Despite my tag-line explicitly mentioning finance I haven’t really been harping on the subject much recently. I’ve always managed to find something else far more interesting than boring everyone to death with dollar figures or the latest news on how the Global Financial Crisis is unravelling itself. More importantly however the big ticket financial issues haven’t really caused any waves and as such I really haven’t had anything to say on the matter. Yesterday however a juicy little nugget in the form of recent GDP growth has given me a little something to talk about:
The economy grew 2.7 percent from a year earlier, the report showed. Economists forecast a 2.4 percent expansion.
Signs that Australia’s economy outperformed other nations made its dollar the best performer among the most-traded currencies in the past year. The currency has climbed 42 percent versus its U.S. counterpart since March 2009 and this week hit a 25-year high against Britain’s pound.
Faster-than-anticipated growth was a key reason policy makers increased the overnight cash rate target to 4 percent yesterday from 3.75 percent and prompted Governor Stevens to say rates should be closer to “average,” which he last week signaled may be 75 basis points higher than they are now.
It was just under a year ago when I did my first analysis of how Australia was reacting to the GFC and I did a followup a few months later. Back then I made the point that Australia was well placed to whether the fallout from the USA’s failings and we would for the most part be unaffected. Here we are many months along the track and my predictions have come true, despite the air of skepticism that abounded in the media and amongst my peers. I can’t say that I blame them though as the media was pushing the story that everyone wanted to hear and the everyman would have to actively seek out the opposing viewpoints, something which most of them don’t have the time or resources to do.
The follow on effect of economic growth is of course higher interest rates. Whilst I appreciated them at the time (and managed to lock in a home loan at an absolutely ridiculous rate for the next 2 years) I feel there might be a mini housing crisis on the horizon when the interest rates ramp up and flood of first time home owners start to feel the pinch. The First Home Owner’s Grant boost definitely kept the low to mid range of the property market from feeling any effects of the GFC however it may have come at the cost of long term price stability in the future. I’m really just speculating here as if interest rates stay away from their 2008~2009 highs then most of them will be fine. However I know many who took advantage of the boost to crack into the property market without thinking about the long term consequences, especially when concerning higher interest rates. Time will tell if this mini-disaster comes to pass (it will be short, as the glut of cheap homes will be snapped up by investors) but I’ll be watching the low to mid range market carefully over the next few years.
Another factor to take into consideration is the current unemployment rate, which has shown an interesting turn recently:
I made the observation back in September that the unemployment rate was steady to that month, which was a good sign. However in the same breath I also cautioned about another metric, underemployment, that showed there was still some work to be done. Recent figures show that in fact things are improving with the underemployment rate dropping 0.4% to 13.5% a small but marked improvement. The article I just linked echoes the feelings I was trying to get across many months ago but also fails to recognise that underemployment and unemployment will track each other quite closely, with minimal lag between changes. The stability of the previous 2 quarters plus the trend down in the quarter just past shows that not only are we creating more jobs but we’re also able to ramp people back up that had to cut back their hours for economic reasons. Both these metrics are trending in the direction that you’d expect when the economy is on the way up, which for all intents and purposes it is.
Additionally the mass media has been generally free of any major doom and gloom stories regarding the economy. The last interest rate hike went past without even a second glance from the major news outlets when just under a year ago it would’ve spurred days worth of debate. It seems that we’re far more interested in Rudd’s latest health care plan than whether or not our houses are going to be worthless and our mortgages untenable, which means the consumer sentiment is improving.
After spending the past year telling everyone that it wasn’t going to be as bad as the news made it out to be it’s good to finally get some vindication on the matter. This year will see Australia drive itself forward and will hopefully let the Rudd government start to really get their teeth into some real initiatives, rather than fighting an economic fire. With an election not far off it’s going to be interesting to see not only how the post GFC Rudd handles himself, but also Australia at large.
As I promised over a week ago the Labor Force results for August have been released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. On the surface things appear to be great, as the unemployment rate has remained steady at 5.8%. Drudging through the figures though reveals another story, with a lot of things not painting such a rosy picture. Whilst they are a sign that things are stabilizing and won’t be as bad as some predictions they’re still far from the kind of green shoots many would like to see before breaking out the champagne. In fact the results were something of a turning point for me, as a metric that I believed was valueless for measuring an economy’s performance outlines the problem perfectly.
The first thing that crops up when looking at these recent figures is that in fact Australia’s working population decreased by 0.2%. This was offset by a decline of the same amount in those looking for work, which is what kept the figure steady. Other metrics remained steady as well, although this is likely due to the fact that all the people who can work are still working. The shocking metric that did it for me was the one of underemployment.
I’ll be the first to admit initially I felt that the use of this metric was an attempt at shifting the goal posts that the doom and gloomers were using in their arguments against me. Every time a sign of economic recovery comes about I always hear of some new metric that if you watch the trend over the past few years shows that we’re all doomed and there’s nothing we can do about it. So I was fairly sceptical when they started spouting underemployment and wrote it off for a good while. Then I came across the statistic in the Labor Force results and decided to have a look into the ABS’ methods and what it could mean for the workforce at large. In essence underemployment refers to people who have the ability and want to work more hours but simply can’t because the work is unavailable. Looking at the current statistics for this quarter pegs this rate at 13.9%. That figure in itself doesn’t mean a whole lot but the trend says quite a bit:
You can probably guess where I’m going with this. Since 2001 the underemployment metric was trending down quite nicely. This is as you would expect in economic good times where there is quite a lot of work available for anyone who wants it. However around 2008, when the GFC started to rear its ugly head, it started trending back up and did so at quite a high rate. This was as result of employer’s reaction to the GFC as it measures not only those losing their jobs but those who have had their hours cut but still remain employed.
The one good thing that we can take away from these figures is that while underemployment might be on the rise people who are still employed currently are much better placed when things begin to turn around. Many of those who lost their jobs will be finding it hard to break back into their industry whilst the GFC continues to unfold, but those who still have some employment can easily have their hours ramped back up when times come good. This bodes well for our economy as heavy losses of jobs means a much slower recovery once the crisis has abated. Nothing slows economic development more than the workforce trying to re-establish itself.
The figures made for some good reading for me and I’d urge you to have a look around so you can see what they mean for you. Working in Canberra means I’m often isolated to the employment troubles of the country (thank you Australian Public Service) but these figures really brought it home. I can only hope that the next quarters figures show underemployment steady, but only time will tell.