Blog

Tue, 05 Feb 2019  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo Finance web site at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/heres-australias-1-5-interest-rates-high-002038269.html 

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Here's why Australia's 1.5% interest rates are too high

Australians love talking about interest rates and the bulk of economic commentary day-to-day is about whether or not the Reserve Bank of Australia will be putting them up, or down or leaving them steady at their next monthly meeting. This is no doubt linked to the huge interest of most Australians in house prices and the fact that household debt levels are amongst the highest in the world.

A small change in interest rates can have a significant impact on those with large mortgages.

Are interest rates too high or too low?

Having watching the RBA over the last 30 years or so, I have learnt a few lessons when it comes to working out whether interest rates are too high, too low or just right.

These lessons boil down to the following observable and easily tested facts on the economy.

Wed, 30 Jan 2019  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo Finance web site at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/speech-rba-governor-needs-give-next-week-200301848.html 

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If I was RBA Governor, this is the speech I would give next week

The RBA Governor Phillip Lowe is giving a speech at the National Press Club next week, no doubt to recast the RBA’s view on the economy and to present its up-to-date thinking on monetary policy. This will include whether it still reckons the next move in official interest rates “is likely to be up”.

I don’t know what Dr Lowe will say or how the view of the RBA has changed since it last went public with its upbeat views on the economy in early December, but if I were RBA Governor, this is what I would say:

"The economy has not performed as we were expecting.

This is not to say that the economy is entering a period of trouble, far from it. But the economy is falling short of the optimistic outlook the RBA held for the bulk of the last year. The main areas of surprise are related to the housing downturn, both in terms of house prices and new construction, and the flow through of these trends to household consumption spending.

In addition to weaker than forecast GDP growth in the September quarter, the severity of the housing downturn is forecast to reduce GDP growth in 2019 and 2020. The downward revision to the forecast for household consumption growth is not being offset by unexpected strength elsewhere, hence the material change to the Bank’s overall growth outlook.

Tue, 29 Jan 2019  |  

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has given a commitment that a Coalition government would create 1.25 million new jobs over the next 5 years.

Specifically, Mr Morrison tweeted, “I’m making a new pledge for our Government, to see 1.25 million jobs created over the next 5 years”.

This is a bold claim on any measure. Alas for Mr Morrison, the claim is at odds with his Treasurer's recent MYEFO estimates which included a series of forecasts and projections for employment growth over those 5 years. It is easy to cross check. Using Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s forecasts in MYEFO, cumulative employment growth over the next 5 years will be just 954,000, some 296,000 below the figure that Mr Morrison seems to have plucked out of the air.

The 954,000 is calculated the following way:

Wed, 23 Jan 2019  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo Finance website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/australia-fallen-recession-200014477.html

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Has Australia fallen into a per capita GDP recession?

 There is no doubt the Australian economy was weaker in late 2018 than it was during the first half of the year. It seems to have kicked off 2019 on a similarly weak note.

Recent economic news has been unambiguously poor and it follows the dismal GDP results released last month which showed per capita GDP falling 0.1 per cent in the September quarter. That was a poor result and forced most thinking economists to revise down their assessments of Australia’s economic health. If the upcoming December quarter GDP result, which is due for release in early March, reveals another drop in per capita GDP, the economy on a per capita basis will be going backwards.

This, quite clearly, is not good news.

It means living standards for the average Australian are falling and it poses questions about the current stance of economic policy.

Wed, 23 Jan 2019  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo Finance website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/will-economic-data-influence-election-date-200237239.html

The data flow could influence the timing of the election

Ready, get set!

There will be a Federal election within the next four months and the main question is the exact date when we will go to the polls. The current speculation focuses on three dates – relatively early on 2 March or nearer full term on 11 or 18 May.
The decision will be taken by the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, over the next few weeks.

One issue which will undoubtedly be critical to his thinking on the timing of the poll will be the economic data flow that will be released during the election campaign.

Just think – getting a poor GDP result or a rise in unemployment or weak wages data slap bang in the middle of the campaigning. It could be enough to derail the election strategy of the government and further erode its economic credentials. It is also important because the economy is clearly weakening. House prices are falling sharply, destroying the wealth of home owners, wages growth remains weak, the stock market is sick and consumer spending is unsurprisingly slow. There is also evidence in the various job advertisement series that the labour market is cooling which could see the unemployment rate creep up in the months ahead.

2 March Vs 18 May

The economic calendar suggests Mr Morrison would be wise to call the election for 2 March.

Here’s why.

Wed, 09 Jan 2019  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo Finance web page at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/dont-look-now-almost-certainly-poorer-year-ago-211934583.html 

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Don’t look now – you are almost certainly poorer than a year ago

I am sorry to kick off the new year with some gloomy news of your finances.

It is never nice to discuss how much money you have lost, but if you are a home owner in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth or Darwin and if you have a superannuation nest egg, the odds are you are less wealthy today than you were a year or two ago.

Here are some uncomfortable facts.

The Australian stock market, where the bulk of your superannuation assets are likely to be invested, has slumped 11 per cent since August, reducing the value of stocks by around $200 billion.  No doubt your superannuation has suffered part of this loss.

At the same time, home owners in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Darwin are seeing the value of their homes getting crunched.

Here are some examples.

Mon, 07 Jan 2019  |  

The article first appeared on The Guardian website at this link: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/jan/03/falling-dollar-reflects-global-concern-all-is-not-well-in-the-australian-economy 

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Falling dollar reflects global concern all is not well in the Australian economy

The Australian dollar was hit hard overnight, Australian time, slumping below 70 US cents before a sharp and more extreme move saw it temporarily crash to a low of 67.40 US cents. It subsequently recovered marginally, but remains weak at around 69.40 US cents.

Rather than focus on the micro aspects of minute-by-minute or hour-by-hour moves in the dollar, which can be more noise than substance, the trend for the dollar over the past year has been down.

In January 2018, the Australian dollar was trading at 81.50 US cents.

There is increasing concern from global investors that all is not well with the Australian economy. Policy is in a do-nothing phase. Entrenched low wages growth is hampering growth in household spending. This is being complemented, in a negative way, by a sharp fall in wealth as house prices drop and the share market weakens, both of which will be a negative for the economy during 2019. This is because householders are simply not getting the income growth nor wealth accumulation needed to allow them to keep spending at a rate that will see the economy expand at a pace that will generate upside wage and inflation momentum. Strategies aimed at reducing debt and paring back new borrowings mean, by definition, weaker economic growth over the near term.

Tue, 01 Jan 2019  |  

A well-established and immutable rule of market and economic forecasting is never to gloat when you happen to get a forecast right. There are many reasons for this, not least the certainty that other forecasts over many years have been wide of the mark, a fact that brings a balance to the forecasting debate.

That’s said, it is always useful to review the big forecasts and learn why your forecasts were right or wrong and to use this experience and knowledge to refine and develop future forecasts.

I do this every year - whether good or bad - and here we go with an assessment of the forecasts I made at the start of 2018 for the year ahead.

It’s actually a little embarrassing to do my annual assessment, because they were fantastically good. Anyone following those forecasts would have made some good money, which, frankly, is what these forecasts are all about. I would be delighted to see if anyone out there can find someone with a better track record for the year, so please let me know.

Mon, 31 Dec 2018  |  

Ok, it’s time to put my neck on the chopping block and make some forecasts for the economy and financial markets for 2019.

While I agree with my good friend Con Michalakis, market guru and CIO of State Super, that point forecasts on a calendar year basis are largely an artefact of the calendar and do not meet the demand of serious investment strategy, I do find it a useful discipline to make such forecasts each year. These forecasts capture where my analysis and judgment reveal which fundamentals are at greater risk of moving a particular way and most importantly, what this might mean for markets.

2019

For me, the broadest themes for Australia in 2019 are on going sub-trend economic growth, while wages and inflation will remain disappointingly low. The RBA will finally succumb to facts on the economy and will cut interest rates to below 1 per cent in the latter part of the year and the Australian stock market, which has been a dog in recent times, will surge, rising perhaps 20 per cent by the end of the year. Bond yields are likely to fall further in the first part of the year, although a lot of the rally I was looking in 2018 for has already occurred.

There might be another moderate yield reduction the mid to longer end of the curve, but once the RBA finally gives a bit of monetary policy stimulus, the yield curve will steepen in the latter part of 2019.

Now some details.

Wed, 19 Dec 2018  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo Finance website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/smoking-levels-continue-plummet-210432040.html 

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Smoking levels continue to plummet

Some good news on health – Australians are smoking less with the amount of tobacco consumed dropping to a record low in the September quarter 2018, and this includes data back to 1959 when Australia’s population was about 60 per cent below the level of today.

The peak consumption of tobacco came in the mid-1970s. Since then, there has been an unrelenting fall, with the timing of the downturn broadly coincided with the increasing prominence given to the link between smoking and early death and a range of government regulations aimed at reducing smoking rates.

Most recently, the introduction of plain packaging laws, together with hefty increases in excises – taxes in other words – has continued to drive the consumption of tobacco lower. The decline in the volume of tobacco consumed in Australia has crashed a staggering 24.4 per cent since the plain packaging laws were introduced at the end of 2012. This is despite population growth of around 8.5 per cent over that time.

Factors other than the introduction of plain packaging laws were also driving smoking levels lower – as noted, the sharp rise in excise taxes, many years of health awareness, tobacco advertising bans, restricting smoking in public places and even the fact many smokers have died and therefore are not buying tobacco products are all driving smoking to record lows.

THE LATEST FROM THE KOUK

Here's why you need to buy a house NOW

Wed, 29 May 2019

This four part series on housing first appeared on the Yahoo website during March 2019 at these thinks:

Part 1: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/heres-need-buy-house-now-003308014.html 

Part 2: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/buy-house-live-late-043710857.html 

Part 3: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/many-australians-regret-buying-house-none-234007432.html 

Part 4: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/buy-house-hold-10-years-203418110.html 

 It outlines the case why it is a good time to buy a house. Any comments and feedback welcome!

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Part 1. Here's why you need to buy a house NOW

It would be a great shame if the current weakness in house prices does not see those groups previously frozen out of the housing market step up and buy a house to live in.

Whether it is in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Darwin, Canberra, Brisbane, Adelaide or regional Australia, housing affordability is improving rapidly with prices generally lower, mortgage interest rates remarkably low and competitive, and wages growth edging up in a steady if not spectacular way. Sure, saving that deposit for a house is still hard and the banks and other financial institutions are making it a bit more difficult to get the loan you need to buy your house.

But for many reasons, getting into the housing market now or in the next 12 months to buy your house to live in will set you on course for a life of fulfilment and financial security.

I want to set the scene with a few definitions – when I say “houses” and “house prices”, I am referring to all dwellings – that is free standing houses, units, townhouses and apartments. It is a generic term. And to make it clear, I am suggesting buying a house for you to live in, not to invest in, which is an entirely different kettle of fish.

Change of view on interest rates

Fri, 24 May 2019

Having been the only economist to correctly anticipate an interest rate cut from the RBA when close to 50bps of interest rate hikes were priced in to the market last year (See Bloomberg 17 August 2018), I have agonised over the exact months the cuts would be delivered and then how many rate cuts would be needed to reflate the economy.

Recently, I was of the view that the RBA would need to cut 100bps from now, to a level of 0.5%, but I did so with relatively low confidence. This is why I recommended all clients to close their long interest rate positions on 17 April 2019 (when the implied yields were 1.10% for the mid 2020 OIS; 1.35% on 3 year yields and the Aussie dollar was just over 0.7000 at the time).

Like in most good trades that were massively in the money, I left a little money on the table while I reassessed the outlook.

Since calling for interest rate cuts from the RBA, a lot of water has passed under the bridge, especially in the last few weeks.

Events mean I am changing my view on interest rates and have been placing / will be looking to implement new trades.