Central Banks and interest rates will continue to be in focus this week, although it is likely that the discussion will be more about the lack of movement. Janet Yellen, US Federal Reserve Chair, will speak at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia. The weak non-farm payrolls data that was released on Friday night is likely to postpone the possible June interest rate rise, and economists will no doubt scrutinise Ms Yellen’s speech for signs of when the Fed is thinking rates will move.
Markets are now predicting that the increase will not happen in the short term, with the USD tumbling over the weekend. The AUD rallied through US$0.73, touching an intraday high of US$0.7370 following the worst non-farm payroll in 5 years.
Closer to home, the RBA meets tomorrow and will announce their decision on the official cash rate. Following last month’s 0.25% cut in rates, the Australian economy has shown strength with an annual GDP growth of 3.1%. It is unlikely that the RBA will make another move with rates this meeting, due to the underlying economic strength. The Board are expected to give the economy time to absorb the impact of the previous cut before making another decision.
Real GDP Growth
Australian economic growth continues to be among the highest in the developed world.
While this is certainly positive, the detail does not appear to be as buoyant as the headline. We have analysed the GDP figures and while they may appear surprisingly strong to some (3.1% annual growth), after closer inspection, weakness is also evident.
GDP measures the overall economic activity each year, in other words, the monetary value of all the goods produced. Our country is not struggling to produce goods. Just look to recent production output figures from any of our large miners and you will see ‘record production levels’. However, with commodity prices low, the benefit of producing at record levels is lost. Profits are actually moving backwards.
The stronger than expected rise in GDP was driven by increases in net exports, household spending and government spending. The weakness in the AUD has been assisting trade outcomes, with exports rising 5.9% over the year, while imports have fallen 4.6%.
Of concern was the largest detraction in business investment since the 1990/91 recession. This is a sign that business is concerned about the potential of future growth prospects, and seems to reflect the global trend. Corporate profit growth is challenging, and many businesses appear to be in a risk-averse phase where they are not prepared to invest for future growth.
Company profits fell 4.7% in the March quarter, reflecting an 8.4% decline over the year. Mining company profits dropped 9.6% and manufacturing fell by 14.5%. Profits in the Construction sector increased by 0.6%. Along with anaemic corporate profits, income growth is also weak.
News in Review
- Australia’s growth in real GDP in the first quarter of calendar 2016 proved much stronger than what the market had anticipated, with our economy growing 1.1% for the first quarter of 2016, for annual growth of 3.1%.
- The Housing Industry Association (HIA) survey showed that sales of new homes in Australia fell by 4.7% in April following a surprisingly strong 8.9% surge the previous month. The association’s chief economist said that “the trend in new home sales reiterates that the peak for the cycle has passed, but the descent we’re now observing is very mild”, and signals the potential for better than expected home construction activity throughout 2016.
- Australia’s retail trade rose 0.2% in April to be 3.6% higher over the year. Discretionary spending was 0.5% higher, while non-discretionary fell by 0.2%.
- The Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) did not reach an agreement to curb supply at their meeting in Vienna. Recent oil price rises have lifted the pressure somewhat.
- The US unemployment rate improved to 4.7%, however this improvement was superficial. More Americans stopped looking for work, and this reduction in workforce numbers resulted in the superficial improvement. Only 38,000 jobs were added in May, well below the average 200,000 per month.
- Despite a languid start to 2016, US consumer spending recorded its largest monthly increase in nearly seven years in April as households stepped up purchases of durable goods, reflecting the month’s particularly robust motor vehicle sales.
- China’s CSI 300 (an index comprising the top 300 stocks on the Shanghai and Shenzhen exchanges) experienced its second best session of the year amid speculation that that MSCI, a global index provider, will soon add mainland-traded Chinese stocks (known as ‘A-shares’) in its Emerging Markets Index.
- The European Commission’s economic sentiment index rose for a second consecutive month in May, with a 0.7 point rise to 104.7, lifting the index to its best reading since January. The rise in sentiment is mainly attributed to improvements in confidence among consumers, retail trade and construction sectors.
- The European Central Bank announced it will broaden its bond buying stimulus program by commencing purchases of corporate debt and offering new ultra-cheap loans to commercial banks. President Mario Draghi said that the ECB would not hesitate to provide more support to the economy if needed.
- Asciano (AIO) shareholders have voted in favour of a $9.2bn takeover bid from Qube and Brookfield Infrastructure.
- South 32 (S32) has warned of "more pain to come" for the mining sector amid expectations that the recent rise in some commodity prices will not be sustained. "I am not convinced we are through the challenging price environment. I'm sure there is still more pain to come," chief executive Graham Kerr said in an interview with the Financial Times.
- The Federal Government is opening the doors to competition in the clearing of shares which currently is the main domain of the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX). Treasurer Scott Morrison said the government is absolutely committed to open and competitive markets which are “fundamental to a vibrant 21st century economy”.
- Woolworths (WOW) has been fined $9 million over its role in a laundry detergent cartel case brought by the competition watchdog. The supermarket giant has admitted to being "knowingly concerned in an anti-competitive understanding" between detergent producers. On a positive note, an analysis of a basket of goods from Coles and Woolworths found Woolworths to be cheaper. Aldi was unsurprisingly found to be the cheapest.
- BP agreed on Thursday to pay US$175 million to shareholders who brought a class-action lawsuit that accused the oil company of misleading them by understating the severity of the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
- ALS Ltd (ALQ) shares jumped last week after the company’s board disclosed that they had rejected an approach from Advent International and Bain Capital for a cash consideration of $5.30 per share. Although the non-binding and conditional offer was 22.3% above the 1 month Volume Weighted Average Price, the Board concluded that the offer does not recognise the fundamental value of the company.
The Week Ahead
- US: Fed Chair Yellen to Speak in Philadelphia, U. of Michigan Confidence (JUN P)
- Australia: Reserve Bank of Australia Rate Decision, Home Loans (APR)
- Europe: Euro-Zone Gross Domestic Product (YoY)
- China: CNY Foreign Direct Investment (YoY), Consumer Price Index (YoY) (MAY)
- Japan: Gross Domestic Product (YoY), Machine Orders (YoY) (APR)
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