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Australian growth outlook remains poor

The latest release by the Australian Bureau of Statistics of the – September-quarter 2019 National Accounts data (December 4, 2019) – confirms what we have been tracing for several quarters – the Australian economy is grinding to a halt, households are trying to increase saving, the Government’s tax cuts from July seem to have been largely saved to run down debt rather than spent, business investment is weak, and government spending and the terms of trade boost to exports are the only thing between now and a recession. And, the government is in denial, thinking its fiscal surplus obsession is more important than protecting incomes and growth. The problem is that if you don’t do the latter, you can kiss the former goodbye anyway. The data shows that annual GDP growth of 1.7 per cent is around 1/2 the historical trend rate. This is a very poor on-going result. The weaker performance started in the last 6 months of 2018 and has continued into the first six months of 2019. However, due to a fairly strong terms of trade, Real net national disposable income rose, which signifies rising material living standards. But those terms of trade gains will prove to be ephemeral. Overall, the quarterly growth rate was just 0.4 per cent. Net exports were strong (terms of trade effect) and government consumption expenditure was strong courtesy of some policy measures in disability, health and aged care coming on-line. Their boost will also dissipate fairly quickly. Longer-term worries include the weakening household consumption growth and the on-going negative business investment growth. The data now lets us appraise whether the small tax cut stimulus the government introduced from July have been very effective. In an environment where household debt is at record levels, the risks of unemployment are rising, and wages growth remains stagnant, it is no surprise that the households are using their tax savings to reduce their risk levels. This is borne out by the rising saving ratio. The overall picture is not good and the future is looking rather dim at present. A major shift in fiscal policy towards expansion is now definitely required.

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