Was that the sound of the economy hitting a brick wall?

Thu, 06 Apr 2017  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo 7 website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/sound-economy-hitting-brick-wall-013818115.html 

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Was that the sound of the economy hitting a brick wall?

Thump!

Was that the sound of the economy hitting a brick wall?

It looks like economic conditions have deteriorated in the early months of 2017 which means the government’s efforts to ramp up its preparations for the budget on 9 May are being undermined. As Treasury works through the latest numbers on government revenue and spending, it is having to put in weak numbers into its forecasting spreadsheet that will constrain its efforts to get the budget back into surplus within the next few years.

The economic news is starting to be of such concern that perhaps the budget deficit is dropping down the order of policy concerns, particularly if, as seems likely, the looming housing slump acts as a trigger to undermine consumer spending and the economy more generally.

Of most concern has been the stalling in employment growth and rise in the unemployment rate to just below 6 per cent. Linked to that is the rise, to a record high, for the underemployment rate. Just under 2 million people are currently unemployed or underemployed which is not only a social problem, but a macroeconomic one. Not working at all or not enough hours means there is a significant part of the workforce being underutilized, not earning – and spending – their wage and in doing so, getting the perpetual motion of economic growth entrenched.

At the same time, growth in wages is at a record low which has feed into the slump in retail sales growth which in February which recorded one of its weakest months in almost 17 years. Business investment remains sluggish, despite reasonable levels of business confidence, and credit growth continues to weaken. The only bright area for the economy is the strong performance of export volumes.

And even on this score, there are some worries starting to build. The surge in commodity prices that was evident during 2016 is starting to go into reverse. The iron ore price is now 15 per cent down from its recent high while coal prices have dropped around 30 per cent in recent months, both of which will pare back the gains to national income from what was a promising commodity price pick up.

A strong Keynesian would argue that these are not the circumstances where spending cuts and tax increases – the main means to return to budget surplus – are appropriate. Indeed, the case could be made for constructive fiscal stimulus to ensure the growth momentum of the economy picks up and the negative news on jobs and inflation reverses.

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Inflation is low and remains low

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 Australian budget is likely to confirm this is a big-spending, big-taxing government

Thu, 20 Apr 2017

This article first appeared on The Guardian website at this link: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/apr/19/the-australian-budget-is-likely-to-confirm-this-is-a-big-spending-big-taxing-government 

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The Australian budget is likely to confirm this is a big-spending, big-taxing government

While much of the focus of the upcoming federal budget will, quite rightly, be policy issues associated with housing affordability, areas of changes to spending and revenue, there will also be an opportunity to analyse the underlying values of the government.

This will be the fourth budget of the current Coalition government and will show us the ‘big picture’ of government policies and priorities. There will be data on aggregate government spending, taxation receipts, gross and net government debt and the budget deficit.

The most accurate way to analyse the trends in the key budget figures will be to assess them as a ratio of GDP. Government spending, for example, totalled $48.8bn in 1982-83 and this rose to $423.3bn in 2015-16, which is, at face value, an enormous increase. But spending actually fell from 25.8% of GDP in 1982-83 to 25.6% of GDP in 2015-16. It is a similar issue with government debt, the budget deficit and other benchmarks.

Based on the performance of the economy since the last fiscal update in December 2016, the budget is likely to confirm that this is a big-spending, big-taxing government with a strategy for continuing budget deficits and rising debt as it funds some of its pet projects.

It is all but certain that government debt will remain above 25% of GDP in 2017-18 and the forward estimates, meaning the government will be the first in the last 50 years to have spending at more than a quarter of GDP for eight straight years.