Biggest economic rebound on record: CommSec's Craig James

We expect the economy to rebound 4.2 per cent in 2021 after contracting 2.5 per cent in 2020

Biggest economic rebound on record: CommSec's Craig James
Biggest economic rebound on record: CommSec's Craig James

Expert Observer

National accounts

‘V-shaped’ recovery: The Australian economy (as measured by gross domestic product or GDP) grew by 3.1 per cent in the December quarter (consensus: +2.5 per cent) after rising 3.4 per cent in the September quarter and contracting 7 per cent in the June quarter. It was the biggest six-month lift in GDP since quarterly records began in 1959. GDP is still 1.1 per cent smaller than a year ago.

Annual result: In 2020, the economy contracted 2.5 per cent (biggest fall since 1947) after growing 1.9 per cent in 2019.

Contribution to growth: The biggest contributions to growth came from household spending (+2.3 percentage points); business equipment (+0.3pp); ownership transfer costs, dwellings, government consumption (all +0.2pp); and public investment (+0.1pp). But detracting from growth was net exports, commercial construction and inventories (all -0.1pp).

Income: Real net national disposable income rose by 4.9 per cent in the December quarter and was up by 2.1 per cent on the year. In nominal terms GDP rose by 4.2 per cent in the quarter and rose by 0.6 per cent over the year.

Productivity: GDP per hours worked was flat in the December quarter but was up by 2.5 per cent on the year.

Industry sectors: Seventeen of the 19 industry sectors grew in the December quarter. The biggest contribution to the overall increase in output came from Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing (+0.5 percentage points) from Professional, Scientific and Technical Services and Administrative and Support Services (both +0.3pp). Output fell 1.0 per cent in Mining in the quarter with Electricity, Gas, Water and Waste Services down 0.9 per cent.

What does it all mean?

It has been a most curious period for the Australian economy. After entering recession in the first half of 2020, the economy roared back in the final six months of the year. Clearly it has been all about Covid-19. Australian governments and the central bank responded quickly in locking down the economy and in providing the support and stimulus to families and businesses. The moves to suppress the virus were effective as were the support and stimulus measures.

Biggest economic rebound on record: CommSec's Craig James

The ‘V-shaped’ nature of the recovery is everywhere to see – economic growth, the job market, retail spending and the housing market. The Reserve Bank acknowledges that the recovery has been stronger than expected.

But the job is not done. The economy is still around 1 per cent smaller than a year ago. Unemployment is still too high; inflation and wage growth are still too low. But the forward indicators like job ads and business and consumer surveys are positive.

We expect the economy to rebound 4.2 per cent in 2021 after contracting 2.5 per cent in 2020. Much still depends on Aussies doing the right thing with social distancing measures. The vaccine roll-out is in the infancy. And then there is the risk posed by mutant strains of the virus.

Stimulus and support measures are still very much required, and any scale-back needs to be carefully managed. The Reserve Bank certainly hasn’t changed its rhetoric. Rates will remain low for another three years. Bond buying will continue. Cheap loans will remain under offer to business.  

The all-important jobless rate is expected to ease from 6.4 per cent currently to 5.7 per cent by the end of 2021. While still high, clearly it is moving in the right direction. But spare capacity will remain in the job market for a few more years, keeping the cash rate anchored at 0.1 per cent.  

Craig James is the chief economist at CommSec

Craig James

Craig James

Craig James is an economist currently working as chief economist for Commsec. As of September 2012, according to The Australian, James was the third most quoted man in Australian media. Completing regular media appearances in Australia and internationally, his reports such as the iPod index and State of the States are often reported upon and often called a "user-friendly" economic outlook for average individuals.

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