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

“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 

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

“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

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

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.