Australia business activity climbs to fresh highs in May: survey

FILE PHOTO: People walk through the Central Business District (CBD) at dusk in Sydney

SYDNEY (Reuters) – A measure of Australian business conditions extended its blistering run to reach all-time highs in May with sales, profits and employment all up strongly, a sign the economy has the momentum to cope with a coronavirus lockdown in Victoria.

National Australia Bank’s index of business conditions climbed 5 points to +37 in May, after jumping 8 points in April, with strength reported across all industries.

The survey’s measure of confidence eased 3 points to +20, though that was still high historically.

“Conditions rose further, and in particular trading conditions are at a massive +47 index points,” said NAB chief economist Alan Oster.

“Confidence was slightly softer but remains very high and the pipeline of work as measured by forward orders held at a high level.”

The survey measure for trading, or sales, rose 6 points to reach +47, while profitability gained 6 points to +40 and employment 5 points to +25.

Capacity utilisation dipped slightly to a still high 85.1%, after surging in April, while forward orders held firm at +26.

“This was another very strong read for the business sector and forward indicators point to ongoing strength in the near-term,” said Oster. “The economy now appears to be entering a new period of growth after a very rapid rebound.”

Data out last week showed gross domestic product (GDP) grew a brisk 1.8% in the first quarter of the year to reach its pre-pandemic levels.

The NAB survey was conducted from 18-28 May, catching just the start of the Victoria lockdown on May 27 which will likely have some dampening impact on consumer spending.

(Reporting by Wayne Cole; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)