Tag Archives: ross gittins

Who Owns 73% Of Our Debt?

24 Apr

Back on the 14th of March last year (“Who Owns Our Debt?“), we discovered that noted SMH economic commentator Ross Gittins was wrong. He had claimed –

You thought the pollies had done little else but spar about deficits and debt? Sorry, different debt. They’ve been arguing about the public debt – the amount the federal government owes (mainly to Australians).

At the time, a search through the RBA’s Statistics tables (“E3.xls”, Commonwealth Government Securities Classified By Holder) proved Gittins wrong.  We found that at September 2009, $65.972bn in Commonwealth debt was estimated to be held by non-residents. From a total of $104.228bn.  In percentage terms, an estimated 63.3% of public debt was actually held by non-residents of Australia.

Naturally we posed the question – Who exactly, are these ‘non-residents’ who hold 63.3% (or more?) of our public debt?

A little over a year later, we’ve had another look at those numbers (click to enlarge) –

Magenta - Total Public Debt. | Blue - Non-resident holders.

According to the updated RBA spreadsheet (“E3.xls”), at December 2010, $127.027bn in Commonwealth debt was estimated to be held by non-residents.  From a total of $174.794bn.

In other words, at December last year we owed $174.794bn.  And of that, $127bn – that is, 72.6% – was estimated to be owed to non-residents of Australia.

We ask again – Who exactly are the ‘non-residents’ who now own 72.6% (or more?) of our public debt?

Gittins Nails ‘Rudd’s Budget Trick’

17 May

Economics Editor for the Sydney Morning Herald, Ross Gittins, hits the nail squarely on the head in critiquing the latest Budget, and at the same time, smashes the lamestream media’s pathetic reporting of the Rudd smoke ‘n mirrors ‘trick’:

The annual debate about the budget gets ever more unreal. This year it reached the height of absurdity. Budgets used to be about what the government plans to do in the coming financial year. Now they’re about what supposedly will happen any time over the next four years.

How unreal can you get? Who on earth knows what will happen over the next four years? No one. Certainly not Treasury (nor any of the smarties who think they know better than it). This time last year Treasury’s best guess was that unemployment would peak at 8.5 per cent next year; now we know it peaked at 5.8 per cent in the middle of last year.

This time last year we were told revenue collections over five years would be down $210 billion on what the ”forward estimates” had told us the year before. Now we’re told they’ll be down $110 billion – but why would you set much store by that guess? We know from repeated experience that Treasury is quite bad at telling us in early May what the budget balance will be at the end of the following month. And yet we take seriously what it says the balance will be in three or four years’ time.

This year there’s been huge emphasis – encouraged by the government’s rhetoric and amplified by the media (including yours truly) – on one figure: the projected budget balance in three years’ time, a surplus of $1 billion. Hallelujah! Home and hosed. All over bar the shouting.

How absurd can you get? Treasury isn’t even prepared to dignify this figure with the status of a ”forecast”? It’s the product of a completely mechanical, punch-in-predetermined-numbers ”projection”. Here’s another absurdity: the public debate about the budget treats all its figures as if they were accomplished facts. No ifs or buts or maybes. And do the purse-string ministers – who know better than anyone how unreliable these figures are – make it their responsibility to warn us not to take them too literally? Not a bit of it.

Here’s Lindsay Tanner: ”The result is that we are back in surplus three years ahead of schedule in three years’ time and the level of debt Australia has will be half of what was initially projected” (my emphasis).

Last year’s projection was rubbish, but this year’s is fact. Of all the (inescapably) rubbery figures in the budget, the one we’ve fixated on is the rubberiest: the $1 billion cash surplus in 2012-13. The one thing you can bet on is that the budget balance that year won’t be a surplus of $1 billion.

This relatively recent shift from focusing on the budget year to taking a blurry look at the next four years has made it easier for governments to manipulate our perceptions of the budget. And boy, weren’t the pollies working hard at it this year.

Read the rest of Gittins’ detailed and brilliant critique here.

Who Owns Our Debt?

14 Mar

Yesterday I wrote an article commenting on the SMH economics editor Ross Gittins’ column about Australia’s foreign debt.

Something else Mr Gittins claimed in his article caught my notice and bugged me overnight:

What’s that you say? You thought the pollies had done little else but spar about deficits and debt? Sorry, different debt. They’ve been arguing about the public debt – the amount the federal government owes (mainly to Australians).

Mr Gittins is apparently claiming that when the Australian Government issues Commonwealth Securities to raise money, that these are mainly bought by Australians – investors, super funds, banks, big companies, etc.

But is that true?  Is our public debt “mainly” owed to Australians?

I decided it might be nice to know for sure.  Not just take Ross Gittins’ word for it.

In the RBA’s Statistics section, spreadsheet “E9.xls” – Commonwealth Government Securities Classified By Holder as at June 30, I found something interesting…

Continue reading ‘Who Owns Our Debt?’

Worrier Joyce Gains Traction

13 Mar

A must read article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald:

Why Our Foreign Debt Is A Taboo Subject

It’s become deeply unfashionable to talk about Australia’s foreign debt. Neither the government nor the opposition wants to mention it and the same goes for most economists. In the Reserve Bank’s 60-page quarterly review of the economy it doesn’t crack a mention.

Predictably, however, the subject holds no terror for Barnaby Joyce. As best I can make out, his celebrated mention of ”our net debt gross public and private” was a reference to our foreign debt.

What’s that you say? You thought the pollies had done little else but spar about deficits and debt? Sorry, different debt. They’ve been arguing about the public debt – the amount the federal government owes (mainly to Australians).

On the latest estimates (which are probably too high), the federal budget’s return to deficit is projected to cause the net public debt to peak at $153 billion in June 2014, before falling back.

But as Crocodile Dundee might say, that’s not a debt, this is a debt: according to figures we got from the Bureau of Statistics last week, in December Australia’s net foreign debt reached $648 billion.

And if you enjoy a good worry, as Joyce clearly does, why not quote the gross foreign debt? It stands at a cool $1219 billion.

How on earth did we get to owe all that money? Just who owes it? What’s the difference between gross and net? And why does no one but Bushwhacked Barnaby think there’s much to get excited about?

Perhaps it’s because Barnaby is the only politician in Australia who truly cares about protecting Australians.  And not just his own taxpayer-funded lurks and perks.

There is one serious quibble I have with Ross Gittins’ column. He writes:

Since we’ve run a deficit on the current account almost every year since the year dot, and since we also have to borrow to cover the interest we pay on earlier debt, our total debt to foreigners stands at $1219 billion.

Fortunately, it’s not quite that bad. That’s the gross amount we owe. But while some Australians were borrowing from foreigners, others (mainly our super funds) were lending money to foreigners. As at December, foreigners owed us $571 billion.

So that’s why the net amount we owe to foreigners is $648 billion and that’s the more meaningful figure to focus on.

I disagree completely. With so much evidence emerging almost daily about the growing debt crises in countries all over the world – just see the dozens of articles referenced and linked in this blog –  why should we sit back comfortably and count our chickens before they’re hatched?

If foreigners owe us $571 billion, what makes us think that they can pay us back? What good reason is there to believe we can count on that $571 billion owed back to us?

I applaud Mr Gittins’ story overall. At least he’s bringing attention to the great taboo subject of foreign debt. But I fear that, like so many mainstream economists, he fails to see these simple, logical flaws in the “popular” wisdom.

The exact same flawed argument is made by the government, Treasury, the RBA, and all their many cheerleaders in the mainstream media, when it comes to Gross vs Net public debt.  And, gross vs net Interest on Debt.  Again, they always argue that it is only the Net figure that matters. Because they believe that we can count on the amounts owed back to us as a sure thing.

Morons. Blinded by “conventional wisdom”, and too much time staring into the crystal balls of economic “theory”. Even Gittins manages to concede as much, in a butt-covering final paragraph:

Of course, the conventional wisdom among economists could be wrong. It has been known.


Not one “conventional” economist predicted the GFC.  Many – like the Rudd Labor team of economic illiterates – were still shrieking about “the inflation genie” in the middle of 2008.  Even though the GFC tsunami had already started to wash over the USA back in the middle of 2007!

The “conventional wisdom” is BS.

Barnaby is right.

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