The author has been described by News Ltd as an "iconoclast", "Svengali", a pollie's "economist muse", and "pungently accurate". Fairfax says he is a "Renaissance man" and "one of Australia’s most respected analysts." Stephen Koukoulas concludes that he is "85% right", and "would make a great Opposition leader." Terry McCrann claims the author thinks "‘nuance’ is a trendy village in the south of France", but can be "scintillating" when he thinks "clearly". The ACTU reckons he’s "an enigma wrapped in a Bloomberg terminal, wrapped in some apparently well-honed abs."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Where does the Australian economy stand?

A great summary from an in-form Governor in London overnight:

"Australia sits in an interesting position here. Like our Asian neighbours we were affected by the events of late 2008. But the downturn was fairly brief. We were in a position to apply a liberal dose of stimulus to the economy, which was done in a timely fashion. The banks remained in good shape. Hence recovery began in the first half of 2009. A strong Asian recovery has also helped Australia.

As in other developed countries our consumers feel the effects of higher commodity prices as a reduction in real income. But since Australia is also a producer, the big rise in demand for energy, resources and food is expansionary for the economy. In fact, with our terms of trade at by far their highest level, on a five-year average basis, in more than a century, these events are very expansionary indeed. A very large increase in investment in the resources sector is under way and has a good deal further to run yet.

Just recently, we have been experiencing growth close to trend, relatively low unemployment – about 5 per cent – and moderate inflation, about 2¼ per cent in underlying terms. In comparison with the experience of the past generation, that is a pretty good combination.

Looking ahead, our job is to try to manage the terms of trade and investment booms. Historically, Australia has often not managed periods of prosperity conferred on us by global trends terribly well. On this occasion, we have to do better. We have to take the opportunity to capitalise effectively on some very powerful trends in the global economy to which we are, almost uniquely, positively exposed.

A few things are working in our favour. One is that the exchange rate is playing a role of helping the economy to adjust to the change in the terms of trade in a way that it was prevented from doing on numerous previous occasions. Another is that, at least so far, households are behaving with a degree of caution, insofar as spending and borrowing are concerned, that we have not seen for a long time. Having taken on quite a degree of debt over the preceding 15 years or so, households have thought better of taking on too much more. They are saving more than at any time for 20 years or more. So are households in many other countries, of course, but our good fortune is to be making that adjustment against a backdrop of rising income.

We are now engaged in a national discussion about how to stretch the benefits of the resources boom over a long period, and how to manage the risks that it will bring. These are complex matters that involve a wide range of policy areas – macroeconomic, microeconomic, taxation, industrial and so on. But if that discussion can be conducted in a mature fashion, and followed up with sensible policies, then we have a good chance of leaving to the next generation a wealthier, more secure and more stable Australian economy."