Watch out Australia: There's a flood of dismal economic news on the horizon

Wed, 01 May 2019  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo Finance website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/watch-out-australia-theres-a-flood-of-dismal-economic-news-on-the-horizon-211110783.html

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Watch out Australia: There's a flood of dismal economic news on the horizon

The Australian economy is in trouble and Scott Morrison and the Liberal Party government need to come clean and acknowledge this and outline a framework how this period of economic funk is to be addressed if they win the 18 May election.

The Liberal Party is campaigning in the election on a “strong economy” and being “good economic managers”, bold claims that fly in the face of the latest score card for the economy.

That scorecard shows a flood of what is, frankly, disappointing or even dismal economic news. Australia is going through a very rare recession in per capita GDP terms and last week saw data showing zero inflation in the March quarter. Contribution to these indictors of economic funk is the fact that well over half a trillion dollars of householder wealth has been destroyed as house prices have tumbled.

Add to that the fact reported by the Australian Office of Financial management last week that gross government debt is $543 billion, almost double the level that the Coalition government inherited in September 2013, and the scorecard is looking very ratty indeed.

As the ad man used to say, “but wait, there’s more”.

For the last four years, wages growth has been weak and at one stage fell to the lowest level on record. Then there are falling job advertisements, business investment as a share of GDP is at a 25 year low and over 13 per cent of the workforce is either unemployed or underemployed. It is a scorecard for the economy that under Morrison’s watch must be rated an “F” for fail.

Of course, it must be noted, the Australian economy experiences cycles, up and down.

But Australian economic history shows that in every other period of weakness, the slump has been driven by a mix of weaker global economic conditions and / or a severe downturn in commodity prices for the bulk of commodities we export. When we check how these forces have fared in the last year, they show global growth strong and commodity prices booming. This goes to show, quite plainly, that this is home-grown economic malaise.

Indeed, without the extremely positive influences from overseas, Australia’s current per capita recession would be something even more problematic, that is, growth and inflation would be even lower and the labour market weaker. One way these problems are almost certainly going to be dealt with is interest rates.

Such is the fragile nature of the economy that financial markets are pricing in the Reserve Bank of Australia needing to slice official interest to less than 1 per cent, yes, under 1 per cent, in an effort to arrest this increasingly poor economic performance. Further than this, there are some well respected economists starting to actively consider Australia needing negative interest rates and money printing to overcome the disinflationary problems confronting consumers and business, especially if the house price fall continues and crunches into an already soft economic underbelly.

While negative interest rates and quantitative easing remain highly unlikely, it was the policy response implemented by many countries during the depths of the global financial crisis when those economies were struggling to cope with deep recessions.

There is also discussion about the new government, after the 18 May election, needing to rollout fiscal policy stimulus, mainly in the form of additional government spending in an effort to underpin growth. This may be needed if things get worse. Either way, almost all economists are increasingly concerned about the lack of strength in the economy and just how far away it is from achieving above trend growth, full employment, a lift in wages growth and a return to a healthy rate of inflation between 2 and 3 per cent.

The economy is not strong, the labour market is still weak and inflation is well away from the target and falling.

Morrison needs to acknowledge that and to say what he will do about it if he wins the election.

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THE LATEST FROM THE KOUK

The RBA has the tools to fix the economy, but is reluctant to use them

Thu, 05 Dec 2019

This article first appeared on the Yahoo Finance web site at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/rba-tools-reluctant-042742904.html

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The RBA has the tools to fix the economy, but is reluctant to use them

The Reserve Bank of Australia has made a range of serious policy errors over the past few years, and the Australian economy is weaker because of those mistakes and misjudgments.

Not only is the RBA on track to miss its inflation target for six years, and perhaps longer, the persistently high unemployment rate in concert with record low wages growth is the result of the RBA’s tardiness in cutting interest rates because of its textbook obsession with house prices and household debt.

It is a mistake that has cost the economy tens of billions of dollars in lost output; employment is many thousands of people below what could have been achieved; and all the while wages growth hovers near record lows undermining the wellbeing of the workforce. What’s worse, the RBA seems to have thrown in the towel on trying to meet its inflation target, even though that target was confirmed a month ago in the recent update of the Conduct of Monetary Policy between the RBA and Treasurer.

In this context, Deputy Governor of the RBA, Guy Debelle, gave a fascinating speech earlier this week on the topic of employment and wages.

Household wealth is booming: What this means

Mon, 25 Nov 2019

This article first appeared on the Yahoo website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/household-wealth-booming-200022930.html 

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Household wealth is booming: What this means

$500,000,000,000.

In other words, half a trillion dollars.

That is approximately the amount Australian household wealth has increased since the start of July 2019, with house prices surging, the Australian stock market moving higher, and savings increasing.

The bulk of the gains have occurred via rising house prices, which according to CoreLogic, are up over 5 per cent in less than five months. This move in house prices has added around $360 billion to the value of housing and is driving the rebound in wealth. At the same time, the level of the ASX has risen by around 2 per cent with a further $40 billion being paid out in dividends. This allows for the recent pull back on prices as new banking scandals are exposed.

In these conditions of rising wealth, the household sector is getting a serious financial reprieve, despite the ongoing weakness in wages and the still very high level of unemployment and underemployment which afflicts almost 14 per cent of the workforce.

The good news is that this wealth creation is likely to spark a rise in household spending growth once the gains are widely acknowledged in the community and then feed into consumer sentiment. This is most likely to show up in the first half of 2020, after the usual lags work their way through the economy. History shows that when we consumers experience growth in our wealth, we are more inclined to lift our spending.

Earlier this year, RBA researchers Diego May, Gabriela Nodari and Daniel Rees found that:

“When wealth increases, Australian households consume more. Spending on durable goods, like motor vehicles, and discretionary goods, such as recreation, appears to be most responsive to changes in household wealth”.

We saw this, in the reverse, in the period from the middle of 2017 to the middle of 2019 when Australia-wide house prices fell by 10 per cent, crunching wealth levels. It was no surprise that during this period, household spending growth slumped. The retail sales component fell to its weakest since the early 1990s recession. Consumer spending and confidence was not helped by the coincident weakness in wages growth and the policy mistake of the RBA which refused to cut official interest rates, even though the economy was mired in a low inflation, low growth and falling wealth climate.

Thankfully, common sense has since prevailed at the RBA and it has cut interest rates three times since June.

Demand for housing has also lifted with shrewd first home buyers taking advantage of favourable affordability and investors also stepping back in after the May election saw the return of the Coalition government and the demise of Labor’s proposal to reform negative gearing tax laws. The current wealth surge unfolding now is occurring at a time when there is also a sharp decline in the debt-servicing burden as interest rates fall. This has the dual effect of freeing up cash flows for some consumers and allows other to accelerate their debt repayment.

For the moment, the labour market remains weak and wages are still stuck in the mud. These will constrain any near term lift in household spending, but the wealth lift will be vital for sparking a pick-up in consumption, probably in the new year when the effect is more widely observed and entrenched.

It adds to the scenario where 2020 is looking like a better year for the economy with bottom line GDP growth set to hit 3 per cent in the second half of the year.  If the wealth effects build further over that time and business investment and infrastructure spending continues to lift, the economy in 2020 just might register its strongest growth rate in a decade.