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BFCSA: Economic growth unlikely to pick up in near term

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Economic growth unlikely to pick up in near term

Australian Financial Review Apr 17, 2019 11.44am

Matthew Cranston


Economic growth in the first two to three quarters of this year is likely to be below trend, according to the latest Westpac Melbourne Institute reading.

The Index, which predicts the six month annualised growth rate using a number of existing measures such as dwelling approvals, rose from –0.54 per cent in February to –0.09 per cent in March.

While that is an improvement, it still indicates economic growth is not expected to pick up any time soon.

Westpac chief economist Bill Evans said the index had now registered four consecutive months in which the growth rate has been negative.

"[The latest reading] continues to support the signal that growth through the first two to three quarters of 2019 is likely to be below trend."

RBA to change growth forecasts

Mr Evans also said he was surprised to see such little discussion about the RBA's ongoing "poor performance" in achieving its inflation target or the likelihood that it will once again be lowering its growth forecasts when issuing its Statement on Monetary Policy on May 10.

The broader Westpac-MI's Leading Index of Economic Activity was 98.01 in March, up from 97.82 in February.

The key boost to predictions was the strong number of dwelling approvals – which were up 19.1 per cent in February.

However Mr Evans said it was "reasonable to expect a substantial reversal in the dwelling approvals series next month."

Dwelling approvals remained 12.5 per cent lower than a year ago and that, Westpac said, signalled further falls in residential investment in the near term are likely.

This weaker dwelling investment will hurt consumer spending and drag on economic growth.

“Key to the ongoing slow growth will be a challenged consumer, as households adjust to slower than expected wages growth and falling house prices," Mr Evans said.

"That will be compounded by a continuation of the contraction in residential house building activity that appears to have begun in the September quarter of 2018."

In March, five of the eight components of the index contributed to growth. Among them consumer sentiment and commodity prices made positive contributions while aggregate monthly hours also added to growth.

Hours worked in February were 1.2 per cent higher than six months ago.


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