Westpac cuts growth forecasts for 2020

Westpac cuts growth forecasts for 2020
Westpac cuts growth forecasts for 2020

EXPERT OBSERVER

Westpac has revised its growth forecasts for the Australian economy in 2020 to take into account the expected impact from the Coronavirus. The numbers are based on a "no fiscal stimulus package" basis. The Government is set to announce its policy response later in the week and it will be necessary to adjust the numbers according to our assessment of the impact of the policies.

We expect the Australian economy will grow by 1.6% (in the year to the December quarter 2020) although growth momentum will be in two halves with the first half showing a contraction of 0.6% and the second half growing by 2.2%.

On a quarterly basis we expect the economy will contract in both the first and second quarters by 0.3% and 0.3% respectively to be followed by a rebound of 1.4% and 0.8% respectively in the third and fourth quarters.

That growth profile constitutes a technical recession but given the expected recovery in the second half of the year it is much more realistic to characterise the situation as a "major disruption" to growth rather than the style of recession that Australia has experienced in the past. Indeed, recall that in Australia’s last two recessions the unemployment rate lifted from 6% to around 11%.

We expect the unemployment rate to hold below 6% through this period.

Furthermore, there is much greater uncertainty around these forecasts due to the unpredictable course of the outbreak.

In discussing this profile it is probably best to consider the growth dynamics through each of the quarters in 2020.

The first point to note is that the economy will be dealing with the impact of the virus when it is in a relatively fragile state with growth in 2019 at 2.2% compared to potential of 2.75%.

In particular, consumer spending has been insipid with the annualised pace running at only 1% in the second half of 2020.This means that consumer spending is likely to be less resilient to shocks than if momentum had been robust.

Whereas exports (tourism; foreign students; agriculture; resources) and inventories (disrupted supply chains) will explain the major shocks in the March quarter given their exposure to the Chinese economy, the June quarter contraction will be dominated by Australia’s and the rest of the world’s exposure to the virus and the lagged effect of China’s recession in the March quarter. In particular the impact on the rest of the world has already been affecting financial markets which is likely to puncture confidence more widely.

BILL EVANS is chief economist of Westpac. 

This article was first published on WestpacIQ.

 

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