Blog

Mon, 16 Jul 2018  |  

 

If the flow of punter’s money is any guide, Labor are in for a very rough time on Sublime-Saturday on 28 July when there are five by-elections around Australia.

In the three seats where the results are not a forgone conclusion, the flow of money on Liberal candidates over the last few days has been very strong.

The Liberal Party are now favourites to win Braddon and Longman and in Mayo, Liberal candidate Georgina Downer has firmed from $4.20 into $2.75.

If the punters are right, Sublime-Saturday would see Labor lose Braddon and Longman and could see Liberal’s sneak back in Mayo.

If so, it would be odds on that Prime Minister Turnbull would go to the polls as soon as possible, not only to take advantage of the by-election fallout, but, from a different angle, go before the housing market and the economy really hit the wall, probably in late 2018 or 2019.

BRADDON

Liberals $1.70 (was $2.25)
Labor $2.05 (was $1.65)

MAYO

Liberals $2.75 (was $4.20)
Centre Alliance $1.35 (was $1.15)

LONGMAN

Liberals $1.50 (was $2.00)
Labor $2.50 (was $1.85)

 

 

Tue, 10 Jul 2018  |  

This article first appeared on the Business Insider website at this link: https://www.businessinsider.com.au/inequality-economic-growth-australia-2018-7 

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Tackling inequality has the potential to drive the kind of economic growth Australia has been looking for

In the decade or so since the global banking and financial crisis plunged the world into the Great Recession, policy makers around the world have been adopting a range of policies that were previously considered ‘unconventional’ as they has sought to promote economic growth, lower unemployment and reflate economic conditions.

Think about some of those policies.

Negative interest rates – fancy being paid to borrow money!

Quantitative easing or QE, which has been colloquially referred to as central banks printing money and dropping it into the streets out of a helicopter. Government debt levels exploded to levels only seen when the world was at war as revenue collapsed and in some instances, fiscal stimulus measures were implemented. To this day, governments are struggling to get their budgets anywhere near balance, let alone in a position to reduce debt.

It is clear, or at least it should be, that these policies cannot be in place forever. At some point, interest rates will normalise, central banks will have to mop up the excess cash from the economy and budgets will need to be repaired. This begs the vital questions of how to pull off these tricky maneuvers without disrupting financial markets and the economy?

I think I have an answer.

It will not appeal to everyone and is politically challenging.

It is to do with making society less unequal or, if you wish to avoid two negatives, making society more equal. The economic debate on inequality of income and wealth shows, unambiguously, that as inequality increases, the rate of economic growth slows or at least is slower than it would otherwise be.

In simple terms, the link between more equality and stronger economic growth is based on the observation that if, for example, a low income earner gets an extra $20 a week in their pocket, they are more inclined to spend most if not all of it, whereas a $20 a week extra to a very high income earner – think a billionaire – will have little influence on their spending patterns. If the tax system is structured in a way that sees low income earners taking home more pay while high income earners take home a little less, the economy will be boosted by the extra spending of the low income earner.

This extra spending will deliver a higher rate of economic growth which will, in turn, boost demand for labour and this will lower the unemployment rate. Such a policy initiative can be revenue neutral to the budget. This requires the very well off to pay more tax or get less tax deductions and those proceeds are redirected to low income earners.

This is where the political problem can emerge. As we can see in the current debate about income and company tax cuts, issues of fairness and equity are important aspects of the case for and against lower company tax rates and the introduction of a flat tax rate for both low and high income earners (those on $40,000 and $200,000 will pay the same marginal tax rate).

Polls show that many people are against the company tax cuts, largely because of fairness issues. There are other areas where inequality can hamper economic growth, including access to education and health care.

People on high incomes usually have little trouble accessing the best quality of health care and education. Poorer people often struggle on these fronts. Think access to health services in the public health system versus the private sector.
Wealth, health, and education This matters for economic growth because good health and high levels of skills and educational attainment are positively correlated with economic growth.

Countries with an educated workforce are generally rich. This is why most people want to have a good education for themselves and their children. It pays off not only for the individual, but for society.

Health care is also important. People who are sick do not go to work as often as those who are healthy. This extends to people taking time off work to care for sick relatives who have less access to health professionals.  To the extent that access to high quality health care allows the population to be fit enough to turn up to work, there is a clear productivity boost from wide access to good health care.

All of which goes to the point that economic growth can be nurtured by more than just interest rates, printing money, tax and government spending.

Policies that reducing income equality and improve access of low income people to education and health care is good for GDP.

Maybe policies aimed at reducing inequality will be the new wave of thinking when it come to generating stronger economic growth.  It will take bold political leadership but when other policies have had limited success, it seems a matter of time before this path is taken.

Thu, 05 Jul 2018  |  

I prepared a research paper on issues associated with the economic and financial security for women. The report is being considered by the Minister for Women, Kelly O’Dwyer and will be part of a bi-partisan parliamentary discussion on the critical policy issues associated that can be developed to enhance the economic security for women.

The report can be seen at this link: https://www.security4women.org.au/wp-content/uploads/20180625-eS4W_White-Paper_Defining-the-Concept-of-Economic-Security-for-Women.pdf 

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Defining the concept of economic security for all women & Policy recommendations to boost women’s economic security

Boosting Economic Security for All Women

OBJECTIVE: To raise awareness and contribute effectively to development and implementation of policy that impacts all women living in Australia and ensures women’s equal place in society, in the Government’s policy priority area of improving women’s economic independence and financial security.

The current policy approach to childcare, superannuation, education, jobs and financial literacy is not keeping up with changes in social attitudes, structural changes in the economy and demographic changes.

The paper brings together research and analysis of specific issues that feed into the overarching issues of economic and financial security for women. We are grateful for the efforts, thoroughness and insightful nature of that work. This paper highlights some of the policy reforms that will be needed if women’s financial and economic security is to be enhanced.

It is a next step in the process that will inevitably be built upon as steps are taken to improve economic security for women.

Economic Security for Women

One of the well-established and central platforms of economic and social policy is to deliver economic and financial security for all members of society.

Economic security entails a number of basic conditions, but has as a central underpinning an ability, throughout life, to afford to have shelter, food and basic living expenses covered. Financial security also means opening access to opportunities not only at these basic levels of living standards, but to also achieve higher levels of security and well-being through education, training and employment opportunities.

Paid employment is one of the benchmarks for financial security, but in the circumstances where many women have either sporadic or minimal opportunities to engage in paid work throughout their adult life, a government provided, broadly based, financial safety net is essential if economic security for women is to be enhanced.

Fri, 29 Jun 2018  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo 7 Finance website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/watch-mortgage-rates-rise-001427435.html 

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Watch out! Your mortgage rates are about to rise

Have you got a mortgage?

Beware! Your interest rates are on the rise and it has nothing to do with the Reserve Bank changes in official rates. Higher mortgage rates are starting to flow because the banks are confronting higher borrowing costs because of a jump in money market interest rates that has been linked to the interest rate hikes in the US and a tightening in global credit conditions.

For owner-occupier loans, the Bank of Queensland has announced an increase of 9 basis points (0.09 percentage points) for principal and interest rate loans and 15 basis points move for interest only loans. The other banks are certain to follow as they struggle to maintain their net interest margins in the wake of the surge in the cost of capital.

While 10 or 15 basis points doesn’t sound like a significant change in borrowing costs, it is about to hit borrowers repayment schedules at a time when household incomes are already being squeezed by near record low wages growth, an uncertain outlook for employment, falling wealth as the house price cycle turns lower and low savings.

Wed, 27 Jun 2018  |  

This article first appeared on the Business Insider web site at this link: https://www.businessinsider.com.au/the-rba-seems-to-be-running-monetary-policy-on-a-hunch-2018-6 

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The RBA seems to be running monetary policy on a hunch

RBA Governor Philip Lowe made a few quite sensational comments when he spoke at the European Central Bank’s forum in Portugal last week.

Sensational, because it shows the RBA under his stewardship is targeting higher than necessary unemployment as the tool for containing household debt and he has all but abandoned the RBA’s inflation target which has been in place for over 25 years.

Recent data shows Australia failing to make meaningful inroads into reducing unemployment, as Australian interest rates have remained well above those in the rest of the industrialised world.

Lowe acknowledged he and his RBA were the odd ones out in a room of central bankers, noting that others had reacted to high unemployment and extremely low inflation by cutting interest rates to near or below zero and many implemented quantitative easing as a means to kick-start their economies, while the RBA has stopped cutting interest rates at 1.5 per cent, despite low inflation and persistently high unemployment.

The RBA is the odd one out too, because Australia’s unemployment has been hovering around 5.5 per cent for the past year, little changed from where it was 4 or 5 years ago, when in the US, Japan and Eurozone, unemployment rates have cascaded lower and have started to underpin a noticeable pick-up in wages.

Mon, 25 Jun 2018  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo7 Finance website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/proposed-income-tax-cuts-benefit-230812222.html 

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Would proposed income tax cuts benefit you?

Cuts in income taxes are a hot political issue at the moment, with the government trying to get its seven-year plan for lower income taxes through the Senate.

Whether those tax cuts are affordable in the current era of budget deficits and rising government debt is an important issue. Many economists reckon the budget should be in healthy surplus before the government sprays tax cuts around the community. This seems a sensible take, given the risks unfolding for the economy as house prices fall, wages growth hovers near record lows and the global economy starts to cool. If these issues bite the Australian economy, the return to budget surplus will be pushed back a further few years not least because of tax cuts that should not have been delivered.

There is also the vital issue of whether there are higher priorities for the $144 billion the government is planning to forgo to fund the lower tax scales. This issue is where the political debate is also gaining heat with Labor reckoning the money would be better allocated to health, education and funding the ABC.

There is another issue, which unfortunately gets too little attention, and that is if we are to proceed with income tax cuts over the next few years, who should get them?

Tue, 19 Jun 2018  |  

This is a thoroughly enjoying and I trust interesting podcast I did with the excellent Paul Colgan and the hugely knowledgeable David Scutt.

Click on the link: https://www.businessinsider.com.au/podcast-devils-and-details-stephen-koukoulas-2018-6

Paul and David do a regular podcast "Devels and Detals" on the economy and markets - I strongly recommend it.

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The case for rate cuts, the wages conundrum and the end of QE

Stephen Koukoulas is one of the few economists in Australia who believes the RBA should be cutting rates.

That’s where we start this week on the Devils and Details economics and markets podcast, with the conversation also covering the major central banking decisions from the Fed and the ECB this week, and the impact of the proposed changes to negative gearing on the housing market — which gained a lot of attention this week after the release of the report by RiskWise warning of the potential for severe unintended consequences in some geographical areas from Labor’s policy plans.

You can find the show on iTunes or under “Devils and Details” on your podcasting platform of choice.

 

Mon, 18 Jun 2018  |  

This article first appeared on the Business Insider website at this link: https://www.businessinsider.com.au/rba-rate-cut-2018-6

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The remarkably simple case for an RBA rate cut

The performance of the Australian economy is a bit like my old report cards at school: “Doing reasonably well, but could do better”.

Unlike my approach to school work, which only impacted me, the current policy complacency is seeing unemployment rise, wages growth remain in the doldrums and our $1.8 trillion economy underperform. In the latest test of economic growth, the 3.1 per cent annual GDP growth rate for the March quarter was reasonably good.

It was close the long run trend and a welcome result given the performance of the economy in recent years.

Alas, it is probable that this 3.1 per cent growth rate will turn out to be a “one-off” spike, with some pull-back in the June quarter highly likely from a lower contribution to GDP from net exports, inventories and government demand. When the June quarter national accounts are released in early September, annual GDP growth is likely to slip back to around 2.7 per cent.

Mon, 18 Jun 2018  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo 7 Finance website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/3013537-004842668.html 

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3 reasons to be spooked about the economy

Optimism about the Australia economy is rapidly being eroded by the hard reality of a weakening in the labour market, falls in house prices, a tightening in credit and chronically low wages growth. The labour force data for May were not good news, even with the blip lower in the unemployment rate.

Employment rose a tepid 12,000 in May, with full time jobs dropping a chunky 20,600 which was offset by a 32,600 rise in part time roles.

The jobs bonanza of 2017 has turning into a jobs famine. In the four months since January, employment has risen by a total of just 26,000 at a time when the working age population has surged by over 110,000. In other words, the economy is generating jobs for less than a quarter of people being added to the workforce. The economy simply isn’t strong enough to create employment for the increase in population through immigration and natural increase.

Indeed, the average monthly increase in employment over the past four months has been a paltry 6,500, down from the 34,400 per month during 2017. At this rate, employment growth in 2018 will be lucky to reach 150,000.

Fri, 08 Jun 2018  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo7 Finance web site at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/concern-mounting-australias-economic-outlook-032051438.html 

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Why concern is mounting for Australia's economic outlook

The latest flood of economic data was more of the same – mixed, with a few snippets of good news offset by bits of weaker news. That said, there is general agreement about the unfolding risks that are pointing to more downs than ups in the period ahead.

The GDP data were reasonable – annual economic growth of 3.1 per cent over the year to the March quarter is around the growth rate that Australia should aim for. But such is the saw-tooth nature of the quarterly data (the last five quarterly GDP growth rates have been 1.0, 0.5, 0.5, 1.0 and 0.3 per cent) that next quarter, annual growth is likely to slip back a few notches. It is also worth noting that the average rate of annual GDP growth since the end of 2007 has been 2.5 per cent which is a long way from what should be registered if the economy was doing well in a sustained fashion. Another quarter or two of 3 per cent plus GDP is needed to confirm the economy is finally into a stronger growth path.

And this is where the concerns lie.

There is growing caution about the economic outlook largely as a result of the risks to household spending.

The level of household savings has dropped to a 10 year low. It seems spending growth is being sustained by lower savings which are in part offsetting falling wealth and weak wages growth. While the Reserve Bank of Australia is comfortable with the recent falls in house prices, there is a clear economic overlap in house price momentum, household wealth and spending.

That overlap goes along the lines that when house prices are strong, many home owners are wealthy and as a result, they are able to build their spending either by saving less or borrowing against their appreciating asset. Until recently, household spending in Sydney and Melbourne was amongst the strongest in Australia and this was where house prices were strongest. In Perth, conversely, where prices have been weak for several years, household spending was particularly weak.

Since late last year, house prices have dropped around 4.5 per cent in Sydney and by close to 2 per cent in Melbourne. This has coincided with a slowing in retail sales in NSW and Victoria which is why the pace of overall economic growth may ease back over the second half of 2018 and into 2019.

It is also important to note that wages growth, the other critical driver of consumer spending, remains mired near record lows around 2 per cent. This is undermining the ability of consumers to increase their spending. With the recent data flow confirming weak retail spending, a lull in dwelling construction, well contained inflation and a potential loss of growth momentum from the global economy, it is easy to see why the Reserve Bank of Australia has not followed through and delivered an interest rate rise.

While business expectations are strong, as measured in both the illion and NAB business surveys, it is not translating to a lift in business investment which is a vital element of any strongly performing economy. Suffice to say, the economy is doing reasonably well but is still not strong enough to drive a lowering in the unemployment rate which has actually edged up in recent months.

The jury is out whether the economy can sustain the good news in areas like GDP growth and business expectations, or whether low savings, weak wages, and a slide in housing will drag it lower.

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.