Coming off a low base. That is how to view the latest data release from the Australian Bureau of Statistics of the – Australian National Accounts: National Income, Expenditure and Product, December 2020 (released March 3, 2020). It shows that the Australian economy grew by 3.1 per cent in the December-quarter after growing by 3.4 per cent in the September-quarter. But the economy is still 1.1 per cent smaller than it was this time last year. The other thing to take from the data is that it once again confirms that nations that took the virus elimination strategy have done the best in economic terms compared to those nation which resisted tight lockdowns and other restrictions and are still enduring high infection rates and stalled economies. Household Consumption expenditure rose strongly as opportunities to spend increased and disposable income recovered somewhat. How long this considerable rebound can continue is another question. With the government fiscal support due to end soon and the base now higher, the coming quarters will not be as robust. And remember that the economy is still 1.1 per cent smaller and the labour market is still struggling and the Government’s fiscal support will still be required in certain sectors, which are still unable to achieve recovery (arts, tourism).
The answer to the question posed in the title is No! Lawrence Summers’ macroeconomic assessment does not stack up. In – Is the $US900 billion stimulus in the US likely to overheat the economy – Part 1? (December 30, 2020) – I developed the framework for considering whether it was sensible for the US government to provide a $US2,000 once-off, means-tested payment as part of its latest fiscal stimulus. Summers was opposed to it claiming that it would push the economy into an inflationary spiral because it would more than close the current output gap. Today, I do the numbers. The conclusion is that there is more than enough scope for the Government to make the transfers without running out of fiscal space.
The Australian economy officially exited recession in the September-quarter 2020, but I wouldn’t tell the labour market that. A technical recession, in case you were not aware, is defined as two, consecutive quarters of negative growth. But, given that employment always lags the start of a recovery, things remain much worse in the labour market than the GDP figures would indicate. Further, we still haven’t a clear idea of what will happen when the wage subsidy and the unemployment supplement schemes are wound back. If things are not well and truly pumping before the Government starts withdrawing the stimulus then bleak(er) times are ahead. The latest data release from the Australian Bureau of Statistics of the – Australian National Accounts: National Income, Expenditure and Product, September 2020 (released December 2, 2020) – shows that the Australian economy grew by 3.3 per cent in the September-quarter after contracting by 7 per cent in the previous quarter as a result of the extensive lockdowns. Household Consumption expenditure rose strongly as opportunities to spend increased and disposable income recovered somewhat. The wage share fell to record levels though (49 per cent) as the real wage growth was outpaced by productivity growth. Overall, I expect the next quarter (December) to be stronger given the recovery that Victoria will bring after opening its economy back up again.
Well now we have a better estimate of how far short the Australian government’s fiscal stimulus was when they introduced the packages in March and April. Massively short is the answer. The latest data release from the Australian Bureau of Statistics of the – Australian National Accounts: National Income, Expenditure and Product, June 2020 (released September 2, 2020) – is now recording the first three months impact on production and income generation of the lockdowns. The Australian economy collapsed basically, contracting by 7 per cent. Household Consumption expenditure fell sharply as households dramatically increased the saving ratio. The wage share fell below 50 per cent for the first time in recorded history as government support favoured profits. The obvious conclusion is that the Federal government has not supported an ailing economy enough to avoid the damage that negative growth brings. An urgent and major shift in fiscal policy towards further expansion is definitely required. But the government announced this week that they are withdrawing financial support and the result of that policy shift will be carnage!
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) published the June-quarter – Private New Capital Expenditure and Expected Expenditure, Australia – data today as part of the sequence of data releases relating to next Wednesday’s release of the second quarter National Accounts. Remember that this data is ‘backward’ looking, in that it tells us what has gone in the three months from April to the end of June. But it does provide the first signal of the impact of the first-stage lockdowns in April have had on capital formation. Today’s release confirms the worst with Total new capital expenditure falling by 5.9 per cent in the quarter and 11.5 per cent over the last 12 months. Investment in Building and structures fell by 4.4 per cent over the quarter and 9.4 per cent over the 12 month period, while investment in Equipment, plant and machinery fell by 7.6 per cent for the quarter and 13.8 per cent over the year. Crucially expected investment for 2020-21 has nose-dived (down 12.6 per cent on previous plans). By allowing the economy to go into recession and sustain mass unemployment and falling sales, the Australian government has made matters worse. Within the safe health constraints, it could have easily added another $A100 billion to its stimulus and seen unemployment drop to relatively low levels, major construction work undertaken in social housing to address the chronic shortfall, and invest in forward-looking green infrastructure. Instead, it has chosen to penny pinch and today’s figures are just the start of the damage this policy void is causing. This is another case of neo-liberal austerity white-anting the capacity of the economy to deliver prosperity for all.
The US Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released the – Gross Domestic Product, Second Quarter 2020 (Advance Estimate) – data last week (July 30, 2020). It shows that the US economy has declined by 9.49 per cent between the March- and June-quarters. On an annual basis the decline was 9.54 per cent. This is the largest quarterly contraction in recorded history. Consumption expenditure declined by 10.1 per cent in real terms and business investment by 17.4 per cent. The collapse in consumer expenditure was mostly concentrated in services (-22.6%), which reflected lockdowns and the unwillingness of consumers to continue normal practices. Personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income jumped dramatically from 9.5 per cent in the March-quarter to 25.7 percent in the second quarter. That is a testament to the endemic uncertainty that the pandemic has created. The contribution of net exports actually rose, not because exports rose (their individual contribution was -9.38 points), but because of the slump in imports – a smaller leakage from the expenditure system (adding 10.1 points t growth!). Overall, there is no trend – just a massive mess. How the second wave of the virus impacts is anybody’s guess but lots more deaths and more disruption is certain.
Australia has endured a sequence of unplanned disasters over the last 12 months. The lingering effects of a long drought. Massive bushfires. Floods. And, then, if that wasn’t enough, along comes the worst of them all – the coronavirus. The latest release by the Australian Bureau of Statistics of the – March-quarter 2020 National Accounts data (June 3, 2020) – is now recording the early impacts on our national economy from the Pandemic. It will be worse when the June-quarter figures are released in September. Today’s data confirms what we have been tracing for several quarters – the Australian economy has now crossed the line into negative growth with sustained negative contributions from all private sources of expenditure. Household Consumption expenditure fell sharply as households increased their saving ratio. The overall contraction is less than has been recorded to date in other nations. But we should wait until the June-quarter before we get too optimistic. The obvious conclusion is that the Federal government has not supported an ailing economy enough to avoid the damage that negative growth brings. An urgent and major shift in fiscal policy towards further expansion is definitely required.
A fairly short post today (Wednesday oblige!). So just some snippets. Today, the Australian Bureau of Statistics published the latest – Retail Trade, Australia, Preliminary, February 2020 – which was the first release of a “suite of new products for Australian retail turnover”. The new offering is designed to more accurately and immediately pick up the “economic impact of coronavirus”. This release is preliminary and gives us more current data to that which is published in the upcoming April Retail Trade, Australia. The news is not good, as you might expect. Retail trade rose by 0.4 per cent in February 2020, as food purchases rose but all other spending categories fell. So the result is driven by the ridiculous panic hoarding behaviour that is now common. I went to a supermarket last night on the way home to get a few items (like some oats for muesli) and the shelves were nearly empty across a wide range of products. It makes no sense. Even if we are to be locked down, the Government has said shopping will be allowed. But in other sectors of the economy major impacts are being felt. All by band’s gigs in Melbourne have been cancelled and Virgin (who I fly with mostly) have cancelled all international flights until at least the end of June and many domestic flights. Life is changing dramatically. And this would be a great time to introduce a Job Guarantee for artists and musicians. Further, I report on some statistical events in West Africa that have far-reaching implications for how nations interact with multilateral agencies such as the IMF or the World Bank.
We have had a long drought. Massive bushfires. Floods. And, now, the coronavirus to deal with. The latest release by the Australian Bureau of Statistics of the – December-quarter 2019 National Accounts data (March 4, 2020) – allows us to see some of the impacts of the bushfires, given it is a rear-vision view of where the economy was at in the last three months of 2019. The next quarter’s data (due early June) will start to tell us about the coronavirus effects. Today’s data confirms what we have been tracing for several quarters – the Australian economy is grinding to a halt with private business investment continuing to decline and only a falling household saving ratio keeping Household Consumption expenditure moving in the face of flat income growth. The data shows that annual GDP growth of 2.2 per cent remains well below the historical trend rate of between 3.25 and 3.5 per cent. The weaker performance started in the last 6 months of 2018 and has continued through 2019. Further, as the recent favourable terms of trade (as a result of the Brazilian environmental disaster) have reversed, Real net national disposable income is now falling, signifying falling material living standards. As a result of the falling terms of trade, exports have shrunk and will shrink further on the back of the virus impacts. In an environment where household debt is at record levels, the risks of unemployment are rising, wages growth remains stagnant, and business investment continues to contract – the recent negative shocks from fire, flood and now the virus expose the economy to a major contraction. The overall picture is not good and the future is looking rather dim at present. An urgent and major shift in fiscal policy towards expansion is definitely required.
In my blog post – Japan about to walk the plank – again (September 30, 2019) – I predicted that the decision by the Japanese government to increase the sales tax from 8 per cent to 10 per cent on October 1, 2010 would undermine non-government spending and growth and was totally unnecessary anyway. The government had fallen prey to the deficit terrorists who have been consistently bullying them into believing that their fiscal position is about to collapse and the bond markets would desert them. Funny that! The Bank of Japan has been buying the bulk of the public debt issued over the last several years anyway. The reality is that, given the instability of world conditions (US-China trade, European slowdown, Brexit, and, more recently, the Corona virus impacts), the Japanese government should have been increasing its fiscal deficit. Yesterday (February 17, 2020), the latest national accounts data from Japan tells us the damage that this policy folly has inflicted. Every time the Japanese government has hiked the sales tax (1997, 2014, 2019) real GDP growth has plummetted and pushed the economy into recession. In the final quarter of 2019, Japan’s growth rate slumped by an annualised 6.3 per cent, driven by a massive 11.1 per cent decline in consumption spending and capital investment decline of 14.1 per cent. Sure enough, Typhoon Hagibis was also a factor but it is undeniable that the sales tax hike was instrumental. The Spanish philosopher George Santayana had it in one when in his first volume (1905) of his book – The Life of Reason: The Phases of Human Progress – said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.