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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: Inflation week

Friday, April 21, 2017

By Craig James

Inflation dominates the coming week’s schedule of economic statistics. Meanwhile, in the US, there is a raft of data released, including home prices and economic growth.

The week begins in Australia on Monday with the release of the quarterly State of the States report from CommSec. The report analyses the relative economic performance of state and territory economies.

On Wednesday in Australia, the Australian Bureau of Statistics releases the quarterly Consumer Price Index (CPI) – the main measure of inflation used in Australia. In fact, the CPI is regarded globally as one of the best measures of price movements or inflation.

And for the first time in 2½ years, the annual headline rate of inflation is expected to be back in the Reserve Bank’s 2-3% target zone. We expect that prices rose by around 0.6% in the March quarter, lifting the annual rate of inflation from 1.5% to 2.3%.

One of the biggest drivers of the result is likely to be petrol, up around 6% and adding almost 0.2 percentage points to the quarterly lift in the CPI. Seasonal increases in education fees and pharmaceuticals are offset by seasonal declines in holiday travel and accommodation, alcohol and tobacco and clothing.

Stripping out the volatile elements, the “underlying” CPI is expected to lift by around 0.5% in the quarter and 1.8% over the year – getting closer to the 2-3% band. The results for the CPI probably won’t have any direct impact on interest rates. But, higher-than-expected readings could cause some analysts to bring forward expectations of rate hikes from 2018.

The weekly consumer sentiment reading is expected to be released on the same day (on Tuesday). Confidence at the moment is merely OK.

On Thursday, the ABS will release the international trade price data (data on export and import prices). Export prices are tipped to have lifted 3% in the quarter and import prices may have lifted 0.5%. Gold, base metals, wool and wheat prices rose in the quarter, while the Aussie dollar rose by 5.6%.

Also on Thursday, the Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe delivers a speech at the Renminbi Global Cities Dialogue Dinner. Governor Lowe will have his first chance to comment on the inflation data.

On Friday, the ABS releases the Producer Price Indexes for the March quarter, while the Reserve Bank releases data on private sector credit or loans outstanding. Credit may have lifted 0.4% in March.

Overseas: US economic growth and housing data

US economic data dominates in the week ahead. The next Chinese data is released on April 30 (Sunday). The first round of the French Presidential election is held on Sunday (April 23).

On Monday, the week kicks off in the US, with the national activity index and Dallas Federal Reserve manufacturing index.

On Tuesday, both the FHFA and Case Shiller measures of home prices are issued in the US. Annual growth of home prices stands at 5.7%. The April consumer confidence data is also released with new home sales, the Richmond, Texas and Dallas Federal Reserve survey indicators and weekly data on chain store sales.

On Wednesday, the usual US weekly data on home purchase and refinancing is issued with revised figures on building permits.

On Thursday in the US, the usual weekly data on claims for unemployment insurance is released together with durable goods orders (measure of business investment), pending home sales, advance data on international trade and inventories and the Kansas City Federal Reserve survey.

On Friday, investors will get the first look at economic growth data for the March quarter. There are three estimates of GDP – advance, preliminary and final estimates. On the same day, the quarterly employment cost index is issued – a key gauge of wages (or compensation). When wages start lifting at a faster rate, interest rates won’t be far behind. The next Federal Reserve meeting is May 2-3.

Also on Friday is the Chicago purchasing managers index and the consumer sentiment measure from the University of Michigan.

Financial markets

The US profit reporting (earnings) season is in full swing in the coming week.

Among the stocks reporting on Monday are Halliburton, Kimberly-Clark, Alcoa, Barrick Gold and Newmont Mining.

On Tuesday, reporting firms include 3M, Baker Hughes, Caterpillar, Coca Cola, DuPont, Eli Lilly, Lockheed Martin, McDonald’s, Office Depot, AT&T and US Steel.

On Wednesday, profit results include those from Fiat Chrysler, PepsiCo, Twitter, T-Mobile and Procter & Gamble.

On Thursday, earnings will come from American Airlines, Domino’s Pizza, Ford Motor, UPS, Under Amour, Amazon, Microsoft, Intel and ResMed.

And on Friday, financial updates will come from Chevron, Colgate Palmolive, Exxon Mobil and General Motors.

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Investor Signposts: The week ahead

Friday, April 07, 2017

By Craig James

In Australia there is a healthy offering of new economic data in the coming week. Overseas, the highlight in China are trade and inflation figures. Similarly in the US, inflation will be in the spotlight with retail sales.

In Australia, the week kicks off on Monday with data on housing finance (new home loans). The tighter lending standards adopted by the banking sector are likely to result in loans for owner-occupiers (those who want to live in the homes) easing by 0.7 per cent in February. And the total value of all new loans may have fallen by 1.2 per cent in the month.

On Tuesday, Roy Morgan and ANZ release the results of the weekly consumer confidence survey. Home prices and company tax cuts are hogging the radar screen at present.

National Australia Bank also releases the March business survey results on Tuesday. The NAB business conditions index eased from a 9-year high of +16.3 points to +9.3 points in February. And the business confidence index eased from a 3-year high of +9.7 points to +6.9 points.

On Wednesday, the Westpac/Melbourne monthly survey of consumer confidence is issued together with data on dwelling starts from the Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

Also on Wednesday, the ABS releases data on lending finance – the broader data on new lending across the economy – including business, personal, housing and lease loans. Investor housing is one of the key drivers at present. Also, the Reserve Bank releases February data on credit card and debit card transactions. Plastic cards are being used more often, especially for smaller transactions.

On Thursday, the monthly employment report is released. The labour market data has been resilient despite the weaker result last month. Importantly, the weakness last month was largely driven by part-time jobs. We expect that the below-average growth will give way to above-average growth in March and we are tipping job growth of around 25,000 in the month. The jobless rate should remain near 5.9 per cent.

Also on Friday, the Reserve Bank releases its bi-annual Financial Stability Review. While primarily designed to check the health of the financial system, a big focus in Thursday’s report will be comments on the home building markets in various capital cities, notably Brisbane and Melbourne.

China inflation and trade; US inflation

Chinese and US economic data compete for top billing in the coming week. The highlight is probably Chinese trade data on Thursday and the US retail sales and inflation data both due on Friday.

On Monday, the week kicks off in the US with the Employment Trends report.

On Tuesday, the NFIB Business Optimism index is issued – a gauge of small business sentiment. And on the same day the JOLTS report of job openings is released – a forward-looking indicator on the strength of the job market. The usual weekly data on chain store sales is also issued on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Chinese data on producer prices and consumer prices are released. Business inflation is no longer going backwards, and the latest result should show that producer prices are up 7.6 per cent over the year – just off the fastest growth in eight years. In contrast, data should show consumer prices are lifting at a more sedate pace with 1.0 per cent annual growth of prices expected in March.

Also on Wednesday in the US, data on export and import prices are to be released together with the monthly budget statement. The usual weekly data on mortgage finance is also issued.

On Thursday in the US, the weekly data on claims for unemployment insurance is released together with data on producer prices and the preliminary University of Michigan consumer confidence reading for April. Excluding food and energy prices, overall producer prices may have lifted by 0.2 per cent in March, keeping annual growth near 1.5 per cent.

In China on Thursday, March trade data is issued in China. Data from previous months has been complicated by the timing of the Lunar New Year holidays. A US$10 billion trade surplus is tipped for March.

On Friday, two key US indicators are slated for release; US consumer prices and retail sales. The Federal Reserve is keeping a close eye on inflation especially with regards to the timing for future rate hikes. For the record, the headline inflation reading may have actually edged up only 0.1 per cent in March, leaving headline growth near 2.7 per cent. But the more important core inflation measure (excludes food and energy) is likely to have risen by 0.2 per cent in the month to be up 2.2 per cent over the year.

In terms of spending, economists expect that US retail sales rose by 0.3 per cent in March with a similar increase expected when auto sales are excluded.

Also on Friday, data on US business inventories is released with a 0.3 per cent increase expected.

Financial markets 

The US first quarter earnings season gets underway in the coming week. Alcoa is slated to release earnings on Monday. And on Thursday, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo are expected to report. Thomson Reuters tips 10.1 per cent annual growth in earnings by S&P 500 companies over the season.

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: RBA decides on interest rates

Friday, March 31, 2017

By Craig James

The wait is over for Australian investors with ‘top shelf’ indicators back on the radar screen. The Reserve Bank is also in focus with a Board meeting on Tuesday.

The week kicks off on Monday, when the Bureau of Statistics (ABS) releases data on retail spending and new council approvals to construct new buildings (Building Approvals).

In January, retail trade rose by a healthy 0.4 per cent, underpinned by the non-food sector, especially electrical goods. Anecdotal and survey evidence suggest sales softened in February.

Data on new dwelling approvals is always volatile, influenced by the ‘lumpy’ new apartment sector. Dwelling approvals rose by 1.8 per cent in January after falling by 2.5 per cent in December. But in trend terms, approvals have fallen for the past eight months.

Also out on Monday is data on job advertisements. Ads fell 0.7 per cent in February from five-year highs but business conditions are strong, pointing to a rebound in ads.

Indicators released from the private sector on Monday are the CoreLogic Home Value index and the Performance of Manufacturing from Australian Industry Group.

The Home Value Index of capital city home prices rose by 1.4 per cent in February and was up 11.7 per cent over the year. Prices rose in five of the eight capital cities with Canberra up the most (up 3.2 per cent).

The Performance of Manufacturing index rose by 8.1 points to 59.3 in February – the strongest result since 2002. And it was especially strong when you consider that a reading above 50.0 indicates that the sector is expanding. This was the fifth consecutive month of expansion.

On Tuesday, the Reserve Bank Board meets to decide on interest settings. The decision is easy – interest rate settings will be left on hold and the neutral monetary policy stance won’t change.

Also on Tuesday, the ABS releases the February international trade figures. The trade surplus narrowed from $3,334 million to $1,302 million in January, due largely to a slump in gold exports. But the rolling 12-month deficit improved from $14.2 billion to $10 billion (smallest deficit in 25 months).

And on Wednesday, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) releases the estimates of new vehicle sales for March – one of the most timely spending measures. In February, sales of sports utility vehicles exceeded those of cars for the first time. But overall vehicle sales are consolidating after solid gains in late 2016.

Quiet times continue in US and China

In the US – as always is the case in the first week of the month – the spotlight shifts to the non-farm payrolls (employment) data, released on Friday. In China, the focus is on the gauges of activity in the manufacturing and services sectors.

The week kicks off on Monday in the US with the release of the ISM manufacturing gauge. As noted above in the discussion on Australia, a reading for the manufacturing business index above 50 suggests expansion. Economists expect the ISM index to have eased from 57.7 to 57.0 in March.

Also on Monday is the release of the alternate Markit manufacturing gauge. Meanwhile, data on new vehicle sales is issued along with a reading of construction spending. Construction is tipped to have lifted 1 per cent in February, while annualised auto sales may have eased modestly in March.

On Tuesday, there are a number of indicators to watch. The February international trade figures are released with factory orders and the ISM New York index. And the usual weekly data on chain store sales is also issued.

On Wednesday in the US, the Federal Reserve releases minutes of the policymaking committee meeting held over March 14 and 15. The Fed policymakers are leaning to fewer rate hikes being delivered in 2017. But the minutes may prove insightful about the views held by members.

In terms of economic data on Wednesday, the ADP National Employment index is issued together with the ISM services index. The ADP index suggested that job numbers soared by 298,000 in March. In February, jobs are tipped to have risen by a more modest 194,000 positions. Meanwhile, the services sector has been expanding at a similar solid pace to that of the manufacturing sector. In March, economists expect that the ISM gauge eased from 57.6 to 57.0. Also on Wednesday is the usual weekly data on housing finance.

On Thursday in the US, the usual weekly data on jobless claims is released alongside the Challenger series of job layoffs.

On Friday in the US, the non-farm payrolls (employment) data is issued. While Fed policymakers may only expect another two rate hikes this year, that could all change if job numbers surge, wages lift and the jobless rate slides. Economists tip an 185,000 lift in jobs in March with the jobless rate steady at 4.7 per cent and wages up a relatively modest 0.2 per cent.

In China, the Caixin group releases the manufacturing purchasing managers’ gauge on Saturday (April 1) and the services gauge on Thursday. The National Bureau of Statistics “official” purchasing manager surveys

There are also speeches from four Federal Reserve presidents to monitor over Monday and Tuesday.

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Investor Signposts: The week ahead

Friday, March 24, 2017

By Craig James

As was the case in the past week, there are no ‘top shelf’ indicators due for release in Australia in the coming week.

The week kicks off on Tuesday, when Roy Morgan and ANZ release the weekly consumer confidence reading. Aussies consumers have become a bit more downbeat of late, with the latest confidence reading the lowest in eleven months. No doubt the discussion about risks in the housing market have spooked some consumers. The question is whether the significant amount of home building underway at present gives way to localised oversupply, driving down home prices.

Certainly, home prices have lifted significantly in places like Sydney and Melbourne. And more homes (especially apartments) are being built. But interestingly, the latest data suggests that existing home buyers aren’t selling up, and that is another factor intensifying demand for the number of properties on the market.

In the December quarter, property settlements in Sydney were the lowest for any December quarter in the past 11 years. And while Generation Y are getting their own places in other cities and states, in Sydney the number of people per household remains relatively stable and higher than other cities.

On Tuesday, there is speech from Reserve Bank Deputy Governor, Guy Debelle, to be delivered to the FX Week Australia conference. Investors will watch for any new warnings about the state of play in the housing industry.

On Thursday, there are three items of note. First, the Bureau of Statistics releases the Finance and Wealth publication. Second, the ABS issues data on job vacancies. And third, the Housing Industry Association releases data on new home sales.

The Finance and Wealth publication includes a raft of indicators such as the share of bonds or equities held by foreign investors; the average wealth level of Aussie families; and cash holdings by consumers, businesses and fund managers. The data should show that wealth is at record highs but it will be interesting to see how much debt has risen in comparison.

The job vacancies data is a key forward-looking gauge on the job market, like job advertisements. The difference being that vacancies data is only released quarterly, while job ads is issued monthly. In broad terms, vacancies and ads are both at, or near, five-year highs, pointing to positive prospects for employment.

The home sales data is important in getting a sense of the supply component of the supply-demand equation. While home sales eased 2.2% in January, the number of sales remains comfortably above both five-year and 10-year averages.

And on Friday, the Reserve Bank releases the private sector credit data – effectively measuring the changes of outstanding lending. The data has proved a little volatile in the past few months, surging 0.7% in December before inching 0.2% higher in January. On average, credit has been growing around 0.4-0.5% a month and similar growth is tipped for the February data.

Quiet times continue in US and China

In the US, there are healthy offerings of new economic data, but the indicators are more ‘second tier’ rather than top shelf. But there will be at least 10 more speeches by Federal Reserve presidents and officials to digest. In China, the purchasing manager surveys will be issued on Friday.

The week kicks off on Monday in the US with the release of the Dallas Federal Reserve manufacturing business index.

On Tuesday, there are a number of indicators to watch. Advance readings on international trade and inventories, both for February, are scheduled. The influential Richmond Federal Reserve survey is also released. And the usual weekly data on chain store sales is also issued.

But of more interest on Tuesday will be the March consumer confidence results, together with the Case Shiller survey of home prices for January. Consumer confidence lifted to 15-year highs in February, so there may be some retracement in March. And home prices may have lifted 0.8% in January after a 0.9% gain in November.

On Wednesday in the US, the pending home index is released alongside the usual weekly data on housing finance. And on Thursday in the US, the usual weekly data on jobless claims is released alongside the final estimate of economic growth (GDP) for the December quarter. The US economy is growing near 2% annual pace.

On Friday in the US, data on personal incomes and spending is issued with the Chicago purchasing managers’ index. Economists think incomes rose 0.4% with spending up 0.2%. The spotlight will also shine on the Federal Reserve inflation measure – the core personal consumption deflator. Annual price growth is 1.7%. Any easing in the inflation estimate and the Fed can take time in lifting rates, weighing on the greenback.

Also on Friday in China the National Bureau of Statistics releases the “official” purchasing manager surveys covering the manufacturing and services sectors.

Financial markets

Total returns on Australian shares – dividends and share prices – have been consistently hitting record highs since mid-February. The All Ordinaries Accumulation index may be up just 3% over 2017, but it is up by a more meaningful 16% over the past year. In fact, annual growth of share market returns has been holding above 15% for most of 2017.

In terms of share prices, the Aussie share market has under-performed in 2017, lifting around 2% and is in 51st spot of 73 bourses. The US Dow has lifted around 6% and is in 26th spot. Hong Kong and India have lifted around 10% in 2017 and near the top of the ranking list.

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: RBA board minutes out next week

Friday, March 17, 2017

Quiet week ahead in Australia

There are no ‘top shelf’ indicators due for release in Australia in the coming week.

In Australia, the week kicks off on Monday with the release of the Business Sales index (BSI) from Commonwealth Bank. Unlike the retail trade figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the BSI is a measure of economy-wide spending, including spending by government and business and including industries like airlines and automotive.

On Tuesday the Reserve Bank releases minutes of the Board meeting held on March 7. Investors and analysts always want as much guidance from the Reserve Bank as possible on interest rate settings and the outlook for sectors like housing. So the Board minutes will be scrutinised for clues on the policy bias.

In terms of economic data, the ABS releases figures on residential property prices on Tuesday. The figures may be perceived as a bit dated, being for the December quarter, but there are also estimates of the number of homes and the average number of people per household.

Also on Tuesday, Roy Morgan and ANZ release the weekly consumer confidence reading. Confidence is good without being great.

The Reserve Bank Assistant Governor (Economic), Luci Ellis, speaks on Tuesday at the launch of the ACT Women in Economic Network in Canberra.

On Wednesday there is another speech from a Reserve Bank official, this time from Deputy Governor Guy Debelle. The Deputy Governor addresses the TradeTech FX Asia conference in Singapore.

On Thursday, arguably the most interesting data for the week is published. The ABS will release the publication, “Australian Demographic Statistics”, a publication containing population estimates for the September quarter. Australia’s population is growing at a 1.4% annual rate – one of the fastest growth rates for advanced economies.

Also on Thursday the ABS releases detailed data on the job market. The February data will include quarterly estimates of employment by industry, with the surprise in 2016 being the sharp lift in job numbers at manufacturing businesses.

Quiet times also in the US and China

Just like in Australia, US analysts and investors will also struggle to get fresh guidance on the economic outlook in the coming week.

The week kicks off on Monday with the release of the National Activity Index in the US. But also on Monday investors will have the first opportunity to react to Chinese data on house prices – released on Saturday. In the year to January, home prices were up 12.2% on a year ago.

On Tuesday in the US, the broadest measure of the trade or external position of the US will be released – the quarterly current account data. A current account deficit of US$113 billion was recorded in the September quarter. Also on Tuesday the usual weekly data on chain store sales is issued.

On Wednesday in the US, the spotlight shines on the housing sector. The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) issues the monthly home price report with latest data showing that prices recorded a solid 6.2% gain for the year to December.

Also on Wednesday, data on existing home sales is issued. In January, sales recorded a healthy increase of 3.3% to a 5.69 million annual rate. Economists are looking for some of the gain to be handed back, with a 2% fall expected in February. The usual weekly data on housing finance will also be issued on Wednesday.

On Thursday in the US the usual weekly data on jobless claims is released alongside new home sales and the Kansas City Federal Reserve survey on the manufacturing sector. New home sales were up 3.7% in February and economists tip consolidation near a 559,000 annual rate in February.

Also on Thursday, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen delivers a speech. Other district Federal Reserve Presidents deliver speeches on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

And on Friday in the US the February data on durable goods orders is released. Durable goods are things like cars and aircraft – goods that have a shelf life longer than three years. Generally durable goods orders are seen as a gauge on business investment. Orders may have lifted 1.5% in February after a 2% increase in January.

Also on Friday the Markit organisation issues “flash” readings on manufacturing activity in the US, Japan and Europe.

Sharemarkets, interest rates, exchange rates and commodities

The first quarter of 2017 is drawing to a close. And the interesting point is that the Aussie dollar is one of the strongest currencies in 2017 when measured against the greenback. The Aussie dollar has lifted by 6.3% against the US dollar (measured as units of currency per US dollar) since the start of the year – the fifth strongest currency of 120 currencies monitored.

The Malagasy ariary has been the strongest currency, gaining 9.7% against the US dollar with currencies of countries like Mexico, Israel, South Africa, South Korea and Taiwan amongst the biggest gainers.

The UK pound has lost 0.4% against the US dollar with currencies of countries such as Ghana, Turkey and the Philippines amongst those to have weakened most this year.

Of the other major currencies, the Japanese yen has gained around 3% with the Euro up 2%.

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Investor signposts: US Fed makes call on rates

Friday, March 10, 2017

By Craig James

A good helping of Australian economic data awaits investors over the coming week with lending data, surveys of consumer and business confidence and job data dominating.

In Australia, the week kicks off on Monday with the Reserve Bank releasing the January estimates of credit and debit card lending.

On Tuesday, most attention will be paid to the National Australia Bank business survey. In January, business conditions hit the highest levels in 9 years, while business confidence rose to 3-year highs.

Also on Tuesday, Roy Morgan and ANZ release the weekly consumer confidence reading. Confidence levels remain healthy, but volatile. Higher petrol prices, a lower Aussie dollar and softer share markets are weighing on sentiment together with some disappointment that rate cuts are now off the agenda.

Also on Tuesday, the Bureau of Statistics (ABS) issues the “Overseas Arrivals & Departures” publication for January, containing migration and tourist flows data. Tourists from China and the US are growing at double-digit annual rates.

On Wednesday, the monthly variant of consumer confidence – from Westpac and the Melbourne Institute – is released. The importance of the survey is that it will contain the survey results detailing the wisest places to put new savings.

On Wednesday, the ABS will also provide the seasonally adjusted and trend estimates of new vehicle sales for February. The interesting result from the industry data released on March 3 was that sales of sports utility vehicles overtook passenger car sales for the first time.

In addition on Wednesday, the ABS releases data on lending finance – new housing, lease, personal and business commitments. Total new commitments fell by 5.8 per cent in December after rising 9 per cent in November.

The highlight of the week is probably the monthly job data to be released on Thursday. In January, the unemployment rate fell from 5.8 per cent to 5.7 per cent despite the biggest lift in the employable population in eight years. We expect that employment rose by 18,500 in February while the jobless rate was probably steady at 5.7 per cent.

US Federal Reserve meeting. China activity data. Dutch election.

There are two highlights in the coming week. The first is the interest rate decision from the US Federal Reserve. And the second is the release of monthly Chinese activity data.

The week kicks off on Tuesday with Chinese data on production, retail sales and investment. The data covers January and February.

Also on Tuesday in the US is data on producer prices (business inflation) together with the NFIB business optimism index and the weekly data on chain store sales.

The US Federal Reserve kicks off a two-day meeting on Tuesday with the decision announced at 5am Sydney time on Thursday. With the economy in solid shape, another rate hike is on the cards.

On Wednesday in the US, data on retail sales and consumer prices are released. Economists tip a “normal” 0.2 per cent rise in core consumer prices (excludes food and energy) and a similar 0.2 per cent lift in retail sales. Traders will also watch for any potential surprises from the Netherlands election also on Wednesday.

On Thursday in the US, the usual weekly data on jobless claims is released alongside housing starts, the influential Philadelphia Federal Reserve survey and JOLTS job openings survey. Starts may have lifted 2 per cent in February after a 2.6 per cent fall in January. The Philly Fed index may have eased from highs in March.

And on Friday in the US, the industrial production data is released with the leading index and consumer sentiment survey. Economists tip a 0.3 per cent gain in production and 0.4 per cent rise in the leading index. Also G20 Finance Ministers meet in Germany on Friday.

Share markets, interest rates, exchange rates and commodities

The widespread perception is that the Netherlands holds the record for the world’s longest economic expansion. But according to OECD data, the record is already held by Australia. The claim that the Dutch held the record was based on data from private sector analysts, suggesting that the Netherlands expanded without a recession (defined as two consecutive quarters of contraction) from December quarter 1982 to September quarter 2008. 

But the OECD data actually shows the Dutch economy contracted in the June and September quarters of 2003. The long expansion was actually December quarter 1981 to March quarter 2003 – 86 quarters. The quarterly OECD data goes back to 1960 and it is clearly an authoritative source of data.

Australia actually passed the Dutch record four years ago, in March quarter 2003. Australia has expanded for over 25 years without encountering a recession.

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Investor signposts: Retail sales in focus

Friday, March 03, 2017

By Craig James

The ‘Autumn Avalanche’ continues into its second week. Domestically, a number of key economic data pieces will be released including retail trade (sales). Also, the Reserve Bank Board meeting takes place. There is plenty to watch overseas, including Chinese inflation (Thursday) and the key US employment report (Friday).

In Australia, the week kicks off on Monday with the release of the retail spending data for January. No doubt the latest figures will garner plenty of interest given the slowdown in retail activity in December. The Commonwealth Bank Business Sales index indicated that sales recorded modest growth in January. For the record, we expect that retail sales rose by 0.5% in January. 

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 rose by 4% in January to a five-year high. It was the strongest monthly rise in ads in 2½ years. Job ads are up 7.1% on a year ago.

The Reserve Bank Board meets on Tuesday and it is a pretty safe bet that interest rates will be left unchanged. Financial market volatility remains subdued, oil prices are steady; and the Aussie dollar has lifted – albeit marginally. And on the global front, economic conditions are certainly healthier. Importantly, investors will continue to focus on the statement accompanying the interest rate decision. Once again, housing and the currency will draw the most interest. 

Also on Tuesday, the Australian Industry Group releases the Performance of Construction index, while Roy Morgan and ANZ release the weekly consumer confidence reading. Confidence levels remain healthy, up 7% over the year. Notably, consumers believe their finances are in good shape and are expected to stay in good shape.

On Friday, home loans (housing finance) data is released. The home loan data may prove a surprise with data from the Bankers Association indicating that the number of owner-occupier home loans may have fallen by 2.5% in January, while investment lending may have fallen by 2%. It is clear that potential home buyers continue to upgrade their homes, albeit at a slower pace than witnessed last year. Interestingly, home prices are lifting at a rapid pace, particularly across Sydney and Melbourne.

US and Chinese data: Spotlight on US employment and China trade

There is plenty of data to watch in the US; however the “star” of the US monthly economic data calendar is the non-farm payrolls (employment) figures. And those job figures are released in the coming week on Friday. 

Economists expect that the good run of results continued in February, with 175,000 jobs created. Apart from the jobless rate, the other indicator in the report that will be scrutinised will be the measure of wages. If wages are starting to lift, the Federal Reserve will feel more comfortable continuing the process of “normalising” interest rates.

In terms of the other indicators, the procession starts on Monday with data on factory orders and the final reading on durable goods orders – a proxy for business investment. Factory orders are expected to have risen by 1% in January.

On Tuesday, the trade balance and consumer credit data are released. A trade deficit of around $46 billion is expected, while consumer credit should have risen by $20 billion in January. 

On Wednesday, the February figures on private sector employment from ADP are due. Economists tip an 180,000 rise in private sector jobs. 

Also on Wednesday the second reading on December quarter non-farm productivity and wholesale inventories are released. Productivity should have lifted at a 1.5% annual rate.

On Thursday, the usual weekly data on jobless claims is released alongside household wealth data for the December quarter. In the September quarter, household wealth rose by $1593 billion. The lift in house prices and rising sharemarkets should continue to lift wealth levels in the December quarter. 

And on Friday, the February data on employment is released – the non-farm payrolls data. As stated earlier, economists expect that 175,000 new jobs were created in February. Also, the unemployment rate may have eased from 4.8% to 4.7%. In addition, on Friday the monthly budget statement is released.

In China, the National Bureau of Statistics releases trade data on Wednesday and inflation data on Friday. While both exports and imports are down on a year ago, most focus is on imports as a measure of domestic spending. The trade surplus should hold near $51 billion for February, although the timing of Chinese New Year could add a degree of uncertainty to the outcome.

In terms of inflation, it is notable that business inflation – producer prices – is now lifting. In fact, annual growth of producer prices rose to a 5½-year high of 6.9% in January. And consumer prices rose to a 2½-year high of 2.5% in the year to January.

Share markets, interest rates, exchange rates and commodities

The Australian profit reporting season has come to a close. CommSec has analysed all results from ASX 200 companies. In short, the earnings season has been good. Very good. Only eight companies from the ASX 200 have produced a statutory loss for the six months to December. 

Excluding BHP Billiton, aggregate profits rose by 36% to $25.3 billion, while aggregate cash holdings of all ASX 200 reporting companies rose by 11% on June levels to $110 billion. Of companies paying a dividend, 68% lifted dividends; 14% maintained dividends; and almost 19% of companies cut dividends. Recently, many were surprised by survey results that showed that business conditions are the best in nine years. The earnings results confirm that Corporate Australia is in good shape.

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: Bounce back expected for economy

Friday, February 24, 2017

By Craig James

The seasons are changing. So this means that investors can expect another barrage of economic data to be released in Australia. Welcome to the autumn avalanche, where a dozen economic events are scheduled over the coming fortnight.

The week kicks off on Monday with the release of the Business Indicators publication from the Bureau of Statistics (ABS). The publication contains estimates on profits, sales, wages and inventories.

On Tuesday, the quarterly Balance of Payments data is issued – the broadest measure of our trading performance. The estimate of net exports plugs straight into the calculation of economic growth for the quarter.

Similarly, the government finance data on Tuesday gives an idea of how much the government sector contributed to economic growth in the quarter.

Private sector credit (effectively outstanding loans) figures are also released on Tuesday. Business loans are at record highs, with firms taking on more debt at current low interest rates. 

Also on Tuesday, the weekly consumer confidence data is released. Consumer sentiment eased by 2.3% last week.

On Wednesday, the ABS releases the National Accounts publication which includes the latest estimates of economic growth. The economy went backwards in the September quarter in response to myriad influences. The UK Brexit vote, Federal Election and US Presidential election caused consumers and businesses to delay spending, investing and employing. And poor weather lead to delays in construction work. 

We expect that the economy bounced back in the December quarter, growing as much as 1% after the previous sector’s fall of 0.5%.

Also on Wednesday, CoreLogic releases its estimates of home prices for February. By all accounts, home prices are continuing to lift in response to firm demand.

On Thursday, the ABS will release the January estimates of international trade (exports and imports) together with estimates of building approvals for the same month.

On Friday, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries releases February data on new vehicle sales. We are edging closer to the point where sports utility vehicles outnumber cars.

US housing sector under the spotlight

In the US, there is no standout indicator to be released over the week. But both US and China will issue gauges of activity in manufacturing and services sectors.

The week kicks off on Monday, with the release of US data on durable goods orders – goods that are meant to last three years or more like cars and aircraft. And on the same day, the US pending home sales index is issued.

On Tuesday, the second estimate of US economic growth for the December quarter is issued. Economists expect the growth estimate to be upgraded from 1.9% to a 2.1% annual pace.

Also on Tuesday, data is released on home prices (from CaseShiller) and consumer confidence and the activity gauges or surveys from Chicago, and regional Federal Reserve regions of Richmond and Texas. The usual weekly data on chain store sales is also issued.

On Wednesday in the US, data on personal income and spending is released for January. Apart from the estimates of income and consumption growth, investors will closely watch the inflation measure from the spending series (core private consumption deflator).

Also on Wednesday the ISM gauge of manufacturing activity is released with construction spending data.

On Thursday, the Challenger series of job layoffs is released in the US together with the usual weekly data on new claims for unemployment insurance (jobless claims).

And on Friday, the US ISM services gauge is released with estimates on new vehicle sales during February.

In China, gauges on manufacturing and services sector activity are slated for Wednesday and Friday.

Share markets, interest rates, exchange rates and commodities

The Australian profit reporting season grinds to a close on Monday and Tuesday.

On Monday, earnings results include those from QBE Insurance, Harvey Norman, Lend Lease, Village Roadshow, Vocus Group and Bellamy’s.

Among those expected to report earnings on Tuesday are AWE Ltd, Beadell Resources, Select Harvests and Boart Longyear.

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: 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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