Business World

Monday 5 December 2016

Australia's economy outpaces forecasts, peers in first quarter

Published 03/06/2015 | 07:26

The Department of Lands building, one of two 100-year-old government office buildings under consideration to be converted into hotel accommodations, stands in Sydney, Australia, on Saturday, July 12, 2014. Hotel construction is picking up as the number of visitors to Australia grows at the fastest pace in at least nine years.
The Department of Lands building, one of two 100-year-old government office buildings under consideration to be converted into hotel accommodations, stands in Sydney, Australia, on Saturday, July 12, 2014. Hotel construction is picking up as the number of visitors to Australia grows at the fastest pace in at least nine years.

Australia's economy grew at the fastest pace in a year last quarter as the nation shipped more resources abroad, built more homes and bought more consumer goods, an upbeat surprise that sent the local dollar bounding ahead.

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Wednesday's data showed gross domestic product (GDP) expanded by 0.9 percent in the first quarter, up from 0.5 percent the previous quarter. That outpaced forecasts of 0.7 percent and lifted the dollar above 78 U.S. cents AUD=D4.

It puts Australia in a unique position of being one of the few developed economies which have had a pretty solid start to the year," said Tom Kennedy, an economist at JPMorgan.

"It supports the argument for the RBA to sit back and evaluate how the easing to this point has filtered through the economy."

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) has done its best to shore up demand by cutting interest rates twice this year to an all time low of 2 percent, and might yet have to act again.

Interbank futures <0#YIB:> imply a 60 percent probability of another easing by Christmas, though few see much chance of a move in the next few months.

Low rates have been doing their work, with home building up almost 5 percent in the quarter while consumers spent more on cars, communications, household goods and eating out.

Signs are demand has held up, with sales of new vehicles running firm through both April and May. Industry data out on Wednesday showed sales of sports utilities broke all records in the year to May.

STILL NOT IDEAL

Australia's quarterly performance was handily ahead of most of its rich world peers, beating the UK's 0.3 percent, a 0.4 percent gain in the EU and a contraction in the United States.

Treasurer Joe Hockey highlighted that Australia had grown faster than any of the Group of Seven rich nations.

"How good is that," he told reporters.

Overall, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported the value of goods and services produced was worth A$1.6 trillion ($1.25 trillion) in current dollars, or about A$67,800 for each of Australia's 23.5 million people.

Yet while the economy has not suffered a full blown recession since 1991, it has been traveling below its ideal pace of around 3.25 percent for much of the past six years.

Annual growth of 2.3 percent was still the slowest since late 2013, weighed by a retreat in mining investment and sharply lower prices for many of the country's resources.

That has seen unemployment slowly rise to near-decade highs at 6.2 percent, squeezing wages and household incomes.

The closely watched measure of real net national disposable income actually fell 0.2 percent in the year to March, a result more usually associated with recessions.

Likewise, GDP measured in current prices grew a meager 1.4 percent, a headache for the Liberal National government of Tony Abbott since it is nominal growth that drives the tax take.

Fiscal belt-tightening means the public sector has added nothing to economic growth for over two years, far below its historic annual contribution of 0.75 percentage points.

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