Tag Archives: net foreign debt

Missing The Key Economic Point, For Dummies

30 Nov

It is rather bemusing to browse around the economic commentaries on Wayne’s MYEFO (Mid Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook) announced yesterday. In particular, the commentaries from those with a leftist bent.

By and large, from these folk we hear the same refrain as that parrotted on down the line from Treasury via their talking head (Wayne Swan). To wit, “strongest economy in the developed world”, “envy of the developed world”, “lower debt-to-GDP than other advanced economies”, “nothing to see here, move along folks”.

Here’s some good examples that caught my eye:

Secondly, let’s tackle the Opposition canard – gleefully recycled by some media outlets – that somehow we are drowning in debt. It doesn’t take much – like five minutes on the Internet – to show that total government liabilities at around around 22 per cent of GDP are the lowest in the OECD and compare extremely favourably to just about every other developed economy.

It appears rather obvious from The Failed Estate’s analysis, that he did indeed spend “like 5 minutes on the internet” researching his momentous piece of groupthink.

And then there was New Matilda’s Ben Eltham. See if you can spot the drive-a-truck-through-it hole in his effusion (hint, emphasis added):

Step back from all the sound and fury about budget surpluses and the European debt crisis for a moment, and have an unbiased look at the latest Treasury figures on the health of Australia’s economy.

Unemployment is expected to peak at 5.5 per cent next year, and remain at the level into 2013. Inflation will be 3.25 per cent. Wages will grow at 4 per cent. Consumer spending will grow at 3 per cent, and the economy as a whole at 3.25 per cent.

These are figures that would make finance ministers in Europe weep. The Australian economy is growing. We’re adding jobs and keeping unemployment low, consumers are still spending, and inflation is modest. And yes, the budget will return to surplus.

Note to Mr Eltham: These are “estimates” and “projections”. Not outcomes. “Expected” does not equal “will”.

Indeed, as regular readers know, both the budget and MYEFO are all about “estimates” and “projections”.  And the Treasury department has a sterling record of abject failure when it comes to getting within a bulls roar of accurately predicting the final budget outcomes. Indeed, in less than 6 months, their “truly extraordinary” growth forecasts underpinning the May 2011 budget “estimates” and “projections”, are already shot to hell.

But our purpose today, dear reader, is not to dissect the ignorant parrotry of “leftist” journalists and bloggers.

Or “rightists”, for that matter.

Our purpose is to identify the key economic point that they are all missing.

One that even respected mainstream economic commentators like Access Economics’ Chris Richardson, here implying that it may not be wise for the government to be cutting spending at this time, have universally overlooked:

Deloitte Access Economics director Chris Richardson said the government planned to cut spending when the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) had cut its cash rate in early November.

The RBA cut the cash rate from 4.75 per cent to 4.5 per cent to provide some stimulus for a slowing economy.

“What the government is doing here is actually taking money back out again solely to get a surplus next year,” Mr Richardson told ABC Radio on Tuesday.

“It is not clear that it is smart to have the Reserve Bank tipping money but the government then taking it back out when the outlook especially with Europe is somewhat fraught.”

Let’s help out Messr’s Denmore, Eltham, and Richardson, with a brief guide on how to miss the key economic point.

For dummies:

1. Focus on the Federal government public debt figure.

2. Emphasise comparison of Federal government public debt-to-GDP versus other “developed” countries, praise Labor government for comparatively “low debt-to-GDP”.

3. Downplay importance of return to balanced annual budget / budget surplus. Cite 2. as primary justification.

4. Belittle any who express concern over ever rising government debt trajectory. Cite 2. as primary justification.

Commonwealth Government Securities On Issue | Source: Australian Office of Financial Management (AOFM)

5. Ignore the fact that while Federal Government public debt is “only” relatively small, our total Net Foreign Debt at June 2011 was almost $675 Billion, or over 50% of GDP (RBA Statistics, H5).

6. Ignore the fact that our banking system (thus, economy) relies on international money markets for some 40% of its “wholesale funding”.

7. Ignore the fact that in May 2011, Moody’s downgraded our Big Four banks’ credit ratings, cited their wholesale funding dependence as a key concern, and tacitly threatened the government that without the government’s explicit and implicit Guarantees propping them up, our Big Four banks would have their credit ratings slashed by at least two more ‘notches’.

8. Ignore the fact that in late June 2011, Fitch Ratings warned that Australia’s banks are amongst the most vulnerable in the world to the EU debt crisis, due to their reliance on wholesale funding from international money markets.

9. Ignore the fact that the spread on bond yields for Australia’s Big Four banks (versus non-financial institutions) have just hit record highs (from Bloomberg via SMH):

 Yields on bonds of Australian banks reached a record high relative to debt of the nation’s nonfinancial borrowers as Europe’s debt crisis threatens to freeze credit markets

Lenders including Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, ANZ and National Australia Bank Ltd., may need to sell about $144 billion of bonds in the 12 months ended June, 2012, according to a July research report from Deutsche Bank …

Trading conditions in the euro area have deteriorated this month as the region’s sovereign debt crisis deepens. Germany failed to get bids for 35 per cent of the 10-year bonds offered for sale on November 23 and traders were left seeking prices in the aftermath of a Spanish debt sale on November 17.

10. Ignore the fact that due to the very real vulnerability of our banking system, it is near-inevitable that the government will need to reinstate the Government (taxpayer) Wholesale Funding Guarantee to prop up our Too Big To Fail banks.

11. Ignore the fact that the government’s present “low” public debt comparison versus other countries is largely rendered a moot point, because the credit ratings agencies have already effectively served notice that they will have a lower tolerance for anything less than pristine government finances – and thus, a genuinely convincing case for return to surplus – due to the compulsion upon the Australian Government to (continue to) prop up a highly vulnerable banking system.

12. Blithely skip merrily through cherry-strewn intellectual fields, hand-in-hand with fellow groupthinkers, picking fruit and singing la la la la, wilfully ignoring the reality that (in the words of Senator Joyce) …

… “If you do not manage debt, debt manages you.”

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