Stephen Koukoulas

Stephen Koukoulas

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.

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.

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?

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

This article first appeared on the Business Insider web site at this link: https://www.businessinsider.com.au/minimum-wage-increase-stephen-koukoulas-2018-6 

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Australia's opponents of the minimum wage increase ignore this truth: higher pay means more people working

The 3.5 per cent increase in the minimum wage announced by the Fair Work Commissionwas slammed in some quarters, with Australian Industry Group Chief Executive Innes Willox saying it would “be a major disincentive to employment”. Not to be outdone, Russell Zimmerman, the Executive Director of the Australian Retailers Association said the wage rise would “delay staff employment and potentially lead to job losses”.

These views are commonplace amongst the bulk of economists and policy makers, but it reflects a lop-sided view of the economics of labour markets.

There is an overwhelming bias that looks at low wages as the fundamentally important way to achieve higher employment and a lower unemployment rate, with high wages growth hurting employment as Willox and Zimmerman suggest. As the core of this view is one part of the basic economic theory of supply, demand and prices.

The view is that if wages (the price of labour) are held lower, demand for workers (from employers) would increase and as a result, the level of employment will rise and the unemployment rate will fall. This approach to labour market economics ignores the supply side which in this instance is a workers’ willingness to supply their labour for a given wage.

If wages are too low the worker will not supply their labour. Wages being “too low” includes leaving the worker a sufficient surplus of cash after covering the cost of transport to and from work, making alternative plans in their household when the worker is at work and the give up of leisure time, among other things.

Friday, 01 June 2018 09:38

Is the Aussie economy on the rocks?

This article first appeared on the Yahoo7 Finance website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/aussie-economy-rocks-050403466.html 

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Is the Aussie economy on the rocks?

I often wonder why people who analyse and comment on the economy don’t keep up to date with unfolding events.

Economics is a wonderful thing. It is vibrant, it changes every week, every month and every quarter as fresh news on inflation, employment, consumer spending, housing, business investment and a whole host of other variables are released. The reason this is important is that the recent, up to date information on the Australian economy is, all of a sudden, disconcerting.

While 2017 did see the strongest growth in employment on record, with an average increase in employment of 34,600 a month, in the three months to April 2018, the averAge monthly increase WAs just 4,800. This has seen the unemployment rate rise from what was a 5 year low of 5.4 per cent to 5.6 per cent.

The labour market has moved on from 2017.

What’s more, the ANZ job advertisement series, which provides a good guide to future trends in the labour market, has fallen for the last three months.

I was one of the panel members of this podcast which was on ABC Radio National. 25 minutes of interesting discussion.

At this link: https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/politics-panel-australias-intergenerational-gap/9798848 

Politics Panel: Australia's intergenerational gap

 With the federal budget handed down and the battle lines emerging for the next election, Australia's intergenerational gap is shaping up as a major political issue.

The Coalition is promising a host of sweeteners for retired voters while Labor is promising to pump more money into education and get housing prices down.
If you're a voter, there's a good chance your view of those promises will be informed by the year you were born.

THE LATEST FROM THE KOUK

“Bitterly disappointing”: We are seeing a once in a generation policy failure

Thu, 12 Sep 2019

This article first appeared on the Yahoo Finance website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/rba-interest-rates-government-can-stimulate-economy-but-wont-210050650.html 

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“Bitterly disappointing”: We are seeing a once in a generation policy failure

Imagine having the power to promote economic growth, lower the unemployment rate and set in train the conditions to boost real wages growth and inflation?

It would be immensely satisfying to change policies to improve the living standards and quality of life for every day, hard-working Australians and their families.

Wouldn’t it?

Next imagine a harsh reality where economic growth is weak and slowing, the unemployment rate is rising and wages growth and inflation well below a satisfactory level, and you choose not to wield the power reverse these uncomfortable circumstances?

Doing nothing, unwilling to pump some much needed cash into the economy because of a political dogma wedded to a notion that budget surpluses are good and that holding interest rates unnecessarily high so you might dampen demand for houses – which is seen as a problem - and household debt overwhelms your power to make things better.

The RBA admits it stuffed things up – sort of

Mon, 22 Jul 2019

This article first appeared on the Yahoo website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/did-the-rb-as-monetary-policy-put-our-economy-at-risk-033940907.html

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The RBA admits it stuffed things up – sort of

The Reserve Bank of Australia needs to be congratulated for publishing research which implicitly confirms that it made a mistake when setting monetary policy in the period mid-2017 to early 2019.

Not that the research explicitly says that, but the RBA Discussion Paper, Cost-benefit Analysis of Leaning Against the Wind, written by Trent Saunders and Peter Tulip, makes the powerful conclusion that by keeping monetary policy tighter in order to “lean against” the risk of a financial crisis, there was a cost to the economy that is three to eight times larger than the benefit of minimising the risk of such a crisis eventuating.

The costs to the economy includes lower GDP growth and higher unemployment, that lasts for at least for several years.

A few terms first.

According to the Saunders/Tulip research, “leaning against the wind”, a term widely used in central banking, is “the policy of setting interest rates higher than a narrow interpretation of a central bank’s macroeconomic objectives would warrant due to concerns about financial instability”. In the RBA’s case, the “narrow interpretation” of the RBA’s objectives are the 2 to 3 per cent inflation target and full employment.

In the context of the period since 2017 and despite the RBA consistently undershooting its inflation target and with labour underutilisation significantly above the level consistent with full employment, the RBA steadfastly refused to ease monetary policy (cut official interest rates) because it considered higher interest rate settings were appropriate to “lean against” house price growth and elevated levels of household debt.