Blog

Thu, 01 May 2014  |  

The last few days have seen some low impact, but nonetheless enlightening, data hit the screens.

Credit growth remains solid, with a 0.4 per cent gain in March which meant the annual growth rate was 4.4 per cent. Not weak, not strong but the annual increase was the fastest since March 2009. Housing credit drove the lift in growth with a 5.9 per cent annual increase while business credit was also on the mend with an annual rise of 2.6 per cent. It seems borrowers and lenders are stepping up to take advantage of the current low level of interest rates and stronger growth more broadly.

The terms of trade (export prices divided by import prices) were broadly stable in the March quarter (up 0.4 per cent) with export prices rising to their highest level since December 2011. The curious thing – at least for the terms of trade doomsayers – is that since the end of 2012, the terms of trade have actually risen by 1.4 per cent, aided by a stronger world economy.

Wed, 30 Apr 2014  |  

The budget is fast approaching and the Abbott government is flagging a deficit reduction levy (tax) and / or an increase in personal income taxes as it works furiously to return the budget to surplus.

This got me thinking about high taxes and which side of politics resorts to tax revenue in its budgetary planning.

Here, in order, are the highest tax to GDP ratios that have been recorded. Here are the Top 10.

Wed, 30 Apr 2014  |  

This article first appeared on 17 May 2013, at my old blog. In the lead into the budget, I thought it worth circulating again.

The Howard government went to capital markets on no fewer than 400 occasions to borrow money.

Between March 1996 and November 2007, there were 135 lines of bonds that were taken to market in various bond tenders which were issued with a face value of $51 billion, while there were over 280 T-Note tenders with a face value of over $220 billion.

Indeed, in the three months before the November 2007 election, the Howard government went to the bond market on 8 separate occasions to borrow money with a series of bond tenders. Even during the election campaign, just 11 days from polling day, it borrowed an additional $300 million in bond tender number 236. In the final term of the Howard government, from October 2004 to November 2007, there were 43 bond tenders or times the government borrowed money.

Tue, 29 Apr 2014  |  

If Treasurer Joe Hockey was smart, he would be starting to link the fiscal tightening that seems to be in store in the budget to the current low interest rate environment and he would suggest the fiscal austerity about to be unleashed is a deliberate policy effort to try to drive the Australian dollar lower.

There is no doubt that there is a trade off between fiscal and monetary policy. Whenever fiscal settings are tightened, interest rates can be held lower than they would otherwise be and vice versa. The current low level of interest rates owes something to the tightening in budget policy over the last couple of years.

Mon, 28 Apr 2014  |  

This article first appeared in Business Spectator on 29 October 2013:

https://www.businessspectator.com.au/article/2013/10/29/climate/topsy-turvy-approach-climate-change

The topsy turvy approach to climate change

The crux of Tony Abbott's Direct Action policy on climate change is having the government pay the worst polluters a fee as an inducement for them to reduce or stop their carbon emissions.

It is an odd policy, to be sure, and without any precedent – which means it is risky in terms of cost and effectiveness.

As Fairfax Media revealed yesterday, only 5.5 per cent of the 35 economists surveyed were in favour of the Direct Action approach to reducing carbon emissions versus 86 per cent in favour of a carbon price or emissions trading system. The only surprise in these findings was that 5.5 per cent (two respondents) were in favour of government payments to polluters.

Sun, 27 Apr 2014  |  

There is a story doing the rounds this morning that "families could be hit with a debt tax to help pay off the budget deficit".

All that such a debt tax imposed by the government to reduce governement debt and deficit would do is transfer household savings from the private sector (where savings fall and / or debt increases) to the government sector (where debt falls). $10 billion of revenue from the tax, for example, would reduce household savings by that amount whilst simultaneously reducing governemnt debt by that amount, less the red tape and administration costs of course.

The net effect on national savings, which is the thing that matters to all sensible macroeconomists, is a big fat zero.

Wed, 23 Apr 2014  |  

It would be a wild exaggeration to say that Australia has an inflation problem, but the March quarter CPI highlighted the fact that the strength of the domestic economy is spilling over into a somewhat uncomfortable acceleration in the inflation rate.

While the March quarter inflation rates came in under market expectations (which says more about those expectations than it does about the actual hard data), inflation is moving higher.

Whether it is the annual headline inflation rate – which has risen from a low of 1.2 per cent in the June quarter 2012 to 2.9 per cent now – or the underlying inflation rate – which has risen from a low of 1.9 per cent to 2.7 per cent now – the RBA can no longer sit on a record low cash rate of 2.5 per cent and be confident that a further acceleration in the inflation rate wont happen.

Sun, 20 Apr 2014  |  

This article first appeared in the April edition of the Melbourne Review. See melbournereview.com.au

Australia is in the midst of a quite startling export boom. What is exciting and positive for Australia's longer run growth prospects is that the transition of the economy towards exports has much further to run.

The surge in exports and the prospects for yet further growth is largely the result of the once in 100 years mining investment frenzy over the past decade. Capacity in the mining sector has risen massively as the mining companies built the infrastructure needed to extract and transport the raw materials to the export markets, mainly in China and elsewhere in Asia.

Much has been written and discussed the fall away in mining investment. That is perhaps one of the most obvious aspects of the change in the structure of the economy over the next few years and nothing can or should be done to arrest that inevitable fall.

Sat, 19 Apr 2014  |  

This article first appeared on The Drum on 16 April 2014. I wrote it for Per Capita, at per capita.org.au

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-04-16/koukoulas-its-time-to-set-an-unemployment-target/5393386

One yawning gap in the economic debate in Australia is the lack of a target for the unemployment rate.

Just last week, with the release of a better than expected unemployment result, the commentary was focused on the favourable labour market news sparking speculation that the Reserve Bank of Australia would soon need to increase interest rates as future growth drove the unemployment rate lower.

The business cycles over the past few decades suggest that politicians and policymakers are happy to claim "full employment" whenever the unemployment rate is about 5 per cent. Anything less and there are skills shortages and wage pressures building and it is left to the RBA to hike interest rates to cool demand for workers.

Tue, 15 Apr 2014  |  

Today the RPData series showed house prices rising 0.4 per cent in the first half of April after a record monthly rise of 2.3 per cent in March. Double-digit annual house price gains are now the norm and there are growing risks that any further inflation in house prices will threaten the stability of markets and with that, the economy.

Today also, the RBA published the minutes from the April Board meeting and made just one reference to house prices. It was a corn-ball factual comment that "Housing market conditions remained strong, with housing prices rising in March to be 10½ per cent higher over the year on a nationwide basis".
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There was no discussion of whether this growth in house prices was a concern, or normal or whether, in the RBA's view, it posed a threat to financial stability.

THE LATEST FROM THE KOUK

Why don’t governments deliver policies that are good for the electorate?

Mon, 21 Aug 2017

This article first appeared on The Adelaide Review site at this link: https://adelaidereview.com.au/opinion/politics/paying-fair-share/ 

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Paying Their Fair Share

It’s the age-old question: why don’t governments deliver policies that are good for the electorate? Well, the answers are numerous.

Politics and policymaking should be simple. After all, being in government and delivering what voters want — making them happy in other words — and increasing the chances of re-election seems to be the proverbial win-win scenario.

Which begs the question, why don’t political parties do it?

Why don’t they deliver policies that are good for the electorate and good for their re-election chances?

Let’s cut to what the voters, in general, want.

A policy framework where each person who wants a job gets a job is key. In addition, access to quality and affordable health care and education, from kindergarten to university to trades training is fundamental. There are other issues that are basic, simple and fair.

Voters want the government to provide aged-care services that treat the older members of society with dignity. We want decent infrastructure, especially pubic transport and roads. We want people who are doing it tough to be supported by a welfare safety net — a decent rate of pension, unemployment benefits and disability support.

So far, so good.

Australia has given up on solving unemployment

Sun, 20 Aug 2017

This article first appeared on The New Daily website at this link: https://thenewdaily.com.au/money/finance-news/2017/08/16/stephen-koukoulas-unemployment/ 

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Australia has given up on solving unemployment

 It is a sad state of affairs to realise that the current crop of Australian policy-makers have effectively given up on reducing unemployment.

Treasury reckons that the lowest the unemployment rate can go without there being a wages and inflation breakout is around 5.25 per cent.

The Reserve Bank of Australia notes something similar, forecasting that even when the economy is growing strongly at an above-trend pace, the unemployment rate will hover between 5 and 6 per cent.
The current unemployment rate is 5.6 per cent or some 728,100 people – enough to fill the Melbourne Cricket Ground about seven times.

Given the Treasury and RBA estimates, it looks like Australia will never see fewer than about 700,000 people unemployed – no matter what kind of improvement we see in the latest jobless figures on Thursday.
It seems to be a peculiarly Australian issue. In the US, the unemployment rate is 4.3 per cent, in the UK it is 4.5 per cent, in Japan it is 2.8 per cent while in Germany, the unemployment rate is 3.9 per cent. And none of these countries is experiencing a wage/inflation problem. Indeed, even with the very low unemployment rate in Japan, wages are actually falling.