturing index is released. The index stood at minus 2 points in February and has been bouncing around the zero line for the past eight months.

On Wednesday

On Wednesday, the regular weekly data on mortgage applications is released with the February data on durable goods orders and the house price index for January. The house price index data is prepared from the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). Durable goods are goods that last three years or more. And the data on durable goods orders is seen as a proxy for business investment. Orders fell by 0.2% in January and have moved in a zig-zag fashion for the past six months. But excluding defence, orders recorder far stronger gain of 3.6% in the month – the strongest gain since June 2017. The FHFA house price index rose by 0.6% in December – the second strongest gain in the past year.

On Thursday

On Thursday, weekly data on new claims for unemployment insurance (jobless claims) is issued with revised economic growth data (gross domestic product) for the December quarter. The US economy grew at a 2.1% annualised pace in the December quarter. Also, on Thursday the February data on wholesale inventories is issued with the Kansas Federal Reserve manufacturing index.

On Friday

On Friday in the US the personal income and spending data for February is issued with the (final) March reading on consumer sentiment. In January, personal income rose by 0.6% – the strongest gain since February 2019. Spending rose a more sedate 0.2%. So overall the data shows that the finances of the US consumer are in good shape. The other interest in the personal income data is in the inflation measure – the personal consumption expenditure price index (deflator). Annual growth remains low at 1.7%. The University of Michigan consumer sentiment index fell from 101 to 95.9 in March – the lowest reading since October.

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