China slowdown worse than now expected
Date: Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Author: Henry Thornton
One always worries that a totalitarian government might have rigged the numbers.
Could China's rate of consumer inflation be somehow higher than the 4.1 % reported in the year ro December?
Could real GDP growth be lower than the 8.9 % annual rate reported in early January?
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard says that China's slowdown is serious, more serious than the official numbers, swallowed by the global press, suggest.
'I could not help noticing that China’s imports from Japan fell 16.2pc in December. Imports from Taiwan fell 6.2pc.
'The Shanghai Container Freight Index fell 1.4pc to a record low of 919.44 in November, after sliding relentlessly for several months. It has picked up slightly since.
'The Baltic Dry Index [an old favourite of Henry] measuring freight rates for ores, grains, and bulk goods, has fallen 44pc over the last year. Kasper Moller from Maersk in Beijing said weak Chinese demand for iron ore was the key culprit.
Courtesy TickQuest and
'Cautionary warning. The BDI index also reflects the shipping glut, so it is not a pure indicator.
'However, rail, road, river and air freight volume for the whole of China fell to 31780m tons in November (latest data), from 32340m tons in October. Not a big fall, but still negative. (National Bureau of Statistics of China.)
'Chinese electricity use was flat in over the Autumn, with a sharp fall in the (year-on-year) growth rates from 8.9pc in September, to 8pc in October, and 7.7pc in December.
'Residential investment has been contracting on a monthly basis, and of course property prices are now falling in all but two of China’s 70 largest cities.
'So how did China pull off an economic growth rate of 8.9pc in the fourth quarter?
'I strongly suspect that the trade and power data reveal the true state of China’s economy'. Read on here.
Reality breaks in
Date: Friday, September 05, 2014
Author: Henry Thornton
Shiver me timbers, comrades, the AFR has awoken to the fact that the Australian economy is in strife. 'National income pie shrinks' was yesterday's headline, with supporting articles by Chris Richardson (Golden age of living standards is now passing) and Maximillan Walsh (History ... has returned with a vengence). Ross Garnaut ('who foreshadowed the hit to incomes in his 2013 book Dog Days') said , correctly, that this state of affairs was 'no surprise'.
Indeed, it must be noted that Professor Garnaut has been talking and writing about Australia's 'Great Complacency' for years now, and finally the chickens are coming home to roost. We have to hope the next step is that the vultures that are international currency speculators do not abandon Australian investments in a flock, or a seriously overvalued Aussie dollar will be replaced by a greatly undervalued dollar. This would hand out a far larger cut to Australia's living standards than yesterday's complacency-busting articles were about.
Today's screaming headline is 'economy enters danger zone'. Australia's 'former top resources forecaster' says the economy faces a 'painful downturn' as a property crisis in China accelerates and produces 'the biggest hit to Australia's export income in more than two decades'. The RBA, having failed to jawbone the currency down is now trying the same trick with the housing boom. The RBA's unofficial spokesperson, John Edwards, has conceded that, as a last resort, a home loan cap might be needed, preparing the way for another policy backflip. Yet the Bank of England and the mighty US Fed have both conceded this case, and New Zealand and Canada have inplemented such 'macroprudential policy'.
With appropriate modesty, Henry admits to have :
* in January 2013 explained why monetary policy cannot both help maintain overall economic stability with low (goods and services) inflation and contain asset inflation or a more suitable exchange rate;
Henry is no genius, just an independent voice who over a long career has maintained a keen interest in economic management with an open mind that is no longer constrained by blind loyalty to RBA dogma or even his own wrong previous policy advice. (Eg in advising using monetary policy to 'lean into' asset inflation.)
In the May 2013 debate I asked the following question: 'Can it be helpful for key industries to be discouraged for years by an excessive exchange rate, then encouraged for years by a low exchange rate? The market will ultimately decide these things, but discouraging a clearly over-valued currency, as now, by allowing completely free trade in capital is like a fanatical observance of the Ten Commandments'.
There is also a more technical matter that deserves to be mentioned. As implied in the above question, at some stage the dollar will plunge. The continued fall of the price of iron ore brings that day ever closer. This will present the RBA with a serious dilemma.
As I said in May 2013: A large fall in the dollar could be triggered by the spread of information about Australia's worse-than-expected fiscal position, or by further weakening of the Chinese economy, with further falls in commodity prices, or expectations that the Reserve Bank has gone soft on inflation, or by a wage break-out by unions attempting to improve their members' wages before the arrival of a new government expected to take a tougher line on matters industrial.
Whatever the precise cause, or mix of causes, a large fall in the dollar would create fresh dilemmas for the Reserve Bank.
In recent times, the strong dollar and low global inflation has kept traded goods inflation low. Low traded goods inflation has coexisted with non-traded goods inflation of around 4 per cent. The net result has been overall goods and services inflation comfortably within the RBA's target zone.
But a large fall in the dollar would mean traded goods inflation would jump, and non-traded goods inflation would also rise more quickly. The RBA might well find that its target 'inflation zone' was unable to be achieved by modest increases of interest rates under official control. A generally weakening economy would sharpen the dilemma.
The Reserve Bank struggled to find a good answer when the effects of financial deregulation destroyed its ability to achieve the 'money growth projections' imposed by government from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s.
The Bank now, following a large fall in the value of the dollar, would have to at least suspend the inflation target, or exclude traded goods (assuming non-traded inflation was not too high for policy to reduce it quickly), risking red faces or worse.
The remainder of the May 2013 article offered some more general policy advice. The main point then was to abolish complacency. That has been achieved almost 18 months after it should have been achieved. Better late than never, no doubt. But, as various eminent people have been warning, the longer it takes for corrective action the worse the coming downturn will be.
Australia`s housing boom.
Date: Wednesday, September 03, 2014
Author: Henry Thornton
Is it a boom or a bubble? Who cares, comrades, it has made many Australians rich - at least on paper, and will cause grief to those people who have purchased houses, especially as investments, in the recent past and currently.
Christopher Joye provides some useful historical data spanning other house-bedazzled nations, linked here. We are the global champions - gold medal performers in the 'Housing' sport at the Economic Olympics.
Nice video available here, focussing in potential 'macroprudential policies' to help contain the housing boom. The speaker says the RBA is not in favour of such policies, used by Canada and New Zealand, and now part of the US Fed's box of tricks. Que?
Henry has to rush and will provide his answer later in the day. Meanwhile, if you own a copy of Great Crises of Capitalism, you can find his fearless prediction in the chapter on Marvellous Melbourne's great housing boom of the 1880s and its horrible aftermath. RBA says 'let it rip, colleagues'. Que?
Extract from Great Crises of Capitalism
'It may be that Australia does well in the second decade of the twenty-first century. The correct comparison may be one that equates 1980 with 1850, meaning that 2010 is the modern equivalent of 1880. If this analogy holds, modern Australia is now entering the last, maddest decade of a forty-year boom. Despite the global trauma of the past two years, Marvellous Melbourne, with the mining areas of Northern and Western Australia, is growing quickly, working well (despite infrastructure bottlenecks) and playing hard.' (P 166)
Mixed results = turning point
Date: Monday, September 01, 2014
Author: Henry Thornton
The economy pot continues to bubble, sending vastly mixed messages. In my time as a forecaster, confusing, mixed messages were regarded as indicating a turning point. The question is whether the economy is rising or falling.
This confirms Henry's reports of youth under-employment even in middle class Melbourne.
Roy Morgan Research reports that its (more accurate) measure of unemployment fell to to 8.7% in August. This is the net result of 39,000 more jobs but a much larger 162,000 Australians have stopped looking.
David Uren asserts that economy is doing better than GDP numbers suggest. Also nab's business survey shows that business confidence is 'very strong'. Business investment is falling sharply in mining and mining-related supply chain companies (think shovels and picks) but improving in non-mining construction. 'Manufacturing is still a disaster zone. with planned investment over the next 12 months representing a 20-year low'.
A warm start to winter (think Al Gore) and the poor response to the budget (think Joe Hockey) depressed retail spending, but there was some revival in June.
RBA Chief Glenn Stevens told the relevant parliamentary committee, that low interest rates were 'simply leading to a rise in asset values ... but were not encouraging businesses to invest.' While Mr Uren does not ask it 'Why is this so?' should be the question du jour.
Elsewhere is seems the banks are still protesting at APRA's demand for higher asset ratios. But the way to prevent, or at least inhibit, excessive asset inflation is to require 'prudential ratios' to rise when asset inflation, or overall credit ratios. are rising, and vice versa. You can call this 'dynamic macroprudential policy', Glenn, and you will be a hero, as is Mr Abbott in confronting the Russians.
While I am at it, 'dynamic macroprudential policy' applied to capital inflow would also do a lot to help the trade exposed industries. If you cannot see the point, phone or email and I can offer help.
[On 2 Sept, the RBA anmnounced that interest rates are on hold. Note that the currency is far too high but also house prices, especially in Melbourne and Sydney have kept rising (approx 6 % in the winter months), This is a major dilemma for the RBA, but there is no analysis or even mention of this that Henry can find in the RBA hymn sheet. Such is Life, as Ned Kelly said just before he was hanged from the nect until dead.]
Australia's monetary policy will face unhelpful stasis unless and until our chronically overvalued exchange rate is tamed and we have 'dynamic macroprudential policies' in place.
Saturday Sanity Break, 30 August 2014
Date: Saturday, August 30, 2014
Author: Henry Thornton
It's been another week with more bad news than good news. Australia's budget is still unfulfilled and experts are warning that business and household confidence involves risk that becomes worse the longer this situation drags on. One imagines that geopolitical risk should also begin to have an adverse effect - the messes in the Ukraine, Syria, Iraq and other sadly serious places that seem likely to draw in Australian fighter planes at a minimum. Unemployment is rising, Qantas has lost almost $3 billion and mining companies and their suppliers are slowing and shedding staff, or have already done so. Except for slow growth of Australian wages there is nothing being done to reduce the cost overhang that if not fixed will drive Australia into recession - oh, we did notice a new approach to allowing organisations in remote places (eg Darwin) to hire foreign workers at a 10 % discount to Aussie wages when there are insufficient locals to fill jobs. If this is not a sign that our cost structures are excessive what would be? A serious recession?
Do the government's economic advisors agree there is a cost overhang? Do they have a plan to reduce it? What about the seriously overvalued currency? The ongoing housing boom? To be fair, RBA and Treasury chiefs have warned that the budget must be fixed and the sooner the better, as it will get progressively harder and involve more pain the longer the current impasse continues. How come New Zealand's budget is fixed and its airline is making profits rather than losses? Does anyone in authority ask these questions? Do they get answers? So far as we know, apparently not. Yet there is a massive government machine whirring away. A big dose of cuts to government functions would fix the budget and put remaining officials on notice they had better get their stuff together.
I pass the questions to Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey and Mathias Cormann. more in frustration than in hope. But we need answers, and please know that brute reality will eventually demand answers from someone on 'The Hill'.
Mr Palmer and the Chinese
One bright spot rhis week was the grovelling apology of Australia's would-be answer to Italy's bunga-bunga man.
Rowe of the Fin provided by far the best comment, and I post it here in admiration for his magnificent ability to sum up a situation in so few words and with such humour.
With the sad end to Caaarlton's late run at some sort of redemption last week, Henry is mourning another fruitless footy season. But Richmond's magnificent late run for a spot in the finals and various other important games this weekend, with many vying for a spot in the '8'. will provide some diversion. Already the old enemy Collingwood have been smashed by Hawthorn and now cannot sneak into the finals. Richmond beat the Sydney Swans by a few points to take the number 8 spot in the finals. Caaarlton! drew with Essendon with no great effect on he finals but good news for the Blues.
Henry is very sorry to see the departure of Karmichael Hunt from AFL. Still, he gave it a red hot go and presumably is more suited to some form of Rugby. Big news this week is Rugby's (Union not League) plan to let nominated superstars like Israel Falau play off-season for the vast rewards available in Japan or Europe. After the belting handed out by the All Blacks, Henry asked young Bert, a sometime code-hopper himself, what would happen if Australia's Rugby League team played the All Blacks. Bert replied that the League stars would fail because the Union Rules are too different to those of League. What if there were hybrid rules, gentle readers, or one match with Union Rules and one match with League Rules, with the world champion of 'Rugby' the team with the greatest aggregate of points?
Both games would fill the 'G' and New Zealand's biggest stadium, I am prepared to bet and would be a massive money-maling opportunity.
Australia's swimmers have again showed their improvement, this time at the Pan Packs. Bring on the Olympics, comrades. and our young tennis players are doing well, and how good it was to read that 'Tennis wunderkind Nick Kyrgios has continued his captivating grand slam run with a straight-sets win to storm into the US Open third round". Sad to see Lleyton Hewitt out in the first round, and Sam Stoser in the second round.
This week Henry has lost a few more friends with his powerful (Ahem) attempt to help Australia's university sector. His offer to present on the subject of 'Monetary policy and asset inflation' was turned down by a rising lecturer with a derisive snort: 'I had a quick look at the link you sent us and my impression is that, unfortunately, it is not going to be of much interest to the regular group of macro seminar attendees here (so much the worse for them, you may say)'.
Indeed, young fella, and I admire the thoroughness of your analytic approach - 'quick look', 'impression' - is this how your professors go about their business? But you'd think 'the regular group of macro seminar attendees here'd enjoy sharpening their minds showing an old codger like Henry just how out-of-date he is. And at least the subject would be important, indeed highly relevant to the state of the global situation of near recession combined with a share bubble that is certain to pop.
Image of the week
University reform, #1
Date: Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Author: Henry Thornton
It is wonderful seeing the Vice Chancellors (VCs) of Australia's 39 universities getting interested in reform. As I see the debate, they are keenest on fee deregulation, though there are other manifestations of a new enthusiasm for competition. There is, on the other hand, concern that funds for research might be cut, and this is an area where the VCs are distinctly less interested in reform. This is the subject of today's blog.
One approach to research funding is that taken by all governments with any sense, which is to limit research funding to areas where Australia has a distinct advantage or could create such an advantage. Medical research is one such area, which is manifestly likely to provide large benefits to many Australians, and indeed people with unmet medical needs around the world. (Think of the potential benefits of finding better treatments for Ebola, or Malaria, making a case for funding of the relevant research from Australia's budget for foreign aid.) More generally, this is is why the current government wants to boost medical research, and the only problem with this is paying for it.
Other areas in which (and not by accident) both research and industry performance are world class include mining, agriculture and sport, and as funds are available I would like to see scarce research money allocated more to these areas, especially to programs, like the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) program that emphasises the application of research to the needs of business. (*) Areas where we badly need to improve our performance include manufacturing, infrastructure and transport, and in the modern world success will be helped greatly by focussed research. (A recent paper for the Newman Inquiry, linked here, suggests other ways to help our trade exposed industries, and includes the case for more industry focussed research).
Sadly in my own area of social sciences the case for government support of research is far less compelling. In economics and business, where Henry's knowledge is greatest, Australia's research output is rarely of global significence. A former eminant professor at a 'G-8' (Research heavy) university explains the system with brutal clarity. 'The ambitious social scientist scans the relevant journals with infinite care to discover exactly what they want, including current fashions, footnote style and references to the work of all likely referees. He or she then sets to work to produce articles that are highly likely to be published. Naturally small problems are chosen, but de rigueur is the use of the most 'advanced' statistical techniques possible, mostly equivalant to attacking a walnut with a steam hammer, or a synchrotron. Naturally hard or big problems are almost never addressed as the chances of getting published in a globally relevant journal are virtually zero. This process produces little that is new, or important, but under current terms of engagement is the main basis for promotions'.
Another close friend, a man of substantial achievement in several fields, is on the mailing list for a different G-8 university. 'In my field of economics', he reports, 'only once in the past two years have I seen a seminar topic that I believed was on a serious matter, with an abstract that explained the approach and key findings with clarity. Deeply depressing, actually'. This, while possibly true, is a tad unfair. I exempt a number of policy-oriented Australian economists, including those in the bureaucracy, and some in universities, who helped promote Australia's highly effective economic reform in the 1980s and 1990s. Their research, incidentally, did not require much, if any, special funding.
So here is a reform proposal. Abolish all government funding for research on subjects in which Australians are not in the top rank of world experts and allocate half of the savings to boosting research in the areas where we are clearly in the top rank, or could be, or acutely need to be.
While I am on the general subject of university reform, I should mention the fact that there is at present a vast, I expect unprecedented, mismatch of courses and market needs. My barber today was telling me that both her children won degrees in 'media studies' but have had immediately to retrain involving further degrees or diplomas. Most of the Thornton family's friends are grappling with the consequences of this problem, and regard the vast oversupply of lawyers (for example) as baffling, and the list could go on. Here is a challenge for an ambitious social scientist. Do the research that explains this puzzling anomaly. My hint is that it will probably be due in large part to lack of any effective market mechanism for allocating places in courses, which is the problem market-based fees is designed to help solve.
Unless and until such research is available and accepted, and should the Senate refuse to acknowledge this point now, here is a more radical suggestion for a top law student who cannot find an acceptable job. Sue your university for enticing you into their law degree with lavish publicity that outlines the wonderful prospects awaiting you. You will make your name if you win, and may gain a large amount of money in the process.
Henry, as usual with controversial subjects, invites comment.
* Henry's editor acknowledges his interest in the CRC Program, as a participant for many years, including five years as Chair of the Commonwealth government committee that oversees the program.
Saturday Sanity Break, 23 August 2014
Date: Saturday, August 23, 2014
Author: Henry Thornton
Central bankers from the four corners of the globe are meeting at Jackson Hole. They key point is likely to be how nations can raise real growth. A second question is whether super-easy monetary policy (near zero cash rates set by central banks) are creating asset bubbles rather than promoting growth. A third question is whether current and mooted changes to 'macroprudential policies' are capable of preventing asset inflation out of control and ending in asset bubbles that burst with awful consequences.
The US Fed's Janet Yellen is likely to dominate debate. She recently outlined the Fed's decision to leave monetary policy to manage overall economic stability with low [goods and services] inflation. And to use 'macroprudential policy' - lampooned by some as a return to the dark ages of controls over banks - to contain asset inflation or other developments that threaten financial stability. Henry has no doubt this new approach is correct, though devising effective macroprudential policy will be hard and likely at first to be introduced with considerable timidity. Various articles from this list are relevant here. (Click on a title to open the page.)
Growth is a largely separate issue. The US saw negative growth in the first quarter of this year, 'explained' by the severe winter, and a large bounceback in the second quarter, with strong employment growth in both quarters. This implies overall low productivity growth, dominated perhaps by the fact that shovelling snow is a low-productivity process.
The hot money is on super-easy monetary policy for a fair time yet, which means rising asset prices at least until the US Fed deems it is time to take away the punchbowl. Investors have been enriched by record interest rates which have been lower (near zero) for longer (since early 2009) than ever before. Conspiracy theorists might well ask, 'what else would you expect when the Fed is privately owned' - as revealed in the latest Raff Report.
On the current market boom, Henry's favourite fund manager says he has a fair bit of faith on the 'three strike' rule. This rule says share prices only start falling in a systematic way after the third increase, though Henry believes it will be sooner this time.
Mrs Thotnton has suggested that the Thornton superannuation fund puts another tranch of equities offshore. Her reasons are clear: the American economy is improving while the Australian economy is getting worse and the Australian dollar is too high and must fall dramatically before too long. 'After all, she advised, 'iron ore prices are 30 % below the peak, and China's housing industry is struggling'. One can easily discern in this matter the effects of educating women and letting them have serious jobs!
The news of the week was the barbarous beheading of an American journalist and promise of more to come. Britian is said to have 500 British people fighting beside the terrorists in Syria, and perhaps with 150 Australians. Des Moore and Henry's blind seer reported and opined respectively in the blog immediately below this. One sincerely hopes Australia and Great Britain have decided to cancel the passports of these people and that they will be refused entry, as will their families, if they try to return home. What would an Aussie teacher make of a seven-year-old who had posed with someone's head in his hands? And what might be the actions of such a boy in an Aussie school?
Henry's Caaaarlton! were unable to even slow down a raging Port Adelaide in last night's game at the wonderfully refurbished Adelaide ground. The brave captain, Marc Murphy, was stretchered off and taken to hospital, in yet another nasty injury, in this case diving for a mark (which he took) despite an opposing player also diving. Beaten by over 100 points! Coming after a run of glorious nail-biting defeats by other top teams, Mick the Merciless's analysis consisted of - 'Port are a top side and our boys are very tired'. At least there will be few illusions at Princes Park over the summer and the coming pre-season.
The Wallabies fought out a brave draw last Saturday in blinding rain, in a game many thought was there for the taking. Tonight they are at Eden Park in New Zuland, where Australia has not won since Moses was a lad. Israel Falou, however, is confident our boys will give it a red hot go and CAN WIN.
Regular readers will be delighted to learn the Fiona Prior's medical problem has been remedied and that she will be in full flight in a few weeks. Henry is devastated that he failed to deliver on time a painting specially prepared for the Savage Club's annual art show.
Image of the week
Courtesy The Oz
The barbarous beheading
Date: Friday, August 22, 2014
Author: Des Moore
US Response to Beheading
The best that Obama has so far been able to say following confirmation of the beheading of a US journalist by Islamic State is that airstrikes will continue and “the US would do what it must to protect its citizens”. However, it now appears that earlier on Obama had approved an attempt by special forces to rescue Foley and, as previously announced, he had also contemplated the use of military to “rescue” the Yazidis on Mount Sinjar.
It is also reported that the Abbott government had considered involving an elite Special Air Services regiment if such a US rescue-mission had eventuated. It seems clear that Australia and some European countries would be prepared to send troops to Iraq if Obama were to decide to do so. That the beheader appears to have been British would likely confirm the implication that Cameron would join in.
With the continuation of US air strikes, it seems likely that the other US journalist held by IS will also be beheaded. But will the continuation of the now widely condemned barbarism, and the appeal from Iraqi Christians, lead Obama to reverse his decision not to put troops on the ground?
An article published in the Wall St Journal suggests a connection between what is being allowed to happen in Iraq and in Ferguson, US, where police forces have acquired military equipment to use in controlling the riots there. The author argues that, in both cases, the failure to prevent or control disorder has led to violence. He refers to the recognition in New York that “broken windows” sent a (successful) signal to the police force there that neglecting disorder leads to crime. But he expresses no confidence that Obama will act to help restore order within Iraq.
Reactions in Australia and Indonesia
Abbott’s strong adverse reaction to the beheading has been widely reported, except in The Age which did not report his statements at all. Labor’s Tanya Pilbersek reportedly said it highlighted the brutality of the Islamic State and “the terrible risks faced more generally by foreign correspondents reporting in war zones”.
Abbott has also criticised the failure of some Muslim groups to attend the talks he held. With the heading “Evil threatens Australia” the Herald Sun editorial is also critical.
Encouragingly, in an interview with Greg Sheridan Indonesian President Yudhoyono has been very critical of IS and urged international leaders to work together to combat radicalism. He indicated that Indonesia is not an Islamic state (small s).
ED. Tiresias adds: 'What exactly is Team Australia? Who belongs to it and who doesn’t? Tony Abbott’s use of the expression suggests a sound-bite crafted by a ministerial staffer, possibly a graduate with a degree in media studies. It means nothing and stands for even less. Worst of all, it reveals the insecurities which we scarcely dare to acknowledge'.
If they chose to do so, Australian politicians can discriminate ruthlessly: Muslims who meet Western and Australian values half-way should be made welcome, Muslims who seek to reproduce the cankerous and bitter politics of Western or Southern Asia or North Africa should not. If Australia can cheerfully discipline political dissent from One Nation, it can do the same with supporters of even more rancid and inflammatory politics. Mainstream politicians can make it clear that illiberal, antiliberal and extremist politics have no place here, that those who support extremist causes (including jihad in any form or irredentist and revanchist Palestinian nationalism) cannot hope to exercise any influence on Australian policy. If Muslims wish to take up humanitarian causes overseas, by all means let them do so … but advocacy for violence against non-Muslims (such as we see at the so-called ‘peace protests’) should remain beyond the pale of mainstream politics.
It's a bloodbath, comrades
Date: Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Author: Henry Thornton
'What fun, comrades. Mr Palmer insults us and his running dog (Ahem, (correction inserted) ), suggests our mighty People's Army might be deflected by a few missiles, even supposing the cash-strapped Australian government could afford to buy them. 'Mongrels', 'bastards', these are terms of endearment in Australia, are they not? Palmer, Clyde's iron ore is not that good anyway, so let's just buy more from Brazil. But cancel the FTA, it seems too complicated for the Ozzies anyway.'
Henry awoke with a jolt. Was this just a dream, or a message from Beijing for all of us? Being uncertain, there is is, gentle readers, hot from Henry's fevered brain, stoked by fine single malt from the Highlands of Scotland. More here, and do not miss Culloden.
The morning news was equally baffling. The 'budget emergency' is now just a little local issue, to be fixed with several months of negotiation (correction, 'vicious wrangling') with 'cross bench' Senators. Will keep Smokin' Joe off the streets for a bit, and it seems he's getting a bit of help from his colleagues, especially that nice Finance minister. And, in any case, we are told that 98.7 % of the budget has been agreed by the Senate, and the budget emergency has been solved.
But the 'cost overhang emergency' has not been solved, and will become seen as the big challenge for the Australian people. Wages growth is already low and unemployment is rising, more sharply (Henry asserts) than allowed for in official forecasts.
The mighty BHP is going to shed its unstrategic assets, including unstrategic workers and perhaps even uncompetitive directors, improving the mother ship's productivity and giving investors a new plaything. Can Qantas take long to figure out the same strategy, shedding the highly unprofitable overseas routes in a last bold attempt to keep the domestic flight aloft. Or RIO? They must have made a few dud investments during the boom, surely. And perhaps the Finance minister will discover that some remote place, Tasmania or Northern Queensland, is not pulling its weight and propose a national spin-out. Someone once said one cannot shrink oneself to greatness, but is Palmer, Clyde a counter example?
Henry apologises from the unserious approach to the economic news. But watching a slow motion train wreck, predicted two years ago, eg here, will do that to a bloke. One of Henry's fellow worriers said last night: 'Its a bloodbath in corporate Australia'. Do not be fooled by record profits, dear readers, this is a lull before the storm.
Saturday Sanity Break, 16 August 2014
Date: Saturday, August 16, 2014
Author: Henry Thornton
Joe Hockey shedding a tear for his own insensitivity on national television was the political high point of the week, and may represent a turning point for what was beginning to look like an economically inept government. The call now is for the government to recast the budget. However, the first task is to provide a believable narrative.
Once a believable and plausible narrative is in place, there are two things to get right. Make the budget genuinely 'tough', and make it much fairer. Henry's call for direct action to address the 20 % or so national cost overhang (and in the process create a plausible, because truthful, narrative is probably a bridge too far, but is linked here to remind readers about Australia's true 'economic emergency'.
On the issue of welfare dependency, it is alleged by experts that 40 % of Australians contribute to helping the other 60 % who get assistance, and that Australia helps the bottom 25 % more than any other developed nation. Surely 60 % of Australians are not 'battlers' and if they we have the balance wrong. But how to end the Age of Entitlement is far from obvious, but it must be done, dear readers, or we shall indeed achieve Banana Republic status, with all but a priviledged elite 'battlers'.
'Tony Abbott to step up budget sales job' is one relevant headline today, but there are others of equal importance.
Adam Creighton warns that 'If we're not careful, we'll have a full-blown jobs crisis on our hands'.
He points out that Australia's rate of unemployment is rising when in most countries it is falling. So much for the 'miracle economy', with even the tenured, highly remunerated men of the RBA pointing out that the jobs scene will be dismal for some time yet.
But the jobs crisis has been with us for years now, as pointed out here for an equally long time - and most recently in the blog immediately below this.
Mr Creighton nails the key point is a beautiful piece of economic prose: 'Economic theory says involuntary unemployment is impossible in a free market — if someone is out of work at the prevailing wage rate someone can simply offer to work for a $1 less and thereby become employed. But the reality could not be more different. Vast welfare states and bureaucracies, heavy taxation, transport and job search costs, and in some cases byzantine labour market regulations, dramatically dim prospects for full employment'.
Read on here and weep for official ignorance, gentle readers.
The political crystal ball
Henry's favourite journo, Grace Collier, has pointed out 'Labor's looming disasters'. First she summarises the government's recent blunders with enthusiasm, showing that Murdoch's minions understand 'balance' far more than do employees of the taxpayer-funded ABC.
'But speaking of Labor, here is the brutal truth: within the next year, three processes will be finalised and disaster is bound to strike. These processes are two police investigations and a royal commission into union malfeasance'. More here, and google for more on the alleged police investigations.
Who owns the US Fed?
And does it matter?
The August Raff Report tackles these extraordinary questions.
Caaaaaarlton! finally pleased its supercoach and gave til it really hurt. Again narrowly beaten by a top side, Geelong, thanks to a dodgy free kick when the Blues were 8 points ahead with 3 minutes to go, Henry's heroes were gutted when the final bell sounded, having finished with three injured players and only one fit player on the interchange bench.
Henry is beginning to believe that better days are ahead for his beloved Caaaarlton! And now supports the reappointment of Mick the Merciless and hopes that Juddie will stay on for years as a goalsneak and occasional midfielder.
Henry has heard, thanks to a taxi driver called 'Lucky', a Geelong supporter, that there is an international game of footy this weekend in a Northern suburb.
The game is between Pakistan and India. The Pakistan team is made up by local lads of Pakistani origan, while the Indian team was said to have flown in from India. In what will clearly be a scoop, the result will be posted if 'Lucky' fulfills his promise to email them.
Tonight sees what should be a titanic struggle between the All Blacks and the Wallabies in the first game of the Bludisloe cup. Henry will be glued to the screen, and asks readers not to feel sorry for Mrs T, who always has little mates to chat with by telephone, and books to read.
We commiserate with Henry's kultural advisor, Fiona Prior, who is having the cause of blinding headaches fixed in hospital. Fiona's many contributions are available here, and we look forward to her return soon, fit and well.
Image of the week
Courtesy The Oz
Creating jobs requires radical action
Date: Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Author: Henry Thornton
'The crisis the unemployment statistics don't reveal' is the headline for another expose of Australia's dismal labor market performance. The estimable John Black writes: 'Rather than join the ranks of those formally unemployed, these [middle class, middle aged] men and women, who had lost established jobs in industries such as wholesale, retail, hospitality, media, finance and recreation, joined the hidden unemployed while they worked out how to find a replacement job within a viable commuting distance for which they were qualified. But in May there were no jobs for them to find.
'The number of hidden unemployed has been steadily increasing, because the labour market in 2014 is generating only enough jobs for 100,000 persons every year, instead of the 210,000 needed to maintain employment levels. Most of the 110,000 persons not finding jobs have been joining the hidden unemployed'.
This revealing discussion strongly supports the alternative measure of unemployment developed by Roy Morgan Research with help from Henry Thornton. Our results are summarised in the graph that is part of this Blog. The early part of Mr Black's article provides the best discussion I have seen on the reasons why the official (ABS) measure of the rate of unemployment greatly underestimates the real rate of unemployment. It should be read by every senior bureaucrat and politician in Canberra, and interested academics.
As Mr Black concluded: 'At the heart of the problems for the labour market is the lack of any substantial industry drivers for jobs growth in an economy over-encumbered with regulation and on-costs and a lack of political leadership and meaningful vision'. Read on here.
Today Senator Day suggested that the young unemployed should be allowed to seek jobs and agree with an employer on the wage to be paid. Immediately the cry of 'exploitation' want up, and 'remember Henry Bourne Higgins',but one must ask who are the exploited here. Currently it includes young people who cannot find jobs in a wealthy and supposedly dynamic country like Australia.
This Henry can report that all of his kids, and several of their friends, got jobs after gaining valuable but unpaid work experience, doing real jobs. This is a common practice in Europe, while in America young people, and many adults, work for very low wages. The philosophic question is whether it is better to get work experience for low wages or no wages and then a job that pays a living wage, or whether no job at a theoretical high wage is better. I have no doubts about the answer.
Of course, in a civilised nation, society needs to provide the basic elements of an income sufficient to live on for those who cannot earn a wage to do so without supplementation. This must be provided after careful scrutiny to keep those who seek to bludge on society honest. But the idea of forcing unemployed people to write 40 serious job applications a week is simply nuts. It involves lots of wasted effort and much demeaning of the job seekers. I know how demeaned our kids felt, with 5 good degrees between them, useful parental 'contacts' and relevant work experience until they landed jobs with some chance of turning into careers.
I do not know how to solve all the problems inherent in the current system. But I do think Senator Day's idea should be tried somewhere, perhaps in Tasmania where the plight of the homeless is particularly acute.
Come on Minister Abetz, stop peddling 1950s 'medical science' and try something radical in your area of actual responsibility.