Falling new vehicle sales are back in the headlines, with February down 9.3 per cent on the same month last year.
But the full story is worse than that.
Most of the media only noticed the vehicle sales story when the December figures showed a plunge of 14.9 per cent – definite headline material.
As readers of The New Daily would know, the rot actually started in July and it has been pretty much downhill ever since.
The fine and timely statistical service provided by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries works on a calendar year. It seems nobody bothers to consider the financial year, in keeping with most of our economic scorecards.
With this financial year two-thirds over, new vehicle sales have totalled 716,685 units. That’s down by 7.4 per cent from the 774,114 over the same eight months of 2017-18. There’s no question of a couple of rough months here.
The curious thing has been how suddenly the downturn hit the motor trade, and how the start of the new financial year signalled the end of record numbers.
Much is made of consumer sentiment surveys, but I am wary of taking the monthly or weekly dips and dives too seriously. There can be a considerable difference between what consumers say and what they do.
(We’re all surveyed so much now, there’s a danger of gaming the survey takers. When you can’t go to a service station without copping an email survey request, it’s hard to not to treat them flippantly.)
For mine, the real-world decision about buying a new vehicle – a big ticket item – tells us more about consumer confidence than any survey.
The real-world challenge for the federal government delivering an election-year budget in four weeks is that the consumer has lost confidence in its economic management – the thing the Liberal Party keeps claiming is its strong suit.
With the wealth effect of lower housing prices taking its toll and the cumulative impact of six years of real, take-home wages going backwards, plus the political disarray since Malcolm Turnbull was knifed, Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg will have a very hard job convincing the electorate they are doing a good job.
The canary in the car yard isn’t singing healthy.