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The Experts

James
Craig James - CommSec
Economy Expert
+ About Craig James
About Craig James

Craig James is CommSec’s Chief Economist.

On leaving school Craig James joined the (then) Rural Bank, whilst undertaking university studies. He received his Bachelor of Commerce (Economics) at University of NSW in 1984 and then a Master of Commerce (Economics) at the same university in 1988.

He remained at the Rural Bank, which became the State Bank over time and then Colonial, working in branches, Corporate, Planning and Economic Research.

He became chief economist of Colonial Group in September 1987, before becoming chief economist at CommSec in August 2000 with the Commonwealth takeover of Colonial.

In 2002 Craig had a sea-change, joining the Australian Financial Review. He had always wanted to pursue a role in journalism and enjoyed the role as an economic commentator and analysts, finding that he could pursue a journalistic-type role as well as doing more electronic media work at CommSec and rejoined the group in 2003.

On taking the reigns of chief economist at Colonial, Craig endeavoured to style their research in a “user-friendly” way – something that set their research apart and still does today. The approach has been successful in their media work and in promoting Colonial, and then CommSec, to the general public. CommSec is the most quoted economic group in the mainstream media.

CommSec economic reports are a bit different in that they devise tools such as the ‘Mums and Dads’ share index and the iPod index, and undertake research on the weather and demographic changes to show how they affect the economy.

Craig currently does around 2-3 regular TV crosses a day, ad hoc radio and newspaper interviews and writes regular commentaries as well as presenting to staff, clients and external organisations.

Outside work, Craig's main interests are athletics (cross country in winter), weight training, reading widely across a range of newspapers, magazines and electronic media, and trying to keep up with the children.

The week ahead: Heavyweight US economic growth

Friday, May 25, 2018

 

Australia: Business investment and home prices in focus

  • A relatively quiet week beckons in terms of new economic data. Home prices, building approvals and business investment are the indicators of most interest.
  • The week kicks-off on Tuesday when Roy Morgan and ANZ release the weekly consumer sentiment results.
  • On Wednesday, local council building approvals data for April is issued. Approvals to build new homes rose by 2.6 per cent in March. Strong population growth is lifting demand for housing in Victoria. The value of building approvals hit a record high of $126.4 billion over the year. Annual commercial building approvals stand at a record high of $48 billion.
  • On Thursday the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) releases the Private Capital Expenditure publication (essentially business investment figures). New investment grew by four per cent over the year – the fastest annual growth rate in five years.
  • In the December quarter the future spending plans were also positive. The upgrade in investment plans from the fourth to the fifth reading for the current financial year was the strongest for an equivalent period going back eight years. The other good news is that there is a broad-based lift in actual annual investment spending across the non-mining-focused states and territories.
  • Also on Thursday the Reserve Bank releases the monthly Financial Aggregates publication that includes the private sector credit measure (effectively ‘loans outstanding’). While most attention has been on housing credit growth, business credit posted a welcome increase of 0.8 per cent in March after three consecutive weak prints. Could this be the much-awaited inflection point following a period of strengthening non-mining business investment?
  • On Friday CoreLogic releases home price data for May. And based on the weekly observations (to May 20), home prices in all the five mainland state capitals were either flat or slightly lower during the month. So far in May, Melbourne and Sydney home prices are down by 0.4 per cent and 0.2 per cent, respectively. Sydney home prices are down by 3.9 per cent, the weakest annual outcome in over five years.
  • Also on Friday the Housing Industry Association is scheduled to release its new home sales report for April. And both AiGroup and Commonwealth Bank release surveys of manufacturing purchasing managers.  

Overseas: Heavyweight US economic growth, personal spending and employment data

  • Following the Memorial Day public holiday on Monday, the US enters the Northern Hemisphere summer with a tier-1 data deluge. Economic growth, employment and the US Federal Reserve’s preferred measure of inflation, are all released. Chinese manufacturing and services purchasing manager gauges are also issued. 
  • The week kicks off on Tuesday in the US when the CaseShiller home price and Conference Board consumer confidence surveys are released. Home prices grew at a healthy annual rate of 6.8 per cent in February. And consumer confidence index is hovering near 17-year highs due to improving job security. The Dallas Fed manufacturing index and regular weekly data on US chain store sales round-out the data releases.
  • On Wednesday the second (preliminary) estimate of US economic growth for the March quarter is issued. The initial estimate suggested that the economy grew at a 2.3 per cent annual rate. And only a modest upgrade in growth to 2.4 per cent is tipped as consumer spending softened over the winter months.
  • Also on Wednesday the advance report on goods trade is issued for April. The US trade deficit in goods narrowed by 10.3 per cent to US$68.3 billion in March - the first narrowing of the deficit in seven months as imports weakened. The private sector ADP employment report, US Federal Reserve Beige Book of regional economic conditions and mortgage finance data are also released.
  • China’s National Bureau of Statistics issues the purchasing managers’ surveys for May on Thursday. Manufacturing and services activity have been stable. According to the State Information Centre, China’s economy is likely to grow at an annualised rate of 6.7 per cent over the June quarter.
  • In the US on Thursday the personal income and spending report is released. The US Federal Reserve’s preferred measure of inflation – the personal consumption expenditure deflator – will be keenly observed. The deflator is expected to increase by 0.1 per cent to an annual growth rate of 2 per cent in April.
  • Also on Thursday data on new claims for unemployment insurance, pending home sales and the regional manufacturing survey from the Chicago Federal Reserve are all issued.
  • On Friday the Chinese private sector Caixin purchasing manager’s index for manufacturing is released.
  • Also on Friday the US jobs and ISM manufacturing reports for May are issued. The unemployment rate is forecast to remain stable at a 17½-year low of 3.9 per cent while an additional 185,000 jobs may have been created in the month.
  • The prices gauge of ISM index hit 7-year highs in April, stoking inflationary concerns as manufacturers passed on input price increases. And construction spending is tipped to rebound by 1.1 per cent in April following a 1.7 per cent decline in March.
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The week ahead: Consumer confidence and US housing

Friday, May 18, 2018

Australia: Quiet times

  • In Australia over the coming week, the economic diary is sparsely populated. Main interest will be in a speech from the Reserve Bank Governor on Wednesday.
  • The week kicks off on Tuesday with the weekly gauge of consumer confidence to be issued by ANZ and Roy Morgan. Consumers have been more upbeat in recent weeks with sentiment underpinned by a relatively stable global environment, higher share prices and positive economic data. The main negatives have been a softer currency and higher petrol prices.
  • On Wednesday the Reserve Bank Governor, Philip Lowe, delivers a speech at 6pm in Sydney at the Australia-China Relations Institute.
  • Also on Wednesday the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) releases the publication “Construction work done”. Data is provided on work done by residential and commercial sectors in both nominal and real (inflation-adjusted) terms.
  • The data on residential building is an input to the calculation of economic growth for the March quarter. The economic growth data will be released on June 6.
  • On Thursday the Reserve Bank Assistant Governor covering the financial system, will be delivering a speech at the at the De Nederlandsche Bank Housing Market seminar in Amsterdam.
  • Also on Thursday the ABS releases more detailed estimates on the job market for April. Main interest will be data covering regional areas as well as demographic groupings.
  • And on Friday, the ABS releases the publication “Australian Industry 2016/17”. The data includes estimates on employment, sales, expenses, wages and profits with the estimates going back a decade.

Overseas: US housing in focus

  • In the coming week there are a number of indicators covering the US housing market. The other point of interest is the minutes of the last Federal Reserve meeting.
  • The week kicks off on Monday when the Chicago Federal Reserve releases its national activity index. In March the index eased from a solid reading of +0.98 to +0.10. But averaging out the last three months gives a more accurate measure of +0.27, suggesting the economy remains in good shape.
  • The regular weekly data on US chain store sales will also be issued on Tuesday while mortgage finance data is on Wednesday and new claims for unemployment insurance on Thursday.
  • On Wednesday in the US, the Federal Reserve releases minutes of the last meeting. Data on new home sales is also released while the Markit organisation releases its “flash” or early results on activity in the manufacturing and services sectors. The Markit results cover not just the US but also Germany, France, the Eurozone and Japan.
  • Investors will dissect the Fed minutes carefully but it will take something exceptional to dissuade investors from the view that the Fed will lift rates in June.
  • New home sales rose by 4 per cent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 694,000 in March – a 4-month high. Sales out-paced expectations in March so some retracement is possible in April.
  • On Thursday in the US data on existing home sales for April will be released with home prices for March. Existing home sales rose by 1.1 per cent to a 5.6 million annual rate in March. Economists expect that sales may have flattened at a 5.6 million annual rate in April.
  • Home prices rose 0.6 per cent in February to stand 7.2 per cent higher than a year ago. Prices may have risen by another solid 0.6 per cent in March.
  • On Friday a key measure of business investment – durable goods orders – will be released for April. Economists expect some easing in spending with orders down 1.4 per cent after a 2.6 per cent lift in March. The final May reading on consumer sentiment for May is also issued on Friday.

Financial markets

  • Despite a modest uptick over February and March, volatility has remained low on the Australian sharemarket over the past year. In both February and March there were three days where the ASX 200 index rose or fell by more than 1 per cent. In the combined six months prior, there were three days where the ASX 200 rose or fell by more than 1 per cent. So there was a lift in volatility, but it needs to be kept in context. Over the past decade, the ASX 200 has risen or fallen by 1 per cent a day on average by just over five times a month.
  • Over the past year, there were 22 days where the ASX 200 rose or fell by more than 1 per cent. Apart from the year to January 2018 (21 days), that was the least volatile period for the sharemarket in 12 years.
  • The important point is that the ASX 200 share index has tended to lift as volatility recedes. The inverse relationship between volatility of the ASX 200 index and the index itself is clear between 2011-2013 as well as 2015-2017.
  • Since daily volatility peaked in February 2016, the ASX 200 index has lifted by 25 per cent.
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The week ahead: Wage Price Index and China's activity

Friday, May 11, 2018

 

Australia: Wages growth and jobs report in focus
  •  In Australia over the coming week, the main focus will be on the latest quarterly Wage Price Index (WPI). Wage growth is crucial for the inflation and interest rate outlook. All eyes will also be on the employment report on Thursday.  
  • The week kicks off on Monday when the Reserve Bank issues statistics on credit and debit card lending and ATM transactions for March. The average credit card balance rose by $94.10 to $3,180.70 in February – the largest increase in 2½ years.
  • On Tuesday the Bureau of Statistics (ABS) releases lending finance data. Total new lending commitments (housing, personal, commercial and lease finance) fell by 1 per cent in February to $70.7 billion. Commitments are up by 4.7 per cent on a year ago.
  • Also on Tuesday the weekly gauge of consumer confidence is issued by ANZ and Roy Morgan.
  • The Reserve Bank also releases minutes of its May Board meeting on Tuesday. However, the commentary is unlikely to provide fresh perspectives following the release of the quarterly Statement on Monetary Policy last Friday. Also, Reserve Bank Deputy Governor Guy Debelle speaks at the CFO Forum in Sydney and ISDA Forum in Hong Kong (video link).
  • Rounding-out the data deluge on Tuesday, the ABS releases the “Overseas Arrivals and Departures” publication. The publication includes data on tourist flows as well longer-term migration data. A record number of Chinese, American and Indian tourists visited Australia in February. 
  • On Wednesday the much anticipated data for the wage price index for the March quarter is issued. The latest data on enterprise bargaining agreements showed average annualised wage increases lifting from 2.2 per cent to 2.5 per cent. Skills shortages are becoming more evident in high demand sectors as the labour market tightens. The wage price index is tipped to increase by 0.6 per cent to be up 2.2 per cent over the year to March.
  • Also on Wednesday, the monthly Westpac and Melbourne Institute consumer confidence reading is released. In April confidence fell by 0.6 per cent as share market volatility and trade war rhetoric weighed on household sentiment. But the index remained above 100, indicating that there are still more optimists than pessimists.
  • On Thursday the ABS issues the April employment report. The record-breaking job-creation machine has slowed in recent months. The net employment gain of just 4,900 in March reflected a softening in leading indicators such as the ANZ job advertisements index. The unemployment rate remains ‘sticky’ at 5.5 per cent due to an increase in the participation rate. More females and older workers are working or looking for work than ever before. Economists tip an increase in total jobs of around 20,000 during the month.
  • On Friday the CommBank Business Sales Indicator (BSI), a measure of economy-wide spending, is released for April. The annual trend growth in sales lifted to 7.2 per cent in March – the fastest growth for almost 3½ years.

 

 

 

Overseas: China monthly activity data dominates 

  • The monthly report cards on Chinese investment, production, retail sales and house prices will be issued over the week. In the US, a number of ‘top shelf’ indicators will also be released such as sales and production.
  • The week kicks off in China on Tuesday with April data on investment, production and retail sales to be issued. Manufacturing purchasing managers’ indexes were broadly stable in April, implying that investment and production recorded respective annual gains of 7.5 per cent and 6 per cent over the year to April. And with consumer confidence near 20-year highs, annual growth of retail sales is tipped to remain near 10 per cent.
  • The regular weekly data on US chain store sales will also be issued on Tuesday while mortgage finance data is on Wednesday and new claims for unemployment insurance on Thursday.
  • In the US, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) index, business inventories, the New York State Empire manufacturing survey and retail sales data are all released on Tuesday. Retail sales rose 0.6 per cent in March, halting a streak of three consecutive monthly declines in sales. Consumers continue to show some restraint in discretionary spending. However, a lift of 0.4 per cent in retail spending is forecast.
  • On Wednesday the National Bureau of Statistics issues China’s 70-city housing price data for April. House price growth decelerated to 4.9 per cent in March, continuing the decline from a peak of 12.6 per cent in November 2016. Policymakers have announced stricter property-buying controls in an effort to cool prices. A further decline in the annual growth rate to 4.5 per cent is tipped by economists.
  • Also on Wednesday US housing data is released. Housing starts rose by 1.9 per cent in March with building permits up by 4.4 per cent. The gains in the month were driven almost entirely by multi-unit dwellings.
  • On Thursday economists expect that US industrial production rose a further 0.6 per cent in April. Manufacturing, utilities and mining are all contributing to the upturn in output. Capacity utilisation was at 78 per cent in March. 
  • Also on Thursday the influential Philadelphia Federal Reserve manufacturing gauge is released for May. There was a notable pick-up in the underlying prices paid index in April, signalling a lift in business inflationary pressures.  
  • The Conference Board's leading economic index for April is also scheduled for release on Thursday.

 

 

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The Week Ahead: The Budget and Inflation

Friday, May 04, 2018

Australia: Budget time again

  • In Australia over the coming week, the handing down of the Federal Budget dominates. Overseas, the interest is in the latest inflation estimates in both China and the US.
  • The week kicks off on Monday with the release of the National Australia Bank business survey. In March the NAB business conditions index fell to +14.1 points from a downwardly-revised reading of +20 points in February (third highest reading on record). The business confidence index also fell to +7.4 points in March from a downwardly-revised reading of +9.1 points.
  • There are good reasons to expect that business conditions and confidence remain firm in April. Also investors will look for any signs of emerging wage or price pressures.
  • Also on Monday, ANZ releases the data on job advertisements for April. Hiring looks to have flattened. Job ads were broadly unchanged in March after falling 0.4 per cent in February.
  • On Tuesday the weekly Roy Morgan-ANZ consumer sentiment survey is released together with the latest retail spending figures from the Bureau of Statistics.
  • Consumers are cautiously optimistic and are spending a little more freely, in part by reducing lofty savings levels.
  • Retail trade may have lifted 0.3 per cent in March while over the March quarter a solid 1.3 per cent lift in spending is expected in inflation-adjusted terms. It needs to be remembered that retail trade only accounts for 30 per cent of broader household spending with services dominating.
  • Also on Tuesday the Federal Budget is handed down at 7.30pm AEST. The Federal Budget is seen as a once-a-year event. But in reality the government’s finances can be tracked over time.
  • Decisions can be made over time, rather than on the second Tuesday in May. While it is useful to have a stocktake at a point in time, most families and businesses know that budgets need to be managed and tracked over time.
  • As the Treasurer indicated this week, the government’s finances are better than expected – in fact around $7 billion better than expected. That is because consumers are indeed spending, people are getting jobs, the global economy is stronger and companies are operating efficiently.
  • Based on leaks, announcements and speculation so far, the budget will be focused on tax cuts and infrastructure spending.
  • On Friday, data on home loans (housing finance) is released. Demand for loans has softened in line with softening home prices. In fact the number of loans for owner occupiers has fallen in five of the last six months. But based on data from the Bankers Association, the number of loans may have lifted by a healthy 2.5 per cent during March.

Overseas: Inflation & trade data in focus

  • Inflation readings dominate in China and the US in the coming week. The other point of interest is Chinese trade figures, especially given the current stoush on trade issues with the US.
  • The week kicks off in China on Tuesday when April data on exports and imports (international trade) is issued. In March, China recorded a rate trade deficit of US$4.98 billion.
  • In the US on Tuesday, consumer credit data is released – a key measure of borrowing by US consumers. Economists expect that lending lifted by US$14.3 billion in March after a US$10.6 billion lift in February.
  • Also on Tuesday, a measure of small business sentiment – the NFIB business optimism index – is released. In February the index hit the second highest reading in the 45 years history of the survey. But after falling from 107.6 to 104.7 in March, a lift to 106.7 in April is expected.
  • The regular weekly data on US chain store sales will also be issued on Tuesday while mortgage finance data is on Wednesday and new claims for unemployment insurance on Thursday.
  • On Wednesday in the US, data on producer prices is expected while data on consumer prices is issued on Thursday. The core measure of producer prices (excludes food and energy) stands at a 2.7 per cent annual rate while the core consumer price index is up 2.1 per cent over the year.
  • On Thursday in China, data on consumer and producer prices is released. The annual growth of consumer prices may have eased from 2.1 per cent to 2 per cent in April with producer prices down from 3.1 per cent to 2.9 per cent.
  • On Friday in China data on money supply, new yuan loans and outstanding loans is expected.
  • Also on Friday, US data on export and import prices is released together with the monthly budget statement. If inflation is to start creeping higher, a key driver could be imported raw material costs including oil. At present, import prices are 3.6 per cent higher than a year ago.
  • The regular survey of consumer sentiment from the University of Michigan is also released on Friday.

Financial markets

  • Westpac releases its half-year results on Monday May 7.

 

 

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The week ahead: Reserve Bank in focus and US Fed meets

Friday, April 27, 2018

 

Australia: Reserve Bank in focus

  • In Australia over the coming week, the Reserve Bank takes centre-stage. The Board meeting on Tuesday is followed by a dinner in Adelaide with a speech from Governor Philip Lowe scheduled. On Friday the Bank releases its quarterly statement on monetary policy.
  • The week kicks off on Monday with the release of the quarterly State of the States report from CommSec. The report tracks the economic performance of the states and territories.
  • Also on Monday the Reserve Bank issues the March Financial Aggregates publication. Private sector credit (effectively outstanding loans) rose by 0.4 per cent in February after a 0.3 per cent rise in January. Annual credit growth held at a 3½-year low of 4.9 per cent. M3 money supply rose by 3.8 per cent over the year, the slowest growth in 25 years. Data on new home sales is also expected on Monday.
  • On Tuesday data on home prices, the weekly Roy Morgan-ANZ consumer sentiment survey and surveys on the manufacturing sector are all released in a hectic start to the month.
  • Also on Tuesday the Reserve Bank Board meets but no change in the neutral monetary policy stance is expected. Interest rates are firmly on hold until at least year-end due to retail deflation and modest wages growth. Governor Philip Lowe is scheduled to speak at the Board’s dinner in Adelaide.
  • On Thursday, local council building approvals data for March is issued. Residential building approvals fell by 6.2 per cent in February, led lower by volatile apartment approvals which declined by 16.4 per cent. However, detached house approvals rose by 1.9 per cent. Surveys on the services sector for the month of April are also issued by both the CBA and AiGroup.
  • Also on Thursday Australia’s international trade data for March is released. A healthy $825 million surplus was recorded in February, continuing a solid run of results since late 2016.
  • On Friday, new vehicle sales data is issued. Australia’s new vehicle market grew 2.5 per cent to a record-high 1.2 million units over the year to March. 
  • Also on Friday, the Reserve Bank releases its quarterly Statement on Monetary Policy. As well as being a comprehensive assessment of the state of the economy, the Board also provides updated forecasts.

Overseas: US Federal Reserve meets and US employment report headlines data releases

  • All eyes will be on the US Federal Reserve policy meeting on Wednesday. The employment report rounds out a busy week of data releases in the US. Monthly manufacturing and services activity gauges are due in China. 
  • The week kicks off in China on Monday when the National Bureau of Statistics issues the purchasing managers’ surveys for April. Activity picked-up in March as businesses returned to work following the Lunar New Year.
  • In the US on Monday the personal income and spending report is released. The US Federal Reserve’s preferred measure of inflation – the personal consumption expenditure deflator – will be keenly observed. The deflator has been static around 1.5-1.6 per cent since September, but an increase to 1.8 per cent is expected in March.
  • Also on Monday US pending home sales are tipped to lift by 0.6 per cent in April following a 3.1 per cent increase in March. Regional manufacturing surveys from the Chicago and Dallas Federal Reserve are issued.
  • On Tuesday US manufacturing surveys are released by Markit and the ISM. According to ISM, new orders, output and employment rose at a softer pace in March, decelerating from 14-year highs in February.
  • On Wednesday the Chinese private sector Caixin purchasing manager’s index for manufacturing is released.
  • Also on Wednesday the US Federal Reserve announces its all-important interest rate decision. No change in interest rates are expected following last month’s increase. Policymakers have an optimistic view that the US economy is strengthening, the labour market is tightening and inflation will gradually rise over the coming months. The ADP survey is expected to show that private sector companies hired a further 200,000 job seekers in April.
  • On Thursday the US ISM services sector survey is issued with factory orders and trade. US factory orders are expected to have increased by 0.9 per cent in March after rising by 1.2 per cent in February. A trade deficit of US$56.7 billion is forecast in March – near 9-year highs. Imports continue to increase on strong demand.
  • On Friday China’s private sector services sector activity gauge is issued by Caixin.
  • Also on Friday the US jobs report for April is released. The unemployment rate is forecast to fall to 4.0 per cent while the data should show an additional 195,000 jobs were created in the month.

Financial markets

  • The ‘Big Four’ Australian banks start reporting their first half-year 2018 earnings this week. Consensus earnings downgrades are expected on the back of increasing margin pressures from rising short-term funding costs and headwinds from regulatory reviews.
  • ANZ kicks-off the results on Tuesday. Investor focus is likely to be on ‘stranded’ costs and guidance on additional capital management plans.
  • National Australia Bank reports its earnings on Thursday. Progress on its restructuring and medium-term expense savings will be the key focal points.
  • On Friday the composition of Macquarie Group’s earnings, specifically the balance between performance fees, trading and net interest income will be keenly observed.
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The week ahead: Inflation and US economic growth

Friday, April 20, 2018

Australia: Inflation in the spotlight

  • In Australia in the coming week, readings on inflation dominate. In the US there is a broad range of indicators to be released including economic growth.
  • The week kicks off on Tuesday when the Bureau of Statistics (ABS) releases the March quarter Consumer Price Index – the main measure of inflation in Australia. The annual rate of inflation has only been in the Reserve Bank’s 2-3 per cent target band for one quarter in the past three years. And we expect that low inflation prevailed in the March quarter.
  • Overall we expect that both headline and “underlying” measures of inflation rose by 0.5 per cent in the March quarter to be up 2 per cent over the year. Seasonal increases in education fees, pharmaceutical products and domestic travel are expected, offset by seasonal falls in international travel. Some product prices may have been affected by post-Christmas sales. And petrol prices may have lifted by less than 1 per cent.
  • Inflation results in line with forecasts will reduce the odds of the Reserve Bank lifting interest rates in 2018.
  • Also on Tuesday the weekly gauge of consumer confidence is issued by ANZ and Roy Morgan. And the Reserve Bank Assistant Governor Christopher Kent delivers a speech at a Housing Industry Association breakfast.
  • After the ANZAC Day observance on Wednesday, investors will focus on export and import prices when they return to work on Thursday.
  • Export prices will be constrained by lower coal and iron ore prices, although offset by higher oil prices. Import prices will be boosted by the higher oil prices. The Aussie dollar also fell only 1.7 per cent over the quarter.
  • On Friday the ABS releases the Producer Price Indexes – measures that will provide a guide on inflation across the business sector. In the December quarter, the ‘final demand’ measure was up 0.6 per cent to stand 1.7 per cent higher over the year. Investors will closely watch building construction prices in light of anecdotes noting high demand for labour and rising wages. The 7.5 per cent lift in oil prices will serve to boost petroleum refining and petroleum fuel manufacturing costs.

Overseas: US economic growth & housing in focus

  • It is relatively quiet in China over the coming week in terms of new economic data. However there will be data on industrial profits on Friday. In the US, housing market indicators and economic growth are of most interest.
  • The week kicks off on Monday in the US with data on existing home sales to be released alongside the Chicago Federal Reserve national activity index. After a 3 per cent rise in February, economists are tipping a 0.2 per cent lift in sales in March. A lack of stock on the market is constraining sales but boosting prices.
  • Also on Monday, the Markit organisation releases “flash” readings for activity in manufacturing and services sectors in the US, Europe and Japan. In terms of the US readings, an easing in manufacturing activity is expected to be balanced by higher service sector activity.
  • On Tuesday, new home sales data is scheduled in the US, together with consumer confidence, home prices and the influential Richmond Federal Reserve survey.
  • Economists believe that new home sales may have lifted 1.9 per cent in March after the 0.6 per cent fall in February to 4-month lows. Sales have fallen for the last three months. The stock of homes stands at 9-year highs, representing a supply of 5.9 months at the current sales rate.
  • Also on Tuesday economists expect that consumer confidence eased again, down from 127.7 in March to 125 in April. Back in February, confidence was at 18-year highs. And home prices may have risen 0.3 per cent in February, trimming the annual rate from 6.4 per cent to 6.2 per cent.
  • Also on Tuesday the regular weekly data on chain store sales in released in the US while on Wednesday, weekly data on new mortgage applications are released.
  • On Thursday a key measure on business investment – orders for ‘durable goods’ – is released. Durable goods are generally described as items with lifespans longer than three years – like cars and aircraft. Orders have risen in three of the past four months. And economists believe that orders may have risen by 1.0 per cent in March.
  • Also on Thursday the ‘advance’ March data on trade in goods is released. A deficit of US$75.4 billion was posted in February and the big deficits are clearly in the sights of the US President currently.
  • And on Friday the ‘advance’ reading on US economic growth in the March quarter is released alongside the March quarter employment cost index (ECI). Economists expect that the US economy grew at a 2.3 per cent annual pace in the quarter after 2.9 per cent annualised growth in the final quarter of 2017. The included data on prices will be watched carefully together with the ECI. The ECI has been averaging growth of around 0.6 per cent a quarter or around 2.5 per cent over the year.

Financial markets

  • US earnings season continues. Amongst companies reporting earnings on Monday are Halliburton, Kimberly-Clark, Alphabet (Google) and Barrick Gold.
  • On Tuesday, 3M, Caterpillar, Coca-Cola, Corning and Texas Instruments are amongst those reporting.
  • On Wednesday, AT&T, Boeing, Comcast, Facebook, Ford, Twitter and Visa report.
  • On Thursday, earnings are due from Amazon, ConocoPhillips, Domino’s Pizza, General Motor, Microsoft and ResMed.
  • On Friday, Exxon Mobil and Chevron report.
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The week ahead: Can the Aussie labor market continue its record-breaking run?

Friday, April 13, 2018

·         A quiet week is in prospect on the data front in Australia. The Reserve Bank releases the minutes of its April Board meeting. But the main focus will be on whether the Aussie labour market can continue its record-breaking run of monthly job gains. 

·         On Monday the Bureau of Statistics (ABS) releases lending finance data. The total value of new lending commitments (housing, personal, commercial and lease finance) rose by 0.5 per cent in January to $71.5 billion, up from US$71.1 billion in December. Commitments are up by 6.1 per cent on a year ago.

·         On Tuesday the weekly gauge of consumer confidence is issued by ANZ and Roy Morgan.

·         Also on Tuesday the Reserve Bank releases minutes of its April Board meeting. Commentary on wages growth, share market volatility, trade protection and household consumption could be of particular interest to market participants. We don’t expect any significant change in the Bank’s view on the inflation and economic growth outlook for Australia. Interest rates are firmly on hold. 

·         On Wednesday, the ABS releases the “Overseas Arrivals and Departures” publication. The publication includes data on tourist flows as well longer-term migration data. Tourist arrivals rose by 2.4 per cent to a record-high 760,200 during the month of January. Arrivals increased by 5.7 per cent over the year. Departures increased by 2.2 per cent to a monthly record-high 894,100 in January. Departures were up by 2.6 per cent on a year ago.

·         Also on Wednesday the Department of Jobs and Small Business releases its internet vacancy index. The index has now risen for 16 consecutive months – the longest period of growth since March 2011. The index has increased by 10.5 per cent over the year to 5½-year highs in February.

·         On Thursday the ABS issues the March employment report. Jobs rose for a record-breaking 17th straight month in February. The unemployment rate edged-up to 5.6 per cent due to an increase in the participation rate to a near 7-year high of 65.7 per cent. The strengthening job market has encouraged people back into the workforce, to look for a job or to work more hours. The underemployment rate is 8.4 per cent, implying that there is still some slack in the labour market. Economists tip an increase in total jobs of around 25,000 during the month.

·         On Friday the CommBank Business Sales Indicator (BSI), a measure of economy-wide spending, is released for March. The BSI rose by 1.0 per cent in trend terms in February - the strongest pace of growth in four years.

Overseas: Chinese economic health check 

·         In China, indicators such as economic growth, retail sales, investment, production and house prices are all issued.  Output is expected to remain solid, despite seasonal volatility caused by the Lunar New Year holiday period.  

·         The week kicks off on Monday in the US with data on retail sales, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) index and the New York State Empire manufacturing survey. 

·         Attention will turn to China on Tuesday. The all-important March quarter economic growth (GDP) will capture the most headlines. The Chinese leadership continues to target ‘sustainable’ and ‘quality’ growth outcomes as it tilts output towards the consumer. Economists forecast an annual growth rate of 6.8 per cent with activity supported by the industrial sector. The technology and financial sectors may have contributed less this quarter. Retail sales annual growth of near 10 per cent is tipped.

·         On Tuesday US housing data is released. Starts and permits were weaker-than-expected in February, yet the underlying increase in single-family starts and the uptick in the number of units under construction provided optimism.

·         Also on Tuesday economists expect that production rose a further 0.4 per cent in March. Capacity utilisation is at the highest level in three years, implying potential increases in input costs. All at a time when higher tariffs are proposed, potentially boosting inflation.

·         On Wednesday, the US Federal Reserve re-takes centre stage. The most recent Beige Book – a national survey – cited that “most [US} districts saw employers raise wages and expand benefit packages in response to tight labour market conditions”. Federal Reserve Vice Chair for Supervision, Randal Quarles, testifies before the US Senate Banking Committee. 

·         Also on Wednesday the National Bureau of Statistics issues China’s 70-city housing price data for March. House price growth decelerated to 5.2 per cent in February, continuing the decline from a peak of 12.6 per cent in November 2016. Policymakers have announced stricter property-buying controls in an effort to cool prices. In tier-1 cities, housing prices fell on an annual basis in January for the first time since May 2015.

·         On Thursday the influential Philadelphia Federal Reserve manufacturing gauge is released for March. In February, 64 per cent of firms reported labour shortages, while 70 per cent of firms highlighted skills mismatches between business requirements and available labour.

·         Also on Thursday the Conference Board's Leading Economic index is issued for March. The index increased by 0.6 per cent in February. The index is tipped to rise by 0.4 per cent in March.

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The week ahead: Economic indicators and inflation data

Friday, April 06, 2018

Finance and confidence in the spotlight

  • A broad sweep of economic indicators is released in Australia in the coming week together with a speech from the Reserve Bank Governor.
  • On Monday the AiGroup releases the Performance of Construction index, an index that has risen for 13 months.
  • On Tuesday the latest business survey from National Australia Bank is issued. In February the measure of business conditions hit a record (21-year) high. And to prove it wasn’t an aberration, the latest manufacturing survey from AiGroup was reported at record highs in March.
  • Apart from business confidence, measures that focus on prices, wages and employment will attract scrutiny in the NAB survey.
  • Also on Tuesday the weekly gauge of consumer confidence is issued by ANZ and Roy Morgan.
  • On Wednesday, the monthly variant of consumer confidence is released – this time from Westpac and Melbourne Institute. In March, confidence edged just 0.3 per cent higher. But the index of confidence remains above 100, indicating that there are more optimists than pessimists.
  • In terms of economic data, on Wednesday the Australian Bureau of Statistics issues the December quarter data on building activity. As well as estimates of the amount of building work done, there are also figures on housing starts (or commencements) as well as the amount of work in the pipeline. Home starts rose by just 0.7 per cent in the September quarter.
  • The Reserve Bank Governor, Philip Lowe, also delivers a speech on Wednesday. The topic of the speech hasn’t been revealed as yet, but the speech is delivered to the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce in Perth.
  •  On Thursday the focus shifts to finance. The ABS releases the February figures on home lending while the Reserve Bank issues statistics on credit and debit card lending and ATM transactions. Home lending has slowed as markets rebalance and the number of new lending commitments for owner-occupiers has fallen in four of the past five months.
  • And on Friday the Reserve Bank releases the bi-annual Financial Stability Review. The Reserve Bank will highlight the low level of problem loans and reduction in the share of interest-only housing loans being taken out. At the same time the Reserve Bank will express caution about the amount of new homes being completed and the potential impact they will have on home prices.

Overseas: Inflation data in focus

  • There are key measures on consumer and producer prices to be released in both China and the US in the coming week together trade price data for the latter.
  • The week kicks off on Tuesday in the US with data on producer prices (business inflation figures) as well as the small business optimism index from the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).
  • The core measure of producer prices (excludes food and energy) may have lifted 0.2 per cent in March while the annual rate was likely to have remained unchanged at 2.5 per cent. The NFIB index may have softened in March in response to concern about a US-China trade war.
  • The usual measure of chain store sales will also be issued on Tuesday.
  •  On Wednesday, data on consumer and producer prices will be released in China. And on the same day, consumer price data is released in the US alongside monthly budget data and the minutes of the last Federal Reserve meeting.
  • The annual rate of Chinese producer prices may have lifted from 3.7 per cent to 3.8 per cent in March with consumer inflation down from 2.9 per cent to 2.5 per cent. In the US, the annual core measure of consumer prices may have crept higher from 1.8 per cent to 1.9 per cent.
  • The minutes of the last Federal Reserve meeting will be dissected to find clues on the timing of the next rate hike.
  •  On Thursday, trade prices data (import and export prices) will be released in the US. And the usual weekly data on claims for unemployment insurance will be issued.
  •  On Friday the March trade figures will be released in China. Given the concern in the US about the size of the trade deficit maintained with China, these figures take on greater-than-normal significance.
  • In the US on Friday the JOLTS series of job openings is issued – a forward-looking gauge on the job market. The University of Michigan also issues its preliminary estimates of consumer sentiment for March.

Financial markets

  •  According to FactSet, US analysts have lifted their March quarter earnings estimates for S&P 500 companies by 5.4 per cent. That result is important because earnings estimates generally fall in the first quarter. It is the strongest upgrade in earnings for the first quarter in the 15-year history of the series. Lower tax rates, higher energy prices and expectations for rate hikes in 2018 are some influences pushing up estimates for US earnings per share.

 

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The week ahead: Aus job market and US inflation

Friday, March 23, 2018

Australia: The job market still dominates attention

  • There are few stand-out indicators slated for release in Australia in the week ahead. Most interest is in Thursday’s data on job vacancies and employment by industry.
  • The week kicks off on Tuesday when the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) releases a raft of publications from the 2016 Census. Around a dozen publications will be issued or re-issued. Data on new home sales is also expected on Tuesday from the Housing Industry of Australia.
  • Also on Tuesday the Reserve Bank Assistant Governor (Financial Markets) Christopher Kent speaks at the Investment Implementation Summit in Sydney.
  • Roy Morgan and ANZ also release the weekly consumer sentiment data on Tuesday. Australian consumers are generally positive but confidence levels are still well short of those held by their US counterparts.
  • On Wednesday, the ABS releases the December quarter publication Engineering Construction Activity. While the ‘top level’ results have already been published, the publication goes into more detail about where the work is being done and how much activity is still to be completed.
  • On Thursday the ABS releases the Finance & Wealth publication. The publication contains a raft of indicators such as household debt and wealth and sectoral holdings of financial assets such as foreign ownership of shares and bonds. In the September quarter foreigners held $533.6 billion of Aussie shares, up from $531.5 billion in the June quarter. Foreigners held 30.3 per cent of the total (long-term average 32.9 per cent).
  • Also on Thursday, the ABS releases the latest data on job vacancies – a key leading indicator of the job market. In the three months to November job vacancies rose by 2.7 per cent to a record 210,300. Job vacancies are up 16.1 per cent on a year ago – the strongest annual growth rate in 7 years.
  • And detailed quarterly estimates on the job market are also on Thursday’s data docket including employment levels for industry sectors. The November 2017 data showed that Healthcare remained the biggest employer with 1.65 million employees (13.3 per cent of the total) followed by Retail Trade (1.29 million jobs or 10.4 per cent) and Construction (1.17 million or 9.4 per cent).
  • The Reserve Bank also issues the February Financial Aggregates publication on Thursday. Most interest is in the estimates of private sector credit (effectively loans outstanding) but measures of money supply are also released. In January private sector credit rose by 0.3 per cent after a 0.3 per cent rise in December. Annual credit growth held at a 3½-year low of 4.9 per cent.

Overseas: US inflation again in focus

  • There is never a shortage of new US economic data. In the coming week most interest is likely to be generated by the inflation indicators contained in Thursday’s report on personal income and spending.
  • The week kicks off on Monday when the Chicago Federal Reserve releases the national activity index. This index has risen for the last five months.
  • On Tuesday, the S&P/Case Shiller measure of home prices is released alongside the Conference Board’s measure of consumer confidence and the influential Richmond Federal Reserve manufacturing index. Home prices are up 6.3 per cent on a year ago, no doubt supporting consumer conference near 17-year highs. The usual weekly measure of chain store sales from Redbook Research is also issued on Tuesday.
  • On Wednesday the “advance” February figures on international trade is released with the pending home sales index and the final estimates of economic growth (GDP) for the December quarter. Data is expected to show that the US economy grew at a 2.6 per cent pace in the final three months of 2017.
  • While the GDP data will also include inflation estimates, investors will be more interested in the price estimates accompanying the personal income and spending data on Thursday.
  • Simply, the personal income figures are more recent (February). The measure to watch is the core personal consumption expenditure (PCE) deflator. Economists expect that core PCE deflator rose by 0.2 per cent in February, leaving the annual rate at 1.5 per cent – well short of the Federal Reserve’s 2 per cent goal.
  • Economists also expect that US personal income grew by 0.4 per cent in February, ahead of a 0.2 per cent lift in consumer spending.
  • Also on Thursday is the influential Chicago purchasing managers index is released as well as the weekly data on new claims for unemployment insurance (jobless claims).
  • In China on Saturday (March 31) the National Bureau of Statistics issues the purchasing manager indexes for both the manufacturing and services sectors.

Financial markets

  • Traditionally April is a good month for the Australian sharemarket. In the past six years the sharemarket has only fallen once. Go back 30 years and you’ll discover that the All Ordinaries has only fallen eight times in the month of April. And go back 70 years, average returns in April are 1.8 per cent, well ahead of the 0.6 per cent average monthly gain for all months of the year.
  • Few major companies go ex-dividend in April (that is, trade without the benefit of their dividends), thus supporting share prices. Also the fact that investors are looking to invest their dividend payments also supports the sharemarket in the month.
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The week ahead: Jobs growth and US Fed expected to lift interest rates

Friday, March 16, 2018

Australia: Will the record jobs growth continue?

  • This week is all about Thursday’s employment report in Australia. Will the record breaking run of 16 consecutive months of job gains continue? The Bureau of Statistics also releases its somewhat dated update on residential property prices. And the Reserve Bank releases the minutes of its March meeting.
  • The week kicks off on Tuesday when the Commonwealth Bank Business Sales Indicator (BSI), a measure of economy-wide spending, is released. Spending grew at the strongest annual pace of growth in four years in January.
  • Also on Tuesday the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) releasing the December quarter Residential Property Price indexes. While the data on home prices is not as current as the CoreLogic data, other figures are provided including those on the number of homes, permitting estimates on the number of people per home.
  • On Tuesday the Reserve Bank releases the minutes of its March Board meeting. Commentary on wages growth, share market volatility and trade protection (i.e. tariffs) could be of particular interest to market participants. We don’t expect any significant change in the Bank’s view on the inflation and economic growth outlook for Australia. Interest rates are firmly on hold.
  • Also on Tuesday, Reserve Bank Assistant Governor (Financial System) Michele Bullock participates in a panel discussion at the ASIC Annual Forum in Sydney.
  • Roy Morgan and ANZ also release the weekly consumer sentiment data on Tuesday. The number of optimistic respondents to the survey still outnumber the pessimists. Consumer confidence has rebounded from its August lows as strong job gains and record low interest rates have improved sentiment. Household consumption, however, still remains an “uncertainty” for the Reserve Bank due to modest wages growth and spending caution. 
  • On Wednesday, the Department of Jobs and Small Business releases its internet vacancy index. The index has now risen for 16 consecutive months – the longest period of growth since March 2011. The index has increased by 10.6 per cent over the year to 5½-year highs in January.
  • On Thursday the ABS releases the all-important February employment report. Jobs rose for a record-breaking 16th straight month in January. The unemployment rate has hovered around 4-year lows of 5.5 per cent in recent months due to an increase in the participation rate to near 7-year highs. The strengthening job market has encouraged people back into the workforce or to look for a job. Female participation is at record high levels. Economists tip an increase in total jobs of around 20,000 in February.
  • Also on Thursday, the ABS releases the latest population figures for the September quarter. Population is growing at a 1.6 per cent annual rate.

Overseas: The US Federal Reserve is expected to lift interest rates

  • The US central bank monetary policy meeting takes centre stage this week. Markets are almost certain that the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) will lift interest rates for the first time this year, having lifted the federal funds rate three times last year.
  • The week kicks off on Monday when the National Bureau of Statistics issues China’s 70-city housing price data for February. House price growth decelerated to 5.0 per cent in January, continuing the decline from a peak of 12.6 per cent in November 2016. Policymakers have announced stricter property-buying controls in an effort to cool prices. In tier-1 cities, housing prices fell on an annual basis in January for the first time since May 2015.
  • New US Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell is expected to increase interest rates by 0.25 per cent to a federal funds target range of 1.50-1.75 per cent at the conclusion of the FOMC policy meeting on Wednesday. Inflationary pressures are building in the US but not enough to warrant a more aggressive tightening in monetary policy than previously guided. Wages growth fell back from 8-year highs in February. We expect three rate hikes this year, including the expected increase in the coming week.
  • On Wednesday the US current account balance is released for the December quarter. The current account deficit narrowed from US$124.4 billion in the June quarter to US$100.6 billion in the September quarter. Trade of goods and services, together with net income from foreign investments, are an important part of the overall current account. The US trade deficit surged to 9-year highs of US$56.6 billion in January. US President Trump’s tariff policies are aimed at closing trade gaps with countries such as China.  
  • Also on Wednesday US existing home sales data is issued. Existing home sales unexpectedly fell for a second consecutive month in January due to persistent supply constraints. Sales fell by 4.8 per cent over the year to January, the largest decline in the annual growth rate since August 2014.
  • On Thursday the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) releases its January house price index. The index is calculated using home sales price information from mortgages sold to, or guaranteed by, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. US home prices increased by 1.6 per cent in the December quarter to up by 6.7 per cent on the year.
  • Also on Thursday the Conference Board's Leading Economic index is issued for February. The index increased by 1.0 per cent in January. The index is tipped to rise by 0.3 per cent in February.
  • Markit also releases its ‘flash’ purchasing managers’ indexes (PMIs) for March on Thursday. PMIs are released across the US, Eurozone and Japan. The influential Kansas Federal Reserve manufacturing survey is also released in the US on Thursday.
  • On Friday new orders for US durable goods – ranging from aircraft to toasters – are issued for the month of February. A 1.7 per cent gain is expected after falling by 3.6 per cent in January.
  • Also on Friday US new home sales are released. New home sales fell by 7.8 per cent in January to an annualised pace of 593,000 units – the largest monthly decline since July last year.
  • Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President Raphael Bostic speaks at the Knoxville Economic Forum on Friday.

 

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