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Don’t look now, but the economy just might be perking up

Is the sun rising again on Australia's economy? (Source: Getty, Yahoo Finance)

Every month or so, I undertake a total revamp of my assessment and forecasts for the economy.

With this wipe-the-slate-clean revamp, I take account of the most up to date data, incorporate policy changes and I build in new judgments on the outlook for the global economy.

And so it was last week, when I was revamping my GDP forecasting spreadsheet to assess the risks of recession, the prospects for a booming rebound and all things in between.

It is a lot of fun and helps me to throw forward pre-empt how the economy and, importantly, financial markets will travel. That said, I am not one of those eggheads who lives and dies by what my model is telling me, but such spreadsheet fiddling makes me sit up and take notice of what is happening.

The last update, last week, was one of those times.

Economy to perk up in 2020: Here’s why

Indeed, for the first time in quite a while, I am getting a bit excited about the upside for the economy in 2020. Not a boom, but solid, strong, decent economic growth lies ahead.

In fact, I now put the chances of the economy falling into recession in 2020 or 2021 for that matter at about 0.1 per cent. Never say never, but I am more likely to beat Usain Bolt over 100 metres than the Australian economy is of cascading into recession.

Here’s the how and why of how I reached that conclusion.

Dwelling construction

Let’s start with some bad news.

It is pretty clear that dwelling investment (which makes up around 5 per cent of GDP) is set to fall by around 8 per cent in 2020. This means that by itself, we start my GDP build with a -0.4 percentage points on GDP (5 per cent times minus 8 per cent). That’s said, I am factoring in a housing construction rebound in the second half of 2020 as a supply shortage impacts property developers and house prices. That is a question that should see dwelling investment add to GDP in 2021.

  • Impact in 2020: -0.4 percentage points

Now the good news.

Private capital expenditure

In terms of private capital expenditure, which accounts for around 12 per cent of real GDP, the Bureau of Statistics expectations survey points to strong growth in 2020. Based on the hard data on expectations, it looks like private capex will rise by 9 per cent as businesses are gearing up for a lift in non-residential construction and strong growth in spending on plant and equipment (note we have a technology boom globally still happening).

  • Impact in 2020: +1.1 percentage points

Government consumption and investment

Government demand is spilt between consumption and investment – the latter includes some of the infrastructure boom being rolled out. Government consumption accounts for about 19 per cent of GDP while government investment is an additional 5 per cent. Based on government consumption growth of 3.25 per cent (very conservative given the NDIS roll out and more) and public investment growth of 6 per cent, government demand will contribute a hefty 0.9 percentage points to GDP.

  • Impact in 2020: +1.0 percentage points

Net exports

Net exports are a wild card. Export volumes are growing solidly and there is more upside in the output of gas and iron ore. Global economic growth looks like being firm which will help the export sector.

This will be offset somewhat by weakness on coal export volumes. In terms of services, the recent weakening in tourism and education may moderate. A hugely competitive Aussie dollar (and by that I mean anything under 75 US cents) and exports are likely to grow by around 6 per cent.

This nice addition to GDP will however, in my estimate, be more than completely offset by a surge in imports. That business investment lift, noted above, has a high import concentration, which means that net exports (exports minus imports) is likely to trim a small amount from bottom line GDP.

  • Impact in 2020: -0.2 percentage points

At this point, when we add up the contributions to GDP, we have growth in 2020 at 1.5 per cent.

Of course, I have not yet covered the biggy for the economy – household consumption.

Household consumption

Household consumption accounts for around 57 per centre of GDP. It matters to the core growth rate of the economy.

In forecasting household consumption, I plug in the following drivers – disposable income, employment, wealth and savings. With a bunch of rather conservative assumption on those fronts, I get household consumption growth of 2.5 per cent in 2020. With a bit of a push, I can get growth to 2.8 per cent, but for the sake of being conservative, I’ll stick with the 2.5. For something that is 57 per cent of GDP growing at 2.5 per cent, the bottom line contribution to GDP is 1.4 percentage points.

  • Impact in 2020: +1.4 percentage points

Add this to the above calculations and GDP growth in 2020 falls out of my spreadsheet at a solid 2.9 per cent.

If household consumption is even a touch stronger (rising wealth), the dwelling investment cycle is less a drag as it turns higher earlier or net exports are simply neutral as resources export volumes continue to boom, then GDP growth in 2020 would be nearer 3.5 per cent.

This outlook is based, in part, on a scenario where the RBA delivers one final interest rate cut to 0.5 per cent and where the government marginally loosens fiscal policy before year end, including in areas of drought assistance or other spending measures.

Amid this, I note that in 2020 inflation remains around 1.8 per cent, the unemployment rate does not fall much and hovers near 5 per cent and wages growth stays around 2.3 per cent.

There would also be upside if the Trump trade war issues moderate, as they probably will, China continues to deliver stimulatory policy and commodity prices drop only 10 per cent as opposed to the 20 per cent broadly assumed in my calculation.

At this stage, as there is a rush in the economics profession to embrace gloom and pessimism, my forecast looks to be an outlier, but as was the case over the past few years, I am very happy let my forecasts, not my prejudice and wish for media coverage, to win out.

Stephen Koukoulas is no nonsense economist who calls it without fear or favour. He is currently Managing Director of Market Economics as well as being a Research Fellow, Per Capita. He tweets at @TheKouk.

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