In terms of cost of living pressures, a further threat to consumer sentiment and spending will come in the form of higher energy prices. The 15 to 20 per cent lift in electricity prices, which took effect from 1 July, will show up in bills in the next few months. In addition to hitting the cash flow of consumers, it is likely to create further uncertainty in the minds of consumers. The news of these bills will be high profile and will sap confidence.
Next week, the Australian Bureau of Statistic releases the next round of wages data. These are likely to confirm annual wages growth stuck around 2 per cent, which is effectively the same as the increase in inflation. As a result, real wages are flat or even falling slightly, which means that for a given level of spending for consumers, wages growth is not allowing for a reduction in household debt or increase in savings, because all wage increases that are being delivered are gobbled up by inflation.
The bottom line for the economy is that it continues to muddle along. A recession is a million miles away, a strong pick up in growth and significant reductions in unemployment are similarly illusive.
The business sector optimism needs to spread to consumers and it appears the missing link is the on-going weakness in income and wages growth. To get wages growth higher, the economy needs to be stronger and the unemployment rate lower.
This means interest rates will remain very low for an extended period of time and, if inflation and wages growth remains low, there is still a better than even chance the RBA will move rates even lower as it aims to inject some momentum into the economy.