Property 101: Mining's big drag is almost done: HSBC's Paul Bloxham

Property 101: Mining's big drag is almost done: HSBC's Paul Bloxham
Property 101: Mining's big drag is almost done: HSBC's Paul Bloxham


Australia's economy has done well, considering it has had to absorb a significant negative shock from the end of the mining boom.

Over the past few years, commodity prices have fallen by 60 percent and mining investment has declined from around 8 percent to 3.5 percent of GDP.

Historically, much smaller falls have typically caused recessions. But, as last week's GDP figures clearly illustrated, Australia's 'R-word' has been rebalancing not recession. Although business investment was a -1.6ppt drag on growth, overall GDP grew by a strong 3.3 percent y-o-y in Q2.

The mining investment fall has been more than offset by a ramp up in resources exports and growth in services exports, housing construction and household spending. Looking forward, the drag from mining investment and falling commodity prices should now fade. This is expected to mean continued solid overall GDP growth, despite the housing construction boom nearing its end. We see the RBA on hold in coming quarters.

The more downbeat economic observers have, in recent years, described the economy as falling off the 'mining investment cliff' and said that Australia would have an 'income recession' as a result of the fall in commodity prices. The end of the mining boom has, indeed, been a big negative shock to absorb.

But although mining investment has fallen significantly and declining commodity prices have weighed on nominal GDP, growth in real GDP and employment has remained solid. Last week's GDP numbers showed that Australia's economy grew at an above-trend 3.3 percent over the year to Q2 2016. Over the past five years, GDP growth has averaged 2.8 percent (which is around its trend rate) and jobs growth has been strong enough to see the unemployment rate fall from its early-2015 peak of 6.25 percent to now sit around 5.75 percent.

How has this happened? Australia's growth has been rebalancing from the mining to the non- mining sectors ('Australia's great rebalancing act', December 2012). Low interest rates have supported a housing price and construction boom while the lower AUD and rising middle class incomes in Asia are driving increased demand for Australia's services exports, including tourism, education and business services.

Importantly, the big drag from mining investment and commodity prices is almost done. The worst is in the past. As a result, even those that have been pessimistic about the impact of the end of the mining boom should now have less to worry about.

Mining investment, which has been a drag of a hefty 4.5ppts of GDP over the past four years, will stop being a drag soon. On our estimates, mining investment subtracted around 1.8ppts from GDP over the year to Q2 2016, but will only subtract 0.5ppts from growth in the year to Q2 2017 and will not be a drag the following year.

The drag will therefore subside by 1.3ppt this coming year and 0.5ppt the next year. And, because the LNG export ramp up will still be underway, the resources sector as a whole should contribute to overall real GDP growth. 

We also expect that commodity prices have already passed the trough. If so, nominal GDP growth, tax revenues and even wages should get some support. Commodity prices have already made up the losses from late last year and are flat y-o-y, so are no longer a drag. On our forecasts, nominal GDP growth could pick-up from 3.4 percent y-o-y in Q2 2016 to 6 percent y-o-y by Q2 2017.

Other downbeat commentators now point out that the end of Australia's housing price and construction boom could see weaker growth next year and into 2018. Having grown so strongly recently, housing construction will fall at some point and weaker house prices could deliver a negative wealth effect. While we agree that the housing price boom is over and that housing construction will start to be a drag on growth from around mid-2017, to us, the arithmetic suggests that this will be more than offset by the subsiding mining investment drag.

Mining will stop being a drag just as the housing sector becomes one. The net of the two effects should still leave the economy growing, as the fall in mining investment was much bigger than the decline in housing investment is likely to be.

We see little evidence that the housing price boom has driven a particularly strong positive wealth effect so doubt that the cooling of the housing price boom will see a significant negative one.

What will be the main driver of growth? Services exports, led by tourism, education and business services. It's already happening, and in our view, is set to continue. Keep in mind that the services sector accounts for over 70 percent of Australia's GDP.

This should continue to support jobs growth, as it has done in recent years. It should also start to spur more business investment. Last week's GDP numbers showed tentative signs of a pick-up in non-mining business investment.

Australia's rebalancing is almost complete, at which point we expect domestic wages and inflation to stabilise. Once we have passed the trough in domestic wages and underlying inflation we expect that the RBA is unlikely to cut further. Our central case has the RBA on hold at 1.50 eprcent in coming quarters. 



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