Retail data shows a slowing economy

Retail turnover data points to a slowdown in the economy in 2023.

In the month of February, retail turnover grew at an anaemic 0.2%. This is well under the post-pandemic trend for retail sales growth.

Consumer spending has flatlined as a result of increasing cost-of-living pressures, rising interest rates and low consumer confidence.

And business turnover results do too

Business turnover data similarly suggests a slowing economy.

In January 2023, turnover fell in seven of thirteen industries, with particularly heavy falls in consumer-facing industries. Retail was the only consumer industry to grow in January.

Turnover in industrial sectors performed more strongly, led by other services and mining.

During economic downturns, consumer-facing industries usually show reduced turnover before industrial sectors.

Absenteeism back to pre-COVID levels

Prior to the pandemic, the absenteeism rate in Australia averaged 3.3% per month, with typical spikes in winter and falls in summer.

But during 2022, the winter spike started abnormally early, and rose abnormally high (to 5.5%). This likely reflected a higher illness burden as COVID controls were removed.

Fortunately, in January absenteeism has finally returned to its normal pattern. This suggests the post-COVID wave of illness has finally passed.

Full-time work dominates post-COVID era

Full-time work has dominated employment creation in Australia since the pandemic.

Since July 2020, the Australian labour force expanded by 1.47 million people. Most of this growth – 1.16 million – were employees in full-time roles.

The labour force indexes below show the steady growth in full-time work, while part-time work has flatlined after an initial recovery from the COVID shock.

Migration returns to drive population growth

In the September quarter of 2022, Australia recorded the highest net overseas migration figures on record.

106,000 net new arrivals settled in Australia, double the pre-pandemic rate.

This has re-established migration as the primary source of population growth.

Despite border closures during the pandemic, Australia clearly remains a favoured migration destination for students and skilled workers.

Gender pay gap hits new low

The strong Australian labour market has helped reduce the gender pay gap.

In November 2022, the gender pay gap – a measure of the difference in total take-home earnings - was 13.3%. This the lowest score on record.

This has been driven by increasing women’s workforce participation in a tight labour market.