Business makes hay at dairy drives up economy

A DAIRY-DRIVEN economic upswing is being reflected at south-west cash registers with a marked improvement in consumer confidence.

Car dealerships and farm-related and general retailers have all reported improved financial prospects over the past few months,  with Premier Denis Napthine crediting renewed strength in agriculture.

A national poll released yesterday showed consumer confidence had risen significantly throughout Australia this month as concern over the federal budget began to subside.

George Taylor Stores owner-operator Greg Malseed said the past six months had been a noticeable improvement on the last half of 2013. He said enhanced conditions in agriculture was the main factor behind the change.

“Certainly the past six months has been quite a change for the better compared to the months leading up to Christmas,” Mr Malseed said.

“We’ve seen that change right across our stores from Mount Gambier to Colac. An enormous part of that change is confidence  — people seem to be more confident about the local economy, especially farmers, than they were this time last year.”

Norton Ford dealer principal Marcus Norton said 2014 had already proven to be a stronger year for sales than a lacklustre 2013.

He said while Warrnambool Cheese and Butter’s Canadian acquisition had made headlines, the dairy industry generally had a strong end to the financial year.

“Certainly the sales we were seeing were mainly around Warrnambool but now the region is starting to follow that trend,” Mr Norton said.

The Premier said renewed strength in the dairy industry was in stark contrast to the drought and debt concerns felt 18 months ago.

“We’re seeing the dairy industry really start to make big gains and the effects of that will flow on through the south-west,” Dr Napthine said.

“China, India, a host of south-east Asian nations rate our dairy produce very highly. They know it’s of the highest quality, that our production standards are first class and we are now starting to see the economic benefit of tapping into those markets.

“Higher farm-gate prices mean more cash in the local economy and I’m sure many businesses, even those not directly connected to dairy, will start to see that cash flow through.”

The ANZ-Roy Morgan poll released yesterday showed national consumer confidence had returned to levels recorded in the months prior to the federal budget.

ANZ economist Justin Fabo said debate over the federal budget may impact future confidence surveys, although “soft income growth is likely to be a more important driver of the consumer spending outlook”.

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