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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My house price bet with Tony Locantro - an update

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This article first appeared on the Yahoo Finance web page at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/aussie-property-crash-looking-even-unlikely-heres-021138614.html 

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My house price bet – I’m very happy and getting ready to collect

I recently made a bet with Tony Locantro, Investment Manager with Alto Capital in Perth on the extent to which house prices would fall over the next three years.

Just to reiterate, the bet centred on Locantro’s view that prices would drop 35 per cent or more by the end of 2021 from the peak levels in 2017, a forecast that looked absurdly pessimistic given the raft of factors that influence house prices over the course of years.

For Mr Locantro to win the bet, house prices measured by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on a quarterly basis in either Sydney, Melbourne or for the average of the eight capital cities would need to fall by 35 per cent or more from the peak levels by the time the December quarter 2021 data are released. The ABS released the latest residential property price data last week which presents an opportunity to see how the bet is unfolding, admittedly with three years to go until it is settled.

As everyone knows, house prices are falling in most cities, reversing part of the boom over several decades.

Get ready for a cash rate cut in April

Mon, 25 Mar 2019

This article first appeared on the Yahoo Finance website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/get-ready-cash-rate-cut-april-193244245.html

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Get ready for a cash rate cut in April

The data is in and it is compelling.

The Australian economy is faltering and the risk is that it will weaken further if nothing is done to address this decline.Not only has there been recent confirmation of a per capita GDP recession – that is, on a per person basis the economy has been shrinking for two straight quarters – but inflation is embedded below 2 per cent, wages growth is floundering just above 2 per cent, house prices are dropping at 1 per cent per month and dwelling construction is in free fall.

Add to this cocktail of economic woe an unambiguous slide in global economic conditions, general pessimism for both consumers and business alike and a worrying slide in the number of job advertisements all of which spells economic trouble.Blind Freddie can see that there is an urgent need for some policy action. And the sooner the better.For the Reserve Bank of Australia, there is no need to wait for yet more information on the economy.

It has been hopelessly wrong in its judgment about the economy over the past year, always expecting a growth pick up “soon”. Instead, GDP has all but stalled meaning that inflation, which is already well below the RBA’s target, is likely to fall further.In short, no. It is not like a 25 basis point interest rate cut on 2 April and another 25 in, say, May or June will reignite inflation and pump air into a house price bubble.

Such a claim would be laughable if there are any commentators left suggesting this.