From the Chief Economist
The economy has yet again shown its resilience, and it’s the consumer that is cornerstone of the economic recovery. After the delta lockdowns, economic activity bounced-back – expanding 3.4 per cent and 4.2 per cent through the year. But when we look under the hood, the growth all came from household spending and stock accumulation. That’s not to say that investment, construction, trade and government spending are no longer supporting the economy – it reflects the lumpy nature of their recovery track.
In fact, the outlook for private investment is strong, and the pipeline of residential work yet to be done is at a record high. The fundamentals for business investment are as strong as they have been in years - business confidence, non-mining company profits, credit growth and capex plans are all strong.
The economy has again started a new year with a range of challenges. At the same time, Australian businesses are worried about how to attract the workforce they need and whether that means a higher wage bill; how to manage disrupted supply chains and rising input costs; and how forward orders and margins will be impacted by rising inflation and interest rates. In essence, these are all questions we ask when the economy is strong.
The baton of growth is being taken up by the private sector, supported by strong balance sheets across households and businesses. Economic activity has taken a hit in the March quarter from omicron, floods and international geopolitical events – but the underpinnings are strong, and we expect the jobs-rich recovery to continue. The unemployment rate looks set to fall to fifty-year lows and we have a shot at experiencing full employment.
That said, inflation is clearly on the rise – and the National Accounts provided further evidence of this. Domestic prices (as measured by final demand implicit price deflator) rose by 1.1 per cent – the fastest quarterly rate since 2008. These pressures were very evident for residential construction, where costs rose by the fastest quarterly rate since the introduction of the GST – up 3.2 per cent in the quarter, and 8.2 per cent over the year. Inflation is also being imported. Import prices rose 7.8 per cent (in chain price terms), the fastest rate since the GFC.