COVID-19: Aussies hoard essential foodstuffs

Canberrans earn most; Casual workers hit by pandemic

Consumption of foodstuffs; Employment characteristics

Apparent consumption: According to the Bureau of Statistics (ABS), “In 2019-20, an estimated 14.5 million tonnes of foods and non-alcoholic beverages were sold from supermarkets, grocery stores, convenience and specialty food stores, and fresh food markets. This was equivalent to a daily apparent consumption of 1,548 grams per capita in 2019-20 an increase of 2.2 per cent (or 33 grams) on the 2018-19 apparent consumption (1,514 grams).”

Casual jobs hit hard in pandemic: The ABS has released a report detailing the characteristics of employment. According to the ABS, “Employment in casual jobs fell from 2.6 million to 2.1 million between February and May 2020. Between May 2020 and August 2020, casual employment rose to 2.3 million, a recovery of around 37.2 per cent of the earlier fall.”

Employee earnings: The ABS reported, “There was considerable change in employment and earnings for lower paid workers, with a sizeable increase in people earning around $750 per week, the amount of the JobKeeper wage subsidy. 920,000 employees earned between $700 and $799 per week in August 2020, which was much higher than the 580,000 people in August 2019.” Median weekly earnings are highest in the ACT at $1,450 as at August 2020.

Trade union membership declines: The number of Australian trade union members as a proportion of employees declined from 45.6 per cent in 1986 to 14.3 per cent or 1.5 million workers in August 2020.

Retail trade data is important for consumer-focussed companies. A raft of companies is affected by the employment data but especially those dependent on consumer spending.

What does it all mean?

• Aussies hoarded a huge amount of essential foodstuffs in the early months of the pandemic. Worried about the emerging health crisis and lockdowns – preventing some access to grocery and corner stores – we prepared for the worst. So what did we gorge on? Well, the amount of food and non-alcoholic beverages surged by over half a million tonnes in 2019-20, according to data released by the Bureau of Statistics today.

• While the consumption of most major food groups remained broadly unchanged from the previous fiscal year, soft drinks saw a lift in apparent consumption by weight of 5.7 grams or 3.8 per cent to 157.5 grams per capita in 2019-20. Potatoes (up 4 grams or 9.5 per cent to 46 grams per capita) and flour, rice and other grains (up 4 grams or 13.5 per cent to 33.7 grams per capita) were also popular with consumers.

• Casual workers have been hardest hit by the pandemic. In fact, the ABS reported today that two-thirds of the jobs lost between February and May 2020 – when most jobs were shed due to government restrictions – were casual positions. During this period, casual employment fell from 2.6 million to 2.1 million. But as the country mostly emerged from the shutdown, casual jobs rose by 37.2 per cent to 2.3 million between May and August 2020 (latest data available).

• Of course, the pandemic has had a profound impact on employee earnings. The ABS reported that there was a huge lift in the number of Aussies earning around $750 per week – the amount of the JobKeeper payment. Those earning $700-$799 per week jumped 58.6 per cent to 920,000 employees over the year to August 2020 with the median earnings of casual workers lifting 14.3 per cent from $546 to $624. Those workers with leave entitlements saw their median earnings increase by just 4 per cent. By gender, weekly earnings rose most for females (up 5.3 per cent to $1,000) ahead of males (up 1.6 per cent to $1,300).

• Canberrans continue to be paid the most in Australia with median weekly earnings in the ACT at $1,450 per week, followed by Western Australia ($1,250) and the Northern Territory ($1,200). The lowest were Tasmania ($1,000 per week) and South Australia ($1,050 per week).

What do the figures show?

Apparent Consumption of Selected Foodstuffs, Australia, 2019-20

• The Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has released a report providing experimental estimates of apparent consumption per capita of selected foods based on sales of products in Australia.

One of the major findings was that Aussies stocked up on essential foodstuffs, including beverages, during the early stages of pandemic. In fact, the amount of foods and non-alcoholic beverages purchased from Australian supermarkets and other food retailers grew by over half a million tonnes in 2019-20.

• The ABS noted: “In 2019-20, the average daily amount of store-bought foods and drinks increased by 2.2 per cent to 1.55 kg per person, up from 1.51 kg in 2018-19.

• “That increase can be attributed to the surge in food retailing associated with the COVID-19 related restrictions, particularly in March, but also in April through to June 2020 as consumers relied more on supermarkets and less on dining out.”

• The data also showed the potential nutritional impact of the increased purchasing.

• “The average daily amount of energy from the food purchased from shops in March was 11,403 kJ per person which is 32 per cent more than March 2019 (8,658 kJ). However, much of this purchasing was to stock up household pantries, so this amount would overestimate people’s actual consumption in March.

• Around one-third of the extra kilojoules recorded in March this year were from grain and cereal products, with the energy from pasta and noodles doubling (102 per cent) and energy from rice and flour more than doubling (124 per cent) compared to the previous March.

• Energy from sugar also increased sharply (69 per cent), as did a number of other common staple categories such as fats and oils (e.g. olive oil and butter) which rose 53 per cent, meat and poultry products (up 22 per cent) and milk products increased by 15 per cent.

• Among other contributors to the March peak in the dietary energy were a number of treat foods such as chocolate (up 28 per cent on March 2019), both sweet and savoury biscuits (up 21 per cent and 18 per cent respectively) and potato chips (up 19 per cent).”

Characteristics of Employment, Australia – August 2020

• The Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has released a report supplementing the monthly labour force survey detailing the characteristics of employment, including: employee earnings, working arrangements and trade union membership.
Working Arrangements

• According to the ABS, “Total employment fell from around 13 million to 12.2 million between February and May 2020, with two thirds of the fall occurring in casual employment.

• Employment in casual jobs fell from 2.6 million to 2.1 million between February and May 2020.

• Prior to the COVID period, casuals accounted for around 25 per cent of all employees. This fell to around 20 per cent in May.

• Between May and August, casual employment rose to 2.3 million, a recovery of around 37.2 per cent of the earlier fall. Estimates for November 2020 will be published in detailed Labour Force statistics on 23 December.

• Between August 2019 and August 2020, the number of people working as full-time independent contractors fell 9.4 per cent, from 670,000 to 610,000. In contrast, employees working on a fixed-term contract increased 6.1 per cent, from 390,000 to 410,000.”

Employee earnings

• The ABS notes, “The distributional data in today’s release provides insights into the extent of major compositional changes we have seen in other statistics, such as the increase in Average weekly earnings in May.

• There was considerable change in employment and earnings for lower paid workers, with a sizeable increase in people earning around $750 per week, the amount of the JobKeeper wage subsidy.

• 920,000 employees earned between $700 and $799 per week in August 2020, which was much higher than the 580,000 people in August 2019.

• The median earnings of casuals increased from $546 in August 2019 to $624 in August 2020, an increase of 14.3 per cent. This strong increase reflected the loss of many low paid casual jobs and some casuals earning more as a result of JobKeeper support.

• This increase was much higher than for employees with leave entitlements, whose median earnings increased by 4.0 per cent.

• The state or territory with the highest median weekly earnings was the Australian Capital Territory at $1,450 per week, followed by Western Australia and the Northern Territory whose median earnings were $1,250 and $1,200 respectively. The lowest were Tasmania ($1,000 per week) and South Australia ($1,050 per week).”

What is the importance of the economic data?

• According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics the Apparent Consumption of Selected Foodstuffs, Australia, 2018–19 is intended to provide information on trends in food consumption, nutritional adequacy of the food supply and impacts of changes to food supply.

• The statistics in the Characteristics of Employment publication were compiled from information collected in the Characteristics of Employment (COE) survey conducted throughout Australia in August 2019 as a supplement to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ monthly Labour Force Survey (LFS).

What are the implications for investors?

• The all-important labour force survey is issued on Thursday. Commonwealth Bank Group economists expect around 50,000 jobs to have been added or reinstated in November. A steady workforce participation rate could see the unemployment rate ease from 7 per cent to 6.7 per cent.

Published by Ryan Felsman, Senior Economist, CommSec