Blog

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.

Mon, 22 May 2017  |  

This article first appeared on The Adelaide Review website at this link: https://adelaidereview.com.au/opinion/politics/its-the-economy-stupid-australia-turnbull-government/ 

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It’s the Economy, Stupid

Those in power, who are able to pull the economic policy levers, are unable or unwilling or simply unaware of what is happening in the economy and what needs to be done to get the economy back on track to stronger job creating growth.

At every opportunity, the Turnbull government is sweeping economics under the rug while it focuses on terror, laws on racial vilification, rhetoric about ‘hard working Australians’, a blip in energy prices and anything else that means the economy is not discussed. The ‘jobs and growth’ mantra is as sincere and meaningful as a US shop assistant saying ‘you’re welcome and have a nice day’ just after they serve you a miserable coffee.

The other economic policy heavyweight, the RBA, is fixated about house prices in Sydney and Melbourne and continues to leave Australia with some of the highest interest rates in the industrialised world and an over-valued exchange rate. It does this while inflation is entrenched below the bottom of its own target range, real wages growth stalls and the spare capacity in the labour market balloons.

To be fair, there is one economic policy issue that has a substantive proposal behind it – the cut to company tax rates. But the plan to reduce company tax rates is more like a Chinese Politburo 10-year plan and it is of such a scale that it will fracture an already vulnerable budget outlook. And, in any event, it looks like hitting the rocks in the senate as it is expensive, ineffective and unpopular. The key elements of the company tax issue will no doubt slowly but surely sink in the not too distant future.

Fri, 19 May 2017  |  

The Australian Office of Financial Management has updated the data on gross government debt level. Today, it hit a new record at $493.8 billion. See aofm.gov.au  

Having inherited $273 billion from the Labor government in September 2013, the Coalition’s policies have added a rib-cracking $220 billion in just 3 years and 8 months, and all of this in a climate of decent global economic growth, a lower Aussie dollar and record low interest rates.

Having watched the dust settle from the recent budget, it is clear that the levels of government debt will keep rising, probably at a more rapid rate than Treasurer Scott Morrison projected simply because wages growth is so weak, company profits are fragile and the commodity price outlook has become more fragile on the back of extra global output and huge inventories.

Wed, 17 May 2017  |  

In arguing the case for cutting the company tax rate from 30 per cent to 25 per cent over the course of the next decade, Treasurer Scott Morrison claimed that one of the key effects of such a move would be to boost investment, employment and wages growth. 

Let's use the inverse of that logic when it comes to hiking company taxes.

Specifically, does Mr Morrison think that hiking company tax rates will mean lower investment, employment and wages?

Tue, 16 May 2017  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo 7 Finance web page at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/1187922-051601764.html 

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Let’s repair the budget once and for all

Let’s once and for all repair the budget and start on a path of lowering government debt by hiking taxes on luxury cars, wine, petrol, diesel, beer, spirits and so-called ‘other’ alcoholic beverages.

Not only will a decent lift in tax in these areas fix the budget, it will be good for the general health of the population (less alcohol consumed), it will help the environment (less driving and a switch to other means of transport) and in the case of luxury cars, it will be fair (taxing expensive cars).

It can work.

As the dust from the 2017 budget slowly settles, it is apparent that there is a moral and political advantage from selectively hiking taxes. There is strong support for the 20 per cent lift in the Medicare levy from 2.5 to 3 per cent; the bank tax is seen to be a claw-back of some of the support that government has previously given to the big four banks; while the tobacco excise tax impost (admittedly delivered over many years) is set to deliver nearly 3 per cent of all revenue to the government and people should stop smoking in any event.

As things stand, there is a problem in that even with this brazen tax grab from the Turnbull government, the budget deficit is still substantial and gross government debt is on track to exceed $600 billion within three years and then it will hit a stonking $725 billion (which will be around $55,000 per household) by 2026-27.

Let’s start from a budget fact that in the financial year 2020-21, the government will raise $15.2 billion from the tobacco excise tax. That is a lot of money from the 13 per cent of the population that smoke.

The luxury car tax in that year, will by way of comparison raise a puny $720 million even though sales of luxury car are already at a record and are set to growth further over the next few years.
So $15 billion from smokers and $0.7 billion from luxury cars?

Wed, 10 May 2017  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo 7 Finance website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/1164162-223853338.html 

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Morrison has donned rose tinted glasses

As per the normal process, the 2017-18 budget documents went to the printer over the weekend, some 48 hours prior to Treasurer Scott Morrison delivering the budget to the Parliament.

In that time, flood of economic news has cast a shadow over the economic forecasts which are for an acceleration in economic growth over the next few years, a gradual fall in the unemployment rate and a quite staggering acceleration in wages growth.

“Optimistic” might be the catch cry of those budget forecasts.

Morrison is hoping that the economy will miraculously pick up, leading to a surge in tax revenue which feeds into the estimate of a return to budget surplus in 2020-21. Suffice to say, any shortfall in what would be a strong performance in the economy will lead to yet another blow out in the deficit and the return to surplus will be pushed back yet another year or two.

Wed, 10 May 2017  |  

This article first appeared on The Guardian web site at this link: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/may/10/warm-words-in-morrisons-budget-barely-disguise-a-story-of-fiscal-failure 

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Warm words in Morrison's budget barely disguise a story of fiscal failure

Three years ago, then-treasurer Joe Hockey delivered the first budget of the Abbott government. It was a classic austerity budget, designed to tackle the “debt and deficit disaster” and “fiscal emergency” that it had railed against in opposition. That budget saw a raft of spending cuts, user charges and tax increases as the government tried to fast-track the return to budget surplus.

The effect of the policy changes in that budget saw the forecast for the 2016-17 deficit fall to $10.8bn, and then to a mere $2.8bn in 2017-18. There were budget surpluses forecast in 2018-19 and beyond. According to Hockey, the budget had effectively been fixed and the emergency thwarted.  Or so it seemed.

Over the intervening three years, the budget bottom line numbers have soured. This is despite the global economy registering solid, unbroken growth that has seen Australian export volumes grow substantially. Domestically, the economy has recorded average gross domestic product (GDP) growth at a reasonable rate, around 2.5% per annum over three years, despite the crash in mining investment and the volatility in commodity prices.

Suffice to say, something has gone badly wrong with budget repair over the past three years.

Thu, 04 May 2017  |  

The Dun & Bradstreet business Expectations Survey were worrying for those looking for economic momentum into the second half of 2017.

For the full report, click on the following link. https://dnb.com.au/article-bex-q3-2017-prelim-results.html#.WQq_jHdh24k 

The key points of the release were:

Business expectations have dropped off for the September quarter following a softer-than-expected March quarter. Dun & Bradstreet's April Business Expectations Survey shows lower actual sales, profits, employment, selling prices and capital investment in the first quarter of 2017 compared to the final quarter of 2016.

After an encouraging end to 2016 and significant optimism in the early part of 2017, the business sector has indicated a deterioration in conditions into the second half of the year. It points to a growing risk that the RBA may deliver a further interest rate cut in the months ahead which would be even more likely if inflation remains well contained, as per the results on expected selling prices.

Thu, 04 May 2017  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo7 website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/its-the-unemployment-stupid-061925051.html?soc_src=social-sh&soc_trk=tw 

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Australia is failing when it comes to unemployment

Unemployment around most of the western world is falling at a rapid rate and in many countries it is at a level that is at, or close to, full employment. That means the unemployment rate is low enough to see skills and worker shortages start to appear in some industries and regions and as a result, wages growth is accelerating.

Stimulatory policy settings have driven this favourable outcome, even if those extreme policy settings were in reaction to the economic horrors of the global banking and financial crisis which plummeted much of the world into a recession that threatened to cascade into a depression.

In large part, these falls in unemployment are the result of the success of the unconventional monetary policy actions of central banks – zero or even negative interest rates followed up with huge bouts of quantitative easing have kicked in to support growth, lower unemployment, avoid deflation at the depths of the recession and now it is starting to rekindle much needed inflation.

Unfortunately, Australia has lagged the rest of the world at least in terms of the recent momentum in economic activity and the direction of the unemployment rate.

The unemployment rate is going up and wages growth is going down.

Wed, 03 May 2017  |  

This article first appeared on the Crikey website at this link: https://www.crikey.com.au/2017/05/02/scott-morrisons-good-debt-bad-debt-economic-slogan-is-rubbish/ 

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ScoMo's ludicrous new budget slogan is stupid and unnecessary

Treasurer Scott Morrison is in trouble. Or at least his budget is.

As Morrison sat down to frame his second budget and the fourth of the current Coalition government, Treasury presented him with an economic triple whammy on the outlook: a wider budget deficit, sluggish economic growth and many years ahead where unemployment will be stuck at a relatively high 5.25-5.75%.

This is an outlook that requires a policy response.

To his credit, Morrison is set to increase infrastructure spending to not only boost growth but to add to productivity. As Labor did during the global crisis, Morrison knows he needs to deliver some fiscal stimulus to move the economy out of its low inflation/high unemployment funk.

The problem politically is that this means an already wide budget deficit and rising level of government debt will need to be expanded. This is anathema to the Coalition and will reinforce the rank hypocrisy of its political strategy over the past decade of maligning budget deficits and rising government debt regardless of the state of the business cycle and level of unemployment and what that debt is being used for.

The budget papers, next week, will show net government debt as a share of GDP on track to reach the highest level since the aftermath of World War II. Faced with this political embarrassment on the economy and rapidly growing debt, Morrison has chosen to trot out a new slogan. Morrison is covering the government’s economic and fiscal challenges by seeking to distinguish between “good” and “bad” government debt.

It is clear that the slogan is cover for what will be a blowout in the budget bottom line.

THE LATEST FROM THE KOUK

Employment - the odd one out or is the economy booming?

Thu, 19 Oct 2017

I am reluctant to bag and slag the employment data, because it is all we have when looking at the health of the labour market. But there are a few quirky bits and bobs in the news of the wonderful run of job creation over the past year.

Employment rose by a remarkably strong 3.1 per cent in the year to September, a fabulous result.

But, and it is a big but, the results are at odds with just about every other indicator in the economy. EIther they are misleading or the employment data are misleading.

One way to check it to have a look at the economy the last time annual growth in employment was above 3 per cent. This takes us to the period around 2007 and into early 2008.

In 2007, annual real GDP growth was generally around 4 to 5 per cent, as you would expect with such jobs growth. The economy was on fire!  In 2008, the CPI surged by over 4 per cent which is again as you would expect given the boom in employment. The RBA was hiking rates at an agressive pace, with the official cash rate hitting a stonking 7.25 per cent in 2008. Wow! 

What bubble? The financial sector is fighting fit

Tue, 17 Oct 2017

This article first appeared on the Yahoo 7 Finance website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/1897318-045821149.html 

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What bubble? The financial sector is fighting fit

Australia’s banking sector is in peak health and the household sector is having few if any problems managing its debt.

This is the good news from the Reserve Bank of Australia Financial Stability Report which effectively put the kybosh on the fear-mongers who continue to forecast a crisis in household debt, a crash in house prices and turmoil in the financial system and more specifically, the banks.

The key conclusion from the RBA was that “the financial system is in a strong position and its resilience to adverse shocks has increased over recent years.”

These are strong and direct words from the normally cautious RBA.

It also noted that the bank’s non-performing loans (bad debts in other words) “remain low” and bank profitability “is high”, which are the key indicators of financial stability and strength. The RBA went as far to say that “the banks also have ample access to a range of funding sources at a lower cost than a decade ago” which is fundamental to the functioning of the financial system. Nothing was presented that indicated current problems in the financial sector.

The RBA assessment can be tested from the markets, specifically bank share prices. Most evidently, bank share prices remain strong as the investment community continues to place its money where its mouth is when determining actual performance and even risks when allocating investment funds.