Blog

Tue, 05 Feb 2019  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo Finance web site at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/heres-australias-1-5-interest-rates-high-002038269.html 

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Here's why Australia's 1.5% interest rates are too high

Australians love talking about interest rates and the bulk of economic commentary day-to-day is about whether or not the Reserve Bank of Australia will be putting them up, or down or leaving them steady at their next monthly meeting. This is no doubt linked to the huge interest of most Australians in house prices and the fact that household debt levels are amongst the highest in the world.

A small change in interest rates can have a significant impact on those with large mortgages.

Are interest rates too high or too low?

Having watching the RBA over the last 30 years or so, I have learnt a few lessons when it comes to working out whether interest rates are too high, too low or just right.

These lessons boil down to the following observable and easily tested facts on the economy.

Wed, 30 Jan 2019  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo Finance web site at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/speech-rba-governor-needs-give-next-week-200301848.html 

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If I was RBA Governor, this is the speech I would give next week

The RBA Governor Phillip Lowe is giving a speech at the National Press Club next week, no doubt to recast the RBA’s view on the economy and to present its up-to-date thinking on monetary policy. This will include whether it still reckons the next move in official interest rates “is likely to be up”.

I don’t know what Dr Lowe will say or how the view of the RBA has changed since it last went public with its upbeat views on the economy in early December, but if I were RBA Governor, this is what I would say:

"The economy has not performed as we were expecting.

This is not to say that the economy is entering a period of trouble, far from it. But the economy is falling short of the optimistic outlook the RBA held for the bulk of the last year. The main areas of surprise are related to the housing downturn, both in terms of house prices and new construction, and the flow through of these trends to household consumption spending.

In addition to weaker than forecast GDP growth in the September quarter, the severity of the housing downturn is forecast to reduce GDP growth in 2019 and 2020. The downward revision to the forecast for household consumption growth is not being offset by unexpected strength elsewhere, hence the material change to the Bank’s overall growth outlook.

Tue, 29 Jan 2019  |  

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has given a commitment that a Coalition government would create 1.25 million new jobs over the next 5 years.

Specifically, Mr Morrison tweeted, “I’m making a new pledge for our Government, to see 1.25 million jobs created over the next 5 years”.

This is a bold claim on any measure. Alas for Mr Morrison, the claim is at odds with his Treasurer's recent MYEFO estimates which included a series of forecasts and projections for employment growth over those 5 years. It is easy to cross check. Using Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s forecasts in MYEFO, cumulative employment growth over the next 5 years will be just 954,000, some 296,000 below the figure that Mr Morrison seems to have plucked out of the air.

The 954,000 is calculated the following way:

Wed, 23 Jan 2019  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo Finance website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/australia-fallen-recession-200014477.html

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Has Australia fallen into a per capita GDP recession?

 There is no doubt the Australian economy was weaker in late 2018 than it was during the first half of the year. It seems to have kicked off 2019 on a similarly weak note.

Recent economic news has been unambiguously poor and it follows the dismal GDP results released last month which showed per capita GDP falling 0.1 per cent in the September quarter. That was a poor result and forced most thinking economists to revise down their assessments of Australia’s economic health. If the upcoming December quarter GDP result, which is due for release in early March, reveals another drop in per capita GDP, the economy on a per capita basis will be going backwards.

This, quite clearly, is not good news.

It means living standards for the average Australian are falling and it poses questions about the current stance of economic policy.

Wed, 23 Jan 2019  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo Finance website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/will-economic-data-influence-election-date-200237239.html

The data flow could influence the timing of the election

Ready, get set!

There will be a Federal election within the next four months and the main question is the exact date when we will go to the polls. The current speculation focuses on three dates – relatively early on 2 March or nearer full term on 11 or 18 May.
The decision will be taken by the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, over the next few weeks.

One issue which will undoubtedly be critical to his thinking on the timing of the poll will be the economic data flow that will be released during the election campaign.

Just think – getting a poor GDP result or a rise in unemployment or weak wages data slap bang in the middle of the campaigning. It could be enough to derail the election strategy of the government and further erode its economic credentials. It is also important because the economy is clearly weakening. House prices are falling sharply, destroying the wealth of home owners, wages growth remains weak, the stock market is sick and consumer spending is unsurprisingly slow. There is also evidence in the various job advertisement series that the labour market is cooling which could see the unemployment rate creep up in the months ahead.

2 March Vs 18 May

The economic calendar suggests Mr Morrison would be wise to call the election for 2 March.

Here’s why.

Wed, 09 Jan 2019  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo Finance web page at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/dont-look-now-almost-certainly-poorer-year-ago-211934583.html 

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Don’t look now – you are almost certainly poorer than a year ago

I am sorry to kick off the new year with some gloomy news of your finances.

It is never nice to discuss how much money you have lost, but if you are a home owner in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth or Darwin and if you have a superannuation nest egg, the odds are you are less wealthy today than you were a year or two ago.

Here are some uncomfortable facts.

The Australian stock market, where the bulk of your superannuation assets are likely to be invested, has slumped 11 per cent since August, reducing the value of stocks by around $200 billion.  No doubt your superannuation has suffered part of this loss.

At the same time, home owners in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Darwin are seeing the value of their homes getting crunched.

Here are some examples.

Mon, 07 Jan 2019  |  

The article first appeared on The Guardian website at this link: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/jan/03/falling-dollar-reflects-global-concern-all-is-not-well-in-the-australian-economy 

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Falling dollar reflects global concern all is not well in the Australian economy

The Australian dollar was hit hard overnight, Australian time, slumping below 70 US cents before a sharp and more extreme move saw it temporarily crash to a low of 67.40 US cents. It subsequently recovered marginally, but remains weak at around 69.40 US cents.

Rather than focus on the micro aspects of minute-by-minute or hour-by-hour moves in the dollar, which can be more noise than substance, the trend for the dollar over the past year has been down.

In January 2018, the Australian dollar was trading at 81.50 US cents.

There is increasing concern from global investors that all is not well with the Australian economy. Policy is in a do-nothing phase. Entrenched low wages growth is hampering growth in household spending. This is being complemented, in a negative way, by a sharp fall in wealth as house prices drop and the share market weakens, both of which will be a negative for the economy during 2019. This is because householders are simply not getting the income growth nor wealth accumulation needed to allow them to keep spending at a rate that will see the economy expand at a pace that will generate upside wage and inflation momentum. Strategies aimed at reducing debt and paring back new borrowings mean, by definition, weaker economic growth over the near term.

Tue, 01 Jan 2019  |  

A well-established and immutable rule of market and economic forecasting is never to gloat when you happen to get a forecast right. There are many reasons for this, not least the certainty that other forecasts over many years have been wide of the mark, a fact that brings a balance to the forecasting debate.

That’s said, it is always useful to review the big forecasts and learn why your forecasts were right or wrong and to use this experience and knowledge to refine and develop future forecasts.

I do this every year - whether good or bad - and here we go with an assessment of the forecasts I made at the start of 2018 for the year ahead.

It’s actually a little embarrassing to do my annual assessment, because they were fantastically good. Anyone following those forecasts would have made some good money, which, frankly, is what these forecasts are all about. I would be delighted to see if anyone out there can find someone with a better track record for the year, so please let me know.

Mon, 31 Dec 2018  |  

Ok, it’s time to put my neck on the chopping block and make some forecasts for the economy and financial markets for 2019.

While I agree with my good friend Con Michalakis, market guru and CIO of State Super, that point forecasts on a calendar year basis are largely an artefact of the calendar and do not meet the demand of serious investment strategy, I do find it a useful discipline to make such forecasts each year. These forecasts capture where my analysis and judgment reveal which fundamentals are at greater risk of moving a particular way and most importantly, what this might mean for markets.

2019

For me, the broadest themes for Australia in 2019 are on going sub-trend economic growth, while wages and inflation will remain disappointingly low. The RBA will finally succumb to facts on the economy and will cut interest rates to below 1 per cent in the latter part of the year and the Australian stock market, which has been a dog in recent times, will surge, rising perhaps 20 per cent by the end of the year. Bond yields are likely to fall further in the first part of the year, although a lot of the rally I was looking in 2018 for has already occurred.

There might be another moderate yield reduction the mid to longer end of the curve, but once the RBA finally gives a bit of monetary policy stimulus, the yield curve will steepen in the latter part of 2019.

Now some details.

Wed, 19 Dec 2018  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo Finance website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/smoking-levels-continue-plummet-210432040.html 

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Smoking levels continue to plummet

Some good news on health – Australians are smoking less with the amount of tobacco consumed dropping to a record low in the September quarter 2018, and this includes data back to 1959 when Australia’s population was about 60 per cent below the level of today.

The peak consumption of tobacco came in the mid-1970s. Since then, there has been an unrelenting fall, with the timing of the downturn broadly coincided with the increasing prominence given to the link between smoking and early death and a range of government regulations aimed at reducing smoking rates.

Most recently, the introduction of plain packaging laws, together with hefty increases in excises – taxes in other words – has continued to drive the consumption of tobacco lower. The decline in the volume of tobacco consumed in Australia has crashed a staggering 24.4 per cent since the plain packaging laws were introduced at the end of 2012. This is despite population growth of around 8.5 per cent over that time.

Factors other than the introduction of plain packaging laws were also driving smoking levels lower – as noted, the sharp rise in excise taxes, many years of health awareness, tobacco advertising bans, restricting smoking in public places and even the fact many smokers have died and therefore are not buying tobacco products are all driving smoking to record lows.

THE LATEST FROM THE KOUK

The RBA has the tools to fix the economy, but is reluctant to use them

Thu, 05 Dec 2019

This article first appeared on the Yahoo Finance web site at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/rba-tools-reluctant-042742904.html

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The RBA has the tools to fix the economy, but is reluctant to use them

The Reserve Bank of Australia has made a range of serious policy errors over the past few years, and the Australian economy is weaker because of those mistakes and misjudgments.

Not only is the RBA on track to miss its inflation target for six years, and perhaps longer, the persistently high unemployment rate in concert with record low wages growth is the result of the RBA’s tardiness in cutting interest rates because of its textbook obsession with house prices and household debt.

It is a mistake that has cost the economy tens of billions of dollars in lost output; employment is many thousands of people below what could have been achieved; and all the while wages growth hovers near record lows undermining the wellbeing of the workforce. What’s worse, the RBA seems to have thrown in the towel on trying to meet its inflation target, even though that target was confirmed a month ago in the recent update of the Conduct of Monetary Policy between the RBA and Treasurer.

In this context, Deputy Governor of the RBA, Guy Debelle, gave a fascinating speech earlier this week on the topic of employment and wages.

Household wealth is booming: What this means

Mon, 25 Nov 2019

This article first appeared on the Yahoo website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/household-wealth-booming-200022930.html 

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Household wealth is booming: What this means

$500,000,000,000.

In other words, half a trillion dollars.

That is approximately the amount Australian household wealth has increased since the start of July 2019, with house prices surging, the Australian stock market moving higher, and savings increasing.

The bulk of the gains have occurred via rising house prices, which according to CoreLogic, are up over 5 per cent in less than five months. This move in house prices has added around $360 billion to the value of housing and is driving the rebound in wealth. At the same time, the level of the ASX has risen by around 2 per cent with a further $40 billion being paid out in dividends. This allows for the recent pull back on prices as new banking scandals are exposed.

In these conditions of rising wealth, the household sector is getting a serious financial reprieve, despite the ongoing weakness in wages and the still very high level of unemployment and underemployment which afflicts almost 14 per cent of the workforce.

The good news is that this wealth creation is likely to spark a rise in household spending growth once the gains are widely acknowledged in the community and then feed into consumer sentiment. This is most likely to show up in the first half of 2020, after the usual lags work their way through the economy. History shows that when we consumers experience growth in our wealth, we are more inclined to lift our spending.

Earlier this year, RBA researchers Diego May, Gabriela Nodari and Daniel Rees found that:

“When wealth increases, Australian households consume more. Spending on durable goods, like motor vehicles, and discretionary goods, such as recreation, appears to be most responsive to changes in household wealth”.

We saw this, in the reverse, in the period from the middle of 2017 to the middle of 2019 when Australia-wide house prices fell by 10 per cent, crunching wealth levels. It was no surprise that during this period, household spending growth slumped. The retail sales component fell to its weakest since the early 1990s recession. Consumer spending and confidence was not helped by the coincident weakness in wages growth and the policy mistake of the RBA which refused to cut official interest rates, even though the economy was mired in a low inflation, low growth and falling wealth climate.

Thankfully, common sense has since prevailed at the RBA and it has cut interest rates three times since June.

Demand for housing has also lifted with shrewd first home buyers taking advantage of favourable affordability and investors also stepping back in after the May election saw the return of the Coalition government and the demise of Labor’s proposal to reform negative gearing tax laws. The current wealth surge unfolding now is occurring at a time when there is also a sharp decline in the debt-servicing burden as interest rates fall. This has the dual effect of freeing up cash flows for some consumers and allows other to accelerate their debt repayment.

For the moment, the labour market remains weak and wages are still stuck in the mud. These will constrain any near term lift in household spending, but the wealth lift will be vital for sparking a pick-up in consumption, probably in the new year when the effect is more widely observed and entrenched.

It adds to the scenario where 2020 is looking like a better year for the economy with bottom line GDP growth set to hit 3 per cent in the second half of the year.  If the wealth effects build further over that time and business investment and infrastructure spending continues to lift, the economy in 2020 just might register its strongest growth rate in a decade.