Blame the weather and then ignore it: HSBC's Paul Bloxham on the GDP

Blame the weather and then ignore it: HSBC's Paul Bloxham on the GDP
Blame the weather and then ignore it: HSBC's Paul Bloxham on the GDP

GUEST OBSERVER

Today’s headline print for Q1 was weak, with real GDP growth of 0.3% q-o-q and 1.7% y-o-y (market had 1.6%).

But most of the weakness is weather-related and therefore temporary. Cyclone Debbie and wet weather on the East coast weighed on housing construction and exports.

Timely indicators already suggest a bounce back.

A clearer read of underlying conditions may be gleaned from surveyed business conditions, which are around decade-highs. And why shouldn’t they be? Corporate profits are up 30% y-o-y and nominal GDP rose by 7.7% y-o-y, its fastest pace in over five years.

Add to this, Australia just set a new record for developed world growth, with a 26 year boom! If yesterday’s RBA announcement is any guide, the central bank is largely ignoring the volatile, weather-effected GDP numbers and looking at the business and labour market surveys, which still show trend improvement. We see the RBA on hold this year and a hike in early 2018.

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Blame the weather and then ignore it: HSBC's Paul Bloxham on the GDP

Facts

Real GDP rose by 0.3% q-o-q in Q1, to be 1.7% higher y-o-y.

Household consumption rose 0.5% q-o-q to be 2.3% higher y-o-y. Dwelling investment fell by -4.4% q-o-q and -2.5% y-o-y. Business investment rose 0.7% q-o-q but was down -2.8% y-o-y. Public demand lifted by 0.2% q-o-q and 5.3% y-o-y. Overall, domestic demand (GNE) rose 0.8% q-o-q and 2.4% y-o-y. This was the strongest annual rate of growth in GNE since Q4 2012.

Net exports were a significant drag on growth in the quarter, with export volumes falling 1.6% q- o-q and imports lifting by 1.6%. Net exports subtracted -0.7ppts from the quarterly growth rate and 0.4ppts from year-ended growth.

Real gross domestic income rose by 1.7% q-o-q to be 6.5% higher y-o-y. Real net national disposable income per capita rose by 0.8% q-o-q and 4.0% y-o-y.

Nominal GDP rose by 2.3% q-o-q and 7.7% y-o-y, boosted by a 6.6% q-o-q and 24.8% y-o-y lift in the terms of trade.

The household saving ratio fell from 5.1% to 4.7%.

Implications

Australia’s sets 26-year growth record! That could have been the headline for this piece. Having just clicked past 103 quarters of continuous GDP growth without a technical recession, Australia has just overtaken the Netherlands to have the longest boom of any developed economy. For those interested, the Dutch economy had 102 quarters of continuous expansion between 1982 and the 2008 Global Financial Crisis (although there is some debate about whether the Dutch had a technical recession in 2003). Whatever the technicalities, the bottom line is that Australia has now had the longest boom (Chart 1). 

Instead, the market is focused on the weak quarterly print, which has been largely driven by the weather! Hence our title.

Today’s numbers showed that real GDP growth slowed to 0.3% in Q1, from 1.1% in Q4 2016. Of course, the 1.1% was a bit overstated, as it was a bounce back from the surprising -0.4% fall in Q3 2016. As the RBA stated yesterday, the slowdown in GDP growth partly reflects the ‘quarter-to-quarter variation in the growth figures’.

This is true, but unusual weather also played a role. Cyclone Debbie and very wet weather on the east coast appear to have weighed on housing construction, which fell by -4.4% q-o-q, and on exports, which were down -1.6% q-o-q (Chart 2 and 3). Retail spending fell sharply in Queensland in March. Part of this is likely to continue into Q2, as coal exports fell in April, although there are already signs of a bounce back in retail sales in April and coal exports in May.

The underlying trends for real GDP are more positive. After a number of years of mining investment weighing on overall investment, the business investment numbers are now starting to rise. The decline in mining investment is almost done and non-mining business investment is showing a modest lift in momentum. For more on our views on this see: 'Downunder Digest: Australia's next investment upswing', 21 March 2017.

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Blame the weather and then ignore it: HSBC's Paul Bloxham on the GDP

 

Although the volume numbers have been volatile and knocked around by the weather the income numbers in the GDP figures were unquestionably strong. Corporate profits rose by a very strong 30% y-o- y, supported by the rise in commodity prices over the previous year. This has lifted nominal GDP to its fastest rate of growth in over five years at 7.7% y-o-y (Chart 4). The lift in corporate profits helps to explain why business investment is starting to pick up. The rise in profits is also extending a bit beyond the mining industry, with profits in the finance and insurance and professional services industries also lifting.

The rise in corporate profits helps to explain why surveyed business conditions have continued to improve and most of the labour market measures are trending higher. The collection of Australian Industry Group surveys, which are now published for May, suggest business conditions were still at around decade-high levels in May (Chart 5).

The key challenge remains that, although corporate profits and nominal GDP have picked up, largely driven by the rise in commodity prices, this has yet to show up in wages growth. Compensation of employees rose in Q1, following a fall in Q4 2016, but is still running at a weak 1.5% y-o-y. At this stage there is little evidence of the boost to national incomes is flowing through to households (Chart 6).

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Blame the weather and then ignore it: HSBC's Paul Bloxham on the GDP

 

However, as the chart shows, history suggests that it will. Yesterday’s decision to lift the minimum wage by more than in previous rounds may very well be the first sign of this starting to happen. For more the wages outlook see: 'Downunder Digest: Show me the money', 20 April 2017.

We expect growth to pick up in the second half, following the weather-effected weakness in the first half. We expect this to push the unemployment rate lower and to drive a modest rise in wages growth in the second half. We expect the RBA to be on hold this year and to lift its cash rate in early 2018. 

PAUL BLOXHAM IS CHIEF ECONOMIST (AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND) FOR HSBC. 

 

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Gdp Construction Growth

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