Australian Economy

The “miracle” Australian economy (with its famous run of 24 years without a recession) is an amalgam of pre-modern and post-modern industries with very little in between.

Most economies run at least partially upon the productivity gains produced out of manufacturing and ‘making things’ but in Australia productive investment is supplanted with commodity exports (which make up half of exports) and the recycling of the resultant income is deployed as cash flow for borrowings offshore to pump house prices.

The former step is basically the selling of dirt, a pre-modern activity. The second step is managed via the sophisticated use of derivative markets and is essentially a post-modern activity.

Not that GDP cares given it is only the mindless measure of whirring widgets.

However, both of these activities systematically reduce economic competitiveness by inflating both input costs and the currency. “Dutch disease” by another name. This continuous “hollowing out” of productive activity means the broader economy relies heavily upon the non-stop import of capital, either in the form of debt or in the form of assets sold to foreigners, to generate ongoing income growth.

So long as the underlying income from dirt keeps flowing then the leveraging into house prices that supports consumption can continue, supported by both tax distortions and government spending.

If, however, the dirt income flow halts the hollowing out of modern industry will leave the Australian economy very exposed to a current account adjustment. We saw this in the global financial crisis but the flow of dirt income was restored sufficiently quickly to prevent any deep adjustment.

A second risk is that the debt accumulation simply becomes overly onerous for the underlying economy to service, also resulting in a current account adjustment. Well north of $1trillion of the debt is owned externally and household debt is a world-beating 186% of GDP so this is a real risk.

It is offset by a relatively clean public balance sheet that deploys fiscal stimulus in times of economic stress. However, in recent years, as both of the two above risks have increased, the public balance sheet has deteriorated as well, setting Australia up for a famous adjustment to end its famous bull run.

MacroBusiness covers all apposite data and wider analysis of these issues daily.


More mangy data

There is more bad credit and sales data out today from the ABS. First, Motor Vehicle Sales: Trend – The February 2011 trend estimate (84 485) has shown a decrease of 0.3% when compared with January 2011. Seasonally Adjusted – The February 2011 seasonally adjusted estimate for new motor vehicle sales (84 122) increased by


Employment pop

Following today’s ABS Labour Force data for February, find below a series of charts indicating the state by state breakdown of full time jobs since early 2007. Everywhere other than WA had a nice pop for the month. This is raw data, which is why the aggregate increases are higher than the national figure quoted


Bad day for tough words

Houses and Holes noted today that the RBA looks as if it is trying to talk tough on interest rates. I assume that was before 11:30am when the ABS figures for housing finance appeared. JANUARY KEY POINTS VALUE OF DWELLING COMMITMENTS January 2011 compared with December 2010: The trend estimate for the total value of dwelling finance


Shocked consumers

In my previous post on Phil Lowe’s speech, I noted that the RBA is hawkish and clearly still concerned that consumers will binge as mining boom income passes through the economy. The killer quote was: Not unexpectedly, this decline in the relative price of manufactured goods has caught the attention of the household sector. In


Gittins! goes the full chunder

All right, this blogger is sorry. He’s tried to leave it alone. He’s willed himself to ignore it. But he just can’t let Gittins! get away with today’s technicoloured shocker. According to the paragon of baby-boomer supiority: The more economists examine it, the more they explode the seemingly self-evident truth that we’re living in a


Ken Henry’s lucky country

On Friday evening, Treasury boss Ken Henry delivered his final public address before stepping down in March. At the University of Tasmania Giblin Lecture, Henry delivered his magnum opus, a broad review of Australian economic history spanning three centuries (full transcript below, h/t The Lorax). The document is a must read in full, but the


Under Embargo

Ever heard of the Forex Factory? How about World Leaders News? Or Tweet Meme? Philippine Times? Quedit? The News List? Odd Bird Collective? These are just a few of the media outlets that considered it worthwhile reporting on comments from Julia Gillard that she was concerned that Australia has a dose of the economic clap


The growth zone

The Australian Industry Group has released two surveys in the last few days and boy do they make pretty reading. The first was the manufacturing index, which managed to flop into expansion for the first time in six months. The second was the services index, which continued its now one year slump into recession: Which


Labor’s destructive secrecy

The Age today published new Wikileak revelations about the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) and it’s policy vis-a-vis China: Canberra’s foreign investment regulator has privately admitted that it is seeking to limit investment from China in response to political concern about the control of Australia’s strategic resources. Contrary to the federal government’s claims that it


Consumer terror

Retail sales for January are out and so are the spruikers. According to the SMH today: Retail sales grew in January as consumers took heart from steady interest rates and a strong jobs market to increase their spending. The volume of sales increased 0.4 per cent in January, up from 0.2 per cent in December,


Hats off to McKibbin

MacroBusiness would like to doff its hat to Warwick McKibbin. The current and soon to be former RBA member has embraced the spirit of the Trickster and thrown a big spanner into the works in Canberra’s bull factory. We don’t agree with everything Dr McKibbin has to say, and on some things he doesn’t say


Housing ponzi stumbles on

The RBA’s lending January credit aggregates were out yesterday and the reading is fascinating. It is no surprise to regular readers that the rate of credit growth in Australia has slowed, a phenomenon it calls disleveraging. January’s credit was a continuation of the several months before it. Owner-occupied mortgages grew month on month at a seasonally adjusted


Wish me luck as I wave you goodbye…

After last week’s bifurcated capex survey from the ABS analysed here, today we have the release of the Australian Industry Group’s own capex survey (see below). And it’s bye, bye manufacturing, with a bullet: Anyone knows that to make stuff these days you need to compete with low cost manufacturers in Asia. To do that,


Let’s call it a “super profits” tax

Just how incompetent was the Rudd/Swan team in the last term? Over the weekend, and in the week prior, the following captains of industry and senior officials advocated a sovereign wealth fund to help the Australian economy fend off the effects of Dutch Disease: Glenn Stevens, Governor of the Reserve Bank Roger Corbett, Chairman, Fairfax


Capex blowoff

After a string of poor data, the economic cheerleaders have something genuine to celebrate – capex. The local keystone of the endless economic strength thesis is ongoing high business investment, largely by mining firms, as we supply urbanising China and India with raw materials. The following graph is the ratio of capex to GDP going back


Clemmed up

  A few weeks ago our regular bank insider Deep T mentioned a few pieces of Australian infrastructure while discussing securitization. Certainly securitization is a process which relies on transferring risk into the hands of the bondholders for it to be an effective and useful financing tool. However, risk transfer does not mean an abrogation of


The horror

Forgive this blogger for being a bit slow on the uptake, but it just passed a copy of the AFR as it attempted to leave the office and saw the headline “Mining tax hole tops $100 billion”. $100 billion in a fund would have stabilised our financial system for good. $100 billion wrested from power.


Disleveraging and shocks

Yesterday’s quarterly NAB Business Survey threw up a shocker for December. However,  this blogger is more interested in the recently released monthly survey,which shows what a pounding business conditions took in January (find both below): Trading, profitability, employment, forward orders, stocks, exports all smashed. NAB foists the blame onto the QLD floods: Business conditions tumbled 12


Funny old NAB

I have been watching the National Consumer Credit Protection legislation for some time now. It seems to be slowly creeping into other people’s radar as well.  “Under the new National Consumer Credit Protection (NCCP) legislation, lenders are being more cautious when lending to the self-employed and small business owners who, unlike PAYG borrowers, do not


Macro 101 – Political economics

In my previous Macro 101 post a number of people asked me some genuinely good questions about the functional process of the banking system under in certain scenarios. These questions made me realise just how much more there is to say about banking operations.  But more importantly it also made me realise how important it is


Carrion comfort

As usual, the media is beating housing finance data to death with a feather. It’s nothing personal, and this blogger could have thrown a dart to choose which overly-bullish article to deconstruct, but Adam Carr goes further than most so he’s up for a flaming. Using the new ABS housing finance commitments data, Carr argues the


The Baby Boomer Bust?

The 21st century will be the century of old age, where declining birth rates meet longer life expectancies. This ageing of the population will affect many areas of the international economy, from consumption and growth to asset valuations.  The impacts from ageing will likely be most acute in Western Nations, although some developing countries, most notably


The “cautious consumer” meme

Is the media deliberately obtuse? Following Myer’s complete wipeout, there’s a universal chorus of “cautious consumers” being the problem. It’s the weather, it’s the banks, it’s rate rises, it’s your grandmother’s cat. The problem with this “cautious consumers” line is that it implies a choice. The Australian shopper has apparently elected not to buy. Well,


Fruits of disleveraging

So then, after today’s howler by Myer, reality has partially  dawned on the market and the media: Retail is toast. The above chart shows today’s bloodbath for the stock. The only wonder is why it rose in the previous month. There are a number of explanations in the media for the result, most repeating the


Dear Prudence

As mentioned in my last couple of posts, new consumer protection legislation was introduced on January 1 to little media attention. Early last week I noted that the legislation could be having a greater impact on lending than many expected. However the true measure of the impact of legislation is just how loud the effected vested interests scream (hat tip


The price of prudent banking

Systemic risk caused by non-prudent lending is obviously a danger to the economy. It is therefore important that the financial system has a level of legislation and regulation that ensures that risk is correctly measured and worn by those who seek to profit from it. The world’s financial regulators are slowly adopting Basel standards for financial regulation in hope that it will remove the


Queensland’s cyclone

Cyclone Yasi has been upgraded to a Category 5 storm ( the highest level ) and on current estimates is expected to hit between Cairns and Innisfail at around 10pm tonight. The size of this storm is overwhelming, and the bureau of meteorology has announced that this is largest recorded storm ever to hit Queensland. Weatherzone


Holy cash cow, Batman!

Oh yes, ladies and gentleman, fresh from the RBA, that’s another monthly moonshot in Australia’s terms of trade for January. That means: Over the past year, the index has risen by 49 per cent in SDR terms. Much of this rise has been due to increases in iron ore, coking coal and thermal coal export


Queensland’s water bill

A cyclone the size of the Northern Territory is currently bearing down on North Queensland. The emergency broadcast system sent an SMS to every Queenslander last night and according to the Queensland Premier Cyclone Yasi will hit the north Queensland coast with greater ferocity than devastating Cyclone Larry. Thousands of residents, as well as patients at Cairns hospital, face