Government debt is at a record high

Thu, 27 Sep 2018  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo 7 Finance web site at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/government-debt-record-high-heres-good-news-013049695.html 

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Government debt is at a record high

In May 2014, then Treasurer Joe Hockey announced that the budget deficit for 2017-18 would narrow to just $2.8 billion. The projections in that budget indicated a return to surplus in 2018-19.

Fast forward a little over four years and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Finance Minster Mathias Cormann confirmed that the budget deficit for 2017-18 came in at $10.1 billion, nearly four times the estimate presented in the first Coalition government budget. Progress on repairing the budget has clearly been slow and marginal under the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison governments, despite some of the strongest global economic conditions in a decade.
Policy actions of the Coalition over the five years it has been in office have actually damaged the budget balance with a raft of extra spending, and the quest for a return to surplus has been driven by a strong global economy, not local policy changes.

While the budget deficit was the smallest in a decade, the narrower deficit was based on unexpected riches flowing from surprisingly buoyant prices for iron ore and coal which have seen tax collection rise to levels also not seen in a decade.

This is not to sniff at the good fortune of the current government. It is always great news when the prices of our main commodity exports are strong. It adds to Australia’s national income, adds to government tax revenue and should always been welcome.

But it is important to realise it is simple luck rather than good economic management.

Prime Minister Morrison welcomed the budget numbers. He also suggests that a vote for Labor at the next election will be a vote for higher taxes. It is an odd claim, which according to his government’s own budget papers is based on perception, not facts.

The 2017-18 budget numbers confirm that the tax to GDP ratio jumped to 22.7 per cent of GDP, a level of tax that is higher than in every year of the previous Labor administration.

The tax take was around 1.5 percentage points higher than the average annual tax take of the previous Labor government. In today’s dollar terms, the tax take in 2017-18 is around $30 billion higher per annum than under Labor. That is a lot of extra tax we are all paying.

Which begs the question, which is the party of high taxes?

The picture on net government debt is more disconcerting.

The level of net debt hit 18.6 per cent of GDP which is the highest since the last 1950s and a time when the government was dealing with the debt build up that occurred in from the cost of fighting World War 2. By way of a further comparison, the level of net debt was just 10.4 per cent of GDP in 2012-13, the time the Coalition won the 2013 election. Suffice to say, the path of budget repair tracking more slowly than the Coalition promised when it took office 5 years ago.

It is still expecting a return to surplus next year or two, aided by the continuation of unexpectedly high iron ore and coal prices. The return to budget surplus also relies on extra tax revenue flowing from an acceleration wages growth and GDP continuing to grow at a 3 per cent plus pace. Many economists remain concerned that the commodity price level is vulnerable to a dip as the Chinese economy slow and global supply continues to rise. There is also a serious question about the wage pick up Treasury is hoping to see.

If there is any downside to these critical aspects of the budget numbering, the move to surplus will be delayed another year or two and with that, government debt will still rise.

Let’s hope commodity prices remain high and wages growth does eventually pick up and by this time next year, a strong economy has seen a long awaited return to a budget surplus.

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THE LATEST FROM THE KOUK

Why Australians have lost $300 Billion this year

Mon, 22 Oct 2018

This article first appeared on the Yahoo 7 website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/3665708-004156966.html 

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Why Australians have lost $300 Billion this year

The total wealth of Australians has dropped by close to $300 billion since the start of 2018.

How much of that is yours?

The fall in house prices and now the slump in the stock market is undermining the wealth of Australian householders.

This is an important trend given the solid link between the change in wealth and household spending. Numerous studies show that when wealth increases, growth in household spending is faster than it would otherwise be. It appears that householders view their extra wealth in a manner that sees them lower their other savings or use that wealth as collateral for additional borrowing fund extra consumption. They may even ‘cash in’ their extra wealth and use those gains to fund additional spending.

When they observe falling wealth, experience weak wages growth and realise their savings rates are perilously low, they will adjust their spending – down.

Labor almost home, not quite hosed

Mon, 22 Oct 2018

The extraordinary vote in the Wentworth by election, with the 18 or 19 per cent swing against the Liberal Party, presents further evidence that the Morrison government is set to lose the next general election.

There is nothing particularly new in this with the major nation-wide polls showing the Liberal Party a hefty 6 to 10 points behind Labor.

The election is unlikely to be held before May 2019, which is a long 7 months away. A lot can happen in that time but for the Liberal Party to get competitive, but for this to happen there needs to be a run of extraordinary developments.

In the aftermath of the Wentworth by election, the betting markets saw Labor’s odds shorten.

While the odds vary from betting agency to betting agency, the best available odds at the time of writing was $1.25 for Labor and $4.00 for the Coalition.

If, as most now seem to suggest, Labor is ‘across the line’, $1.25 is a great 25 per cent, tax free return for 7 months ‘investment’. Yet, punters are not quite so sure and seem to be holding off the big bets just in case something out of the ordinary happens.

While some segments of the economy look quite good, at least on face value – note the unemployment rate and GDP – others that probably matter more to voters – husong, share prices, wages and other high-frewquency cost of living issues are all looking rather parlous. And none of these are likely to change soon.

There is an old saying for punters – odds on, look on. But $1.25 for Labor seem great value.