December quarter sees GDP grow 3.1%: Westpac's Andrew Hanlan's insights

Consumers and businesses are upbeat, state governments are spending up, the housing market is red hot and the vaccine roll-out is underway.

December quarter sees GDP grow 3.1%: Westpac's Andrew Hanlan's insights
December quarter sees GDP grow 3.1%: Westpac's Andrew Hanlan's insights

Expert Observer

The Q4 National Accounts confirmed a brisk rebound in activity.

GDP printed at 3.1%qtr, -1.1%yr.

This was above expectations, market median and Westpac 2.5%.

As we had flagged, the risks were to the upside – with the expenditure partials having surprised to the high side. That is how it played out.

The key theme, the economy rebounded rapidly through Q3, +3.4%, and Q4, +3.1%, with considerable momentum into 2021.

Consumers and businesses are upbeat, state governments are spending up, the housing market is red hot and the vaccine roll-out is underway.

Success on the health front has permitted the rolling back of most, but not all, covid restrictions. Victoria emerging from a second lock-down boosted activity in Q4 and will do so again in Q1.

The recovery broadened in Q4:

(1) home building, up 4.1%, following a +1.6% for Q3, the first gains since June 2018, in response to cheap credit and government incentives, and

(2) business investment advanced, up 2.6%, led by equipment spending, +8.1%, in response to the accelerated depreciation allowance. That follows a string of negatives.

Real estate activity (ownership transfer costs) surged a further 15.2%, after a 21.6% rebound in Q3, to be 15.3% higher over the year – with the established housing market booming.

Consumer’s ability and willingness to spend is the key dynamic – certainly the relaxing of covid restrictions provides consumers with more opportunities to spend.

The household saving ratio spiked to 22% in Q2, on the drop in spending associated with the lock-down and the wave of government income support. The savings rate moderated to 18.7% in Q3 and retraced to 12% in Q4 and will unwind further in 2021.

The critically important point, while there was a tapering of government support in Q4, which saw business profits moderate off a high level, consumers have a sizeable savings buffer to fund a further lift in spending – and that is what they are choosing to do.

The consumer picture was largely as expected with spending posting another strong gain, led by normalising conditions in Victoria, and despite a material drag on incomes from reduced fiscal supports.

Total consumption rose 4.3%qtr to be down just 2.7%yr. Victoria posted a 10.4% gain in the quarter, spending up 2.3%qtr across the other states combined.

The spending detail was a little stronger than expected around vehicles and retail but a touch softer than expected on services.

Around incomes, wages rose 1.4%qtr with a strong increase in employment and hours worked more than offsetting initial drags from the wind-back in JobKeeper support. However real disposable income – including small business and non wage incomes and net of interest and tax – recorded a sizeable 3.3% fall. The rise in spending was thus funded out of a reduction in new savings, the savings rate falling from 18.7% in Q3 to 12% in Q4

Public demand continues to be a growth driver, up 1.0% in the quarter and a very brisk 6.5% over the year, in part driven by the response to covid.

Net exports were a small negative, -0.1ppt, as imports roared back, +4.9%, to meet the brisk rebound in domestic demand. Inventories, in total, subtracted -0.1ppt.

In other detail, the Expenditure measure of GDP printed at 3.0%, Income at 3.3% and Production at 3.1%.

Andrew Hanlan is a senior economist at Westpac.

Andrew Hanlan

Andrew Hanlan

Andrew has been with Westpac since 2002. After starting his career in the public sector, Andrew worked at the Commonwealth Treasury in Canberra, before enjoying a stint at Parliament House, where he worked as an adviser to the Finance Minister. His main focus is analysing the Australian macro economy.

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Westpac Gdp Gdp Growth

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