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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.

Investor Signposts: Pieces of the economic puzzle

Friday, February 17, 2017

By Craig James

The December quarter economic growth data is released on March 1. But in the coming week, pieces of the puzzle start to be put together. The other data focus domestically is on wages. But once again, it will be the Reserve Bank that draws the most attention, with a speech by the Governor on Wednesday before he fronts the House of Representatives Economics Committee on Friday.

The week kicks off on Monday, with the release of the business sales index from Commonwealth Bank. In contrast to the retail trade data from the Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the BSI is a measure of economy-wide spending.

On Tuesday, minutes of the last Reserve Bank Board meeting are released. The RBA has a ‘neutral stance”, but the focus is more likely to be on a number of the “hot button” issues like homes sales and prices.

Also on Tuesday the weekly consumer confidence data is released. Consumer sentiment eased by 0.9% last week.

On Wednesday, the ABS releases the Wage Price Index – the main measure of wage costs in Australia. Lower growth of wages has encouraged employers to take on more staff. And while low nominal growth of wages is positive for employers, wages are still growing at a faster pace than prices – positive for consumers. In fact, inflation is just 1.5% and wages are growing at a 1.9% annual rate. It is clear that real wage gains are still boosting consumer purchasing power. For the record, we expect that wages growth remained tame in the December quarter, lifting by 0.5% in the quarter and by around 2% on the year.

Also on Wednesday, preliminary data on construction work is released for the December quarter. The data on residential work completed is an input into the calculation of economic growth.

The Reserve Bank Governor, Philip Lowe, will deliver a speech to the Australia-Canada Economic Leadership Forum on Wednesday (8:30am AEDT).

On Thursday, the ABS will release the December quarter estimates on business investment. This data is also an input into the calculation of economic growth. But also insightful are the estimates of planned investment for the coming year.

Overall, we expect that investment rose by 1% in the quarter, reflecting the improvement in the global economic outlook and lift in business conditions. The Reserve Bank will be interested in estimates of non-mining investment. In addition, the ABS will release more detailed demographic and regional estimates on employment alongside the semi-annual estimates of average weekly earnings – the dollar estimates of wages in the economy.

On Friday, the Reserve Bank Governor is scheduled to appear before the House of Representatives Economics Committee. There are a number of ‘hot button’ issues at present and it is likely committee members will ask the Governor’s views on the housing sector, Australian dollar and inflation outcomes.

US housing sector under the spotlight

In the US, there is the usual bevy of economic indicators to be released with the focus on the housing sector. There’s only one piece of data to note in China this week: January estimates of home prices, released on Wednesday.

The week kicks off on Tuesday with the Markit “flash” estimates of manufacturing activity in US, Japan and Europe.

On Wednesday, in the US, existing home sales data is issued alongside the minutes of the last Federal Reserve meeting. Most interest will be in the timing of rate hikes. A number of Fed officials haven’t essentially confirmed that the upcoming March meeting is a “live option” and even economists are divided on a March rate hike, so the commentary will be closely dissected. Existing home sales may have risen by 1.1% in January after easing by 2.8% in December.

On Thursday, the influential Chicago Federal Reserve National Activity index is released together with the usual weekly data on new claims for unemployment insurance (jobless claims) and a number of home price measures are slated for release. The most interest will be on the FHFA home price index. The annual growth rate of home prices may have edged up from 6.1% to 6.2% in December.

And on Friday, new home sales data is issued alongside the University of Michigan consumer confidence reading.

Share markets, interest rates, exchange rates and commodities

The Australian profit reporting season lifts into top gear in the coming week. On Monday, earnings are scheduled to be released by BlueScope Steel, Brambles, Charter Hall, GWA, nib and Worley Parsons.

On Tuesday, earnings announcements are expected from Altium, BHP Billiton, FlexiGroup, Monadelphous, Oil Search, Seek, Seven Group, and Senex.

Among those expected to report earnings on Wednesday are APA Group, Coca-Cola Amatil, Fletcher Building, Fortescue Metals, Fairfax Media, G8 Education, Healthscope, IAG, Iress, Stockland, Woolworths and Woodside Petroleum.

On Thursday, a raft of companies is expected to issue results including: Ardent Leisure, Adelaide Brighton, Aconex, Alumina, Cardno, Crown Resorts, Flight Centre, InvoCare, MYOB, Nine Entertainment, Perpetual, Qantas and Southern Cross Media.

On Friday, Automotive Holdings is among those listed to issue earnings with Billabong, Super Retail Group, Link and Charter Hall

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Investor Signposts: earnings season kicks into top gear

Friday, February 10, 2017

By Craig James

In Australia, another bevy of economic indicators await investors in the coming week. There is also a solid list of ‘top shelf’ economic indicators to wade through in the US. In China, inflation data is in focus on Tuesday.

In Australia, the week kicks off on Monday when the Bureau of Statistics (ABS) releases the Overseas Arrivals & Departures publication. This publication includes data on tourist arrivals and departures together with longer-term migration data.

Tourist arrivals fell by 0.7% in November. And departures fell by 3.5%. Arrivals were up 8.7% on the year with departures up 3.3%.

Also on Monday, data on credit and debit card lending will be released from the Reserve Bank. Compared with a year ago, the average credit card balance was up by just 0.3%. In smoothed terms (12 month average) the average balance was down by 1.7%.

On Tuesday, ANZ and Roy Morgan release weekly consumer sentiment survey results with the focus not just on sentiment but also on the gauge of inflation expectations.

Also on Tuesday, NAB releases its January business survey. There were solid readings posted in the December survey with trading conditions at the best levels in nine years.

Lending finance figures are also issued on Tuesday, covering new housing, lease, personal and business commitments made in December.

On Wednesday, there is yet another reading on consumer confidence – this time the Westpac/Melbourne Institute survey. For the record, the Reserve Bank looks at both surveys to ensure it is well versed on how consumers are feeling.

Also on Wednesday, the ABS recasts the data on new vehicle sales, expressing the figures in seasonally adjusted and trend terms. Sales were the second highest for any January month in January 2017.

On Thursday, the ABS issues the January employment report. In December, employment rose by 13,500 after rising by 37,100 in November. Full-time jobs rose by 9,300 while part-time jobs rose by 4,200. In fact, full-time employment lifted by 95,000 in the December quarter – the best result since the September quarter 2010.

We expect a more modest 5,000 lift in jobs in January with the jobless rate unchanged at 5.8%.

Overseas: Famine to feast in the US

After a relatively quiet week, the flow of ‘top shelf’ US economic indicators lifts markedly in the coming week. 

The week kicks off on Tuesday with the release of the business optimism index from the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and the producer price index (PPI) or the main measure of business inflation. Excluding food and energy, producer prices are up just 1.6% over the year.

On Wednesday, the consumer price index (CPI) is released alongside retail sales, industrial production, the NAHB housing market index and capital flows data. The core CPI (excludes food and energy) is expected to remain 2.2% higher than a year ago. Non-auto retail sales may have lifted 0.4% in January while production may have eased 0.1% after an out-sized 0.8% gain in December.

On Thursday, data on building permits and housing starts are released together with the influential Philadelphia Federal Reserve survey. Housing starts soared by over 11% in December but they may have eased by 0.3% in January. Also on Thursday, the weekly data on new claims for unemployment insurance is issued.

On Friday, the leading index for January is released with a 0.4% lift tipped after the solid 0.5% increase in December.

In China, the National Bureau of Statistics releases inflation data on Tuesday. Currently producer prices are up 5.5% on the year with consumer prices up 2.1%.

Share markets, interest rates, exchange rates and commodities

The Australian profit reporting season lifts into top gear in the coming week.

On Monday, earnings are scheduled to be released by Newcrest, Ansell, Bendigo & Adelaide Bank, Aurizon, Amcor and JB Hi-Fi.

On Tuesday, earnings announcements are expected from Challenger, Cochlear, GPT Group and Treasury Wine Estates.

Among those expected to report earnings on Wednesday are A2 Milk, Boral, CSL, Commonwealth Bank, Computershare, Domino’s Pizza, Dexus Property, Inghams, Wesfarmers and Sonic Healthcare.

On Thursday, a raft of companies are expected to issue results including: Goodman Group, Mirvac, Origin Energy, Telstra, Tatts Group, Star Entertainment, Sydney Airport, South32, Spark New Zealand, IPH Limited, Bapcor, Evolution Mining and Mineral Resources.

On Friday, ASX Group is amongst those listed to issue earnings with Duet, Mantra, Link and Abacus.

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Will the Reserve Bank budge on interest rates?

Friday, February 03, 2017

By Craig James

Another big week of economic events is in prospect in Australia over the coming week including data on retail spending and housing finance. In addition, after essentially two months on the sidelines, the Reserve Bank steps back into the limelight with an interest rate decision and also the release of the Statement of Monetary Policy. In China, the trade data will take precedence. And in the US, trade and consumer sentiment data are also due.

In Australia, the week kicks off on Monday when investors will finally get a look at how retailers performed over December. In addition, the December quarter inflation-adjusted data will be released. Retail sales lifted by 0.2% in November to be up 3.3% over the year. Interestingly, in the prior three months, non-food retailing rose by 2% - the strongest three-month result in 2 years. The Commonwealth Bank Business Sales index indicated that sales recorded healthy growth in December. For the record, we expect retail trade rose by 0.3% in December and by a sizeable 0.9% in real terms over the December quarter.

Also on Monday, data on job advertisements is issued. In the past this was a trusted gauge of labour demand but nowadays more people are going straight to company websites and using social media to scour for available positions.

Job advertisements fell from 4½-year highs in December, down by 1.9% in the month. Job ads are up 3.7% on a year ago.

The Reserve Bank Board meets on Tuesday and much has changed in the past two months. Financial market volatility has eased, oil prices have steadied; and the Aussie dollar has lifted – albeit marginally. And on the global front, economic conditions are certainly healthier.

It is almost certain that policymakers will keep rates on hold and maintain a neutral stance – suggesting rates are likely to remain stable over coming months. Interestingly, if the Reserve Bank did indeed surprise and cut rates, it would be able to flesh out its reasoning in Friday’s Statement on Monetary Policy. In the Reserve Bank’s interest rate decision, investors will be particularly interested in the policymaker’s views on the Aussie dollar and also the outlook for inflation.

Also on Tuesday, the Australian Industry Group will release the Performance of Construction index, alongside the ANZ/Roy Morgan weekly consumer sentiment survey results.

On Thursday, the Housing Industry Association will release figures on new home sales for December. New home sales rose by 6% in November, but it was from a 27-month low. It is clear that activity levels have, or are in the process of, topping out. There is greater caution on the part of buyers and builders in response to record building and that suggests slower home price growth over in 2017.

Also on Thursday the Reserve Bank Governor is scheduled to deliver a speech at the A50 Australian Economic Forum (8.00pm AEDT). A title for the speech has not yet been released, but no doubt there are a few ‘hot button’ issues at present such as the Governor’s views on the stronger Australian dollar, growth in home prices and the outlook for the US economy under a new President.

On Friday home loans (housing finance) data is released. The home loan data may prove a surprise with data from the Bankers Association suggesting the number of owner-occupier home loans may have lifted by 1.2% in December while investment lending is expected to lift by 2%. While there may be less activity taking place over the summer holiday months, if the results prove correct, it will show that low interest rates are still enticing potential home buyers to upgrade their homes, albeit at a slower pace than witnessed last year.

As mentioned above, the spotlight on the Reserve Bank doesn’t stop with the Board meeting – the quarterly Statement on Monetary Policy is slated for release on Friday. Not only does this report assess economic developments over the past quarter, it includes the latest economic growth and inflation forecasts. And once again the focus will be squarely on inflation outcomes.

Overseas: US and China trade data in focus

Turning attention overseas, there are sparse helpings of ‘top shelf’ US economic data in the coming week with the main economic data of interest being trade and consumer credit data. China emerges from the Lunar New Year holidays with the release of key economic data.

The week kicks off on Tuesday with the release of the monthly trade data in the US alongside figures on consumer credit and JOLTS job openings. The trade deficit should hold around $45 billion, while consumer credit is likely to have risen by $20 billion in December. Also on Tuesday in China, the Caixin services purchasing managers index is issued.

On Thursday, US wholesale inventories and the usual weekly jobless claims numbers are released.

On Friday in the US, import prices, the monthly budget statement and the University of Michigan consumer sentiment index are released. Forecasts centre on import prices lifting by 0.2% in January after a 0.4% rise in December. The preliminary January reading on consumer sentiment is expected to show a modest fall from 98.5 to 97.9.

In China, the National Bureau of Statistics may release trade data on Friday.

Share markets, interest rates, exchange rates and commodities

The Australian profit reporting season cranks up a notch in the coming week as the US earnings season starts to wind down.

On Tuesday, earnings announcements are expected from Transurban and SCA Property. On Wednesday, Rio Tinto, carsales.com CIMIC, Genworth, Skycity Entertainment and National Storage are among those listed to issue results.

On Thursday, a few more companies will report earnings including AGL, Suncorp Group, News Corp, Henderson Group and AMP.

On Friday, REA Group is amongst those listed to issue earnings.

Please note: This week’s report was written by Savanth Sebastian, Senior Economist.

This report is approved and distributed in Australia by Commonwealth Securities Limited ABN 60 067 254 399, AFSL 238814 (CommSec) a wholly owned but non-guaranteed subsidiary of Commonwealth Bank of Australia ABN 48 123 123 124, AFSL 234945 (the Bank). The Bank and its subsidiaries have effected or may effect transactions for their own account in any investments or related investments referred to in this report. This report is not a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any securities, property, real estate or financial products, and has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial or taxation situation or needs of any particular individual. For this reason, any individual should, before acting on the information in this report, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual's objectives, financial or taxation situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. This report is produced by Commonwealth Research based on information available at the time of publishing. We believe that the information in this correspondence is correct and any opinions, conclusions or recommendations are reasonably held or made as at the time of its compilation, but no warranty is made as to accuracy, reliability or completeness. To the extent permitted by law, neither the Bank nor any of its subsidiaries accept liability to any person for loss or damage arising from the use of this report.

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Investor signposts: Property prices in the spotlight

Friday, January 27, 2017

By Craig James

A flood of new economic indicators is expected over the coming week. In Australia, the latest data on home prices is the highlight.

The week kicks off in Australia on Tuesday, when the Reserve Bank releases the latest private sector credit figures (essentially data on outstanding loans). For 14 straight months, credit has grown by between 0.4-0.6% per month and it is reasonable to expect a similar result in December, keeping annual growth at 5.4%.

Also on Tuesday, weekly consumer sentiment data is expected. Consumers remain generally positive, especially on spending intentions. The interesting thing to watch is the indicator on inflation expectations which is at 4½-year highs.

On Wednesday, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) releases estimates of living costs (inflation) for different groups in the community such as wage earners and pensioners.

Also on Wednesday, CoreLogic will release the January estimates on home prices – the most comprehensive monthly report on the topic. In December, capital city home prices recorded a solid 1.4% gain. But on the data available so far in January, capital city home prices have only lifted by 0.4%. Melbourne prices have lifted 1.1% in January so far but Perth and Brisbane prices have fallen by around 0.5%. Sydney prices are up 0.3% in the month.

And the latest gauge on manufacturing activity – the Performance of Manufacturing index – is also released on Wednesday. The December reading was encouraging at 55.4 (any reading over 50 indicates expansion). Investors would hope for similar strength in January.

On Thursday, there are two indicators of note to be released by the ABS – international trade and building approvals.

In November, Australia’s trade balance improved by $2,362 million to a surplus of $1,243 million. It was the first monthly trade surplus in 33 months and largely reflected higher coal and iron ore prices. But higher coal and iron ore volumes and prices, as well as higher Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) revenues, should support trade accounts in coming months.

Dwelling approvals have been volatile in recent months – up 7% in November after an 11.8% fall in October. Approvals have peaked, although they are only easing slowly in trend terms from peak levels.

On Friday, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries will release the January new car sales figures – one of the timeliest economic indicators. Car sales were at record levels for a calendar year in 2016.

Overseas: US interest rates and jobs are in focus

There are two stand-out events in the coming week: the interest rate decision from the US Federal Reserve and the release of monthly jobs data in the US.

The week kicks off on Monday with the release of US personal income and spending figures together with the pending home sales index. Economists tip healthy gains of 0.4% for both incomes and spending.

On Tuesday, the US Federal Reserve starts a two-day meeting (decision announced Thursday morning, Sydney time). The Fed is poised to lift rates – but not yet, given that inflation is contained. Most economists expect around three rate hikes this year, but the Fed may hold off a little longer. 

Also on Tuesday, the Case-Shiller measure of home prices is released alongside consumer confidence and the weekly data on chain store sales. Confidence is at 15-year highs while home prices are up a healthy 5.1% on a year ago.

On Wednesday, the ISM manufacturing activity gauge is released with the ADP National employment index and January auto sales data. Latest data shows solid manufacturing activity (index of 54.5). The ADP survey is also expected to see a lift in job growth from 153,000 in December to 168,000 in January.

On Thursday, the Challenger survey of job layoffs is released with the weekly data on claims for unemployment insurance. 

And on Friday, the all-important non-farm payrolls (employment) data is released with factory orders and the ISM survey of activity in the services sector. As per the last report, it is not just jobs in focus. Average earnings (wages) rose by 0.4% in December. If we see a similar sort of increase in January, policymakers may start worrying about potential inflationary pressures. And as a result the Fed may be more likely to lift interest rates.

In China, the National Bureau of Statistics releases its purchasing manager reports for manufacturing and services sectors on Wednesday. And the Caixin manufacturing survey is issued on Friday.

Sharemarkets, interest rates, exchange rates and commodities

The US earnings season is in full swing. And it is a case of so far, so good. FactSet report that 12% of the companies in the S&P 500 have reported results for the December quarter. And so far 61% of S&P 500 companies have beat the mean earnings per share, while 47% of S&P 500 companies have beat the mean sales estimate. The earnings growth rate is currently 3.5%, keeping the US on track to record the second consecutive annual growth of earnings in two years.

The Australian earnings season gets underway next week with Navitas and CYBG Plc to report on Tuesday. There will be much focus on whether companies are now experiencing better fortunes than was the case around mid-2016.

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Investor signposts: All about inflation

Friday, January 20, 2017

By Craig James

In the coming week, inflation dominates the Australian economic calendar. In the US, a raft of indicators is released, including those covering economic growth, consumer confidence and home sales.

On Monday, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) releases figures on lending finance. The lending finance data shows the value of new loans taken out across housing, personal, and lease and business loan categories. In October, new loans totalled $68.68 billion in October, down 5.8% over the year.

Also on Monday, CommSec will release the quarterly State of the States report – an assessment of the economic performance of state and territory economies.

On Tuesday, there’s just one indicator of note - the weekly series of consumer sentiment. Consumer confidence is holding just shy of four-month highs. But investors will also be interested in the reading on inflation expectations two years ahead, which is currently holding at a 13-month high.

On Wednesday, the main measure of inflation in Australia – the Consumer Price Index (CPI) – is scheduled for release. And the indications are that another low reading of inflation is on the cards. We are tipping a 0.7% lift in the headline rate of inflation, lifting the annual inflation rate to near 1.6%.

One factor that is an outlier, and may actually boost overall price growth, is the rising cost of petrol. Pump prices probably rose by 5.5% in the December quarter, adding around 0.2 percentage points to the quarterly CPI.

During the quarter, there are generally seasonal price increases in tobacco and the cost of domestic holidays and accommodation. Offsetting these price changes, lower prices are likely for pharmaceutical goods. Higher prices are likely for dwelling purchase, while rents may have been flat or lower in the quarter.

The Reserve Bank attempts to keep inflation between 2-3% over time. But when prices of goods like petrol are rising, the Bank tends to focus more on measures of “underlying” prices. We suspect that underlying price measures probably grew around 0.5% in the quarter with annual growth around 1.6%.

Should prices move in line with forecasts - that is, inflation stays low - the Reserve Bank will maintain its neutral policy stance when it comes to interest rates. It’s pretty clear that inflation has bottomed out and will be closely watched over 2017.

On Friday, the (ABS) will release more data on prices, this time figures on import and export prices and the Producer Price Indexes (PPI). These international price measures tend to be dominated by changes in the Australian dollar and iron ore, coal and oil prices while the PPI focuses on business inflation.

Overseas: Raft of US indicators including GDP

There are no key indicators to watch in China in the coming week so the US hogs the limelight. Economic growth data and home prices are the highlights.

The week kicks off on Tuesday with the release of the influential Richmond Federal Reserve index, existing home sales and the flash Markit Manufacturing PMI. Existing home sales may have eased by around 1.5% in December, while the manufacturing PMI should continue to show a healthy expansion with a reading around 54.0 in January.

On Wednesday, a key measure of home prices is released with the usual weekly data on mortgage applications. The Federal Housing Finance Agency index on home prices is likely to hold at around 5.5% annual growth.

On Thursday, four key data releases are scheduled to take place. Of key focus will be the new home sales release alongside the leading index for December. In addition, wholesale inventories, the Chicago Fed national activity index and the weekly data on claims for unemployment (jobless claims) are released.

On Friday, data on durable goods orders (a measure of business investment) is released together with the “flash” or advance measure of economic growth (GDP) in the US. Economists expect that the economy slowed to a 2.3% annual pace in the December quarter, down from 3.5% in the September quarter.

Also released on Friday is quarterly data on personal consumption and consumer sentiment.

Share markets, interest rates, exchange rates and commodities 

The US earnings season moves into third gear in the coming week. On Monday, earnings are expected from 38 companies including McDonalds and Resmed.

On Tuesday, around 77 companies are to report including Johnson & Johnson, Alibaba Group, Procter & Gamble, Verizon, Alcoa and DR Horton.

On Wednesday, profit results are listed for 122 companies including AT&T, Boeing, Ebay, Fiat Chrysler and Novartis.

On Thursday, more than 190 companies are slated to release earnings including Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Intel, Starbucks, Caterpillar, Unilever, PayPal, and Ford.

Closing out the week on Friday are just 28 companies scheduled to report, including Chevron, Colgate-Palmolive and Honeywell.

Please note: This week’s report was written by Savanth Sebastian, Senior Economist.
This report is approved and distributed in Australia by Commonwealth Securities Limited ABN 60 067 254 399, AFSL 238814 (CommSec) a wholly owned but non-guaranteed subsidiary of Commonwealth Bank of Australia ABN 48 123 123 124, AFSL 234945 (the Bank). The Bank and its subsidiaries have effected or may effect transactions for their own account in any investments or related investments referred to in this report. This report is not a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any securities, property, real estate or financial products, and has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial or taxation situation or needs of any particular individual. For this reason, any individual should, before acting on the information in this report, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual's objectives, financial or taxation situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. This report is produced by Commonwealth Research based on information available at the time of publishing. We believe that the information in this correspondence is correct and any opinions, conclusions or recommendations are reasonably held or made as at the time of its compilation, but no warranty is made as to accuracy, reliability or completeness. To the extent permitted by law, neither the Bank nor any of its subsidiaries accept liability to any person for loss or damage arising from the use of this report.

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Investor signposts: Jobs in focus

Friday, January 13, 2017

By Craig James

Economic data releases over the coming week cover a variety of topics including consumer confidence and spending, housing activity and the job market. Thursday’s job figures are the highlight.

In Australia, the week kicks off on Monday with the release of the Overseas Arrivals and Departures publication from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Not only does the data cover tourism flows but also longer-term migration in and out of the country. A lower Australian dollar is encouraging more tourists to choose Australia over other destinations. Tourist arrivals are up 12.7% over the year while departures are up just 4.3%.

On Tuesday, there are three indicators of note: housing finance, new vehicle sales and the weekly series of consumer sentiment.

Based on data from the Bankers Association, the number of new home loans may have fallen 1.5% in November. In part, home buyers have become more wary about purchasing property. But there are also fewer homes on the market than a year ago, causing budding buyers to be more patient.

The vehicle sales data for December has already been released by the industry body – the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries. The sales data issued by the ABS on Tuesday merely recasts the bottom-line figures in seasonally adjusted and trend terms.

On Wednesday the ABS releases the Building Activity publication which includes the latest figures on dwelling starts (commencements). Starts have been volatile in recent quarters – falling 9.5% in the June quarter after lifting 8% in the March quarter. Starts should have rebounded in the September quarter.

The weekly consumer confidence data is released on Tuesday with the monthly measure issued on Wednesday.

On Thursday, the ABS releases the monthly labour market figures for December. After an out-sized 39,100 lift in jobs in November, we are looking for a more sedate 10,000 lift in jobs in December. But little change is expected in unemployment and the participation rate with the jobless rate steady at 5.7%. Forward-looking indicators point to modest reductions in the jobless rate over the coming year.

On Friday, the CommBank Business Sales Index is released along with new home sales data.

Overseas: Quiet start to the week

Overseas, there is plenty to watch in the coming week. But events are largely confined to the second half of the week, including the US Presidential Inauguration and Chinese economic growth figures on Friday.

The week kicks off on Tuesday in the US with the release of the influential Empire State manufacturing survey and regular weekly data on chain store sales.

On Wednesday in the US, the December data on consumer prices and industrial production are released with the National Association of Home Builders index for January and November data on capital flows. Consumer prices are edging higher, influenced by firmer gasoline prices. And production may have lifted 0.4% after a similar sized fall the previous month.

On Thursday in the US, the December data on housing starts is released with January data for the influential Philadelphia Federal Reserve index. Starts slid 18.7% in November, but are tipped to have rebounded by 10% in December. On the same day, the weekly data on claims for unemployment insurance is released.

On Thursday in China, the December data on house prices is expected. And on Friday, the spotlight shines brightly on the December quarter economic growth figures – released alongside the latest monthly data on retail sales, production and investment. The Chinese economy probably expanded at a 6.7% annual pace in the quarter and economists expect growth of between 6-7% over 2017.

And on Friday in the US, Donald Trump is formally sworn in as President. Share markets have been rallying on hopes for tax cuts and infrastructure spending. Now we want to see the legislation outlining the changes. 

Share markets, interest rates, exchange rates and commodities 

The US earnings season cranks up a notch in the coming week.

On Tuesday, earnings are expected from 18 companies including Morgan Stanley and Advanced Micro Devices.

On Wednesday, around 27 companies are to report including Charles Schwab, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and US Bankcorp.

On Thursday, profit results are listed for 35 companies including American Express, E*Trade, Atlassian, BNY Mellon and IBM.

On Friday, only eight companies are slated to release earnings including General Electric.

According to Zacks, fourth quarter “earnings for the S&P 500 companies are expected to be up 3.1 per cent from the same period last year on 3.9 per cent higher revenues. This would follow the 3.8 per cent growth in Q3 earnings on 2.3 per cent higher revenues, the first instance of positive earnings growth for the index after five quarters of back-to-back declines.”

This report is approved and distributed in Australia by Commonwealth Securities Limited ABN 60 067 254 399, AFSL 238814 (CommSec) a wholly owned but non-guaranteed subsidiary of Commonwealth Bank of Australia ABN 48 123 123 124, AFSL 234945 (the Bank). The Bank and its subsidiaries have effected or may effect transactions for their own account in any investments or related investments referred to in this report. This report is not a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any securities, property, real estate or financial products, and has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial or taxation situation or needs of any particular individual. For this reason, any individual should, before acting on the information in this report, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual's objectives, financial or taxation situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. This report is produced by Commonwealth Research based on information available at the time of publishing. We believe that the information in this correspondence is correct and any opinions, conclusions or recommendations are reasonably held or made as at the time of its compilation, but no warranty is made as to accuracy, reliability or completeness. To the extent permitted by law, neither the Bank nor any of its subsidiaries accept liability to any person for loss or damage arising from the use of this report.

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Investor Signposts: The final countdown

Friday, December 16, 2016

By Craig James

The cupboard is largely bare in terms of key domestic economic indicators or events until January 3. Still, the Federal Government will release its Mid-year estimates of the Budget position on Monday. On Tuesday, the Reserve Bank Board minutes are released, while private sector credit figures are released on New Year’s Eve.

The Reserve Bank minutes is unlikely to surprise. Policymakers are pretty much talked out when it comes to 2016. The Reserve Bank remains optimistic about the medium-term prospects for the economy, and no doubt, the lift in commodity prices would give them further confidence. 

In terms of private sector credit, lending probably advanced by 0.5% in November, lifting the annual growth rate from 5.3% to 5.4%. While housing remains the core driver of lending the lift in business borrowings is encouraging.

In contrast to Australia, there are still plenty of indicators to watch in the US, focussing on consumer spending, consumer confidence and the housing market. But also, the influential regional manufacturing surveys are released over the next couple of weeks and will feed into the ISM manufacturing gauge released in the New Year. 

Overall, US economists are forecasting modest improvements in indicators to be released over the coming fortnight. The final reading on September quarter economic growth should confirm that the US recovery is on track, supporting the decision by the Federal Reserve to lift interest rates for only the second time in almost a decade. Similarly, house price growth remains healthy, while activity and new construction in the sector remains strong. It’s clear the the US economy is in good shape, with firm economic growth and low unemployment. No doubt the focus in the New Year will be on the discussion around further US interest rate hikes.

This week's Investor Signposts was written by CommSec economist, Savanth Sebastian

This report is approved and distributed in Australia by Commonwealth Securities Limited ABN 60 067 254 399, AFSL 238814 (CommSec) a wholly owned but non-guaranteed subsidiary of Commonwealth Bank of Australia ABN 48 123 123 124, AFSL 234945 (the Bank). The Bank and its subsidiaries have effected or may effect transactions for their own account in any investments or related investments referred to in this report. This report is not a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any securities, property, real estate or financial products, and has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial or taxation situation or needs of any particular individual. For this reason, any individual should, before acting on the information in this report, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual's objectives, financial or taxation situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. This report is produced by Commonwealth Research based on information available at the time of publishing. We believe that the information in this correspondence is correct and any opinions, conclusions or recommendations are reasonably held or made as at the time of its compilation, but no warranty is made as to accuracy, reliability or completeness. To the extent permitted by law, neither the Bank nor any of its subsidiaries accept liability to any person for loss or damage arising from the use of this report.

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Investor Signposts: Jobs, jobs, jobs

Friday, December 09, 2016

By Craig James

Another big week of economic events is in prospect in Australia and overseas. In Australia, the focus will be on the labour market. In China, the broader economic activity indicators are released. In the US, no doubt most interest will be on the US Federal Reserve interest rate decision.

In Australia, the week kicks off on Monday with the Reserve Bank release of the latest data on credit and debit card lending. The average credit card balance is holding just shy of 8½-year lows. 

Also on Monday, the Bureau of Statistics (ABS) will release tourist arrivals and lending finance figures – which includes housing, personal, business and lease loans. In September, lending showed a modest 1.9 per cent rise to $68.5 billion with the strength largely in commercial borrowings.

On Tuesday, the National Australia Bank business survey is released alongside the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) quarterly data on house prices. The business survey covers key business indicators, a reading on business confidence as well as gauges on prices, wages and finance. The indicators of confidence and conditions have showed encouraging improvement over the past few months, with a particular focus on a lift in profitability. In terms of the home price index, the data is a bit dated (September quarter) but is another check on price pressures in the housing market.

Also on Tuesday, ANZ and Roy Morgan release the weekly consumer sentiment survey. While on Wednesday, the monthly Westpac consumer confidence index is released. 

The Westpac-Melbourne Institute survey will include the quarterly questions about where consumers believe are the wisest places to put new savings.

On Thursday, the ABS releases the monthly employment figures. Figures have been somewhat patchy in recent months, with the job market seemingly pausing for breath after out-sized increases in late 2015. However, there has been some encouraging signs in the past couple of months. Not only are job vacancies holding at 4-year highs, but hours worked is lifting at the fastest pace in five months. No doubt the focus will be on the shift between part-time and full-time employment. Overall, we expect that the number of jobs rose by around 15,000 in November. The participation rate may have held steady at 64.4 per cent, while the unemployment rate held close to recent 3½-year lows of 5.6 per cent. 

Also on Thursday, the ABS will release population data for the June quarter as well as the Finance & Wealth publication for the September quarter. Population growth has been hovering around a 1.4 per cent annual rate for the past year, with Victoria recording the strongest growth. And household wealth is at record highs.

Spotlight on US and Chinese data

So-called ‘top shelf’ economic indicators are released in China in the coming week. And in the US, the focus will on the Federal Reserve meeting while data on retail sales and consumer prices will also be of interest.

In the US, the monthly budget statement is released on Monday. While on Tuesday the National Federation of Independent Business releases its Business Optimism index alongside data on import and export prices.

On Tuesday, China releases its ‘top shelf’ indicators on Tuesday - namely retail sales, production and investment. Annual growth rates are slowing, but that is ‘normal’ for a maturing economy. Also, foreign investment, lending and money supply data is due early in the week.

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting takes place to decide on interest rates. And given the recent lift in commodity prices, stronger US economy and resulting lift in inflation, it is widely expected that the Fed funds rate will lift from the target band of 0.25-0.50 per cent to 0.50-0.75 per cent.

Also on Wednesday, a bevy of new data is slated for release. US retail sales is issued, alongside figures for producer prices, industrial production, business inventories and the usual weekly data on home purchase and refinancing. The producer price index (business inflation) is expected to remain tame, while economists tip a solid 0.5 per cent increase in November retail sales after the 0.8 per cent lift in October. No doubt fluctuating petrol prices are having a significant influence on the results. Encouragingly, core sales (sales less autos and gasoline) are expected to have lifted by 0.5 per cent in November. 

On Thursday, the weekly figures on claims for unemployment insurance are released, together with the November data on consumer prices and current account data. Excluding food and energy, prices are expected to rise by only 0.2 per cent. At present, inflation remains well contained, however the Federal Reserve is likely to focus on the possibility of a lift in inflation over 2017. 

Also on Thursday, the NAHB housing market index is issued, alongside the “flash” Markit purchasing managers index, Empire State manufacturing index and the Philadelphia Federal Reserve business survey. Home builder sentiment remains upbeat, the manufacturing sector should continue to show healthy expansion, while healthy readings are expected for the regional surveys.

And on Friday, data on US housing starts and building permits is released. Housing starts may have fallen by around 7.5 per cent in November, after the outsized 25.5 per cent lift in October.

This week's Investor Signposts was written by CommSec economist, Savanth Sebastian

This report is approved and distributed in Australia by Commonwealth Securities Limited ABN 60 067 254 399, AFSL 238814 (CommSec) a wholly owned but non-guaranteed subsidiary of Commonwealth Bank of Australia ABN 48 123 123 124, AFSL 234945 (the Bank). The Bank and its subsidiaries have effected or may effect transactions for their own account in any investments or related investments referred to in this report. This report is not a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any securities, property, real estate or financial products, and has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial or taxation situation or needs of any particular individual. For this reason, any individual should, before acting on the information in this report, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual's objectives, financial or taxation situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. This report is produced by Commonwealth Research based on information available at the time of publishing. We believe that the information in this correspondence is correct and any opinions, conclusions or recommendations are reasonably held or made as at the time of its compilation, but no warranty is made as to accuracy, reliability or completeness. To the extent permitted by law, neither the Bank nor any of its subsidiaries accept liability to any person for loss or damage arising from the use of this report.

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Investor signposts: How fast is the economy growing?

Friday, December 02, 2016

By Craig James

Week two of the summer tsunami beckons – a fortnight where almost 20 key economic events are scheduled. Highlights include the Reserve Bank Board meeting on Tuesday and economic growth figures on Wednesday.

In Australia the week kicks off on Monday. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) releases the Business Indicators publication. New car sales data is released, while ANZ releases the November data on job advertisements.

The Business Indicators publication includes data on profits, sales, wages and inventories. The inventories data will provide another clue to how fast the economy grew in the September quarter.

And the job ads data will provide insights on where the job market is headed. The October data put job ads at 4-year highs.

On Tuesday, the Reserve Bank Board meets for the last time before February 2017. No change in rate settings is expected.

Also on Tuesday, there are more pieces of the economic growth jigsaw puzzle to be provided. The Government finance accounts are released with the broader trade accounts – balance of payments. The weekly consumer sentiment data is also released on Tuesday. 

On Wednesday, the ABS releases the National Accounts publication for the September quarter. Apart from including the latest economic growth figures, there are insights into income and spending of consumers and businesses.

We expect that the economy grew by around 0.4 per cent in the September quarter, pushing economic growth down from 3.3 per cent to 2.8 per cent – around the ‘speed limit’ of growth for the economy.

On Thursday, the ABS will release the October trade data (exports and imports). Exports may have been boosted by record output of the mining sector as well as higher mineral and metal prices. A deficit near $500 million is forecast.

On Friday, the ABS will issue the October data on housing finance. Most interest is in the new finance commitments by banks and brokers. We tip a 1.5 per cent fall in the number of loans to owner occupiers with the value of all lending largely unchanged.

But analysts will start looking more closely at the loans actually advanced as well as loan cancellations for sharper insights on where the housing market is headed.

China takes centre-stage

While there are the usual bevy of US economic indicators to be released in the coming week, Chinese trade and inflation figures may get more interest by Australian investors.

The week kicks off on Monday in the US with the release of the Institute of Supply Management (ISM) survey for the services sector. The activity index may have lifted from 54.8 to 55.2 – well above the 50 break-even level.

On Tuesday, data on US international trade is released with factory orders and the usual weekly figures on chain store sales.

On Wednesday in the US, consumer credit data is released with the JOLTS survey of job openings. The usual weekly data on housing finance is also on the agenda.

Consumers are taking on more debt at low interest rates with credit seen lifting US$18 billion in October – close to the average monthly lift in the past three years.

On Thursday in the US, the usual weekly data on claims for unemployment insurance is due. While on Friday, data on wholesale sales/inventories are released together with the first estimate of consumer sentiment for the month of December.

Turning to Chinese economic data, trade data is released on Thursday while inflation figures – both producer and consumer prices – are released on Friday. The exports data is more a reflection on the state of the global economy – more will be exported if the demand lifts. And imports data is more a reflection of Chinese spending as well as price trends. Exports are down 7.3 per cent over the year but imports are down by just 1.4 per cent.

The Chinese inflation data should confirm that deflation (or even, disinflation) is not a major concern, but neither is inflation. Still, it is a trend that needs close monitoring.

Financial markets

The end of the year is fast approaching so it is worth checking where we currently stand.

The ASX 200 is up by around 2.7 per cent over 2016 so far with the All Ordinaries up 3.0 per cent. But total returns on shares are up 7.2 per cent, highlighting the importance of dividends.

The Aussie dollar started the year near US72 cents. The low point of US68.24 cents occurred in January while the high of US78.35 cents occurred in April. The Aussie is up around 1 per cent so far in 2016.

And 90-day bills started 2016 at 2.38 per cent with 10-year bonds at 2.89 per cent. Currently 90-day bills are at 1.76 per cent and 10-year bonds at 2.78 per cent, after yields fell to 1.85 per cent in August.

This report is approved and distributed in Australia by Commonwealth Securities Limited ABN 60 067 254 399, AFSL 238814 (CommSec) a wholly owned but non-guaranteed subsidiary of Commonwealth Bank of Australia ABN 48 123 123 124, AFSL 234945 (the Bank). The Bank and its subsidiaries have effected or may effect transactions for their own account in any investments or related investments referred to in this report. This report is not a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any securities, property, real estate or financial products, and has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial or taxation situation or needs of any particular individual. For this reason, any individual should, before acting on the information in this report, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual's objectives, financial or taxation situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. This report is produced by Commonwealth Research based on information available at the time of publishing. We believe that the information in this correspondence is correct and any opinions, conclusions or recommendations are reasonably held or made as at the time of its compilation, but no warranty is made as to accuracy, reliability or completeness. To the extent permitted by law, neither the Bank nor any of its subsidiaries accept liability to any person for loss or damage arising from the use of this report.

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Investor Signposts: Business investment and retail sales

Friday, November 25, 2016

By Craig James

A new month beckons and that means the release of top tier economic data - not just in Australia but also in the US. In Australia, the focus will be on the quarterly business investment survey (Thursday) and retail trade (Friday). And in the US, it’s time again for another batch of jobs data (Friday).

In Australia, the week kicks off on Tuesday with the weekly consumer sentiment survey. Household sentiment remains in a healthy place and should support activity in the lead up to Christmas.

On Wednesday, the Housing Industry Association (HIA) releases figures on new home sales, while the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) releases the “Financial Aggregates” report for October, which includes money supply measures and private sector credit (loans outstanding). We expect that credit rose by 0.4% in October to be up around 5.5% over the year.

Also on the Wednesday, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) will issue data on building approvals for October. The data represents the collated information of approvals by local councils to build new homes and commercial buildings. Given the “lumpy” nature of apartment approvals, the data does tend to be volatile.

On Thursday, the Performance of Manufacturing index, home prices and private capital expenditure data are issued. The manufacturing sector should continue to expand supported by the lower Australian dollar.

Spring selling season

In terms of home prices, the Spring selling season is well and truly in swing. Auction clearance rates are holding at around 75-80%, particularly across the Eastern Seaboard. In September, capital city home prices rose by 0.5% to be up 7.5% on a year ago.

According to the CoreLogic Daily home price index, Australian prices should rise by around 0.3% in November. Once again, it seems Sydney home prices continue be the key driver, potentially up another 1% in November. Yet, regional prices look to only be up just over 1% over the year – highlighting the diversity of housing activity across regions.

Also on Thursday, the ABS will release the September quarter estimates on business investment. This data is also an input into the calculation of economic growth. But also insightful are the estimates of planned investment for the coming year.

Overall, we expect that investment remained soft in the quarter, reflecting the ongoing winding down of the mining construction boom. However, the recent surge in commodity prices - if sustained - is certainly encouraging for the sector over the medium term. The RBA will be interested in estimates of non-mining investment.

On Friday, the ABS will issue data on retail trade. Retail spending has shown some encouraging signs over the past couple of months. Retail spending rose by 0.6% higher in September, to be up 3.3% over the year – a 4-month high. More importantly, non-food retailing has risen by 1.5% in the past two months – the strongest two-month result in 20 months. Similarly, a 0.6% lift in spending expected in October.

US employment under the spotlight

Most investors will be focussed on the US jobs figures (Friday). But there’s also key Chinese manufacturing data to digest.

The week kicks off on Monday in the US, with the release of the influential regional survey on Dallas manufacturing activity. A modest lift in activity is expected for the November result.

On Tuesday, data on US economic growth, home prices and consumer confidence are slated for release. The September quarter growth reading may be revised up from 2.9 to 3%, while home prices may have lifted at a 5.3% annual pace and confidence is expected to rise from 98.6 to 100.0 in November.

On Wednesday in the US, the ADP national employment report is released with the personal income/spending data, Chicago Purchasing Manager index, pending home sales and weekly figures on housing finance. The ADP series will garner the most interest, given it is the fore-runner to the “official” jobs report and is expected to show a 160,000 gain in private sector jobs in November.

Also on Wednesday, the Federal Reserve will release the Beige Book – anecdotal views on how the economy is tracking across the 12 Federal Reserve districts. The report is likely to be more upbeat ahead of the anticipated December rate hike.

On Thursday, the Challenger series on job layoffs is issued together with construction spending data, the ISM manufacturing index and the usual weekly data on claims for unemployment insurance. Construction spending is expected to have lifted by 0.5%, while the manufacturing gauge should show a modest improvement from 51.9 to 52.0 in November. Any reading above 50 indicates expansion in the manufacturing sector.

In China on Thursday, the National Bureau of Statistics releases purchasing manager surveys for both the manufacturing and services sectors. The private sector Caixin purchasing manager index for manufacturing is also issued.

On Friday, arguably the most important of the week’s economic data is released – the US non-farm payrolls, or monthly employment report. After the healthy October result – 161,000 lift in jobs - employment is expected to have strengthened even further in November, with a forecast jobs lift of 175,000. Economists expect that the unemployment rate will be held at the seemingly “full employment rate” of 4.9%. As always, the interest will be in whether the tight job market shows up in higher wages.

This week's Investor Signposts was written by CommSec economist, Savanth Sebastian

This report is approved and distributed in Australia by Commonwealth Securities Limited ABN 60 067 254 399, AFSL 238814 (CommSec) a wholly owned but non-guaranteed subsidiary of Commonwealth Bank of Australia ABN 48 123 123 124, AFSL 234945 (the Bank). The Bank and its subsidiaries have effected or may effect transactions for their own account in any investments or related investments referred to in this report. This report is not a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any securities, property, real estate or financial products, and has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial or taxation situation or needs of any particular individual. For this reason, any individual should, before acting on the information in this report, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual's objectives, financial or taxation situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. This report is produced by Commonwealth Research based on information available at the time of publishing. We believe that the information in this correspondence is correct and any opinions, conclusions or recommendations are reasonably held or made as at the time of its compilation, but no warranty is made as to accuracy, reliability or completeness. To the extent permitted by law, neither the Bank nor any of its subsidiaries accept liability to any person for loss or damage arising from the use of this report.

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