Company Profits Are Higher Than Expected But Highlight A Patchwork Economy

Getty/Bruno Vincent

The data avalanche continues with the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) releasing its Business Indicators series for the first quarter of 2014 this morning.

In many ways its a mixed read on the health of the business sector with seasonally adjusted sales of goods and services in manufacturing falling 1.7% over the quarter while wholesale trade sales fell 0.9%.

Inventories were down 1.7% but you can never tell for certain whether that is because of sales exceeding expectations or purposeful destocking.

But the key release was company gross operating profits which rose 3.1% seasonally adjusted to be up 10.9% year on year.

That’s solid!

Looking at the break up by industry Mining profits were up 4.2% across the first quarter seasonally adjusted with sales up 3% in volume terms.

The manufacturing sector was mixed with a rise of 3% for gross profits but sales fell 1.7%.

How did profits rise on falling sales? Workers took it in the neck with wages in manufacturing falling 2% over the quarter.

Electricity, gas and water saw profits rise 3.5%, while construction profits fell 1.2%.

Wholesale trade profits fell 7.2% but retailers saw their profits rise by 7.7% which likely reflects the solid rises we saw in sales across the quarter.

Accommodation and food services profits rose 27.2% in the quarter with transport, postal and warehousing falling 7.1%.

Information Media and Telecommunications saw profits fall 0.7% but financial services profits rose a ridiculous 26.1% on a seasonally adjusted increase in trend sales of just 3.2%.

Rental, hiring and real estate was up 10.6% while professional, scientific and tech services fell 6.4%.

Another boom sector, making banking pale in comparison, was the 101.8% increase in administration and support services increases in profits on a sales rise of just 0.3% in trend terms.

Education was boring with profit up 0.9%, health care was 0.3% higher and arts and recreation profits rose 10.5% with other services rounding out the industry break up with a 13.5% increase.

Overall the data reinforces the multi-speed nature of the economy but shows that, in the first quarter at least, monetary policy was doing its job.

The problem now is, however, that the budget has certainly slowed and might have halted the momentum building up.

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