CANBERRA, AAP – Australia’s manufacturing sector is growing again after the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 Omicron outbreak, and strong new orders suggest there is further expansion ahead.

The Australian Industry Group performance of manufacturing index rose by 4.8 points in February to 53.2 after a sharp decline in the December 2021-January 2022 period when Omicron was at its harshest.

An index reading above 50 points suggests the sector is expanding.

“Australia’s manufacturing sector edged back into expansion during February following the sharp labour and supply chain disruptions of the December-January period,” Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox said.

“Encouragingly, new orders were very strong and point to further strength over coming months.”

Meanwhile, the Reserve Bank of Australia will hold its monthly board meeting on Tuesday under a cloud of uncertainty caused by escalating hostilities in eastern Europe.

However, economists expect Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine will have minimal impact on the Australian economy.

Commonwealth Bank head of Australian economics Gareth Aird expects while higher energy prices as a result of the conflict will boost export revenues in Australia, increasing oil prices will push up petrol prices.

This will put further upward pressure on inflation.

“Consumer confidence may also be adversely affected by higher petrol prices, increased equity market volatility and a general apprehension, which is a natural response to war,” Mr Aird said.

“But we do not expect this to change consumer behaviour.”

Australian Institute of Petroleum figures on Monday showed the national average for petrol prices struck another record high in the past week, rising a further 1.5 cents to 180.6 cents per litre.

This comes in a week when global crude oil prices topped $US100 a barrel on Russia’s invasion, suggesting Australian petrol prices have even further to rise.

The weekly ANZ-Roy Morgan consumer confidence index is also released on Tuesday, the first since Russia’s attack began.

Last week, confidence eased as consumer inflation expectations hit their highest level since December 2014 at 5.1 per cent.

While inflation is set to accelerate further on rising fuel costs and the unemployment rate remained at a 13-year low of 4.2 per cent in January – despite the impact of the Omicron variant – economists expect the RBA to leave the cash rate at a record low 0.1 per cent for some months yet.

Last week’s figures showed wages growth remained well short of the three per cent-plus the RBA is seeking before lifting rates.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics will release the final components of Wednesday’s national accounts for the December quarter – the balance of payments and government finances.

At this stage economists see some upside risk to an expected three per cent rise in December quarter economic growth after Monday’s data showed an unexpected increase in business inventories in the quarter.

Such economic strength comes after the economy contracted by 1.9 per cent in the September quarter due to the Delta strain lockdowns.