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Income shifts towards profits – a repeating destructive phenomenon

This is an extension of yesterday’s blog on the Australian national accounts release (Australian economy was slowing fast in March-quarter 2017 and outlook negative and delves further into the income side of the results, which are, frankly, stunning. They also accord with general global trends which I have written about in the past, which are creating further income inequality and damaging stable damaging growth prospects. Yesterday’s data confirmed that over the last two quarters (at least) almost all of the income growth has been captured by profits, with real wages and salaries actually falling in the March-quarter 2017. No wonder the growth in consumption spending fell away in the first part of 2017. Does that matter? Well, a rise in the profit share undermines consumption spending. If consumption spending is weak, the opportunities for profitable investment in new productive capital decline. Economies that are growing strongly provide a fertile environment for private investment. Austerity-ridden economies undermine private investment. Economies where consumption is falling due to real wage suppression also do not provide a buoyant investment climate. Flat wages growth in Australia has seen the saving ratio fall back towards zero and households take on ever more debt burdens. The Household debt to disposable income ratio is now at record levels. The declining wage share and the resulting credit binge in many nations were clearly causal in creating the global financial crisis. The mainstream economists believed that the markets were efficient and that there would be no problems with placing an increasing proportion of real income into the hands of the Casino economy. They were wrong. And with the same trends now repeating – they will be wrong again.

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Australian economy was slowing fast in March-quarter 2017 and outlook negative

Last week, we learned that private new capital expenditure had risen by 0.3 per cent in the March quarter but was still 9.3 per cent down on the March-quarter 2016 outcome. The forward-looking estimates for 2017-18 have also improved somewhat but still lies well below the expected outcome at the end of June 2017. So, perhaps the massive decline in private investment spending is abating somewhat. In the December-quarter 2016 National Accounts release, the ABS estimated that Today, the Australian Bureau of Statistics real GDP had risen by a strong 1.1 per cent which followed a negative 0.5 per cent outcome in the September-quarter 2016. The results were driven by strong household consumption growth (even as wages growth was negative), public investment and net exports (on the back of a massive shift upwards in the terms of trade). I said at the time that it was doubtful this was setting a new trend away from the sluggish growth that Australia had fallen into in recent years as a result of declining private investment and a government intent on austerity. And that assessment proved to be accurate when the ABS released the – March-quarter 2017 National Accounts data – today, which showed that real GDP had risen by just 0.3 per cent in the March-quarter 2017. Annual growth (last four quarters) was just 1.7 per cent around half the trend rate before the GFC. Net exports undermined growth by 0.7 percentage points, despite the improved terms of trade. Inventory accumulation added 0.4 percentage points, which indicates how unstable the growth profile was earlier in the year. Private and public consumption expenditure contributed 0.5 points, although the household saving ratio fell again indicating the tenuous nature of private consumption expenditure. Remember that the National Accounts are a rear-view mirror of where the economy was 3 months ago. But the overall trend is not terribly optimistic, especially with the government intent on cutting back its contribution to growth in the coming year.

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Australia national accounts – return to unstable growth

Today, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the – December-quarter 2016 National Accounts data – which showed that real GDP had rose by a strong 1.1 per cent after recording a negative 0.5 per cent outcome in the September-quarter 2016. Annual growth (last four quarters) was 2.4 per cent. The December-quarter result was driven by strong household consumption growth (even as wages growth was negative), public investment and net exports (on the back of a massive shift upwards in the terms of trade). A bright spot was the positive private investment growth. However, I consider the overall outcome to be an unstable situation. Households cannot continue to dominate the growth outcome when wages are flat or falling and the household debt ratio is already at record levels. The decline in the household saving ratio cannot be sustained. Further, public investment is spiky (large public infrastructure projects) and could just as easily turn negative next period. The overall trend in government intent is to cut back its contribution to growth in the coming year. Which means that growth becomes dependent on the swings in the terms of trade, which fluctuate substantially.

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Gas reservation is not a progressive option despite scandalous profits

In the September-quarter 2016, Australia recorded negative GDP growth (-0.5 per cent). Over the last two years, employment growth has been flat and over the last 12 months, full-time employment has dived. Underemployment has risen sharply while unemployment remains at elevated levels and participation at depressed levels (meaning hidden unemployment has risen). And over the last four quarters, wages growth in Australia has been at record lows. Sounds bad. Well for some – make that most of us. But yesterday, the ABS shone a light on one cohort of income recipients – capital – profits rose in the December-quarter by 20.1 per cent. What? And wages fell by 0.5 per cent. Phew, I thought there might be some sharing of the spoils going on – you know, the top-end-of-town letting the workers in on the action a bit. This data comes as Australian workers are being shafted by rises in energy prices as a consequence of large companies, many foreign-owned, being given carte blanche to our national energy resources. A major union’s response today has been to call for a gas reservation policy to guarantee domestic supply (which is waning as we export our heads off). Unfortunately, while the call appears to be based on reason – lower prices, guarantees to local industry etc – any move to a domestic reservation policy would slow down the shift to renewables and just shift profits from export to import operations. It is not the sort of regulation that a progressive should support.

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Australia’s wage outcomes – a race to the bottom and nowhere

Yesterday (February 22, 2017), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released its latest – Wage Price Index, Australia – for the December-quarter 2016. For the fourth consecutive quarter, annual growth in wages has recorded its lowest level since the data series began in the December-quarter 1997. Real wages are barely growing and trailing productivity growth by a long way. The flat wages trend is intensifying the pre-crisis dynamics, which saw private sector credit rather than real wages drive growth in consumption spending. The Australian government, which should be showing leadership, is obsessing about who it can rope into a free trade deal now the US have scuttled the TPP. The lessons have clearly not been learned.

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Australian national accounts – inexorably marching towards recession

In the June-quarter, it was only the contribution of public spending that allowed the Australian economy to avoid negative growth. That contribution disappeared in the September-quarter and given the fiscal settings and the negative investment contributions it was obvious that Australia would slide closer to recession – recording negative growth for the first time since the September-quarter 2011. The fact is that the non-mining part of the economy is already in recession and has been for some time. Today, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the – September-quarter 2016 National Accounts data – which showed that real GDP had indeed slumped to record a negative 0.5 per cent outcome. Annual growth (last four quarters) has fallen to 1.8 per cent, but the September-quarter outcome is closer to where we are now rather than what happened towards the end of last year and earlier this year. The Australian economy has been marching inexorably towards recession for the best part of this year and government refuses to budge from its attempts to impose fiscal austerity. Madness is a euphemism for their policy conduct. Incompetent also comes to mind. the September-quarter result has been driven by a negative contribution from private capital formation, net exports and now public spending. The only on-going positive contribution to growth came from household spending. My experimental research (which I will blog about when I am more certain of the methodology) show that when we take out the mining sector, Australia has been in recession or near it for some quarters and only the government contribution has made the difference between the two states. The on-going negative growth in private investment means that potential output in Australia and future growth rates will be lower than otherwise. Not a positive sign. The data continues to confirm that Australia faces a very uncertain outlook and with the Federal government intent on imposing austerity, then the nation is probably already recession overall (given the National Accounts data is already three months old). That should be a huge wake up call for the Federal government which is currently trying to bully the Senate into accepting massive cuts in public expenditure.

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When the term ‘progressive’ loses all meaning …

The UK Guardian newspaper began life as the Manchester Guardian in 1821 as an artifact of the cotton mill owners who were opposed to the reform movement (for parliamentary representation to alleviate the mass unemployment and poverty that followed the end of the Napoleonic Wars). The suppression of the reformist agenda culminated in the Peterloo Massacre the cavalry charged into around 80,000 protesters killing and injuring many of them. The police closed the newspaper (Manchester Observer) which had been sympathetic to the reform movement. Step in one John Edward Taylor, a cotton merchant, who established the Manchester Guardian to advance the interests of the capitalists. After a period under the editorship of C.P. Scott, where the Manchester Guardian was significantly more progressive in outlook (for example, supporting the Republican government against Franco; supporting women’s suffrage), the paper has increasingly become a neo-liberal propaganda machine with respect to its economic coverage, irrespective of progressive positions that might take on other issues (for example, its criticism of Israeli government policy). It now rarely publishes anything on economics that passes muster.

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Australian national accounts – public spending saves nation from negative growth

Last we we learned that investment in Australia has plunged in the June-quarter. Yesterday, we learned that the external deficit has risen and the contraction in net domestic spending would reduce real GDP growth by 0.2 percentage points. Today, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the – June-quarter 2016 National Accounts data – which showed that real GDP has slowed significantly in the most recent quarter, growing by only 0.5 per cent (down from 1 per cent in the three months to March 2016). The March-quarter result is now looking like an aberration. Without that public spending contribution to growth, which was dominant in the June-quarter, Australia have recorded negative growth in that quarter. The contribution from non-government spending netted out to minus 0.5 percentage points with negative contributions from the external sector and private capital formation and a declining contribution from private households. The on-going negative growth in private investment means that potential output in Australia and future growth rates will be lower than otherwise. Not a positive sign. The data continues to confirm that Australia faces a very uncertain outlook and if public spending is cut in the current quarter then the nation is heading for recession. That should be a huge wake up call for the Federal government which is currently trying to bully the Senate into accepting a $A6 billion cut in federal public expenditure.

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Australian national accounts – growth on back of volatile exports

Today, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the – March-quarter 2016 National Accounts data – which showed that real GDP grew strongly by 1.1 per cent in the three months to March 2016 (up from 0.6 per cent in the December-quarter 2015). It was largely driven by strong exports growth (and declining imports growth). In addition, private household consumption maintained a (declining) contribution as did public consumption. The negative growth in private investment means that potential output in Australia and future growth rates will be lower than otherwise. Not a positive sign. The other notable result was the increasing evidence that Australia continues to be in an income recession. Real net national disposable income fell by 1.3 per cent over the last year (to March) although the recent negative quarterly trend was arrested in the latest figures. The data continues to confirm that Australia faces a very uncertain outlook and the dependence on the volatile exports suggests a roller coaster ride ahead.

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Australian national accounts – we are becoming poorer

Today, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the – December-quarter 2015 National Accounts data – which showed that real GDP grew by 0.6 per cent in the three months to December 2015 (down from 1.1 per cent in the September-quarter. It was largely driven by Private household consumption (albeit declining) and public consumption and capital formation. Private consumption growth remained positive and contributed to growth, but it is being funded by a declining saving ratio and rising indebtedness. This was in the context of declining real wages growth and declining real net national disposable income overall and per capita. These trends are unsustainable. The government sector was responsible for 50 per cent of the total growth in the December-quarter. Without the public sector spending contribution, annualised growth would be at 1.2 per cent relative to pre-GFC trend rates of between 3 and 3.25 per cent. The negative growth in private investment means that potential output in Australia and future growth rates will be lower than otherwise. Again, not a positive sign. The other notable result was the increasing evidence that Australia continues to be in an income recession. Real net national disposable income fell by a further 0.1 per cent over the quarter and 1.1 per cent over the last year. The data continues to confirm that Australia faces a very uncertain outlook and with the annual fiscal statement coming up – now is not the time to be cutting net public spending.

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