Growth forecast flattens as Australia nears finishing line

Australia is set to stumble the moment it crosses the finish line.

The March quarter national accounts due for release on June 7 were expected to show Australia had caught up to Holland, which holds the record for the longest period of near-continuous economic growth, clocking up 103 quarters without a recession.

Beyond that, Australia would become the outright record holder, because Holland’s run ended with the global financial crisis.

But the first lot of forecasts for the March quarter national accounts suggest Australia will limp, rather than sprint, to level pegging.

The National Australia Bank says there’s a risk of a “flat or even a small negative” growth number on June 7.

AMP Capital says there’s a “risk of another contraction”.

The ANZ says its best guess is economic growth of just 0.1 per cent, barely distinguishable from zero.

The unwritten rules of the competition allow isolated quarters of negative economic growth. Since the end of the early 1990s recession, Australia has had four; the most recent in September 2016.

That means an isolated negative number in the March quarter wouldn’t deprive Australia of the chance to take the title, but it might make the celebrations awkward.

AMP chief economist Shane Oliver says retail sales grew by only 0.1 per cent in real terms in the quarter and Australia’s trade balance most likely turned negative.

“More importantly, with the budget providing no net stimulus to the economy, in fact it’s a detraction, it falls to the Reserve Bank to do the heavy lifting on the economy,” he said in a note to clients.

“With housing set to slow at a time when mining investment is still falling (albeit…

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