- Australia’s Economy Shrinks Most in Eight Years; Currency Slumps
While Australia’s economy shrunk last quarter, it’s probably more of a red flag than a precursor to recession.
One of only four quarterly contractions in the past 25 years, the so-called ‘lucky country’ is unlikely to suffer a second consecutive slump — just as in those prior periods. But it’s a wake-up call for lawmakers that recent political timidity and gridlock is unsustainable, as is reliance on monetary policy to support growth with a 1.5 percent interest rate that may not even fall further.
A growing chorus of high-profile economists and international institutions are calling on Australia to follow U.K. and U.S. plans to use infrastructure stimulus, particularly with global borrowing costs so low. But the government has made clear its priority is returning the budget to balance as it seeks to protect a prized AAA credit rating.
Wednesday’s report showed:
- Gross domestic product fell 0.5% from previous quarter, when it gained a revised 0.6%
- Decline was driven by slump in construction and government spending
- Result was worst since depths of global financial crisis at the end of 2008 and well below economists’ estimates of a 0.1% drop
- The economy grew 1.8% from a year earlier, compared with a forecast 2.2% gain
- Australian dollar fell almost half a U.S. cent on the data
Annette Beacher, head of Asia-Pacific research at TD Securities Ltd. in Singapore, summed up the general consensus among economists to the contraction.
“We’re still confident that this is just a perfect storm of negatives and we shouldn’t be talking about technical recessions — we should be talking about what rebound we can expect for the fourth quarter,” she said. “It just seemed like an unexpected confluence of negatives that all happened to be concentrated in one quarter.”
But while growth will probably resume given resource export volumes have further to rise, this requires little labor. Meanwhile, a residential building boom that’s employed many ex-miners is forecast by some economists to peak next year, removing a driver of growth and employment. Balancing that is an unwinding of mining investment, which is forecast to soon stop acting as a drag on growth.
What the economy urgently needs is business investment outside mining, which has failed to emerge despite the best efforts of the Reserve Bank of Australia to talk up the economy and via rate cuts. While the government is betting a proposed cut in corporate tax will encourage firms to spend and hire, opposition parties are blocking the passage of the legislation. Outside of this, there’s little on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s agenda.
One region where business investment has been strong is New South Wales, running at 10 percent per annum for the past three years. Coincidentally, that’s the only Australian state undertaking meaningful infrastructure investment.
“Effective public investments can boost GDP over the long term by creating demand, boosting business confidence, lifting growth and ultimately reducing, not increasing, the debt-to-GDP ratio over time,” said Andrew Charlton, director of consultancy AlphaBeta in Sydney. “Australia needs a short term plan to increase spending on infrastructure and other productive public assets, especially while interest rates are so low, and a medium term plan to reign in recurrent spending over time.”
His views echo those put forward by the International Monetary Fund and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Wednesday’s GDP report showed that government spending and resource exports failed to lift growth as they did in the previous two quarters. The slowdown from an annual 3.1 percent rate in the second quarter was dramatic, particularly when the Treasury estimates the economy’s potential at 2.75 percent and central bank forecasts match or exceed that level.
The data also showed:
- Private investment in new buildings cut 0.3 percentage point from GDP
- New engineering and new and used dwellings shaved 0.2 and 0.1 percentage points respectively
- The household savings ratio fell to 6.3% from a revised 6.7%, which helped support household spending
- The terms of trade, a gauge of export prices relative to import prices, jumped 4.5%
- Household spending rose 0.4% and added 0.3 point
Increased Demand Paves The Way for Expansion of Africa’s Sugar Industry
Africa, June 2021: A new focus report produced by the Oxford Business Group (OBG), in partnership with the International Sugar Organization (ISO), explores the potential that Africa’s sugar industry holds for growth on the back of an anticipated rise in regional demand. The report was presented to ISO members during the MECAS meeting at the Organization’s 58th Council Session, on June 17th 2021.
Titled “Sugar in Africa”, the report highlights the opportunities for investors to contribute to the industry’s development by helping to bridge infrastructure gaps in segments such as farming and refining and port facilities.
The report considers the benefits that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) could deliver by supporting fair intra-African sugar trade efforts and bringing regulatory frameworks under a common umbrella, which will be key to improving competitiveness.
The increased international focus on ESG standards is another topical issue examined. Here, the report charts the initiatives already under way in Africa supported by green-focused investment with sustainability at their core, which will help to instil confidence in new investors keen to adhere to ESG principles in their decision-making.
In addition, subscribers will find coverage of the impact that Covid-19 had on the industry, with detailed analysis provided of the decrease in both worldwide sugar production and prices, as movement restrictions and social-distancing measures took their toll on operations.
The report shines a spotlight on sugar production in key markets across the continent, noting regional differences in terms of output and assessing individual countries’ roles as net exporters and importers.
It also includes an interview with José Orive, Executive Director, International Sugar Organisation, in which he maps out the particularities of the African sugar industry, while sharing his thoughts on what needs to be done to promote continental trade and sustainable development.
“The region is well advanced in terms of sugar production overall, but several challenges still hinder its full potential,” he said. “It is not enough to just produce sugar; producers must be able to move it to buyers efficiently. When all negotiations related to the AfCFTA have concluded, we expect greater investment across the continent and a clearer regulatory framework.”
Karine Loehman, OBG’s Managing Director for Africa, said that while the challenges faced by Africa’s sugar producers shouldn’t be underestimated, the new report produced with the ISO pointed to an industry primed for growth on the back of anticipated increased consumption across the continent and higher levels of output in sub-Saharan Africa.
“Regional demand for sugar is expected to rise in the coming years, driven up by Africa’s population growth and drawing a line under declines triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic,” she said. “With sub-Saharan Africa’s per capita sugar consumption currently standing at around half of the global average, the opportunities to help meet increasing domestic need by boosting production are considerable.”
The study on Africa’s sugar industry forms part of a series of tailored reports that OBG is currently producing with its partners, alongside other highly relevant, go-to research tools, including a range of country-specific Growth and Recovery Outlook articles and interviews.
Global Demand for Investment Gold Plunged by 70% YoY to 161 Metric Tons in Q1 2021
Last year, investors flocked to gold as stock markets crashed on a gloomy economic outlook due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the second quarter of 2020, global demand for investment gold surged to over 591 metric tons, the second-highest level since 2016. However, the investors’ demand for gold has dropped significantly this year.
According to data compiled by AksjeBloggen, global demand for investment gold plunged by 70% year-over-year to 161 metric tons in the first quarter of 2021.
The Lowest Quarterly Figures after Record Gold Investments in 2020
In 2016, the global gold demand amounted to 4,309 metric tons, revealed Statista and the World Gold Council data. By the end of 2019, this figure rose to 4,356 metric tons. Investment gold accounted for 30% of that amount. Worldwide gold jewelry demand volumes reached 2,118 metric tons that year. Central banks and technology followed with 648 and 326 metric tons, respectively.
Statistics show the global demand for investment gold surged amid the COVID-19 outbreak, growing by 35% YoY to almost 1,800 metric tons in 2020. Demands for gold used in technology also rose by 17% to 383.4 metric tons, while central banks and other institutions bought 326.2 metric tons of gold in 2020, a 50% plunge in a year.
However, after record gold investments in 2020, the global demand for gold for investment purposes dropped to the lowest quarterly level in years.
The Price of Gold Dropped by 5% Since January
The average gold value tends to increase during a recession, making it an attractive investment in uncertain times. In February 2019, a troy ounce of gold cost $1,320.07, revealed the Statista and World Gold Council data. By the end of that year, the price of gold rose to $1,479.13.
The gold price continued growing throughout 2020, reaching an all-time high of over $2,000 in August. By the end of the year, the precious metal price slipped to $1,864 and then rose to over $1,950 in January 2021.
However, the first quarter of the year brought a negative trend, with the price of gold falling to $1,684 by the end of March. Statistics indicate the price of gold stood at around $1,860 last week, a 5% drop since the beginning of the year.
Gold, Other Safe Haven Assets Plunge Ahead of Fed Rate Hikes
Gold and other safe-haven assets plunged last week as the Federal Reserve signals the possibility of raising interest rates twice in 2023 given the ongoing economic recovery post-COVID-19.
The price of gold dropped by 6.04 percent last week as investors rushed to move their funds out of safe-haven assets including the new gold, cryptocurrency.
The entire crypto space sheds $898 billion in market value to hover around $1.625 trillion last week, down from $2.523 trillion recorded on Wednesday 12, 2021. Its highest market capitalisation till date.
The Federal Reserve raised inflation expectations to 3.4 percent and shifted the year it is expected to increase interest rates from near-zero to 2023 from the previously projected 2024.
The new hawkish stance of the central bank led to capital outflow from safe havens and subsequently boosted dollar attraction.
The United States Dollar gained across the board with the dollar index that tracks its performance against six major currencies, rising by 0.63 percent to 91.103 last week.
However, on Monday morning the gold showed signs of recovery, gaining 0.5 percent to $1,772.34 per ounce following the retreat in U.S. treasury yield that boosted the attraction of non-yielding metal.
Bitcoin, the most dominant cryptocurrency coin, pared losses to $33,245 per coin, up from the $32,658 decline it posted last week.
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