Blog

Thu, 02 Mar 2017  |  

Click on the link to hear the podcast of me on The Minefield talking Sunday penalty rates, among other things, with Scott Stephens and Waleed Aly.

https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/theminefield/penalty-rates:-why-should-sunday-stay-special/8310496 

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Late last week, the Fair Work Commission handed down its long awaited decision to reduce penalty rates for Sunday workers in fast-food, retail and hospitality.

Federal politicians promptly framed the matter in the predictable terms of the conflict between the interests of Capital and the interests of Labour, and took their sides accordingly. But is the tension between Capital and Labour – the sustainability of small business versus the rights of workers – really what is at the heart of this matter, or is there something deeper at stake?

Wed, 01 Mar 2017  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo 7 website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/798497-220715204.html

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Housing affordability - still favourable according to the RBA

The housing affordability issue remains a hot-button point in Australia with prices rising at a solid pace.

This rise in prices has created a perception that housing is getting further out of reach for many, especially first home buyers, as the amount of money that needs to be borrowed to buy a house continues to increases at a pace about incomes.

And that is patently true. In the last year alone, house prices are up around 10 per cent, while incomes are up around 2 per cent.

But the measure of housing affordability that looks solely on house prices and incomes hides a vital element – namely, interest rates. It almost goes without saying that the interest rates paid on a mortgage will fundamentally determine the affordability of that loan and therefore that house.

Paying 4.5 per cent, as is commonly available for a standard mortgage now, it a lot easier – that is affordable – compared with the same loan charging a 9 per cent interest rate, by way of example.

Mon, 27 Feb 2017  |  

The election betting markets react to the weight of money punters place on each possible outcome. When there is a disproportionate flow on one side, its odds shorten (ie, is more likely to win) and the other side widens.

As a result the betting markets reveal the weighted average probability of each possible outcome, be that in elections or on any other event.

In terms of the next Federal election, the opinion polls have Labor 6, 8 or 10 points ahead of the Coalition. Any of these results would result in a thumping election win for Labor.

The betting markets are not as convincing about Labor’s chances at the next election. Labor is favourite, but not overwhelmingly so. In other words, punters are not willing to place their hard earned cash on Labor in sufficient volume at the current odds to drive the price lower. It could be because the election is still probably two years away and a lot might happen between now and then, or that Malcolm Turnbull might pull a proverbial rabbit out of the hat – who knows, but the latest (and best) odds show:

Mon, 27 Feb 2017  |  

The election betting markets react to the weight of money punters place on each possible outcome. When there is a disproportionate flow on one side, its odds shorten (ie, is more likely to win) and the other side widens.

As a result the betting markets reveal the weighted average probability of each possible outcome, be that in elections or on any other event.

In terms of the next Federal election, the opinion polls have Labor 6, 8 or 10 points ahead of the Coalition. Any of these results would result in a thumping election win for Labor.

The betting markets are not as convincing about Labor’s chances at the next election. Labor is favourite, but not overwhelmingly so. In other words, punters are not willing to place their hard earned cash on Labor in sufficient volume at the current odds to drive the price lower. It could be because the election is still probably two years away and a lot might happen between now and then, or that Malcolm Turnbull might pull a proverbial rabbit out of the hat – who knows, but the latest (and best) odds show:

Fri, 24 Feb 2017  |  

New trade:

The RBA has an obsession with house prices in Sydney and Melbourne and is prepared to hold all other sectors, and the rest of the country, to ransom as it wishes and hopes for those housing markets to weaken and some how for the other parts of the economy to pick up.

In my view, the RBA is (and has been) keeping monetary policy too tight for too long. In my view it is making a mistake not cutting rates in the wake of ongoing below trend GDP growth, record low wages, sustained low inflation and a horrid climate for business investment.

History shows that when central banks make a policy error, there are wonderful treading opportunities.

Wed, 22 Feb 2017  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo 7 Finance website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/a-jump-in-demand-to-do-something-about-the-supply-of-houses-034305361.html

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House prices:  Karratha and Sydney - why the divergence

The thousands of students heading off to university this month to start their economics degrees can do so knowing that the basic laws of the discipline still hold. “Yay” – they might say as they sit down to their first Economics 1001 lecture.

Supply and demand is king.

Shortages, gluts, price booms and crashes reflect the supply and demand dynamics. These are the most basic concepts in the study of economics and they apply to the real world.
These basic economic laws apply to the Australian housing market which is going through extraordinary turmoil with prices booming in some areas and crashing in others.

It is not just housing where economy theory turns into reality. In looking at the market for bananas, widgets, fine art or concert tickets, the interaction of supply and demand will always determine the price of those items. But let’s look at housing and think of the following issues and questions.

Based on detailed data from SQM Research, why is it that since 2012, house prices in Karratha Western Australia have fallen by around 65 per cent, while in the lower North Shore of Sydney, house prices have risen by around 120 per cent?

Mon, 20 Feb 2017  |  

This article first appeared on the Guardian website sat this link: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/16/balanced-budget-needs-higher-tax-take-but-which-taxes-should-be-hiked-stephen-koukoulas 

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Balanced budget needs higher tax take, but which taxes should be hiked?

The treasurer, Scott Morrison, appears to be having something of a Gough Whitlam moment. Not in terms of far-reaching social and economic reform, but rather a realisation that the size of government needs to increase. The electorate is demanding a certain base level of healthcare, education, disability care, roads, defence, infrastructure and all manner of goods and services.

Morrison is talking about the need to raise taxes to ensure these government services are provided while simultaneously moving the budget towards surplus, which is an essential element to avoiding the credit rating downgrade that appears to be just around the corner.

He is explicitly acknowledging that, to keep voters happy with decent services, spending must remain above 25% of GDP and perhaps needs to rise further, towards record highs.

Prior to the Whitlam government in the early 1970s, government spending and revenue was generally at, or a little below, 20% of GDP. With the Whitlam reforms, this rose to about 25%, and apart from the swings in line with the business cycle and policy changes over the past 40 years, it has remained around 25%. It has not reverted to pre-Whitlam levels. Not gone close.

Wed, 15 Feb 2017  |  

This article first appeared on The Constant Investor website at this link: It is behind a paywall for subscribers only https://theconstantinvestor.com/stephen-koukoulas-overview-170114/#Whydosofewpeoplenegativegearstocks 

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Why do so few people negative gear stocks?

In recent times, a lot of the focus of public policy has been on negative gearing and how the associated tax rules encourage ‘excessive’ investment in the housing market. This in turn, it is argued, pushes up house prices and freezes first home buyers out of the market. There is something in that argument which will no doubt carry on in 2017 and probably beyond.

What is often overlooked in the debate is the fact that negative gearing investment strategies also apply for shares, in the form of margin lending and related products. So why is it that the overwhelming focus of investors when they negative gear is dwellings and not shares?

Over the past decade or so, as property investment borrowing has boomed, margin lending for stocks has slumped.

According to data from the RBA, outstanding credit for investor housing stood at $562 billion in November 2016. This was up a staggering 319% from the level in December 2007 when it stood at $134 billion.

Mon, 13 Feb 2017  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo 7 Finance website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/aussie-dollar-where-art-thou-035132180.html 

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Why the Aussie dollar is flying high

The Australian dollar has been rising strongly over the past six months and not just against the US dollar where this morning it is hovering just under 78 cents.

The Aussie dollar is also buying over 0.72 euros, the highest level it has been since early 2015 and is up some 10 per cent since May last year. It is also strong against the British pound, Japanese yen and Canadian dollar. In simple terms, the Aussie dollar is flying.
The reasons for the strength are clear.

Importantly, Australia has some of the highest interest rates in the industrialised world which means global investors are keen to pick up a positive yield with their Australian holdings versus those in other countries. With the RBA signaling that is has no plans to cut interest rates and rates in Europe, Japan and Canada unlikely to be hiked any time soon, the Australian dollar is likely to remain attractive for some time.

Sun, 12 Feb 2017  |  

This Thursday sees the release of the January labour force data. We will see the update on a wide range of labour force measures including for unemployment.

In December, the unemployment rate stood at 5.82 per cent, which was the highest unemployment rate since January 2016. It was a poor result and reflects the ongoing sluggishness in the economy. The RBA, curiously and without much attention to the hard data, concluded in its regular Statement on Monetary Policy that the labour market was poised to improve. Who knows, it might turn out to be accurate. If so, terrific! The improvement must start now for the RBA to validate is upbeat stance and recent reluctance to cut interest rates.

If not and say the unemployment rate stays at 5.8 per cent or worse, rises, there will need to be a serious rethink about the current policy settings, including Australia having some of the highest interest rates in the industrialised world with an unemployment rate that is also above most non-European countries.

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.