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, September 6, 2012

Financial markets looking for bad jobs data (charts)

The median Bloomberg economist forecast is for Australia's jobless rate to rise from 5.2% to 5.3% today, although there are three major houses--the notoriously dovish Westpac, and ANZ and Merrills--who expect it to jump to 5.4% (see first chart below). Traders are more gloomy again. The traders have consistently got global sentiment right, but they have been just as regularly wrong on the domestic economy.

There are nonetheless credible reasons for the current pessimism: most of the forward labour market indicators have been quite negative, with slumping job ads, lower official vacancies, higher unemployment benefit payments (although this is a lagging indicator), and relentlessly negative media coverage on job losses around the country.

Wednesday's GDP data told us that Australia's economy had expanded at a way "above-trend" 4% pace over the first half of the year, and an equally "above-trend" 3.7% rate over the 12 months to June. As I have noted before, it appears that the so-called "sub-trenders", who kept predicting weak economic growth over 2011 and 2012, were wide of the mark.

But the unemployment data has the potential to provide crucial validation to the school of thought that the RBA is about to cut rates. Importantly, it covers the month of August, so we will have jobs data for two-thirds of the September quarter. In July the jobless rate confounded pessimists by actually declining from 5.25% (revised down) in June to 5.23% in July (see chart). A better description might be that in July the unemployment rate did not increase. A big rise in August to say 5.4% or higher would provide belated affirmation to the argument that the economy is now weakening.

On the other hand, a stubbornly static unemployment rate of around 5.2% would be a substantial surprise to the many who are forecasting worse outcomes in the third and fourth quarters of 2012.