CommSec State of the States – October 2018

Overall Results

  • How are Australia’s states and territories performing? Each quarter CommSec attempts to find out by analysing eight key indicators: economic growth; retail spending; equipment investment; unemployment; construction work done; population growth; housing finance and dwelling commencements.
  • Just as the Reserve Bank uses long-term averages to determine the level of ‘normal’ interest rates; we have done the same with key economic indicators. For each state and territory, the latest readings for the key indicators were compared with decade averages – that is, against the ‘normal’ performance.
  • The ‘State of the States’ report also includes a section comparing annual growth rates for the eight key indicators across the states and territories as well as Australia as a whole. This enables another point of comparison – in terms of economic momentum.
  • Victoria remains in top spot on the economic performance rankings ahead of NSW. However there is little to separate the two economies. There are four groups of economies.
  • In the second group is ACT and Tasmania. The third group is Queensland and South Australia. And then there is a gap to the Northern Territory and Western Australia.
  • Victoria is in top spot due to strong construction activity and the lowest jobless rate in a decade.
  • NSW is in second spot on the economic performance rankings and has held its relative position on most indicators.
  • The ACT retains third spot on the performance rankings but Tasmania is closing the gap, improving its relative position on four of the eight indicators.
  • South Australia is now in fifth spot ahead of Queensland, with the former picking up its relative position on business investment.
  • The Northern Territory remains in seventh position just ahead of Western Australia. There are positive trends for both economies, especially with regard to the job market..

Looking Ahead

  • Last quarter Victoria topped the economic performance rankings for the first time in the 9-year history of the surveys. And in the latest quarter Victoria remains just ahead of NSW. Both states have broad-based economic strength, underpinned by population growth, construction and investment activity.
  • There is little to separate Victoria from NSW. It is possible the two states could exchange rankings over the next year. Strong job markets provide support for local economies although it is expected that home building will soften in the period ahead.
  • NSW picked up one spot on dwelling starts but dropped one place on unemployment. Victoria lifted three spots on unemployment but eased one spot on both housing finance and dwelling starts.
  • The ACT remains in third spot with changes in positions on five indicators but little change overall.
  • Tasmania is still in fourth position but closing in on the ACT. Tasmania has improved its relative performance on four indicators.
  • South Australia lifts from sixth to fifth position. Queensland has dropped in its relative position on four indicators. South Australia shifted its relative position on a number of indicators but especially lifted on business investment.
  • The Northern Territory remains in seventh spot with Western Australia in eighth position. There has been slippage for both economies in terms of the relative positions with other economies.
  • Encouragingly unemployment remains low in Northern Territory and there has been a drop in trend unemployment in Western Australia and a lift in dwelling approvals.


  • Each of the states and territory economies were assessed on eight key indicators: economic growth; retail spending; equipment investment; unemployment, construction work done; population growth; housing finance and dwelling commencements.
  • The aim is to find how each economy is performing compared with “normal”. And just like the Reserve Bank does with interest rates, we used decade-averages to judge the “normal” state of affairs. For each economy, the latest level of the indicator – such as retail spending or economic growth – was compared with the decade average.
  • While we also looked at the current pace of growth to assess economic momentum, it may yield perverse results to judge performance. For instance retail spending may be up sharply on a year ago but from depressed levels. Overall spending may still be well below “normal”. And clearly some states such as Queensland and Western Australia traditionally have had faster economic growth rates due to historically faster population growth. So the best way to assess economic performance is to look at each indicator in relation to what would be considered ‘normal’ for that state or territory.
  • For instance, the trend jobless rate in the ACT of 3.6 per cent is the lowest of all economies. And this jobless rate is 8 per cent lower than its ‘normal’ or decade-average rate. However Victoria’s unemployment rate, while higher at 4.7 per cent, is actually 17.4 per cent below its decade average, putting it ahead of the ACT on this indicator. The Victorian jobless rate is actually at decade lows in trend terms.
  • Except for economic growth, trend measures of the economic indicators were used to assess performance on all measures rather than more volatile seasonally adjusted or original estimates. Rolling annual nominal data was used to assess economic growth.

Read the full report.

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