Ignore the spin, government debt is going up and up

Wed, 20 Dec 2017  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo 7 website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/2195187-050039322.html?soc_src=social-sh&soc_trk=tw 

 ----------------------------------------------------

Ignore the spin, government debt is going up and up

Despite all the spin and torture of the data, government debt is still rising, the return to budget surplus is based on fickle economic forecasts and the Turnbull government is on track to be one of the top 10 taxing governments in Australia’s history.

Gross government debt is already at a record at $520 billion and it will keep rising through till at least 2027-28 when it will reach a new record high just under $700 billion. Net government debt (which allows for some of the assets the government owns to offset gross debt), will reach a peace-time record in 2018-19 when it hits 19.2 per cent of GDP, having roughly doubled from the time of the 2013 election.

This is a long way from promises of the Liberal Party prior to it taking office to run budget surpluses and pay off debt.

With Treasurer Scott Morrison delivering the Mid Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, the new record levels for government debt were confirmed, notwithstanding a small narrowing in the budget deficit which was driven by an unexpected rise in the iron ore price which fed into company profits and taxes paid to the government, as well as higher superannuation taxes based on the solid performance of the stock market last year.

The budget is forecast to return to surplus in 2020-21, but this will require everything to ‘go right’ with the economy between now and then. GDP growth is forecast to pick up to 3 per cent in 2018-19 which, according to Treasury, will underpin a solid rise in employment and a further acceleration in wages. A stronger economy will deliver higher taxes which is the driver of the return to surplus, so the theory goes.

As has been evident in recent times, wages growth is weak, struggling to break above 2 per cent in annual terms and it is being held back by an underutilised workforce, technological change and globalisation.

The forecasts for a pick up in tax revenue need not only employment growth to drive PAYG tax receipts for the government, but wages growth to exceed 3 per cent for several years. This may occur and the government is banking on it, but at the moment the risks appear to the downside. Even a relatively small undershoot in wages growth costs the budget many billions of dollars which can quickly erode the surplus currently penciled in for 2020-21.

On the upside, Treasury has taken a cautious approach to forecasting the ever-volatile iron ore price. It is assuming the iron ore trades at US$55 a tonne, which is around $US10 a tonne below the current market price. This is an important driver for the budget bottom line. In the budget in May, Treasury estimated that for each US$1 a tonne change in the iron ore price, the budget bottom line is impacted by $430 million in each year. This means that a US$10 upside surprise in the iron ore price would add around $4.3 billion to government revenue in a single year and lock in larger surplus in 2020-21.

If the iron ore price remains firm, at around current levels, a large upgrade to the return to surplus may occur when the annual budget is handed down in May 2018. It would be the sort of news that would see the government move to reduce income taxes as the election draws near.

As is clear, the factors that influence the budget bottom line are many and they are usually unrelated. The key issues for the budget into 2018 will be wages, employment, iron ore and company profits. The government is banking on these being strong so that it can collect the tax revenue it needs to hand back in the form of pre-election tax cuts.

comments powered by Disqus

THE LATEST FROM THE KOUK

Don’t fall for the spin - Scott Morrison’s budget surplus is no certainty

Thu, 06 Dec 2018

This article first appeared on the Yahoo Finance web site at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/dont-fall-spin-scott-morrisons-budget-surplus-no-certainty-224422761.html 

--------------------------------------------------------

Don’t fall for the spin - Scott Morrison’s budget surplus is no certainty

Prime Minister Scott Morrison could yet be guilty of prematurely declaring that his government will deliver a budget surplus in 2018-19.

Sure, tax revenue is growing at a rapid pace and the government is underspending on a range of government services, but there are still seven long months to go between now and the end of the financial year that might yet blow up the surplus commitment.

PM Morrison’s ‘return to surplus’ boast is based, it appears, on hard data for the first four months of the 2018-19 financial year on revenue and spending information from the Department of Finance. These numbers do look strong, at least in terms of the budget numbers and if the trends on revenue and spending continue, the budget will probably be in surplus. Treasury will be factoring in ongoing economic growth, no increase in the unemployment rate and buoyant iron ore and coal prices over the remainder of the financial year. These forecasts and hence the budget bottom line are subject to a good deal of uncertainty, as they are every year.

If, as is distinctly possible, the economy stalls in the March and June quarters 2019, commodity prices continue to weaken and if there are some unexpected increases in government spending, the current erroneous forecasts for revenue and spending could leave the budget in deficit.

Change of view on monetary policy

Wed, 05 Dec 2018

In the wake of the September quarter national accounts, and with accumulating information on house prices, dwelling investment, the global economy and spare capacity in the labour market, I have revised my outlook for official interest rates.

For some time, I have been expecting the RBA to cut the official cash rate to 1.0 per cent, a forecast that has been wrong (clearly) given its decision to leave rates steady right through 2018.

That said, it has been a highly profitable call with the market pricing interest rate hikes when the call was made which has yielded a decent return as time has passed.

My updated profile for RBA rates is:

May 2019 – 25bp cut to 1.25%
August 2019 – 25bp cut to 1.00%
November 2019 – 25bp cut to 0.75%

The risk is for rates to 0.5% in very late 2019 or in 2020

It will be driven by:

  • Underlying inflation remaining below 2%
  • GDP growth around 0.25 to 0.5% per quarter in 2019
  • Annual wages growth stuck at 2.5% or less
  • Global growth slowing towards 3%
  • Labour market under-utilisation around 13 to 13.5%

There are likely to be other influences, but these are the main ones.

AUD, as a result, looks set to drop to 0.6000 – 0.6500 range.