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Tue July 23 2019

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Decline eases in Australian construction

8 Mar Latest figures on Australian construction activity indicate that the rate of decline has slowed slightly.

The Australian Industry Group/Housing Industry Association Australian Performance of Construction Index (Australian PCI) increased by 0.7 points to 43.8 in February. Readings below 50 indicate contraction in activity, with the distance from 50 indicating the strength of the decrease.

Ai Group head of policy Peter Burn said: "Australia’s construction downturn continued in February with activity falling in all four sub-sectors and employment levels contracting. The downturn is most acute in the residential sub-sectors while both engineering and commercial construction also contracted again in February.

“In large part, the drop in residential activity is a further and to-date orderly wind-back from the historically high levels of activity. The fall in engineering construction is shallower and less entrenched than is the case with the residential sub-sectors but is also a pull-back from elevated levels. With new orders also lower in February the construction downturn looks likely to continue over coming months. On the positive side, there is clearly capacity to lift construction activity if policy makers are looking to stimulate the slowing economy.”

HIA economist Tom Devitt added: "In 2018, market confidence fell away as dwelling prices corrected. Investors and owner occupiers are delaying purchase decisions as the credit squeeze plays out and interest from foreign investors has waned. The Australian PCI shows the housing market downturn accelerated in the second half of 2018. Across detached houses and apartments, activity is contracting and so too are new orders. The pipeline of building work looks to be shrinking at a concerning rate. Residential building has been pivotal in driving activity in the rest of the economy for the past five years. Over the coming years as home building activity slows the sector will be reliant on the resilience of the broader economy.”

A slightly milder decline in the Australian PCI in February (up 0.7 points to 43.8) reflected less pronounced reductions in activity (up 2.2 points to 41.6) and employment (up 1.6 points to 46.0). However, both new orders (down 0.9 points to 43.2) and deliveries from suppliers (down 1.1 points to 45.4) contracted at slightly steeper rates, with businesses attributing this to overall sluggish demand conditions.

All four construction sectors in the Australian PCI® contracted in February, with continued weakness in the house (down 0.6 points to 35.2) and apartment (up 0.2 points to 28.6) building sectors. Commercial construction fell further into negative territory (down 1.2 points to 42.2) while engineering construction declined for a third month (down 1.4 points to 43.9) due to a shallower pool of new work to replace completed and more advanced projects.

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