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FURTHER official interest rate rises could choke off consumer spending and grind the economy to a halt, economists warn.

Herston Economics chief economist Clifford Bennett says if the Reserve Bank raises the cash rate to five per cent by year’s end, the economy would “grind to a standstill”.

The current cash rate is 4.25 per cent, after the RBA lifted the rate by a quarter of a percentage point on Tuesday in an effort to further rein in expansionary pressures.

It was the fifth monthly interest rate rise by the central bank since October last year.

“If the cash rate gets to 5 per cent … the domestic economy will grind to a standstill,” Mr Bennett said.

“We’re seeing in the Sydney press examples of them having to choose between buying groceries and paying their electricity bill and the added burden from the RBA is completely unwarranted, unnecessary and unwanted.”

RBA governor Glenn Stevens said it was appropriate to raise the cash rate towards its long-run average given that “the risk of serious economic contraction

Most economists say the average long-run cash rate is around 5 per cent.

Nomura Australia economist Stephen Roberts said rising interest rates meant consumers were paying a greater proportion of their income in servicing debt.

Data compiled by the central bank showed that when the cash rate was 3.75 per cent at the and of the December quarter of 2009, the average household was paying more than 10 per cent of its income, minus taxes and some other regular payments, on interest payments.

When the cash rate topped 18 per cent in December 1989, the average household was spending just under nine per cent of its income on interest payments.

The figures also show that in December quarter of 1989, household debt was slightly less than half household yearly income.

Twenty years later it was equal to one and a half times an average household’s yearly income.

“That data is from fourth quarter (2009) and you have to remember we’ve had two more interest rate rises already,” Mr Roberts said.

He said a lower interest rate of 3.75 per cent to 4 per cent would be more appropriate given the current difference between the cash rate and the interest rates of major lenders.

Official economic data now points to a slowing economy, with building approvals, employment and retail sales data for March all coming in under market expectations.

Mr Bennett said the data suggested Australia’s economic performance post the global financial crisis was weaker than first thought.

“When you look at the domestic economy, there are patchy elements,” he said.

“There are storm clouds on the horizon.”

Source  :  www.news.com.au

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There’s more pain on the way for Australia’s borrowers with the Reserve Bank today raising interest rates for the third time in as many months.

As widely tipped, the central bank lifted its key cash rate by 25 basis points to 3.75 per cent following its monthly board meeting. It’s the first time the RBA has lifted rates three months in a row. (Click here for economists’ reaction, including Michael Pascoe and Peter Martin.)

”In Australia, the downturn was relatively mild, and measures of confidence and business conditions suggest that the economy is in a gradual recovery,” RBA Governor Glenn Stevens said in a statement accompanying the rates verdict. The central bank’s ”gradual” increases in rates will ”work to increase the sustainability of growth in economic activity,” he said.

For a typical mortgage holder on a $300,000 mortgage, today’s rate rise will add about $47 to monthly repayments, assuming commercial banks match the RBA’s move. Officials for most of the major banks this afternoon said their rates policies were under review.

The Reserve Bank has made regular public comments in recent weeks that it sees no need to keep interest rates at ”emergency” levels as the economy rebounds from a slowdown during the past year. Ric Battelino, the RBA’s deputy governor, last week said the economy’s growth is likely to extend ”for a few more years yet.”

More to rises come

Still, the economic data continue to provide mixed readings. A measure of manufacturing activity in November out today showed the sector continues to grow with companies adding jobs, although the stronger Australian dollar slowed the pace of expansion.

Overall building approvals, meanwhile, surprisingly fell 0.6 per cent in October, according to other figures out today. A 5 per cent gain in approvals for private homes was countered by a 19 per cent drop in permits for flats and townhouses.

Even with today’s rate increase, the Reserve Bank’s efforts to tighten monetary policy are likely to be far from over.

”The big change in this statement was their reference to the increases so far as being material,” ANZ’s head of Australian economics Warren Hogan told Reuters.

”I read that as implying that they’re ready to now sit back and watch how these increases affect the economy. And the hurdle for further rate hikes will be much higher than we have seen so far.

“So I think our view that they’re going to 4 (per cent), 4.25 then sit there for much of the year is the right one. There’s every chance they’ll do it in February and March, although I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s dragged out over a number of months.”

JP Morgan’s Chief Economist Stephen Walters agreed that the RBA may make it four rate rises in a row: “With inflation likely to creep up, and the worst in the economy having passed, there is no need to keep rates at very expansionary levels.”

“We think they will again lift rates in February,” Mr Walters

said. ”The RBA does not meet in January, but I think they will hike when they return after the break. The word ‘gradual’ is still there in the RBA statement and I think they will start going slow in lifting after February.”

Before today’s move, investors were betting that rates would rise to at least 4.75 per cent in a year’s time – equivalent to four more rate rises over the period. Three weeks ago, however, the betting was for rates to rise to 5.25 per cent, indicating confidence in the economy’s strength has recently diminished.

The RBA’s board is not scheduled to meet again until next February.

Political view

Treasurer Wayne Swan said the rate rise would pinch household funds.

”This is tough for families…when rates go up it has an impact on the family budget,” Mr Swan told reporters.

He took aim at old comments from new Opposition Leader Tony Abbott that the government’s billion-dollar stimulus had led to interest rates rises.

”That is laughable and it comes from a political leader who is prone to making erratic statements,” Mr Swan said.

”Mr Abbott is in denial of the fact that this country has performed well in the global recession.”

Even with the latest jump, these rates were last seen in 1967, Mr Swan said.

Mild downturn

A year ago, the Reserve Bank was in the midst of a series of deep interest rate cuts as Australia joined other countries in attempting to limit the damage from the global financial crisis.

Last December, the RBA sliced one full percentage point from its cash rate, lowering it to 4.25 per cent on the way to a fifty year-low of 3 per cent by April. After a pause, the central bank has started to lift rates back towards more normal levels as fears of an economic crunch abate.

”The effects of the early stages of the fiscal stimulus on consumer demand are fading, but public infrastructure spending is starting to provide more impetus to demand,” Mr Stevens said in his statement today.

The jobless rate has been one of the surprises, with Australia’s unemployment holding well below 6 per cent when many had predicted a level in excess of 8 per cent. Business investment has also held up well in large measure due to the sharp rebound in China and India – leaving Australia as one of the few countries to start raising rates.

”Prospects for ongoing expansion of private demand, including business investment, have been strengthening. There have been some early signs of an improvement in labour market conditions,” Mr Steven said. ”The rate of unemployment is now likely to peak at a considerably lower level than earlier expected.”

The RBA believes economic growth ”is likely to be close to trend (in 2010) and inflation close to target.

Market response

In the aftermath of the rates news, the Aussie dollar initially dropped before recovering to about 91.5 US cents in recent trading, close to its level before the RBA statement.

Shares, also turned mildly lower before recovering to be about 0.2 per cent higher for the day with less than an hour of trading left.

Source :   www.theage.com.au

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DAILY shark patrols will begin next month as part of a $1.1million plan by Surf Lifesaving WA to keep beachgoers safe this summer.

Surf Lifesaving spokesman Chris Peck said $500,000 would be spent keeping the Westpac rescue helicopter in the air for three hours every day from mid-December to the end of February.  This year’s safety plan also included spending $600,000 on 30 emergency response points at secluded beaches and 27 beach surveillance cameras. And 4300 lifesavers will patrol beaches.

It is a significant investment in using technologies to combat coastal incidents, Mr Peck said.  It is the biggest presence we have ever had. Mr Peck said the State Government had agreed to provide thousands of dollars to help operate daily helicopter patrols.  The helicopter will fly for three hours between 6.30am and 2pm.

He said the public wanted more beach patrols in summer, with many people unhappy that aerial shark patrols had operated only on weekends and public holidays.  Mr Peck said ideally aerial patrols would operate five hours a day, but there wasn’t enough money to keep the helicopter in the air longer.

I think the pressure probably came from the public to have a service mid-week, he said.  The fact that something is up there (the helicopter) looking after them gives people a sense of security.  I would have liked another two hours so that we were flying five hours a day.  It would have enabled us to spread our patrol coverage a little more broadly.

Mr Peck said the use of emergency response points and surveillance cameras would help save lives. The response points are like emergency freeway phones.  Beachgoers can push the button and say to an operator I have seen a shark, someone is caught in a rip so we can get a team to that beach quickly he said.  The beach surveillance cameras don’t just take images, they gather data.  Whether it’s looking for sharks or missing people in the water, it has the functionality to assist as a third eye.

Source www.news.com.au

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Retailers are boosting staff numbers in anticipation of an improvement in consumer spending, according to the Australian Retailers Association.                 retail

The industry group’s executive director, Richard Evans, said surveys of association members showed a 12 per cent jump in employment for small and medium-sized retailers this month, painting a much more positive picture than figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics earlier this month.

The number of people employed in the retail sector fell by less than 0.1 per cent last month compared with February, on a seasonally adjusted basis, but the ABS also reported an increase in underutilisation—the proportion of the workforce that is either unemployed or not working as many hours as it would like.

The rate of underutilisation among female workers was 9.1per cent last month, compared with 6.4 per cent for men, which the ABS attributed to the larger proportion of women working in industries with high levels of casual employment, such as retail.

However, Mr Evans said most retailers were holding on to skilled staff in preparation for rising demand, with 68 per cent reporting no change in employment levels in the past quarter.

“A further 16 per cent of retailers actually increased their number of staff during the same period,” he said.

“Retailing works in cycles, and although the sector has experienced a downturn, good retailers are doing their best to hold on to skilled staff as consumer confidence continues to grow and a new type of consumer emerges.”

The same trend was in play among the bigger retailers, with David Jones boosting staffing levels around the Mother’s Day shopping period after the delivery of the federal government’s fiscal stimulus package in April led to a sharp rebound in sales.

Mr Evans said the stimulus package and lower interest rates meant most consumers had more cash available to spend, but “negative and fear-filled commentary” had fuelled a tendency among consumers to cut discretionary spending in favour of saving or paying off debt.

This meant shoppers would be in a better position to spend when confidence picks up again—with the ARA forecasting an improvement as soon as the September quarter.

Source  :  www.careerone.com.au

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Two in three West Australian adults are expected to take part in a $20 million splurge on lottery tickets in the hope of scooping Australia’s record $90 million Lotto jackpot next week.
  
Lottery fever has gripped WA and it is estimated five times more tickets than usual will be bought in the State for Tuesday’s Oz Lotto draw.
  
The $90 million prize pool is unprecedented in Australian lottery history and is the culmination of nine weeks of rolled-over Oz Lotto prizes.
  
Lotterywest chief executive Jan Stewart said lottery ticket sales in WA were up 6 per cent on last year and were expected to jump even higher for Tuesday’s bumper draw.
  
“Our experience is that irrespective of the economic climate, people seem to continue to spend the few dollars each week they have been accustomed to spending on a Lotto or scratchie ticket and to find a little more when there is something special on like a big Oz Lotto or Powerball jackpot or a Saturday Lotto Superdraw,” Ms Stewart said. 
  
WA is a lottery-loving State, a fact which could be attributed to the ban on poker machines that has reduced gambling choices in the West.
  
Whether WA is luckier or just plays more, the State is full of Lotto winners. Over the past 12 months, seven of the 12 major (Division One) wins in the Oz Lotto game across Australia have gone to WA.
  
West Australian adults spend an average of $5.98 every week on the lottery and the clamour for tickets for Tuesday’s draw has shown they are spending more than ever.
  
Greg Mills, of Yokine Lottery Centre, said the number of people coming in to buy Lotto tickets had soared from an average of 250 a day to 350 in the run-up to Tuesday’s game.
  
“It’s pumping. People all want a share of this $90 million. It’s creating a lot of interest,” Mr Mills said.
  
Sadly, though, the chances of winning are slim — 45 million to one.
  
To improve your chances, it might be worth taking note of which numbers come up most often. The number 5 has been drawn 14 times over the past 50 Oz Lotto draws, while 45, 35 and 28 have come up 13 times each.
  
At the other end of the scale, the number 38 has emerged only three times in the past 50 draws. Numbers 6, 14, 36 and 39 were almost as unlucky, with four appearances each. 
  
You could also buy your ticket in one of WA’s lottery hotspots. Kalgoorlie has had the most Division One wins over the past five years, with $31.7 million won by eight players.
  
Perth CBD is also a lucky place, with more than $26.4 million shared between 11 Division One ticket holders over the same period.
  
Morley has had the highest number of Division One winners with 12 tickets sharing $9.8 million.
  
The biggest Division One win of all time was $58.7 million, which was won in Victoria in the Powerball game in June 2008.

Source  :   www.thewest.com.au

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