Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Australian Economy Contracts -0.5% in 4Q08

Back in December in The Recession We Couldn't Avoid, I wrote the following:

"There is no doubt in my mind that the Australian economy is now in recession."

The evidence back then showed that the manufacturing, services and construction sectors had all been contracting for at least 6 straight months each and that surveys of business conditions confidence were at recessionary levels. Today we got more confirmation that a recession has been underway for a least a quarter with the latest GDP numbers.

After tepid GDP growth of just 0.1% in 3Q08, Australian GDP contracted for the first time in 8 years falling -0.5% in the fourth quarter. This would seem at odds with what the RBA announced just yesterday after their decision to leave interest rates unchanged at their March meeting:

"on the basis of currently available information, the Australian economy has not experienced the sort of large contraction seen elsewhere".

True, Australia hasn't seen declines as big as Japan or the US, but the fact is demand is undergoing a significant contraction in the non-farm sector. Excluding the farm sector, GDP was down -0.8% in the fourth quarter.

Also of interest in the above quote is the phrase "currently available data", as noted yesterday, the RBA is a data dependent and therefore a backward looking gauge of the economy. Remember that less than a year ago, the RBA was still waffling on about the threat of inflation and last March actually raised interest rates.

The RBA's ability to forecast the future is no better than anyone else's and so whilst they may be able to formulate a coherent narrative of where we have been, their forecasts for the future should be taken with a large grain of salt.

Year over Year GDP growth rose a paltry 0.3% in 4Q08 the slowest pace since the -0.9% recorded in the 12 months to December 1991, not surprisingly occurring just after the end of the last recession.

Despite the Rudd Stimulus package in December and consecutive interest rate cuts the Australian economy has been unable to avoid a contraction in the fourth quarter of 2008. Whilst Rudd Stimulus mark II will get underway in March and April it is unlikely that these measures can do more than soften the decline in economic activity in 2009.