News items before 2016

  • Work draws prodigals home

    Thursday, 30 July, 2015


    Why do people leave the Hunter and what brings them home again? In a recent HUNTERPulse survey, we asked Hunter householders who had left the Hunter and returned why and compared the 2015 results to 2010.

    Some things stayed the same between the years:

    Hunter people stay - only about one-third (36%) of people born in Hunter have ever lived outside the Region.

    They don’t stay away long - over half of those who moved away only lived outside the Hunter for 5 years or less (slightly longer in 2015 than 2010, but not significantly more).

    Half of those who left moved for work reasons, the other half for a variety of other reasons.

    But the biggest change was that work is now significantly more common as the reason for returning to the Hunter (30% of returnees in 2015 compared with 10% in 2010), while family ties and returning ‘home’ has become relatively less common (38% in 2015 compared with 51% in 2010), although it is still the number one reason.

    We also found four key changes over the past five years in the impact of changed labour market conditions on those people coming to the Hunter.

    • There were slightly fewer ‘immigrants’ in 2015 – a little over one-third in 2010 and 2015
    • Those who originally came from outside the Hunter have lived here over 20 years (on average) in 2015, just under 15 years on average in 2010. This is not statistically significant but together with other data reflects the influx of people during the mining boom and relatively fewer of them now.
    • Looking for work is now very much the strongest reason to have moved to the Hunter, whereas in 2010 it was only just stronger than better lifestyle here, followed by joining spouse or partner.
    • Among those who were born outside the Hunter, in 2015 96 per cent have come here and stayed, whereas in 2010 it was a second or more occasion of living here for 15 per cent (significant decrease) – again likely a reflection of the mobile construction/mining workforce and changes in the labour market.

    In 2015 only, we asked people whether they are considering moving away from the Hunter Region over the next 12 months… While overall only 7 per cent said ‘yes’, there was a significant difference between those aged 18-35 (20%) and those over 35 (around 3%).

    Not surprisingly, the proportion was higher among those who are working than those not in the labour force. And, of course, the main reason is for work (100% of the 25-34s).

    Keep an eye on our monthly news to keep your finger on our HUNTERpulse results.

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  • Are the Hunter's economic storms abating?

    Tuesday, 21 July, 2015


    The April 2015 storms brought a lot of damage to the Hunter Region and were, on some indicators, worse than the 2007 ‘Pasha Bulker storm’. In terms of economic impacts, however, these storms are insignificant compared to the other storm facing the Region: the downturn in the mining industry. This storm has endured for well over 12 months. The height of this storm saw regional unemployment soar above the NSW and national averages, peaking at a 15-year high of one-in-ten unemployed people last March.

    Having just completed the Hunter Research Foundation’s (HRF) latest Hunter Economic Indicators publication, I was encouraged to see signs that the Hunter’s economy is emerging from the worst effects of this storm. We may at last be seeing enough growth in its non-mining industries to offset the mining industry downturn.

    At the end of May, the Hunter’s unemployment rate was 9.1 per cent, down from its peak (10.3 per cent) last March. Importantly, this was due to an increase in the number of people employed – rather than a decline in the number of people looking for work. The decline in the unemployment rate has been even greater amongst the Hunter’s young people, which, since March, has fallen from one-in-five 15-24 year olds to fewer than one-in-six.

    This improvement has been supported by lower interest rates and a lower Australian dollar ($AUD). In effect, the prices for our products on global markets have fallen 20 per cent over the past year, improving our competitiveness vis-à-vis foreign rivals. This currency depreciation has helped all our exporters, from service providers to manufacturers and miners.

    Lower borrowing rates are also boosting residential investment in the Hunter, which has led to a rise in the number of people employed in construction and associated industries. The improving labour market, coupled with low interest rates, has also seen increases in house prices in the Hunter. There is increasing evidence of a ‘two-speed’ housing market in the Region, with Newcastle and Lake Macquarie house prices growing much more than house prices in the rest of the Hunter.

    Another positive development for the regional economy is improving consumer confidence. HRF’s surveys reveal that consumer confidence in the Hunter has reached highs not seen since mid-2009 (after the lows of the Global Financial Crisis). In contrast, Australia-wide consumer confidence is reported to be at its lowest level in a year. Part of this contrasting behaviour reflects the contrasting performance of the Australian and Hunter labour markets – as the Hunter’s labour market has improved, so has its consumers’ confidence.

    In addition to lower unemployment, other confidence boosters include lower cost of living pressures and, for indebted households, lower interest rates. The Federal Budget, announced in May 2015, has also lifted confidence, as the Budget was seen as more household-friendly than expected.

    However, unlike the April 2015 storm, our economic storms may not be fully over. Australia and the Hunter still face economic head-winds, in particular a weakening of the Chinese economy and collapsing stock market, which would have a direct impact on demand for our exports. There is also a potential headwind in the form of a Greek exit from the euro, which has been roiling financial markets and may continue doing so.

    At the regional level, while an improving labour market is a welcome development, we still have a long way to go to get back to the 6 per cent unemployment rate achieved during the early to mid-2000s, prior to the mining investment boom. To get back to this level requires further growth in our industries, especially the non-mining sectors.

    Another sign that the job remains unfinished is the low level of confidence among Hunter businesses. Our research continues to show that more Hunter businesses expect their performance to deteriorate than to improve over the next year. More encouragingly, business confidence has lifted in recent months, as improving household sentiment has translated into greater spending and therefore better business performance.

    So, what can we expect of our economy? In terms of the labour market, there are two positive signs. First, Hunter businesses are telling us that they plan on hiring more staff over the next year. After steadily declining over the past 15 months, there was a notable increase in the number of businesses expecting to hire more workers over the next 12 months. Second, there are a smaller number of businesses telling us that a lack of sales is their major impediment to future growth.

    This suggests a degree of cautious optimism about the Hunter’s labour market going forward.

    These positive signs, while perhaps not signalling a total clearing away of the Hunter’s economic storm front, offer a sunnier outlook than previous sets of indicators. At HRF we will continue to keep a weather-watch as the Hunter works towards a more sustainable economic future.

    Dr Alan Rai is HRF’s Principal Economist. Find out more HRF research insights by visiting, and by subscribing to the #HRFInsights newsletter

    Read more DR ALAN RAI Download pdf (56.72 KB)
  • Hunter economy improves on back of consumer confidence

    Friday, 17 July, 2015


    Highs in Hunter householders’ confidence not seen since before the Global Financial Crisis in 2009 are fuelling increased employment and business confidence, according to Hunter Research Foundation’s (HRF) June quarter Hunter Region Economic Indicators.

    Principal HRF economist and author of the Indicators, Dr Alan Rai, said low interest rates and a lower Australian dollar have supported a reduction in the Hunter’s unemployment rate.

    “A one per cent rise in Hunter employment since March has led to an improvement in the unemployment rate, from a 15-year high of 10.3 per cent in March to 9.1 per cent at the end of May,” Alan said. “The decline has been even greater amongst the Region’s 15-24 year olds, although this may partly reflect some young people giving up the search for work.”

    The improving economic conditions are also reflected in a rise in the Hunter’s dwelling approvals, a leading indicator of residential investment, although the Region lags the State, where mostly Sydney-based approvals continue to set new records.

    HRF will release the full Hunter Region Economic Indicators at its Hunter Economic Breakfast at Wests New Lambton tomorrow morning, as well as the June 2015 results of its Hunter Region Businesses and Digital Technology survey on how regional businesses and consumers are engaging with the digital economy.

    Social media guru Nick Bowditch and Head of Newcastle Business School, Professor Morris Altman will also speak at the breakfast, which is the final event in the 2015 Hunter Innovation Festival.

    Read more Dr Alan Rai Download pdf (1.6 MB)
  • Clarity around Hunter housing market

    Tuesday, 30 June, 2015


    The debate around housing affordability has been raging both online and in the media this month, with Treasurer Joe Hockey’s blunt advice to first home buyers and the flared tempers that ensued. As a result, the affordability of Sydney housing has come under close scrutiny and the outlook is daunting but what is the situation in the Hunter Region?

    There’s one piece of HRF research that certainly has the ability to make the housing trends in our Region clear; the Residential Market Outlook. The research series, first released in June 2009, provides reliable analysis of the regional property market. It examines trends in the residential market, including sales, issues in the rental market and patterns relevant to housing construction and land development.

    As the HRF YOUnite project showed, the youth unemployment rate in the Hunter sits at a dismal 20 per cent and a range of barriers are making it difficult for young people to get a “good job that pays good money.”

    To give first home buyers a chance to assess the affordability of their area before buying, the series also includes the HRF First Home Buyer Affordability Index. The index measures the relationship between repayment capacity of First Home Buyers (FHB) and mortgage repayment requirements based on median house prices.

    This year we seek to re-ignite this valuable piece of research to provide our Region with more insight into our own residential market. Contact us to discuss the opportunity to sponsor the sought-after FHB index.

    Download a free copy of the past Residential Market Outlook, last conducted in June 2013.

    Read more Andy Sammut
  • Retirement: caught in the currents

    Tuesday, 30 June, 2015


    At the Hunter Research Foundation, we have been innovating to offer more relevant information more often to provide insight into our Region. This month we’re excited to announce the inaugural HUNTERcurrents, measuring the mood and opinion of Hunter residents on hot topics.

    With an increasingly ageing population and issues like retirement age and pensions facing legislative changes at the federal government level, retirement is the first topic under the microscope.

    Earlier this year Treasurer Joe Hockey suggested that someone living today might live to 150 years and that therefore, Australians should accept that the government would need to reduce benefits. Of 100 people interviewed, only five answered that they felt they could live to 150 years. None of the respondents who opted for a lower life expectancy came close to 150: nine per cent hoped for 100, 29 per cent for 90 and 14 per cent each opted for 80 and 85.

    When asked if the Age Pension should be an entitlement for all Australians or only a safety-net for those unable or unwilling to save, opinion was split. While over half thought it should only be a safety net, a solid 37 per cent considered it a benefit all Australians should be entitled to.

    Keeping with the Age Pension, while most said that it is fair that the family home is always exempted from pension asset tests, even when it is worth a lot of money (54 per cent), a larger majority (66 per cent) felt that it was unfair for those who have $1 million in assets, not counting the family home, to receive a part pension. The government has now reduced pensions for more wealthy pensioners.

    Of all the questions asked, the one that received the widest consensus was around superannuation for women. Currently women receive super payouts that are on average 40 per cent lower than male payments. With this in mind, 85 per cent of Hunter residents agreed that the action some companies have taken of paying women higher superannuation contributions in recognition of their role as primary care-givers and the impact this role has on their financial security, is a good idea.

    Keep an eye on our monthly news to hear more about the ebb and flow of regional opinion from our HUNTERcurrents series.

    Read more Andy Sammut Download pdf (1.05 MB)
  • Celebrating at the Chairman's event

    Tuesday, 30 June, 2015


    HRF had a lot to be grateful for at our recent Chairman's event at Wests lovely Marble Bar. As well as thanking our sponsors for their support, we also congratulated Dr Eileen Doyle for her 25-year contribution to our Board, including 17 years as Chairman.

    HRF CEO Dr Brent Jenkins thanked two of our hard-working Board members for their wisdom and guidance over a combined total of 45 years of service to the Foundation!

    “It’s fitting at this event hosted by Eileen Doyle that we publically recognise her strong contribution to the HRF’s Board over 25 years, including the past 17 as Chairman.

    “This is an amazing commitment given that the Board roles are voluntary and unpaid.”

    Brent also recognised Bruce Tyrrell, who joined HRF’s board in 1994.

    “Over the past 20 years, Bruce has remained strongly committed to the ideals of the Foundation, lending us his advice and expertise while still juggling the commitments of running a very successful family business, the fruits of which we are enjoying in our glasses tonight.

    “We are fortunate to have the support and guidance of such highly-committed and experienced Directors.”

    HRF's Board and staff thanked more than 50 of our key partners and supporters at the June event, which was sponsored by Wests, Tyrrell's Wines, Lion and Silverado Promotional Products.

    Find out more about partnering with HRF.

    Find out more about HRF’s Board of Directors.

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