Hedge Clippings | 31 March 2023
Good news on the inflation front! This week we saw Australia's CPI decline for the second month in a row to an annualised rate of 6.8%, down from 7.4% in January, and from 8.4% in December last year. One would imagine it's too early to expect the RBA to cut rates at their meeting next Tuesday, but it does bring about the possibility of a "pause", and no doubt a collective sigh of relief from homeowners, and probably RBA Governor Philip Lowe as well.
However, as the saying goes, "one swallow doth not a spring make", and while it looks as if overall inflation may have peaked, there's a risk that wages-linked inflation has yet to impact the full CPI numbers.
Casting our minds back a year or two, inflation seemed dead in the water - in fact, the RBA was concerned about disinflation, which of course was one of the reasons Lowe and the RBA were caught unprepared, in line with virtually every other banker and economist in the world (outside Argentina, where inflation hit 102.5% in February).
Two events coincided - the sudden invasion of Ukraine forcing up energy prices, and the widespread easing of COVID restrictions, at the same time as China closed or locked down, creating a supply chain driven jump in the price of imported goods. That was followed by more general price increases of goods and services, some of which might have been opportunistic, after a long period of stability and margin compression.
What is yet to come is inflationary pressure as a result of wages, with the RBA's estimate of wages growth of 4.2% year on year likely to be exceeded given the ACTU are pushing for increases in line with inflation, and East to West labor governments are more likely to agree or give in to them.
If that's the reality, then the RBA's core inflation target of 2.9% by mid 2025 - or hope that the inflation genie is back in the bottle at 2-3% - is looking optimistic at best.
Our (uneducated) guess is that 2-3% inflation may be a long way off, if ever. Maybe the low inflation, QE induced post GFC era was a one-off - and apart from the low inflation, in some ways, we hope that's the case. For a more educated analysis this piece of research from the nab - although over a month out of date, argues the case in more detail than we can.
So all eyes will be on the RBA's announcement at 2.30 next Tuesday afternoon. We expect a welcome pause, but any reduction to be way off in the distance.
Meanwhile, it was good to see Teal MP for Wentworth, Allegra Spender hosting a round table of experts - including Ken Henry - to shake up Australia's taxation system. As the discussion was only being held today in Canberra it's too early to comment on the outcome, but hopefully it puts some pressure on both major parties to take the subject of real tax reform (and not just tinkering with super balances affecting 0.5% of the population) out of the too hard basket, and into the action tray, as detailed in Hedge Clippings on March 10th.
Australia and Australians are being held back by an overly complicated, inefficient tax system that governments of both persuasions have contributed to, and don't have the political will to fix.
Maybe the independents will force them to get on with some real reform.
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