Australia's record economic expansion rolls on: CommSec's Craig James

Australia's record economic expansion rolls on: CommSec's Craig James
Craig JamesDecember 7, 2020


Australia’s record economic expansion is well into its 29th year.

The Australian economy grew by 0.4 per cent in the September quarter (consensus: +0.5 to +0.6 per cent) after growing by an upwardly-revised 0.6 per cent in the June quarter. Annual economic growth rose from 1.6 per cent to 1.7 per cent.

The biggest contribution to growth came from net exports (+0.3 percentage points); followed by government consumption (+0.2pp). Household consumption, ownership transfer costs, public investment and inventories all contributed +0.1pp. Detracting from growth were machinery & equipment spending (-0.2pp) and dwellings (-0.1pp).

Real net national disposable income rose by 0.9 per cent in the September quarter to be up 4.8 per cent on the year. In nominal terms GDP increased by 1.1 per cent in the quarter and rose by 5.5 per cent over the year (annual average +4.5 per cent).

GDP per hours worked fell by 0.2 per cent in the September quarter to be down by 0.2 per cent on the year.

Thirteen of the 19 industry sectors expanded in the September quarter. Strongest contribution to growth was recorded by Healthcare and Social Assistance (+0.2 percentage points). Mining, Professional scientific and technical services, and Public administration and safety all added 0.1pp to GDP growth.

What does it all mean?

The Reserve Bank continues to emphasise that the economy has reached ‘a gentle turning point’. And a thorough review of the evidence supports this view. If Aussie consumers and businesses had more confidence, then the upturn would be more robust. Because incomes are growing faster than longer-term averages. But the seeds are there.

There is more evidence that consumers are saving the tax cuts at the same time that borrowers are responding to rate cuts by paying off debt at a faster rate. The household saving ratio has lifted to 4.8 per cent. The Government and Reserve Bank will need to re-assess, and determine what stimulus measures have the best chances of working in the current environment.

Over the last 28 years the economy has stared down numerous challenges. Indeed, the economy has a wonderful knack of responding to challenges or crises. If consumers forget how to spend, then exports or government spending have stepped up to the plate. And that is what we are seeing now. The Reserve Bank may be struggling to get inflation into the target band, but it continues to preside over a record-breaking economic expansion. It’s important to know that Australia is not alone in dealing with lower-than-normal price growth.

The gloomsters will be disappointed - again. The record economic expansion continues. And supported by tax cuts, low interest rates, housing recovery, competitive exchange rate and an infrastructure boom, the prospects remain positive. Commonwealth Bank Group economists support the Reserve Bank in forecasting 2.75 per cent economic growth in 2020. Growth of 2.25-2.50 per cent is expected in 2019/20.

There is some hand-wringing on productivity at present. And clearly Australia needs to do better with the country actually less productive than a year ago. But employment has been surging in the past few years. And it takes time for the new employees to be fully productive. As a result some patience is required on a lift in productivity to more ‘normal’ growth rates.

CRAIG JAMES  is the Chief Economist at CommSec

Craig James

Craig James is the Chief Economist at CommSec, interpreting ‘big picture’ economic and financial trends.

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