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.

Notes

  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.

Markets that are likely to outperform in 2021

There is no reliable benchmark for assessing performance of different markets (stocks, bonds, precious metals, commodities, etc.) since central banks have flooded financial markets with more than $8 trillion in freshly printed currency since the start of 2020. The chart below from Ed Yardeni shows total assets of the five major central banks (Fed, ECB, BOC, BOE and BOJ) expanded to $27.9T at the end of November 2020, from below $20T at the start of the year.

Central Banks: Total Assets

With no convenient benchmark, the best way to measure performance is using relative strength between two prices/indices.

Measured in Gold (rather than Dollars) the S&P 500 iShares ETF (IVV) has underperformed since mid-2019. Respect of the red descending trendline would confirm further weakness ahead (or outperformance for Gold).

S&P 500 iShares ETF/Gold

But if we take a broad basket of commodities, stocks are still outperforming. Reversal of the current up-trend would signal that he global economy is recovering, with rising demand for commodities as manufacturing output increases. Breach of the latest, sharply rising trendline would warn of a correction to the long-term rising trendline and, most likely, even further.

S&P 500 iShares ETF/DJ-UBS Commodity Index

Commodities

There are pockets of rising prices in commodities but the broader indices remain weak.

Copper shows signs of a recovery. Breakout above -0.5 would signal outperformance relative to Gold.

Copper/Gold

Brent crude shows a similar rally. Breakout above the declining red trendline would suggest outperformance ahead.

Brent Crude/Gold

But the broad basket of commodities measured by the DJ-UBS Commodity Index is still in a down-trend.

DJ-UBS Commodity Index/Gold

Precious Metals

Silver broke out of its downward trend channel relative to Gold. Completion of the recent pullback (at zero) confirms the breakout and signals future outperformance.

Silver/Gold

Stock Markets

Comparing major stock indices, the S&P 500 has outperformed the DJ Stoxx Euro 600 since 2010. Lately the up-trend has accelerated and breach of the latest rising trendline would warn of reversion to at least the long-term trendline. More likely even further.

S&P 500 iShares ETF/Euro Stoxx 600

The S&P 500 shows a similar accelerating up-trend relative to the ASX 200. Breach of the latest trendline would similarly signal reversion to the LT trendline and most likely further.

S&P 500 iShares ETF/ASX 200

Reversion is already under way with India’s Nifty 50 (NSX), now outperforming the S&P 500.

S&P 500 iShares ETF/Nifty 50

S&P 500 performance relative to the Shanghai Composite plateaued at around +0.4. Breakout would signal further gains but respect of resistance is as likely.

S&P 500 iShares ETF/Shanghai Composite

Growth/Value

Looking within the Russell 1000 large caps index, Growth stocks (IWF) have clearly outperformed Value (IWD) since 2006. Breach of the latest, incredibly steep trendline, however, warns of reversion to the mean. We are likely to see Value outperform Growth in 2021.

Russell 1000 Value/Growth

Bonds

The S&P 500 has made strong gains against Treasury bonds since March (iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF [TLT]) but is expected to run into resistance between 1.3 and 1.4. Rising inflation fears, however, may lower bond prices, spurring further outperformance by stocks.

S&P 500 iShares ETF/Long_term Bond ETF (TLT)

Currencies

The US Dollar is weakening against a basket of major currencies. Euro breakout above resistance at $1.25 would signal a long-term up-trend.

Euro/Dollar

China’s Yuan has already broken resistance at 14.6 US cents, signaling a long-term up-trend.

Yuan/Dollar

India’s Rupee remains sluggish.

Indian Rupee/Dollar

But the Australian Dollar is surging. The recent correction that respected support at 70 US cents suggests an advance to at least 80 cents.

Australian Dollar/Dollar

Gold, surprisingly, retraced over the last few months despite the weakening US Dollar. But respect of support at $1800/ounce would signal another primary advance.

Spot Gold/Dollar

Conclusion

Silver is expected to outperform Gold.
Gold is expected to outperform stocks.
Value stocks are expected to outperform Growth.
India’s Nifty 50 is expected to outperform other major indices. This is likely to be followed by the Stoxx Euro 600 and ASX 200 but only if they break their latest, sharply rising trendlines. That leaves the S&P 500 and Shanghai Composite filling the minor placings.
Copper and Crude show signs of a recovery but the broad basket of currencies is expected to underperform stocks and precious metals.
The Greenback is expected to weaken against most major currencies, while rising inflation is likely to leave bond investors holding the wooden spoon.

ASX catches a virus

It’s not a pretty sight. The ASX 200 fell close to 10% in a single week. The severity of the fall suggests that sellers are committed and buyers are scarce. Breach of support at 6400 is highly likely and would offer a target of 5400 (a 25% draw-down).

ASX 200

A V-shaped recovery is unlikely.

The ASX 300 Metals & Mining index broke primary support at 4100, completing a double-top reversal with a target of 3400.

ASX 300 Metals & Mining

The Aussie Dollar is also getting smashed, headed for a target of 64 cents after breaking support at 67.

AUDUSD

The ASX 300 Banks index is headed for a test of 7250/7300. Breach is likely and would offer a test of 6750.

ASX 300 Banks

Our conclusion hasn’t changed from last week:

Threats continue to outweigh opportunities in our view and we retain a bearish view on the global and domestic economies. Our focus remains on defensive and contra-cyclical (gold) stocks.

Gold finds support

China’s Yuan found short-term support at 0.1395/0.1400 against the US Dollar but the ensuing rally is weak, suggesting continuation of the primary down-trend.

Our view is that the Yuan is in a long-term down-trend against the Dollar that shows no signs of easing. Resolution of trade tensions is unlikely, with trade merely the tip of the iceberg in a far wider clash, between two global powers with conflicting ideologies, that is likely to continue for decades.

CNYUSD

The soft Yuan rally strengthened demand for Gold. A correction would present a good entry point in an expected long-term up-trend but patience is required.

Spot Gold in USD

Problems with continued use of the Dollar as a global reserve currency are driving central bank demand for Gold. According to Peter Schiff:

“Central bank gold purchases in April continue a trend we saw through 2018. In total, the world’s central banks accumulated 651.5 tons of gold last year. The World Gold Council noted that 2018 marked the highest level of annual net central bank gold purchases since the suspension of dollar convertibility into gold in 1971, and the second highest annual total on record.

A move to minimize dependence on the US dollar, especially by countries like Russia and China, is driving this central bank gold-buying spree.”

Our target for Gold is the 2012 high at $1800/ounce.

Silver found support at $17.50 after a stronger retracement. Breach of support on Silver would be a bearish medium-term signal for Gold.

Spot Silver in USD

The All Ordinaries Gold Index is trending lower. Breach of 7200 would warn of another decline, with a target of 6000/6500. The primary trend is expected to remain upward, so this could present a good entry point.

All Ordinaries Gold Index

A long-term chart of the All Ordinaries Gold Index plotted against Gold (in AUD) shows valuations are relatively low compared to the boom of 2007 and 2011. A weaker Aussie Dollar and stronger gold price could both lift prices for local gold miners.

All Ordinaries Gold Index Relative to Gold Price

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.

CNYUSD

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.

CNYUSD

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.

AUD/USD

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.

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