The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Australian National Accounts: National Income, Expenditure and Product, June 2022 – today (September 7, 2022), which shows that the Australian economy grew by 0.9 per cent in the June-quarter 2022 and by 3.3 per cent over the 12 months to the end of June 2022. Growth is being driven by a combination of household spending (which has not yet succumbed to the cost of living squeeze exacerbated by the ridiculous interest rate rises) and a booming export sector (on the back of strong terms of trade). The problem is that while the on-going productivity growth has provided scope for non-inflationary real wage rises, real wages are going backwards. The problem is that business are pocketing these productivity gains as profits. The wage share fell further to a record low of 48.5 per cent which is a shocking testimony of the way the wages system is penalising workers. That needs to stop and the government should do something about it.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest version of – Private New Capital Expenditure and Expected Expenditure, Australia – today (May 26, 2022), which is part of several releases leading up to the publication of the June-quarter National Accounts next Wednesday. Today’s business investment data shows that private new capital expenditure in Australia fell by 0.3 per cent in the March quarter but was up by 2.2 per cent on the year. This is the second successive quarter in which business investment has fallen and it is likely the September-quarter will also record a contraction, which will all but wipe out the positive annualised result. This is the Australian business community at work – they are enjoying massive cuts to real wages for their workforces, record levels of profits, a rising profit share – and their investment performance is pathetic. There is some tension in the data though – as the expectation series indicates business investment growth over the next 12 months. I think that is overly optimistic given that household expenditure is likely to slow down with the rising interest rates and high energy prices really squeezing low-income families. One of the challenges facing the new Federal government is to somehow convince the business community to change their behaviour in this respect. Good luck with that. The way that the business sector has hijacked the ‘Jobs and Skills Summit’ agenda to turn it into a justification for more skilled migration – which will further dampen wages growth, push up unemployment, and further strain the almost impossible rental and home market – is evident that they are not for changing. And, if the new Treasurer keeps harping on about the $A1 trillion debt and the need to cut the fiscal deficit we will sink into recession.
The US Bureau of Economic Analysis published the latest US National Accounts data last week (July 28, 2022) – Gross Domestic Product, Second Quarter 2022 (Advance Estimate) – which showed that the US economy is now in technical recession – two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth. After recording a contraction of 1.6 per cent in the March quarter in real GDP, the advance estimates for the June quarter show a further contraction of 0.9 per cent. Many commentators are, however, denying the recession narrative because they are pointing to the low unemployment rate (of 3.6 per cent). It is true, that the GDP figures are often revised and when the final, second-quarter estimates are available, they might record positive growth. But there is a puzzle emerging. We have long held the view (based on Okun’s Law – see below), that when GDP growth declines, the unemployment rate rises. This is a long-held stylised fact that has until Covid stood the test of time. But Covid has changed things and at present the US (and other nations) are experiencing a major slowdown in the growth of their working age population as a result of quite alarming rises in long-term disability as a result of the enduring impacts of Covid infections (and repeated infections). That has meant that unemployment rates are lower than they otherwise would have been as a result of worker shortages. On the one hand that is good for the employed. But, on the other hand, it is disastrous for workers who are now disabled. So the meagre fact that unemployment is low does not negate the conclusion that the US economy is now in recession, which has been deliberately created first by a massive fiscal contraction, and then, by the irresponsible conduct of the Federal Reserve Bank.
Trickle down. Remember that? This was the idea that if we redirect real income towards capital by boosting profits via real wage suppression and/or corporate tax cuts, as if by magic, corporations will start investing the largesse in productive capital, which stimulates economic growth, and, the benefits ‘trickle down’ to the workers who made the initial sacrifices. The evidence base has never supported the idea yet it still resonates. I read two interesting articles yesterday, which are related even if at first blush they may not appear to be. The first reveals the shocking decline in productive investment by both private and public sectors and the long-term damage that that will have for our capacity to meet the climate challenge. The second shows that the arguments that cutting corporate taxes is good for economic growth is false.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Australian National Accounts: National Income, Expenditure and Product, March 2022 – today (June 1, 2022), which shows that the Australian economy grew by 0.8 per cent in the March-quarter 2022 and by 3.3 per cent over the 12 months to the end of March 2022 – a decline in the growth rate. Nominal GDP grew by 10.2 per cent over the year and the change in the GDP price index (a measure of inflation) was 8.2 per cent. The data tells us that after the initial rebound from the lockdowns, growth moderated in the March-quarter and was driven by domestic demand – household consumption, government spending and inventory accumulation. The external sector undermined growth even though the terms of trade boomed. Productivity growth was strong but note working hours fell. The productivity growth provided scope for non-inflationary real wage rises. The problem is that business are pocketing these productivity gains as profits. That needs to stop and the government should do something about it. The wage share fell below 50 per cent which is a shocking testimony of the way the wages system is penalising workers.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest version of – Private New Capital Expenditure and Expected Expenditure, Australia – today (May 26, 2022), which is part of several releases leading up to the publication of the March-quarter National Accounts next Wednesday. Today’s business investment data shouws that private new capital expenditure in Australia fell by 0.3 per cent in the March quarter but was up by 4.5 per cent on the year. With the uncertainty continuing about the extent and duration of the current supply-side disruptions, the decline in business investment was, in fact, modest. And the expected investment plans signal that there is still no sense of crisis among those responsible for capital expenditure. One of the challenges facing the new Federal government is to maintain optimism in the economy in order to avoid the current-quarter decline in business investment becoming consolidated. If the new Treasurer keeps harping on about the $A1 trillion debt and the need to cut the fiscal deficit, they will fail that challenge and business will get spooked and we will head towards recession with on-going inflationary pressures.
Today (March 2, 2022), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Australian National Accounts: National Income, Expenditure and Product, December 2021 – which shows that the Australian economy reversed the contraction in the September-quarter 2021 and posted an annual growth rate of 4.2 per cent. Covid lockdowns and restrictions caused the contraction and their abandonment allowed for growth to return. Growth was driven by strong growth in household consumption expenditure as public fiscal support declined and private investment expenditure went backwards. The change in the terms of trade was negative reflecting the rising import prices as supply constraints continue and demand rises. Overall, a good result but the next quarter will be much less robust (floods etc).
Regular readers will know that I think the current inflationary phenomenon is transitory. They will also know that I see the continual claims by financial market economists that central banks have to increase interest rates now to avoid an accelerating inflationary episode as having little economic content and lots of self interest content. If rates go up, they win their bets and the more they can bully authorities to do their bidding the more certain their bets become profitable. I am glad that central banks around the world are resisting that game of bluff. In previous periods, they have not resisted and have handed the financial speculators (the top-end-of-town) massive and unjustified profits and forced millions of workers to endure joblessness. It is also interesting that the mainstream press is starting to work that out too. Some progress.
Today (December 1, 2021), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Australian National Accounts: National Income, Expenditure and Product, September 2021 – which shows that the Australian economy contracted 1.9 per cent in the September-quarter. The annual growth rate of 3.9 per cent is relatively meaningless given the base was severely affected by the lockdowns last year. The decline in economic activity was driven by private demand, which contracted by 2.4 percentage points – mostly due to a decline in household final consumption expenditure. Public spending contributed 0.7 points to the GDP figure thus attenuating, to some extent, the fall in private demand. The increase in spending on health by both Federal and State governments was not large enough to avoid the contraction though. Real net national disposable income fell by 3.8 per cent, but rose by 7.8 per cent over the year. GDP per capita fell by 2 per cent in the September-quarter. There was a massive boost in the household saving ratio (from 11.8 per cent to 19.8 per cent) as a result of the tight lockdowns in Victoria and NSW during this period as a result of the renewed fiscal support. We will have to see how the rebound is next quarter now that the restrictions have been significantly eased. The most worrying thing about the data today is that the wage share in national income slumped further while the profit share in a smaller pie rose. Something needs to be done about that.
Yesterday (November 29, 2021), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Business Indicators – for the September-quarter 2021. This dataset provides quarterly estimates of private sector sales, wages, profits and inventories. It provides a means of viewing exactly what has gone wrong with the Australian economy over the last two decades as successive governments have failed to prioritise general well-being, and, have instead, acted as agents of capital. There is a massive imbalance in the capacity of workers and profit-recipients to access national income that is produced by the workers. Profits have been booming while wages growth has been low for a long time now. And if you thought the booming profits would be siphoned into productive investment to lift productivity and create the non-inflationary space for real wage increases, then you would be wrong. The massive lift in profits has gone into unjustifiable increases in executive pay, property booms and financial market speculation. None of the things that help lift national prosperity and well-being.