Blog

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.

Mon, 01 May 2017  |  

This article first appeared on The Business Insider at this link https://www.businessinsider.com.au/podcast-devils-and-details-457-visas-2017-4 

Click on the link to the podcast with Dr Chris Wright who gave some interesting insights into 457 visas, the labour market and a range of other matters.

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PODCAST: With Stephen Koukoulas and Dr Chris Wright on good vs bad debt and the 457 visa changes

Working life is changing. A “job for life” is no longer an expectation. People now have “portfolio careers”. The “gig economy” is an increasing source of income for people, but it comes with none of the associated benefits of work like superannuation and paid holidays.

In Australia, we just learned that consumer prices have been growing marginally ahead of wages. The federal government has moved to tighten the skilled migration program by replacing the 457 visa program with a more restrictive regime.

All of this comes as the RBA has signalled it is less than comfortable with the evident weakness in the labour market: youth unemployment is at all-time highs, and we are starting to see signs of high levels of underemployment among older workers too.

Dr Chris Wright from the University of Sydney business school is an expert in labour market dynamics. On this week’s episode of Devils and Details, Wright joins us along with prominent economist Stephen Koukoulas for an intriguing discussion about what is happening to the way we work and the challenges for Australian businesses in finding the right people.

Thu, 27 Apr 2017  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo7 Finance website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/inflation-020818312.html 

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Inflation is low and remains low

Inflation edged up a little in the March quarter – from an annual rate of 1.5 per cent at the end of 2016, the headline rate rose to 2.1 per cent. The underlying rate of inflation, which the RBA trends to place more weight on when it comes to assessments of interest rate policy, was even more muted, lifting from 1.5 per cent to 1.8 per cent.

And recall, the RBA target range for inflation is between 2 and 3 per cent.

Annual underlying inflation has been at or below 2 per cent since late 2015, and has been below 2.5 per cent, the midpoint of the inflation target, since the end of 2014. That is a long time.

The data today confirm that inflation is low and remains low and in isolation, continues to give the RBA plenty of scope to further reduce interest rates. When the recent data on unemployment, building approvals, private sector business investment and wages growth are added to the mix, the case for an interest rate cut is strong.

THE LATEST FROM THE KOUK

illion: Business forecasts bumper profits in 2018

Mon, 11 Dec 2017

The illion Business Expectations Survey presented a positive outlook for the economy.

Business profits expectations for 2018 are the highest they’ve been since 2011, with companies set to boost employee numbers in the first quarter on the back of the positive outlook, according to illion’s latest Business Expectations Survey.

Data from the survey indicated businesses operating in the Finance, Insurance and Real estate sector had the highest profit expectations approaching the new year, followed by the Transport, Communications and Utilities sector.  The survey shows that overall, the Business Expectations Index is up 25.7 percent on the same period last year and the actual performance of businesses across all sectors is at a 13 year high.

Stephen Koukoulas, illion Economic Adviser, said there were a number of factors driving the positive outlook for 2018. “Corporate profits are getting a boost from lower costs, which are being driven by record low interest rates and on-going low wages growth – which is all occurring at a time of solid gains in the ASX”.

Oz economy: The good, the bad and the ugly

Fri, 08 Dec 2017

This article first appeared on the Yahoo 7 Finance website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/2138618-050543271.html 

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Oz economy: The good, the bad and the ugly

The Australian economy continues to grow, but the pace of expansion remains moderate, being constrained by ongoing weakness in household spending and a slide in housing construction. The good news is further evidence of an upturn in private business investment and stronger growth in public sector infrastructure spending which is providing support for the economy.

At face value, 2.8 per cent annual GDP growth rate is quite good, but the devil in the detail on how that growth has been registered is why there are some concerns about the sustainability of the expansion as 2018 looms.

Household spending remains mired with growth of just 0.1 per cent in the September quarter. It seems the very low wage growth evident in recent years, plus data showing a small rise in the household saving rate, is keeping consumer spending in check.

Making up well over half of GDP, household spending will be the vital element of the economy into 2018. If wages growth remains weak, there seems little prospect of a pick up in household spending. And if household spending remains weak, bottom line GDP growth will be relying on a strong expansion in business investment and public sector demand.