Blog

Thu, 15 Jun 2017  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo7 Finance website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/article-231056138.html 

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Aussie debt is about to top half a trillion dollars

Australia’s government debt is poised to break through half a trillion dollars. As of last week, it stood at $0.4992 trillion.

Half a trillion dollars, is $500,000,000,000.00 of gross debt on which the government will be paying interest of around $15 billion each year – and that assumes that interest rates remain at the current record lows.

Government debt has been on an upward path since the global financial crisis hit the economy in 2008. The GFC saw a significant fiscal stimulus where government spending increased substantially as it delivered enough support so that Australia avoided a recession. It was text book economics but the price of avoiding recession was a rise in government debt.

More recently, structural changes in the economy have seen chronically weak wages growth and below target inflation locked into the landscape. These trends have undermined government revenue at a time when government spending is still running well above the levels prevailing before the GFC. Efforts of the government to cut its spending is recent budgets have not only failed, but spending is actually rising at a strong rate.

As a result of all of this and some reckless pre-GFC policies that wastefully sprayed money around the economy, the budget has been in deficit since 2008-09 and is set to remain in deficit until at least 2019-20. And while ever the budget is in deficit, gross government debt keeps rising.

Tue, 13 Jun 2017  |  

Today, Malcolm Turnbull has overtaken Billy McMahon to be the 21st longest serving Australian Prime Minister. Australia has had 29 Prime Ministers since Federation in 1901.

So – Congratulations Malcolm!

Here are a few fun facts:

When McMahon lost the 1972 election, the unemployment rate was 2.5 per cent – under Turnbull today it is 5.7 per cent.

Under McMahon, there was a budget surplus of 2.0 per cent of GDP, now it is a deficit of 1.6 per cent.

Under McMahon, government spending was 18.5 per cent of GDP, now it is 25.2 per cent.

Sat, 10 Jun 2017  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo7 Finance website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/rba-like-rabbit-headlights-050200564.html 

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The RBA is like a rabbit in headlights

Horrible.

There is no other way to describe the March quarter GDP result which showed annual growth of just 1.7 per cent, which is one of the weakest results in the last 25 years.

Little wonder consumers are feeling under the pump, with real wages falling, savings being run down to fund their meager spending growth and unemployment / underemployment adding to insecurity.

The genuinely odd thing about the current economic malaise is the policy complacency that prevails. Neither the government or the Reserve Bank seem to be in the least bit concerned about the disinflationary funk being felt in Australia.

A month ago, the government delivered a budget that took away any extra spending in the economy via tax hikes on banks and a rise in the Medicare levy. Not an iota of policy stimulus was unveiled to deal with the chronic sluggishness in the economy.

Thu, 08 Jun 2017  |  

This article first appeared on The Crikey website at this link: https://www.crikey.com.au/2017/06/08/scott-morrison-missing-the-point-on-economy-and-employment-statistics/?utm_content=buffer674b5&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer 

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Don't celebrate, ScoMo: job ad stats mask ugly truth about the labour market

In the aftermath of the release of the ANZ Bank job advertisement series on Monday, Treasurer Scott Morrison proudly tweeted that the figures showed: “almost 170,000 jobs advertised in May. Job ads now at the highest level since August 2011.”

Morrison is not a prolific tweeter and rarely does he comment on the monthly job advertisement series. One can only assume he was pleased to see a data point heading in the right direction.

To be sure, the news of rising job ads is a welcome respite from the general gloom in the recent set of economic news. Most now agree that the economy is sluggish, rolling along without much evidence of a much needed or wanted acceleration in activity.
But in tweeting the fact that there are almost 170,000 jobs advertised in May, Morrison indirectly exposed the current difficulties in the economy more broadly and the labour market in particular.

Thu, 08 Jun 2017  |  

The recent Dun & Bradstreet Business Expectations survey confirmed a softening in business expectations for the economy into the second half of 2017.

The link to the full survey results is here: https://dnb.com.au/_media/documents/DB%20Australian%20Business%20Expectations%20Survey%20-%20full%20-%20Q3%202017%20interim.pdf 

A summary of the survey findings are here:

As Australia grabs the world record for uninterrupted economic growth, the signs are mainly pointing downwards. Business performance for the first quarter has hit a four–year low, resulting in lower expectations for the second half of the year. Dun & Bradstreet's May Business Expectations Survey shows a generally muted outlook for the September quarter of 2017 despite employment expectations reaching a two-year high.

The official GDP data, which confirmed a clear slowing in the rate of economic growth, was fully anticipated by the Dun & Bradstreet Business survey. Business expectations have dropped off for the September quarter 2017 following a softer-than-expected March quarter on the back of lower actual sales, profits, employment, selling prices and investment in the first quarter. This continues to highlight the importance of the Business Expectations Survey as an early indicator in turning points in key aspects of the economy – in this instance overall economic growth. The survey also has a solid record in anticipating turning points in other variables such as selling prices, employment and profits.

Sun, 04 Jun 2017  |  

The absurd situation occurs again this week where the RBA Board meeting will be deliberating the appropriate monetary policy stance with the last data on GDP three months old.

Well, it actually relates to the economy in the December quarter 2016 so it is up to 8 months old!

If the RBA meeting was held just two days later, the day after the national accounts and GDP are released, it would have this vital information before it when determining whether or not to adjust the current monetary policy stance.

It might be the case that one quarter of extra data from the national accounts, should not have that much influence on the RBA thinking. To a point that is true. There are other snippets of more up to date news which are helpful in giving guidance to current economic conditions. But given that employment and inflation are vitally determined by how strong GDP growth is, the case for having the data feed into the RBA forecasting round seems compelling.

Fri, 02 Jun 2017  |  

It might be slow in coming, but the market is starting to price in the possibility of lower official interest rates in the months ahead.

At this stage, there is about a 25 per cent chance of an interest rate cut by year end priced into the market which means there is still a long way to go for one, let alone the likely two or three, cuts that need to be delivered if Australia is ever to see 3 per cent GDP growth and unemployment anywhere near 5 per cent.

Reflecting this slow mood change, 3 year bond yields have fallen to 1.70 per cent, just 30 basis points from historical lows. The Australian dollar is losing friends to the point where it is clinging to 0.7375 and is seemingly vulnerable to a sharp decline.

Of course, the ones that need to change their view are the upper levels of the RBA. They seem to be strongly of the view that Sydney and Melbourne house prices are more important to the economy that the persistent missing of its inflation target, the near 750,000 people unemployed, the 1.1 million underemployed, the record low wages growth and what appears to be a troubling slide in commodity prices.

Wed, 31 May 2017  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo7 Finance website at this link https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/rba-need-play-catch-slash-rates-065806231.html?soc_src=social-sh&soc_trk=tw 

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The RBA needs to play catch up - and slash rates

The pressure is building for the Reserve Bank to cut interest rates. And not just once, but several times in the months ahead.

The pick up in economic activity that the RBA has been looking for appears to have faltered. Next week’s data for GDP are almost certain to show annual GDP growth below 2 per cent and it will be lucky to be zero in per capita terms. This severe weakness in the economy is clearly why the labour market continues to operate below full capacity with record low wages growth and very high levels of unemployment and underemployment. It is not only next week’s GDP data that are causing the market to fret – recent economic news is disconcerting, to say the least.

New building approvals have been trending lower for the past year and Westpac are now suggesting that the slump in new dwelling investment will become “a material drag on growth”.

Fri, 26 May 2017  |  

This article first appeared on The Adelaide Review website at this link: https://adelaidereview.com.au/opinion/business-finance/scouring-budget-enlightenment/ 

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Scouring the Budget for Enlightenment

Every Federal Budget contains many thousands of numbers, graphs and words about the economy, the finances of the government and the impact of the decisions taken during the budget process.

It is impossible to digest every aspect of this myriad of information but it is fun, and somewhat enlightening, to scour through the budget papers for interesting facts and issues that the budget throws up after it has been delivered.

Some of those issues that captured my attention, as I sat by the fire the weekend after budget day, are outlined below. They help to illustrate how detailed and complex the budget process is and how much work is undertaken to get the budget finished, signed off and delivered on time each year.

Here are some Budget snippets:

Iron Ore
Each US$1 a tonne move in the iron ore price in 2018-19, away from the US$55 a tonne assumed in the budget, impacts government tax receipts by $420 million per annum. If, for example, the iron ore price were to jump US$20 / tonne, to the level it was two months ago, the budget bottom line would improve by $8.4 billion each year.

Wed, 24 May 2017  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo7 Finance web site at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/housing-hit-wall-225035072.html 

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House prices slump: Straw that breaks the economy’s back?

Will a slump in house prices be the straw that breaks the economy’s back and be the trigger for an economic hard landing in Australia?

Probably no, but it is a question that will likely dominate the news over the remainder of 2017 and into 2018.

Australia has gone 25 glorious years without a recession, but the risks are building that late 2017 and 2018 will be glum ones for the economy. The extent to which the economy is stuck in the mud will depend on the extent of the housing slowdown, the impact this has on already fragile consumer demand and the policy response of the RBA and possibly the government.

A slump in house prices will damage consumer wealth and with that consumer spending, investment and employment. Wages growth, which is already at a record low, will stay low which will further compound the lack of traction in the economy and feed into the fragile growth outlook. Already retail sales are flat or falling and consumer sentiment shows more people are pessimistic than optimistic.

This is not good news.

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.