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.

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April car sales down 4.5%

Adam Carr won’t be happy. He’s relied on growing car sales in part to rationalise his intense campaign for rate hikes. Westpac has just released a note on the April sales figures from the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries and it’s into reverse I’m afraid: Westpac Economic update Australia: new vehicle sales down 4.5% in

16

An awfully bland miracle

The RBA made reference to the likelihood of a negative print when Q1 GDP is released on the first of June so I thought I would visualise what a negative number. Without positive revisions to previous quarters this would take the annual rate below 2%: While we were the only developed nation to avoid a

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Take a chill pill

My kingdom for a rational media. Today’s selection of economic commentary, from interest rates to the Budget and carbon taxes is so full of amphetamines that one is tempted to conclude that everyone is still high from last night’s Logies. From the top, we have a piece from Alan Kohler that makes no economic sense:

8

RSPT anniversary

Sinclair Davidson has a terrific insight today into what transpired in the RSPT debacle for the Rudd Goverment. Much of the piece is derived from freshly released FOI documents: It is now possible to reconstruct much of what was happening within government and the bureaucracy in the run-up to the announcement of the RSPT and

29

Victorian troubles

In my recent budget analysis piece I spoke about public final demand. Forecast 6: Public final demand, having risen strongly in 2009‑10, is forecast to moderate in 2010‑11 and 2011‑12, reflecting the unwinding of the Government’s fiscal stimulus measures and a broader moderation in spending growth across other levels of government. Analysis: I am going

27

Here comes the budget pain

Last week’s article, Hooked on property, provided some detailed facts and figures from RP Data highlighting how Australia’s state and local governments are addicted to property-related taxes, and discussed how these revenues are expected to fall precipitously as housing sales decline and prices stagnate. The article concluded with the following statement: Over the past decade,

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Looking beyond interest rates

Sam Birmingham runs a top quality networking site for young professionals called WeBe, which provides up-to-date information on financial matters, work-related issues, lifestyle news and reviews, and current affairs and opinion pieces. WeBe also provides a platform where members can have their voices heard, express opinions and share ideas with other like-minded Young Professionals. Yesterday,

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Houses and holes forever!

The press is full of condemnation of Wayne Swan’s preliminary Budget speech yesterday. Personally, it didn’t strike me as so awful. In parts, it was a pretty candid take on the conundrum facing the economy: But this phase of the mining boom, mining boom mark II, will be very different to mining boom mark I,

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Disleveraging hits the Budget

It is that time of year again where the government, specifically the treasurer gets to tell you what a wonderful job they/he are doing. This year the Treasurer seems to be using the old “it was the last guys fault” strategy to cover up his own inadequacies. His latest speech in Brisbane was a definitely

5

D&B report credit concerns

Dunn & Bradstreet’s latest report on credit is out and it is not for the faint hearted. One third of Australians expect to experience difficulties meeting their credit commitments over the next three months and nearly 40 per cent anticipate having to use their credit card to cover otherwise unaffordable expenses. At the same time

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Craig James capitulates

Wow, it’s funny what a bit of accountability can do. Last week I noted  how Craig James at Commsec was a part of a more general discourse that needed to stop looking down on Australians for adopting a laudable savings cultre and voila today we have a new tone. From Smart Company: Aussie businesses have

9

Car sales pop

Yesterday one of our more bullish commenters (BK) asked us what we thought of yesterday’s car sales. It’s not usually something we track but it probably should be so thanks for the question and here it is. First from the ABS: I always work in seasonally adjusted figures (unlike DE). The overall result here looks

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Don’t spare the horses, James

There’s a piece today by Peter Martin and Phillip Wen in the Fairfax press about how: Australians are richer than ever, paying off debt at an unprecedented rate – but still losing confidence in the economy. New figures show wealth per person climbed to a record high of $266,600 at the end of December, easily

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Petrol and consumers

In his earlier review  of the Westpac Consumer Confidence Survey, H&H commented that Australians are feeling poorer even as the country gets richer. The chart above graphs the answer to the question of how consumers in the Westpac survey feel their family finances are going to be 12 months hence. It’s the pink line which

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Westpac: consumers turn off housing

After yesterday’s ray of light in the NAB business survey, today we resume regular programming with another very average economic report. Following are some excerpts from the Westpac Consumer Confidence Survey for April with commentary (full report at the end). Lacklustre Consumer Sentiment The Westpac-Melbourne Institute Index of Consumer Sentiment rose 1.2% in April from104.1

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NAB survey breaks the gloom

The NAB March Business Survey is out. It looks like a break in the clouds. NAB itself assessed conditions this way: Business conditions recovering while sentiment remains above trend. Inflation remains low, but purchase costs rising. The Australian economy appears to be showing signs of recovery following the flood-induced slowdown, with the NAB business survey

13

Leigh Harkness: An Optimum Exchange Rate System

Once again Leigh Harkness joins us for a guest post, this time on what he considers the best approach to take in regards to exchange rates for the long term prosperity for the nation. As usual Leigh’s ideas are thought provoking. Since Leigh has been guest posting at MacroBusiness he has been contacted by some

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Debt revulsion deepens

More dud data from the ABS this morning in Finance Commitments. Following are the key points. FEBRUARY KEY POINTS FEBRUARY 2011 COMPARED WITH JANUARY 2011: HOUSING FINANCE FOR OWNER OCCUPATION The total value of owner occupied housing commitments excluding alterations and additions fell 1.0% in trend terms and the seasonally adjusted series fell 4.8% PERSONAL

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Collateral damage

A recent article in Smartcompany commented on signs that the banks are starting to lend for business as the residential, negative gearing property rort shows signs of slowing. Not likely. What this does not factor in is the relationship between business credit and the heavy dependence on lending against property. According to the Australian Prudential Regulation

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RPData on population

RPData produce a weekly report about the housing market. Their latest offerring  has some very interesting data on Australia’s population growth. I do not totally agree with their conclusions from the data but that doesn’t change its usefulness. Australia’s population growth slowing as migrant numbers fade With cuts to the migration intake, Australia’s annual rate

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The underemployment question

Yesterday’s strong employment numbers from the ABS stoked an interesting debate in the comments about what degree of underemployment Australia suffers. To help the debate along I’ve drawn up the following table from the ABS Underemployed Workers report. It is annual only and from Spetember 2010 It clearly shows two things. First, that labour markets in

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We’ve lost our way

Over the weekend I was reading the local newspaper which contained a 3 page spread about  families who are struggling with day to day life because of the rising cost of living, mostly energy. In the same week it was determined that the new carbon tax would cost Australian families approximately $900/year and oil approaching

11

Leigh Harkness on Bank Welfare

Leigh Harkness is back with his unique perspective on the Australian macro-economy for another guest post, this time on “Bank Welfare”. Banks have prospered under the floating exchange rate system.  They have been able to lend as much as they like without any concern about affecting the balance of payments.  The exchange rate adjusts to

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WTF AIG

Sigh…I’m having an angry week. Regular readers will know that I’m no fan of vested interests. But I make one exception. Right now, the nation DESPERATELY needs a new vested interest body to support the non-resource tradable goods sectors of manufacturing, tourism and education. I can’t remember a peep out of either the education sector

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Why Australians aren’t spending

Robert Gottliebsen today posted an interesting article on Business Spectator providing an insight into why Australians are cutting back on retail spending: Retailers have been looking closely at what is causing stress among Australians and among Australian consumers… Those in lower income suburbs or in areas where there are many high mortgage/low deposit new houses,

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Jobs point to restructure

The ABS released its Job Vacancies for February survey today. The overall release was a slight seasonally adjusted fall. More interesting is the industry split. The first chart below is for sectors with rising job ads for the month: And the second is for sectors with falling job vacancies for the month: This industry sector split

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Leigh Harkness on debt saturation

In a follow up to his previous post please enjoy Leigh Harkness’s latest guest post on “Debt Saturation”. Many years ago, I tried to identify the relationship between money and inflation. I could not find a general rule for all situations, but for certain countries who adopted “pure” float, I found that inflation was equal

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The aliens have landed

An alien has landed in Australia and is confusing the hell out of everyone. That alien’s name is lack of system growth. In the old system, as the pie got bigger, there were no losers, only degrees of winners. Corporations in Australia’s dominant finance, realty and retail sectors could swap 2 per cent market share