Productivity not population key to Aussie living standards | Macrobusiness

From Leith van Onselen at Macrobusiness:

Former ALP minister Craig Emerson has penned an article in The AFR calling on the Morrison Government to tackle Australia’s declining productivity growth, which is central to boosting the nation’s living standards:

“Productivity growth has contributed 95 per cent of the improvement in Australians’ material living standards since 1901”.
“From the turn of the century, Australia’s productivity performance began to slide and the longer it has gone on the worse it has gotten”.
“Over the period from 2015 until the COVID-19 pandemic struck, actual productivity growth was worse than the low-productivity scenario included in the 2015 intergenerational report”.
“In the decade since 2010 – even excluding last year – Australia recorded its slowest growth in GDP per capita of any decade in at least 60 years”.
“Without a comprehensive economic reform program, Australia will inevitably have weak growth in living standards during the remainder of the 2020s and into the 2030s”.

Craig Emerson’s assessment is broadly correct, as evidenced by the stagnant real per capita GDP, wage and income growth experienced over the past decade (even before the coronavirus pandemic).

Sadly, however, the Morrison Government with the help of the Australian Treasury seems hell bent on leveraging the other ‘P’ – population growth – to mask over Australia’s poor productivity performance and to keep headline GDP growing, even if it means per capita GDP, income growth and living standards deteriorate.

Rather than using the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to reset the Australian economy to focus on quality over quantity, the Morrison Government is intent on repeating the policy mistakes of the past by returning to the lazy dumb growth policy of hyper immigration.

Rebooting mass immigration will inevitably contribute to Australia’s poor productivity growth by:

  • Crush-loading cities, increasing congestion costs and rising infrastructure costs;
  • Encouraging growth in low productivity people-servicing industries and debt creation, rather than higher productivity tradables; and
  • Discouraging companies from innovating and adopting labour saving technologies.

It’s time to put the Australian Treasury’s Three-Ps framework to rest once and for all, along with the snake oil solution of mass immigration.

Policy makers must instead focus first and foremost on boosting productivity, followed by lifting labour force participation. These are the two Ps that actually matter for living standards.

We agree with the concern over poor productivity growth, but focusing on labor force participation is putting the cart before the horse. The key cause of low productivity growth is declining business investment.

Business Investment

Without business investment, new job creation and wages growth will remain low. The way out of this trap is to prime the pump. Boost consumption through infrastructure programs — investment in productive infrastructure that will boost GDP growth (to repay the debt). Boost business investment through strong consumption, a lower Australian Dollar and tax incentives (like accelerated write-off) for new investment.

The lower exchange rate is important to rectify a serious case of Dutch disease1 from the resources industry. There are only three ways to achieve this:

  1. Increase imports, which would be self-defeating, destroying jobs;
  2. Reduce exports; or
  3. Export capital, of which Australia has little.

China is doing its best to help us with the second option, by restricting imports of a wide variety of Australian resources, but that has so far achieved little. David Llewellyn-Smith came up with an interesting alternative:

If we accept that the CCP is the latest manifestation of the historical tendency to give rise to political evils intent on dominating the lives of freedom-loving humanity, then why don’t we cut the flow of iron ore right now…….

The results would be instant. The Chinese economy would be structurally shocked to its knees. 30% of its GDP is real estate-related. 60% of the iron ore that drives it is sourced in Australia. Roughly speaking that is 18% of Chinese GDP that would virtually collapse overnight. Vast tracts of industry would fall silent. An instant debt crisis would sweep the Chinese financial system as its bizarre daisy chain of corruption froze. Local governments likewise. Unemployment would skyrocket.

…..What we can say with confidence is that it would pre-occupy the CCP for many years and hobble it permanently. Its plans for regional domination would be set back decades if not be entirely over.

The problem is how to convince the old boys around the boardroom table at BHP that this would be in their interest as well as in the country’s interest.


  1. Dutch disease is a term coined by The Economist to describe the impact on the Netherlands’ economy of a resources boom from discovery of large natural gas fields in 1959. The soaring exchange rate, from LNG exports, caused a sharp contraction in the manufacturing sector which struggled to compete, in export markets and against imports in the domestic market, at the higher exchange rate.

Westpac: US Dollar capped by dovish Fed (video)

Elliot Clarke - Video

Good short video from Elliot Clarke & Richard Franulovich at Westpac IQ about Aussie/US Dollar prospects and the outlook for the US economy.

Rising yields are lifting the Dollar but the Fed’s dovish stance is expected to cap the Dollar going forward, with the Aussie likely to strengthen above 80 US cents.

The Biden stimulus is likely to help the US economic recovery this year but will wear off by year-end. There are many obstacles to passing a major infrastructure bill but that would be the best way to lift growth prospects over 2022/3 and beyond and help the US keep pace with growth in Asia, where there are more development opportunities.

ASX 200 breakout

The ASX 200 broke resistance at 6800, signaling a fresh advance. Expect retracement to test the new support level; respect would strengthen the bull signal.

ASX 200

Primary driver of the advance is resources. Talk of an imminent phase 1 US-China trade deal lifted iron ore, which is now testing resistance at 95. Expect retracement to test primary support at 80 but respect would confirm that a base has formed.

Iron Ore

The ASX 300 Metals & Mining index is advancing in step with iron ore prices, with a short-term target of 4800.

ASX 300 Metals & Mining

Financials remain weak, with the ASX 300 Banks index ranging in a bearish narrow band between 7200 and 7500. Respect of the descending trendline would warn of another decline, with a short-term target of 7000.

ASX 300 Banks

The ASX 200 REITs index recovered after a false break below 1580, with a short-term target of 1680.


We maintain a focus on defensive and contra-cyclical (gold) sectors because of our bearish outlook for the Australian and global economy.

ASX 200 tests resistance, Iron ore tests support

Iron ore found resistance at $95/ton and is likely to again test short-term support at $90. Support is unlikely to hold and breach would offer a medium-term target of $80 per ton.

Iron Ore

The ASX 300 Metals & Mining index found support at 4100 but the rally is weak. Breach of 4100 would complete a head and shoulders reversal, giving a target of 3400.

ASX 300 Metals & Mining

A fall in iron ore prices would increase downward pressure on the Aussie Dollar.

The Financial sector continues to look bullish, testing resistance at 6500, with Trend Index troughs above zero indicating buying pressure. Housing woes are far from over, despite improved auction clearance rates, and we expect the sector to remain a drag on growth for the next three to five years — unless the RBA & APRA go “all-in” on a housing bubble to “rescue” the economy.

ASX 200 Financials

The ASX 200 is edging upwards, towards a test of resistance at the 2007 high of 6800. Expect stubborn resistance. Reversal below 6400 would warn of a decline to test primary support at 5400.

ASX 200

We maintain exposure to Australian equities at 25% of portfolio value, with a focus on defensive and contra-cyclical stocks, because of our bearish long-term outlook.

Gold: Correction likely as Yuan finds support

The Yuan found short-term support at 0.1395/0.1400 against the US Dollar. Expect a rally over the next month, with “talks about talks” between US and Chinese trade representatives.

The Yuan is in a long-term down-trend against the Dollar that shows no signs of easing. Our view is that resolution of trade tensions is unlikely. Trade is merely the tip of the iceberg in a far wider clash between two global powers with conflicting ideologies, likely to continue for decades, if not longer.


The Yuan rally has softened demand for Gold and breach of support at $1500, or penetration of the rising trendline, would warn of a correction. A correction may present a good entry point in an expected long-term up-trend. Our target is the 2012 high at $1800/ounce.

Spot Gold in USD

Last week’s gravestone candlestick on Silver also warns of a correction. Gold and Silver tend to move in tandem.

Spot Silver in USD

The All Ordinaries Gold Index is testing support at 7500. Breach would warn of another decline, with a target of 6000/6500. The primary trend is expected to remain upward, so again, this may present a good entry point.

All Ordinaries Gold Index

A long-term chart of the Australian Dollar against the greenback illustrates our long-term target of 60 cents (subtract 10 cents (80-70) from 70 cents). A weaker Aussie Dollar would support stronger prices for local gold miners.

Australian Dollar

Gold consolidates as the Yuan plunge continues

The Yuan’s plunge against the US Dollar is accelerating, with a short-term target of 0.1380. This is likely to elicit more tariff threats from the US — China has already been labeled a currency manipulator — as the trade war spirals out of control. There is no resolution in sight. Like a brush fire, trade wars are easy to start but difficult to extinguish as attitudes on both sides harden.


A falling Yuan will increase capital flight, boosting demand for Gold. Spot Gold is consolidating above $1500/ounce. A Trend Index trough above zero indicates strong buying pressure. Respect of support at $1500 is likely and would signal another advance. Our target is the 2012 high at $1800/ounce.

Spot Gold in USD

The recent strong advance on Silver supports our bullish outlook for Gold. The two tend to move in tandem.

Spot Silver in USD

The All Ordinaries Gold Index is surprisingly weak, testing support at 7500 despite a falling Aussie Dollar. Breach of 7500 would warn of another decline, with a target of 6000/6500, but the primary trend is expected to remain upward. The dip is likely to present a good buy opportunity.

All Ordinaries Gold Index

The Australian Dollar decline is testing support at 0.68 against the greenback. Our long-term target is 60 cents (calculated by subtracting (80-70) from 70) which should support a stronger $XGD.

Australian Dollar

ASX 200 rises despite falling Dollar

The Aussie Dollar was trading above 80 US cents 18 months ago but has now broken support at 70 US cents. The immediate target is 68 cents but our long-term target is 60 cents, the lows of 2008.


While this may benefit mining and other export-led sectors, the medium-term impact may be increased cost of offshore funding for the major banks. The chart below, sourced from the RBA, shows major banks rely on offshore funding of close to $650 billion (between 18% and 19% of total funding of $3.4 trillion).

Major Bank Funding

The ASX 200, buoyant after a surprise election result, broke resistance at 6400. Expect retracement to test the new support level, shown at 6350/6400 below on the daily chart. Respect would confirm a fresh advance.

ASX 200

I remain cautious of Australian stocks because of two factors: (1) potential fallout from a US-China trade war; and (2) declining housing prices and construction activity in Australia. With (common equity Tier 1) leverage ratios close to 5%, banks are under-capitalized and could act as “an accelerant rather than a shock-absorber” with any external shocks.

ASX 200 recovers as Aussie Dollar plunges

The Aussie Dollar broke long-term support at 70 US cents (as shown on the quarterly chart below), closing below 69 cents. Target for the decline is 60 cents.


The ASX 200, reflecting the counter-balance between its two largest sectors, recovered to test resistance at 6350. The Trend Index trough above zero signals buying pressure.

ASX 200

Financials (32% of the ASX 200) penetrated its rising trendline to warn of a correction. Follow-through below 5800 would indicate a test of primary support at 5300.

ASX 200 Financials

Materials (18% of the index), on the other hand, rallied strongly after respecting support at 12500. Follow-through above 13500 would signal another advance.

ASX 200 Materials

I would be cautious of any breakout on the ASX 200 and would wait for retracement (respecting the new support level) to confirm the advance.

Crude reversal undermines Gold rally

Nymex crude broke support at $65, warning of a primary down-trend with a medium-term target of $56/barrel.

Nymex WTI Light Crude

Crude and gold tend to rise and fall together, over the long-term, and falling crude prices warn of gold weakness.

The bear rally in Gold is likely to meet stubborn resistance at $1250. Reversal below support at $1180 would offer a long-term target of the 2015 low at $1050/ounce.

Spot Gold in USD

Another major influence on Gold prices is Dollar strength. A strong Dollar is synonymous with lower gold prices. The Dollar Index is trending upwards but ran into resistance at 96.50/97.00.

Dollar Index

The reason is not hard to find as China’s central bank (PBOC) stepped in to support the Yuan at 14.5 US cents (6.9 to $1), selling Dollar reserves.

Chinese Yuan

The Aussie Dollar also strengthened as a result.

Australian Dollar

Australian Gold stocks continue to find support because of the weak currency (AUD) but a declining Trend Index warns of long-term weakness. Breach of support at 4500 would signal a primary down-trend.

All Ords Gold Index

Gold bear rally boosts Aussie miners

China’s Yuan broke support at 14.50, warning of another decline.

Chinese Yuan

A weaker Yuan is likely to lead to Dollar strength. The Dollar Index respected support at 94 and follow-through above 96 would confirm another advance.

Dollar Index

A strengthening Dollar would weaken demand for Gold. Gold broke resistance at $1210/ounce, commencing a bear market rally. Expect resistance at $1250. Reversal below support at $1180 is unlikely at present but would warn of a decline to the 2015 low at $1050/ounce.

Spot Gold in USD

The Aussie Dollar is in a primary down-trend with descending Trend Index peaks below zero warning of strong selling pressure.

Australian Dollar

The combination of a gold bear rally and a weak Aussie Dollar prompted a rally among Australian gold miners. The All Ordinaries Gold Index (XGD) broke resistance at 4900 and is testing 5100. Ascending troughs on the Trend Index indicate buying pressure and a test of 5400 is likely.

All Ordinaries Gold Index