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Has Australia had a hidden recession? Peter Costello thinks so

Lucy Dean
Peter Costello discusses productivity at the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit. Image: Yahoo Finance
Peter Costello discusses productivity at the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit. Image: Yahoo Finance

Australia has been without a recession for 28 years - the longest run in international recorded history.

But according to Australia’s longest-serving federal treasurer, Peter Costello, Australia’s economic record isn’t as flawless as it appears, once you peek under the lid.

Speaking at the Yahoo Finance inaugural All Markets Summit in Sydney on Thursday, Costello said Australia’s economic growth has been supported by high immigration figures.

“One of the significant drivers of growth in the Australian economy has been population,” Costello said, noting that Australia has the highest population growth rate outside of Saudi Arabia in G20 countries.

But that growth has masked Australia’s underlying economic performance.

“If you convert all of our statistics, even GDP to per capita, you would find we probably have had recessions,” Costello said.

“But because we’ve had a growing population, the overall economy has been growing. I query whether we can continue that.”

Noting the ASX recently hit highs not seen since 2007, Costello warned that this performance cannot continue, describing the Australian economy as in the midst of “abnormal times”.

While the government records a budget surplus and unemployment figures “has a five in front of it”, the Reserve Bank of Australia continues to cut rates to record lows.

“The indicators of Australia’s economy are reasonably good, yet we have interest rates which are near emergency levels,” Costello said.

And markets are responding to that.

“But here’s the rub. This [performance] is still in abnormal conditions. I don’t know how long abnormal conditions can last.

“Conditions will revert to normal - the kind of conditions we’ve seen over the last century or so, and then there will be adjustments.”

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