Don’t fall for the spin - Scott Morrison’s budget surplus is no certainty

Thu, 06 Dec 2018  |  

This article first appeared on the Yahoo Finance web site at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/dont-fall-spin-scott-morrisons-budget-surplus-no-certainty-224422761.html 

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Don’t fall for the spin - Scott Morrison’s budget surplus is no certainty

Prime Minister Scott Morrison could yet be guilty of prematurely declaring that his government will deliver a budget surplus in 2018-19.

Sure, tax revenue is growing at a rapid pace and the government is underspending on a range of government services, but there are still seven long months to go between now and the end of the financial year that might yet blow up the surplus commitment.

PM Morrison’s ‘return to surplus’ boast is based, it appears, on hard data for the first four months of the 2018-19 financial year on revenue and spending information from the Department of Finance. These numbers do look strong, at least in terms of the budget numbers and if the trends on revenue and spending continue, the budget will probably be in surplus. Treasury will be factoring in ongoing economic growth, no increase in the unemployment rate and buoyant iron ore and coal prices over the remainder of the financial year. These forecasts and hence the budget bottom line are subject to a good deal of uncertainty, as they are every year.

If, as is distinctly possible, the economy stalls in the March and June quarters 2019, commodity prices continue to weaken and if there are some unexpected increases in government spending, the current erroneous forecasts for revenue and spending could leave the budget in deficit.

It is a dangerous game. Politically at least.

Economies and budgets can alter very quickly as a run of uncertain news and events impact on consumers and the business sector. Global shocks come jump out to derail even the best forecasts. Clearly, a lot can change for the budget between now and the Treasurer handing down of the budget on 2 April 2019 Budget.

Even more can change between when the budget is handed down and when the financial year comes to an end on 30 June 2019. This gap alone is a further three months of news that can have a material and unexpected impact on the budget bottom line.

Government spending in 2017-18 will be around $475 billion, a similar number to total revenue. A 1 per cent forecasting error on either revenue or spending could cost the budget close to $5 billion. And 1 per cent forecasting errors have occurred in the past. Mr Morrison’s proud announcement of a surplus seems risky, but it may be a political plus for the beleaguered government. Part of the electorate thinks that the budget balance is a measure of economic management competence and a surplus will be seen, by them, as good news.

But there is a twist.

The final budget outcome for 2018-19 – whether it is in surplus or deficit – will not be known until September 2019, some four months after the voters have made their decision. This means that in the event of a shock Coalition win at the election, the budget could ‘surprisingly’ drop back into deficit but, perhaps ironically, Mr Morrison will still be Prime Minister despite the failure to deliver on his promise.

At the macroeconomic level, there is very little difference between a budget deficit of a billion dollars or two and a surplus of a billion dollars or two. Recall annual GDP in Australia is close to $2 trillion.

But politically, the surplus / deficit issue can be important particularly when the surplus the government says it is delivering cannot be checked until after the election, even though it may sway a few voters to give their vote to the Coalition.

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My house price bet – I’m very happy and getting ready to collect

I recently made a bet with Tony Locantro, Investment Manager with Alto Capital in Perth on the extent to which house prices would fall over the next three years.

Just to reiterate, the bet centred on Locantro’s view that prices would drop 35 per cent or more by the end of 2021 from the peak levels in 2017, a forecast that looked absurdly pessimistic given the raft of factors that influence house prices over the course of years.

For Mr Locantro to win the bet, house prices measured by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on a quarterly basis in either Sydney, Melbourne or for the average of the eight capital cities would need to fall by 35 per cent or more from the peak levels by the time the December quarter 2021 data are released. The ABS released the latest residential property price data last week which presents an opportunity to see how the bet is unfolding, admittedly with three years to go until it is settled.

As everyone knows, house prices are falling in most cities, reversing part of the boom over several decades.

Get ready for a cash rate cut in April

Mon, 25 Mar 2019

This article first appeared on the Yahoo Finance website at this link: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/get-ready-cash-rate-cut-april-193244245.html

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Get ready for a cash rate cut in April

The data is in and it is compelling.

The Australian economy is faltering and the risk is that it will weaken further if nothing is done to address this decline.Not only has there been recent confirmation of a per capita GDP recession – that is, on a per person basis the economy has been shrinking for two straight quarters – but inflation is embedded below 2 per cent, wages growth is floundering just above 2 per cent, house prices are dropping at 1 per cent per month and dwelling construction is in free fall.

Add to this cocktail of economic woe an unambiguous slide in global economic conditions, general pessimism for both consumers and business alike and a worrying slide in the number of job advertisements all of which spells economic trouble.Blind Freddie can see that there is an urgent need for some policy action. And the sooner the better.For the Reserve Bank of Australia, there is no need to wait for yet more information on the economy.

It has been hopelessly wrong in its judgment about the economy over the past year, always expecting a growth pick up “soon”. Instead, GDP has all but stalled meaning that inflation, which is already well below the RBA’s target, is likely to fall further.In short, no. It is not like a 25 basis point interest rate cut on 2 April and another 25 in, say, May or June will reignite inflation and pump air into a house price bubble.

Such a claim would be laughable if there are any commentators left suggesting this.