Blog

Thu, 01 May 2014  |  

In light of the humbug of the 'budget never returning to surplus unless we cut the tripe out of spending', I though it interesting to revisit the sensitivity of budget forecasting to small changes to the economic parameters.

The Commission of Audit finding that Australia will be dogged by perpetual deficits is based on a range of economic projections which assume the economy maintains an output gap over the next decade (real GDP growth never above 3%), nominal GDP growth averaging 4% for the next three years and then only rising to 5.5% thereafter, the unemployment rate remaining at 6% for the next decade and a falling particpation rate.

These forecasts may be right, they may not.

My simple budget forecasting spreadsheet shows that if we change slightly some of those projections and in two of the next three years, real GDP growth hits 3.5% as the output gap closes, if nominal GDP is 0.75% higher in those two years, and the unemployment rate ticks down to 5.5% within a year and then drops to 5% by 2016-17, there are surpluses within three years and that surpluses remain and get larger out to 2023-24.

Thu, 01 May 2014  |  

One of the lame brain fact free and unchallenged assertions doing the rounds recently and one which forms the basis of the Commission of Audit report, is that the spending cuts and other policy changes needed are because the government is getting too big.

While it is open to debate on how best to measure the 'size of government', one way is to look at the sum of Commonwealth revenue and spending as a share of GDP. This means that the more the government raises in tax and then recycles into the economy via spending, the bigger the footprint of government on the economy, and vice versa.

Makes sense?

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.

THE LATEST FROM THE KOUK

Politics Panel: Australia's intergenerational gap

Fri, 25 May 2018

I was one of the panel members of this podcast which was on ABC Radio National. 25 minutes of interesting discussion.

At this link: https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/politics-panel-australias-intergenerational-gap/9798848 

Politics Panel: Australia's intergenerational gap

 With the federal budget handed down and the battle lines emerging for the next election, Australia's intergenerational gap is shaping up as a major political issue.

The Coalition is promising a host of sweeteners for retired voters while Labor is promising to pump more money into education and get housing prices down.
If you're a voter, there's a good chance your view of those promises will be informed by the year you were born.

Do we need to be worried about Australia's economic outlook?

Tue, 22 May 2018

This article first appeared on the Yahoo7 Finance web site at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/need-worried-australias-economic-outlook-060611703.html 

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Do we need to be worried about Australia's economic outlook?

The Reserve Bank of Australia reckons that the next move in official interest rates is more likely to be up than down. RBA Governor has said so in recent weeks as he talks up the prospects for the economy over the next year or two.

This is disconcerting news for everyone out there with a mortgage or a small business loan, especially in a climate where the business sector is doing it tough and when wages growth is floundering near record lows. The good news is that the RBA is likely to be wrong and the next move in interest rates could be down, such is the run of recent news on the economy. Failing an interest rate cut, the hard economic facts suggest that any interest rate rises are a long way into the future and if they do come, there will not be all that many.

At this point, it is important to bring together the issues that would need to unfold to see the RBA pull the lever to hike interest rates.  At the simplest level, the start of an interest rate hiking cycle would need to see annual GDP growth above 3.25 per cent, the unemployment rate falling to 5 per cent and less, wages growth lifting towards 3 per cent and more and underlying inflation increasing to 2.5 per cent.

This is where the RBA expectation for higher interest rates is on very thin ice.