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Business and consumers go into the federal election campaign in a reasonably upbeat mood, despite the usual uncertainties that a six-week run-in to polling day might throw up.
Consumer confidence was underpinned by a further sharp drop in petrol prices in the past week, partly thanks to the temporary cut in fuel excise that was introduced in last month’s federal budget.
The weekly ANZ-Roy Morgan consumer confidence index rose by an additional 1.3 per cent, but at 94.6 still shows pessimists outweigh optimists with a result below 100.
ANZ head of Australian economics David Plank said declining terminal gate prices for petrol and the flow-through of the reduction in petrol excise should see prices even lower in coming weeks.
“Along with the Easter holidays, this is likely to boost sentiment,” Mr Plank said
At the same time, businesses appear to have taken the impact of the war in Ukraine in their stride, despite it fuelling global inflation pressures through rising commodity prices and disrupted supply chains.
The National Australia Bank monthly business survey’s confidence index rose a further three points to 16 in March, continuing the steady gains seen since December.
Business conditions also surged, by nine points to an index of 18, for the largest one-month jump since June 2020 when the economy was starting its recovery from recession.
“Businesses reported very strong trading conditions and a sharp rise in profitability, which indicates demand is continuing to hold up as the economy rebounds from Omicron and growth gathers momentum,” NAB chief economist Alan Oster said.
In another sign of a rebounding economy, the CommBank household spending intentions index jumped 9.2 per cent in March to a record high of 177.1.
The index – which analyses CBA payments data, loan applications and publicly available search activity on Google Trends – showed strong gains in transport, travel and retailing.
“The stronger March figures underscore our view that the Australian economy has gained considerable momentum by the end of the first quarter, and is set for robust growth in 2022,” CBA chief economist Stephen Halmarick said.
On the campaign trail, Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged 1.3 million jobs will be created within the next five years, building on the gains in past years.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said there are nearly two million more Australians now in work than under Labor, pushing the unemployment rate down to four per cent, the equal lowest in some 48 years.
“Female unemployment today is at its lowest level since 1974,” he told reporters in Sydney.
However, a survey by the LinkedIn network found two in three Australian women want more flexibility in their work.
While the coronavirus pandemic had increased opportunities in workplace arrangements, challenges remain for female workers seeking greater flexibility.
Half of those seeking more flexibility had been forced to take a pay cut, the survey of 1018 respondents found.
At the same time, a quarter of women who left a job because of a lack of flexible work say they lost their confidence and 20 per cent decided to take a career break.
LinkedIn director Prue Cox says flexibility is becoming a critical factor in the workplace.
“If employees feel their needs aren’t being met with flexible working arrangements, we could see a ‘Flexidus’ of women walking away from organisations and roles that don’t support the new world of work,” she said.
LinkedIn has introduced a new feature to its network where members can add a “career break” to their profile to remove the stigma surrounding resume gaps.
Colin Brinsden, AAP Economics and Business Correspondent
(Australian Associated Press)