Data suggests that Australia may be close to recession, something it has not seen since the early 1990s.
In the UK, between the recession of early 1990s and 2008, contracting growth was as elusive as a quest for facts during an election campaign. You may recall the days, it was the longest run of uninterrupted growth ever recorded. The chancellor for much of this period, a certain Gordon Brown, boasted: “No more boom and bust.” It is just that it did all end in bust, it was as if the longer we enjoyed the good times, the worse the inevitable bad times that followed. It is a bit like Games of Thrones, ‘winter is coming’ we are told, and it is dreaded because in the fictitious world of George RR Martin, summer has been exceptionally long, and long summers are always followed by long winters.
Meanwhile, in Australia, during that golden age of uninterrupted growth in the UK, something similar happened.
It is just that in 2008, when the West suffered what they refer to Down Under as the GFC, recession did not occur in Aus. Sure, it did see a contraction in one quarter. But recession is defined as two quarters of successive contraction, and Australia did not experience that.
It may have been saved by commodity prices. You may recall, commodity prices recovered quickly from the crash, and Australia has a lot of natural wealth.
Alas, in Q3 2016 GDP in the land of the kangaroo contracted by 0.5 per cent, the biggest fall since the GFC.
Not all are panicking. For one thing, the first half of the year was exceptionally strong, with quarterly growth hitting one per cent in Q1 – so it may simply be that Q3 contraction was the result of averaging out – one offs helped boost the economy in Q1, by Q3 they were heading in the other direction.
Australia’s central bank seems unperturbed. The day before the data was released, the bank, which surely had a good idea of what the data was going to say, kept interest rates unchanged and stated: “The economy is growing at a moderate rate.”
Furthermore, retail sales rose nicely in October – up 0.5% – while the global economy seems to have seen a pick-up, and demand for commodities seem to be on an upwards trajectory – although admittedly a weak one.
But . . . data out since has revealed a widening in Australia’s trade deficit – hitting $1.5 billion – much worse than expected. That won’t do Australia’s GDP in the fourth quarter any good, at all.
Drilling down, coal exports surged, but iron ore and meat exports fell.
A lot depends on what happens in November and December, if the October data on trade proves typical for the rest of the year, then it will be touch and go whether Australia can avoid recession.