3 reasons to be spooked about the economy

Mon, 18 Jun 2018  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo 7 Finance website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/3013537-004842668.html 

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

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.

Despite the softer employment trends, the unemployment rate edged lower in May, to 5.4 per cent, to match the low of late 2017. This continues the trend which has seen the unemployment rate at 5.4 to 5.6 per cent for every month since May 2017. Importantly, the underemployment rate rose to a near record high 8.5 per cent of the workforce. Underemployment measures people who have a job but would like to work more hours. If it rises or is elevated as it is now, it reflects a weak economy where employers are reluctant or unable to offer their staff more hours even though those staff are keen to work more.

Adding the unemployment and underemployment rates together gives a good guide to underutilisation in the labour market and the fact this is around 14 per cent of the workforce is a worry given the headwinds confronting the economy. It is higher than at the peak during the global crisis.

In these circumstances, it is extraordinarily difficult for wages growth to pick up, as both the Reserve Bank and Treasury are hoping and forecasting. There are just too many people looking for work or hoping to work more hours for workers to go to their boss and ask for a decent pay rise. In these circumstances, it is impossible to imagine the RBA hiking official interest rates. Indeed, as this column has been arguing for some time now, it wont take much weakness in the labour market in concert with ongoing low wages growth and inflation, for the RBA to move to cut rates.


This is where the next round of wage and inflation data will be so important. If, as is likely, they remain low and there is further evidence of falls in house prices, the RBA would move to trim interest rates despite its current rhetoric which is that the next move in interest rate “is likely to be up not down” but only “if” (and it’s a big if) the economy improves.

The next few months will be fascinating for economy watchers and the markets.

comments powered by Disqus

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 

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

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 

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

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.