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.


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


Get yourself a hard hat

Some boom. According to Bloomberg: Australian manufacturing contracted in January for a fifth straight month as measures of inventories, wages and supplier deliveries declined, a private survey showed. The manufacturing index was 46.7, compared with 46.3 in December, the Australian Industry Group and PricewaterhouseCoopers said in a survey released in Canberra today. A number below 50


The great disleveraging

The RBA’s credit aggregates for December were out yesterday and as always make interesting reading. Owner-occupier mortgage debt expanded at an annualised rate  of 7.3% seasonally adjusted. Investor mortgages grew at 4.8%. Personal debt shrank at 4.2% annualised and business at 4.1%. All four of these figures are showing slow declines or low growth plateaus.


Don’t give me credit

I have mentioned Veda Advantage previously. They produce a nice report on Australian credit demand on a quarterly basis. Today they released their latest report. For those who understand credit dynamics and its economic effects this report is very concerning. Personal loan enquiries rose 2% year-on-year during the December quarter, the first sign of growth after 11 consecutive


Mother Nature is not finished

As Julia Gillard attempts to convince everyone that the flood levy is the “best thing for the country” I have to reprint the following lines. “It is not true to say to Australians that there is a big pile of money there that somehow I could just go and use,” Ms Gillard told the Seven Network today.


Macro 101 – Credit effects

In my previous post I talked about the sectoral balance equation which is fundamental to understanding how an economy functions at a macro level.  The function is also useful to understand the likely high-level economic outcomes of  monetary and fiscal policy changes made by a government. If a government is running a surplus budget then they are taxing more


Macro 101 – Sectoral balance

I note today that the PM has announced the introduction of a flood levy, some policy changes and cuts of $2.8 billion dollars in government spending including a cut of the national rent assistance scheme. That last point is something I want to discuss in a future post because it will have some interesting effects on housing. All


The levy is right

According to the SMH this morning: The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has all but confirmed that a one-off levy to help cover the cost of flood damage is on the cards but the bulk of funds will be raised by budget cuts. Speaking before the inaugural meeting yesterday with the 13-member taskforce of business and


Fitch’s Freudian slip

FitchRatings recently released its 2011 Australia outlook report on structured Finance.  The overall message from the report itself is not particularly interesting and has received little press. The  report rates RMBS as stable, ABS stable but with some weakness and CBMS Stable/Negative, and has some discussion of the Queensland flooding on the RMBS market. Flooding


More on the death of the beer economy

As we mentioned back in early January: There is no sadder story for an Australian than the closing of a pub, but 300 at once should probably signify a national day of mourning. Yet as debt issuance contagion makes its way through the economy, the banks have no choice but to start picking off the


More Flood Outcomes

Some more flood related news, after Goldman Sach’s and ANZ‘s $20 billion estimates and Julia’s A team. ABEAR has taken a punt at the export hit THE devastation from recent floods will cost the Australian agricultural sector $500-600 million, while coal exports will take a $2-2.5 billion hit in 2010-11, according to a new report.


Consumer confidence takes another hit

Given that consumer confidence was already in the doldrums on the lead up to, and just after Christmas, it is little surprise that we note that one of the largest natural disasters in Australian history has given it a good kick while it is down. The Queensland floods have knocked the stuffing out of consumer