Stephen Koukoulas

Stephen Koukoulas

This article first appeared on the Yahoo7 Finance website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/trump-cause-next-global-recession-heres-233953884.html 

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Trump could cause the next global recession: here's how

The Trump trade wars threaten the global economy. This is not an exaggeration or headline grabbing claim, but an economic slump based on a US inspired global trade war is a distinct and growing possibility as it would dislocate global trade flows, production chains and bottom line economic growth.

Up until a few weeks ago, there was a strong enthusiasm for the economic policies of US President Donald Trump. Tax cuts and planned infrastructure spending were seen to be good for the US and world economies. US stocks and many around the rest of the world rose strongly, to a series of record highs. At the same time, bond yields (market interest rates) surged as the market priced in interest rate hikes and inflation risks from the ‘pro-growth’ policies. It was seen to be good news.

Very few, it seems, were worried about the consequences for US government debt and the budget deficit from this cash splash, especially when the US Federal Reserve was already on a well publicised path to hiking interest rates.

About a month or two ago, a few of the more enlightened and inquisitive analysts started to focus on the fact that the annual budget deficit under Trump was poised to explode above US$1 trillion with US government set to exceed 100 per cent of annual GDP.

A debt binge fuelled by tax cuts was a threat to the economy after the temporary sugar hit.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018 09:02

26 years and no recession – what might go wrong

This article first appeared on the FIIG website at this link: https://thewire.fiig.com.au/article/commentary/opinion/2018/02/25/26-years-and-no-recession-what-might-go-wrong 

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26 years and no recession – what might go wrong

 Australians should be justifiably proud of the fact that the last recession in Australia ended in the June quarter 1991, over 26 years ago. This means around half the current workforce has never had to deal with the pain and suffering – both financial and emotional – that a recession delivers.

While the economy is hardly on fire at the moment, it is pretty safe to say there is no material threat of a recession. Indeed, there are few identifiable issues that can be seen as genuine triggers for what some are suggesting is a long overdue recession.

As 2018 kicks off, business investment is rapidly recovering from the mining sector imposed slump and public sector spending is strong. These items alone will provide a foundation for the economy for the next year or two, also supported by the export sector, which should perform well following steady growth in the global economy. Despite moderate growth in household spending due to weak wages growth and high levels of household debt, it is still expanding and adding to bottom line GDP. In other words, it is not falling and offsetting the positive news in business investment and public spending.

For a recession to emerge as a material threat, household consumption has to fall, or business investment and public infrastructure spending has to reverse sharply, neither of which are currently on the radar.

Forecasting a recession is easy

Forecasting recessions is easy and many people seem to make a living out of it.

This article first appeared on the Yahoo 7 Finance website at this link https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/heres-expect-2018-federal-budget-004452841.html 

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Here's what we could expect for the 2018 Federal Budget

Treasurer Scott Morrison is about to do cartwheels down the corridors of Parliament House, such is the unexpected improvement in the budget position over the past year.

A surprise surge in company tax collections, a lift in goods and services tax receipts and an undershoot in planned government spending has seen the forecast for the budget deficit for the first seven months of 2017-18 come in more than $6 billion lower than was assumed when the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook was released in December. If this trend continues through to the end of the financial year, the budget deficit could fall to around $15 billion which would be the smallest deficit in the current cycle, that is, since the last budget surplus was recorded in 2007-08 and all of the improvement will have been driven by a surge in tax receipts.

More importantly, the improved budget momentum will almost certainly parlay through to the so-called out-years of the budget which will leave to smaller deficits and larger surpluses.

While there is always plenty of debate about the economic parameters underpinning the budget forecasts over the 3 or 4 years of the forward estimates, when Morrison hands down the budget on 8 May, he is likely to announce that budget position over the four years has markedly improved.

Thursday, 22 February 2018 09:12

Could tax cuts threaten our AAA credit rating?

This article was written for The Wire, a publication produced by FIIG. This link is here: https://thewire.fiig.com.au/article/commentary/opinion/2018/02/16/could-tax-cuts-threaten-our-aaa-credit-rating

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Could tax cuts threaten our AAA credit rating?

In just over 10 weeks, on 8 May to be exact, Treasurer Scott Morrison will deliver the 2018-19 budget - almost certainly the last before the next election.

The budget is likely to offer mixed news, but encouragingly remain on target to a small budget surplus in 2020-21.

Importantly, from both an economic and political perspective, there has been some upside to government tax receipts since the mid year economic and fiscal update was published in December. This is largely the result of company tax receipts running strongly as profits and therefore tax payments have been buoyed by higher commodity prices, boosting the financial position of mining companies. Strong employment growth has kept income tax payments flowing freely to Treasury, despite soft wages growth.

If the current speculation from Canberra is correct, and it appears to be well founded, the government will use the windfall revenue gains to promise income tax cuts on top of the company tax cuts it is currently trying to get through parliament.

Tax cuts stimulate growth

While the timing and magnitude of the income tax cuts is yet to be revealed, there is little doubt that there will be something of a sugar hit to the economy if the Coalition win the election and the tax cut legislation is passed. There will plainly be more cash in the economy rather than in the government coffers at the time the tax cuts are delivered. This would support bottom line economic growth and at the margin, add to inflation. Financial markets would also be impacted, if the US is any indication.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018 08:07

When next for the Aussie dollar?

This article first appeared on the Yaho7 Finance web site at this link https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/next-aussie-dollar-041651007.html 

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What next for the Aussie dollar?

It has been a turbulent few weeks for financial markets, including for the Aussie dollar. The AUD has been on a roller coaster, having reached a high of 81.2 US cents in late January and a low of 77.7 US cents about 10 days ago having traded at a low around 75 cents in December.

It is currently trading around 79.5 US cents, with the market divided about which direction will break over the next 12 months.

Foreign exchange markets are driven by many factors. For the Australian dollar, there are some powerful influences that have shown to determine its fortunes. One of those is the gap in interest rates between Australian and the rest of the world. When Australian interest rates are substantially above those of the rest of the world, there is often a bias from investors towards the AUD which drives it higher. When the interest rate gap compresses, the appeal of the AUD is reduced.

Which brings us to a fascinating situation at the moment, when we compare Australia and the US. With the US Federal Reserve embarking on a series of interest rate increases and the Reserve Bank of Australia squarely on hold, the interest rate gap between Australia and the US is effectively zero. This is not only for the official cash rate, but also for 10 year government bonds. This is a rare occurrence and prospective changes in the interest rate gap is one reason why the risks favour the AUD falling back towards 70 US cents over the next year or so.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018 12:04

Sydney house prices going from hero to zero

According to the wonderful Corelogic house price series, Sydney house prices have grown by 0.00 per cent over the past year.

This annual result masks what are some weaker trends for the Sydney housing market including the fact that prices have fallen 3.8 per cent from the September 2017 peak. In other words, a dwelling that was $1,000,000 in September is now worth around $962,000, a drop of $38,000.

Is this a problem?

Not yet.

Could it become a problem?

This article first appeared on the Yahoo7 Finance website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/2447510-043200008.html 

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Why the jobs market is like baked beans on toast

The January labour force data were a bit like baked beans on toast.

Not horrible, but hardly the sort of thing that is going to inspire joy and optimism about the future. The unemployment rate remains at 5.5 per cent which is significantly above most estimates of full employment for Australia and is exactly the same as it was in May 2017.

In other words, there has been no progress in reducing Australia’s stubbornly high unemployment rate since the budget 8 months ago even though the government likes to crow about the level of job creation in recent times. Despite this bluster and noisy rhetoric about job creation, the fact is the unemployment rate remains uncomfortably high and no one is doing anything about it.

This article was written for The Wire, a publication produced by FIIG. The link is here https://thewire.fiig.com.au/article/commentary/opinion/2018/02/13/australia-has-three-problems-chronic-inflation-low-gdp-and-falling-house-prices 

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Australia has three problems – chronically low inflation, low GDP and falling house prices

If the latest forecasts from the RBA’s February Statement on monetary policy prove to be correct, underlying inflation will not hit the mid point of the RBA target for at least the next two years, which is as far as the current RBA forecasts extend. The RBA inflation forecasts are predicated on annual real GDP growth registering what seem at face value, decent levels around 3.25 per cent. If this figure comes to fruition, inflation will still remain low, as the RBA notes. Implicitly, GDP growth needs to be materially faster – say 3.75 per cent per annum – for inflation to accelerate to the middle of the target band.

Conversely and obviously, if there is any slight disappointment on the growth outlook – perhaps with housing being weaker than anticipated, or global conditions undershooting the current rosy outlook that results in annual GDP hovering around 2.75 per cent rather than at 3.25 per cent – the risk on those already weak inflation forecasts from the RBA will be squarely to the downside.

The December quarter CPI figure confirmed inflation was running dead. Underlying inflation is actually decelerating with an annualised increase of just 1.6 per cent in the second half of 2017, down from 2.1 per cent in the first half of the year.
While there is considerable debate why this inflation undershoot has been occurring, one simple point is that economic growth in Australia has been too low for many years. Since the start of 2013, the average annual rate of real GDP growth has been a tepid 2.4 per cent. This is a stunning 0.75 per cent per annum below what was considered the long term trend, which means that a large output gap has been accumulated over the time.

The hangover of the global financial crisis is still with us

With the economy underperforming over all those years, it is little wonder that over 13.5 per cent of the labour force is ‘underutilised’ – either unemployed or underemployed.

The following is s series of tweets I recently posted and given the feedback, I thought there were worthy of a blog post.

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The RBA is finally coming around to the fact that the economy is not strong and there is oodles of spare capacity that will not be mopped up for possibly several years.

The RBA were shattered, almost personally, with the low CPI result for Q4 and the jump in unemployment in December. Of vital importance, it has come to the view that the good employment data are not representative of labour force health - unemployment and underemployment are they key.

Wages growth and hence inflation will not pick up while the economy muddles along and the slack in the labour market remains.

Indeed, some basic modelling suggest inflation is more likely to fall below 1% than reach 3% in the next 2 years, even if GDP only marginally undershoots the RBA's very upbeat outlook.

House price are falling: This is good news, for sure, but careful what you wish for. The first few months of 2018 could spell some risks if house price falls accelerate and widen geographically.

Thursday, 01 February 2018 19:03

Barnaby Joyce and the economics of housing

Deputy Prime Minister and former Shadow Minister for Finance and Debt Reduction came up with an economic doozie when he recommended that people “cash out your house in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane, and buy a house in Armidale and you put money in the bank”.

It is a quaint idea until you look at a few basic facts.

The combined population of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane is around 13 million.

According to the website realestate.com.au, there are 477 properties for sale in Armidale. There are a further 160 available for rent. If 0.004 per cent of the population of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane took up the challenge and bought and rented in Armidale, all properties would be sold and rented. There would be a crazed bidding for housing and prices would go crazy and indeed, there would be a serious dwelling shortage.

Local renters would be crunched when rents were renegotiated and propbably have to leave.

Interestingly, the population of Armidale is 23,000. It would rise 3 fold if just 0.5 per cent of the people of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane took up Mr Joyce’s challenge to move. Imagine the stress on the schools, hospitals and roads.

Mr Joyce’s idea is a good one as long as no one takes it up.

THE LATEST FROM THE KOUK

It’s time to end the “strong economy” propaganda

Thu, 20 Jun 2019

This article first appeared on the Yahoo Finance website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/its-time-end-strong-economy-propaganda-230414837.html 

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It’s time to end the “strong economy” propaganda

For the last year or so, it has been obvious to anyone with an open mind that the economy is in trouble. Unfortunately, the government and the Reserve Bank not only ignored this growth slump, but they ran a propaganda campaign saying the economy was “strong”, that unemployment would keep falling and wages growth was poised to pick up.

It might have been politics that lead the RBA and Treasury to this view with the recent election swinging on the economic credentials of both major parties. Ahead of the election, the RBA and Treasury were loathe to undermine the government with an honest assessment of the rapidly spreading economic problems.

It is possible that the forecasts were a simple error, which sometimes happens when an external shock hits the economy.

Either way, things are so bad in the economy right now that forecasters are rushing to out-do each other on how low interest rates will go in this cycle. Some are canvassing negative interest rates, printing money or the need for a fiscal policy boost if the economy remains in its economic funk.

Time will tell.

The range of forecasts that where regularly produced by the government (Treasury) and the RBA up until very recently were unambiguously optimistic. The forecasts ignored all hard data on the economy, which suggests it may have been a political strategy to remain upbeat, rather than it being a clumsy forecasting error.

An update on my house price bet with Tony Locantro

Thu, 20 Jun 2019

This article first appeared on the Yahoo Finance website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/house-prices-are-still-dropping-but-bottom-sight-210000929.html 

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An update on my house price bet with Tony Locantro

It is difficult to think of a bigger issue that gets Australians fired up than house prices.Regular readers will know that back in September 2018, I made a bet on house prices with Tony Locantro, a fired-up Investment Manager with Alto Capital in Perth.

Tony wont mind me saying this, but he is what is called an ‘uber bear’ on house prices – he reckons prices are grossly inflated and are overdue to collapse. On the other hand, I reckon there is a cycle and that after the surge up to 2017, house price falls were inevitable, but that the decline would last only a couple of years and would not be too severe.

The bet was framed around a peak-to-trough fall in prices of 35.0 per cent in either Sydney, Melbourne or the 8 capital cities measure used by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. If prices fell by more than 35 per cent at any stage from the peak until the end of 2021, Tony would win, if the fall was less than 35 per cent, I would win.

Simple.

That background is important because the ABS just released the official dwelling price data for the March quarter 2019.

In the quarter, dwelling prices fell 3.0 per cent in the 8 capital cities and dropped 3.9 per cent in Sydney and 3.8 per cent in Melbourne.