Wages and jobs data point to a continued sub-par performance for inflation: Elliot Clarke

Wages and jobs data point to a continued sub-par performance for inflation: Elliot Clarke
Wages and jobs data point to a continued sub-par performance for inflation: Elliot Clarke

EXPERT OBSERVER

For Australia, the past seven days have been focused on the labour market, with updates for wage growth and employment received.

On employment, the 4k decline in jobs in the month of July was well below the market’s expectation, but in line with our own. Given it follows an outsized 58k gain in June, the weak July outcome is certainly not a cause for concern. Indeed the past three months have seen an average monthly gain of 22k, ahead of the 18k trend pace of growth. Looking ahead, we anticipate that momentum in employment will slow in the second half of 2018.

Based on employment growth, wages growth should be much stronger than the 2.1% reported for the year to June 2018. Here we see the impact of the underutilisation of workers which, in our view, is set to remain a significant concern hence. Broadly we believe this under-reported slack will hold nominal wage inflation around 2.0% through the remainder of 2018 and 2019 and, as a consequence, real wage growth will be negligible. This situation will continue to weigh on households’ perceptions of their family finances and willingness to spend.

Another important consequence of inflation persistently at the lower-bound of the RBA’s target range and weak (or no) real wage growth is that household’s inflation expectations are suppressed. Our Chief Economist Bill Evans has taken up this important topic this week. The take-home point for policy is that “there must be a risk that, at least from an expectations perspective, low inflation is embedded in the system for longer than the Bank and the market are currently expecting”.

Outturns as above would be a stark contrast to the positive expectations of the Government and the RBA – the latter re-iterated during Governor Lowe’s appearance before the House of Representative’s Standing Committee on Economics this week. This is why we believe aggregate growth in 2019 will be sub-trend, and that the RBA will remain on hold into 2020.

Turning to the US, the New York Federal Reserve’s consumer credit survey was the highlight, but out of the headlines. Conflict between the US and Turkey instead remained front of mind for the press. This is a highly uncertain situation, and is unlikely to be resolved soon. We are not overly concerned by the effect this situation will have on global trade or growth, but we are mindful of potential spill-over effects to the European banking sector (who have considerable exposure to Turkish corporates) and to sentiment towards other emerging markets. Developing nations geographically near Australia are in a far better situation than Turkey and where they were in the late-1990’s (based on current account and external debt metrics). Hence a real economy and/or emerging market financial market contagion in our region is highly unlikely. Still, amid uncertainty, market participants are likely to sit on the sidelines until the data confirms there is no need for concern.

As we continue to outline, the greater risk to the region is likely that emanating from China’s domestic banking system as it undergoes lasting change to rein-in shadow banking activity and shift the majority of credit supply to the banks. Chinese credit data is now available to July. In the most recent release, a further fall in shadow banking credit was seen such that credit provided by these shadow lenders has now only increased by about RMB700bn in 2018 compared to almost RMB3.5trn at this time in 2017. Greater lending by the banking system has only offset around RMB900bn of the reduction in new shadow credit in 2018, so total credit growth in 2018 is almost RMB2trn less than the prior year. This outcome is intended and well managed, but whenever a policy shift of this magnitude is undertaken, there are risks which must be monitored. It is not happenstance that Chinese regulators have recently acted to ease financial conditions and bolster market liquidity.

In these uncertain times, a clear positive for China’s economy is their housing market. In stark contrast to the 5.5% gain for total fixed asset investment, real estate investment is running at a 10% year-to-date pace. Further, the recent acceleration in starts implies that the majority of this momentum will be sustained into year end, particularly as continued robust price growth in tier 2 and 3 make for an attractive sales environment.

If gains for this sector are to endure, then both central and local authorities will need to push ahead with their intended long-term reforms to drive growth in industry and incomes across the nation. As we look ahead to next week, US/China trade relations will again fill the headlines, given a Chinese trade delegation is reportedly heading to the US for talks just before the US’ next round of tariffs are to take effect.    

ELLIOT CLARKE is a senior economist at Westpac and can be contacted here.

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Inflation Elliot Clarke

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