In a rollercoaster ride for Australia’s manufacturing sector, the latest data reveals a downturn for the third consecutive month. However, there is a silver lining as the private sector manages to maintain expansion, albeit at a slower pace than before. The manufacturing industry’s pulse, as measured by the flash manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI), stands at 48.0 in May 2023, signaling a challenging period for businesses operating in this sector.
The manufacturing production has contracted for a staggering six months in a row, with the sharpest decline witnessed in the past 21 months. The decline can be attributed to a persistent reduction in new orders, both domestic and foreign. While the manufacturing sector grapples with shrinking production, the private sector managed to keep its head above water, showing resilience in the face of adversity.
The Judo Bank Flash Australia Composite PMI Output Index paints a mixed picture. Although it fell from 53.0 in April to 51.2 in May, the figure suggests that the private sector is still expanding, providing a glimmer of hope for the overall economic landscape. The expansion rate may have slowed, but it remains a positive sign amidst the challenging manufacturing conditions.
Supply pressures eased for goods producers, leading to shorter average lead times. Inflationary pressures on input costs also remained relatively low compared to the previous year. Despite the reduction in output levels, businesses continued to increase their staffing levels in May. However, the rate of job creation slowed due to subdued market conditions and a shortage of suitable candidates.
On a broader scale, the employment levels expanded for the 21st consecutive month. While this is undoubtedly positive news, the pace of workforce expansion has slowed in both the manufacturing and service sectors. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this is primarily due to a scarcity of qualified candidates, further highlighting the challenges faced by the manufacturing industry.
Interestingly, business confidence among private sector firms improved in May. Increased optimism was observed in both the manufacturing and service sectors. However, it is worth noting that the level of business confidence remains below the series average as firms grapple with concerns over the business outlook, higher interest rates, and inflation.
Although input cost inflation eased in May, the faster demand growth provided firms with better pricing power, resulting in higher selling price inflation. Despite these fluctuations, Warren Hogan, the chief economic advisor at Judo Bank, remains cautiously optimistic. He notes that the manufacturing indicators do not signal a recession. It would require a more pronounced deterioration in the manufacturing survey to raise concerns about a sharper downturn.
The Australian manufacturing sector finds itself navigating through turbulent waters. While challenges persist, the private sector’s ability to sustain expansion offers a glimmer of hope. As the industry continues to adapt to changing global conditions, it remains to be seen how it will chart its course toward stability and growth in the months to come.