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Australian National Accounts – continued weakness and highly vulnerable to recession

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.

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