Hunter Research Foundation Centre releases annual publication at Muswellbrook RSL Club

HOUSEHOLD and business confidence are signalling a sustained economic recovery in the Upper Hunter. 

And, they improved in the December quarter, according to the latest Upper Hunter Region Economic Indicators.

The Hunter Research Foundation (HRF) Centre released its annual publication at its Upper Hunter Economic breakfast at the Muswellbrook RSL Club on Wednesday.

HRF Centre lead economist Dr Anthea Bill said the short-term economic expectations of businesses in the Upper Hunter improved substantially in the December 2017 quarter.

“They reached the highest value on record,” she said.

“The impetus for the positive business outlook and performance comes from sustained higher coal prices, historically low interest rates and improvement in national and global economies.”

Household confidence in the Upper Hunter outlook for the next quarter rose substantially in the second half of 2017, too.

Optimists now substantially outnumber pessimists as their faith is currently well above the five-year average.

However, Dr Bill said there was a greater improvement in confidence in the short-term regional outlook than the long-term. 

“That appears to reflect a degree of uncertainty around whether higher global coal prices will be sustained over the longer-term,” she said.

Meanwhile, in the second half of 2017, the Upper Hunter unemployment rate stayed relatively steady (4.2 per cent) – and below the mark for the Hunter (5.2 per cent) and NSW (4.8 per cent).

Muswellbrook LGA (local government area) remained stable at 6.1 per cent; half its peak of 12.8 per cent recorded two years prior.

Unemployment rates are 3.7 per cent in Singleton and 2.9 per cent in the Upper Hunter Shire.

These results were consistent with renewed employment growth driven in part by higher commodity prices and associated mine activity since October 2016.  

Unfortunately, the poor affordability of housing led to an increase in the number of rentals, both nationally and in the Upper Hunter.

“Across the region, approximately 1700 households were in rental stress in 2016, with the largest share in Muswellbrook,” Dr Bill said.

“That number increased steeply by 37 per cent.

“Whereas, in Singleton it rose by 31 per cent and by 19 per cent in the Upper Hunter between 2011 and 2016.”

Mental health in the Upper Hunter was also a significant theme at Wednesday’s breakfast.  

Speakers included Professor Alan Hayes of the University of Newcastle’s Family Action Centre, MATES in Mining CEO Andrew McMahon and Where There’s A Will Foundation co-founder Pauline Carrigan.