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Pain in your wallet?

The money in your wallet is receding. Here is some key economic data and an explanation as to why.

1. Balance of payments

It’s made up of two accounts: the current account and the capital account. The current account is basically a ledger of all manner of stuff (goods and services) going in and out of the economy.

Conventional wisdom is that it’s better to be sending more stuff offshore than consuming what other countries make. Official stats show Australia’s current account deficit narrowed to $20.79 billion in the first quarter. That’s good. It means we’re still pumping out exports at break-neck speed. This time around the category contributed 1.1 percentage points (that’s a lot) to GDP growth in the March quarter 2016. The Terms of trade decreased 1.9 per cent in the quarter. From the March quarter 2015 to the March quarter 2016 the Terms of trade fell 11.5 per cent.

What does that all mean? The value of what Australia sells to overseas markets (mainly China) isn’t even close to what it used to be. So yes, we’re still pumping out big volumes of exports, but the prices/income we’ve received from those exports has been a little disappointing.

2. Services Index

The “services index” is worked out by the Australian Industry Group every month. The good news is that there's clearly been a recent pickup in activity across Australia's services sector in May. The Performance of Services Index rose by 1.8 points last month to 51.5 (above 50 indicates expansion). Sales were particularly strong in the health and financial services sectors. This section of the economy needs to keep expanding. That’s all you really need to know for the moment.

3. Retail sales

Retail sales in April grew by 0.2 per cent. March saw growth of 0.4 per cent. The Bureau of Statistics data for April show supermarket and grocery stores had a 0.2 per cent fall in sales, while liquor retailing dropped 1.4 per cent.

Meanwhile clothing retailers complained that the unseasonably warm autumn weather dented sales of winter apparel, such as coats and jumpers. For an economy meant to be “transitioning” from a mining boom, to a consumer-led economy, these numbers are pretty ordinary if not disappointing.

4. Gross Domestic Product or GDP

Last week’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) figures showed the economy travelling at its fastest pace in around four years. Specifically the figures showed Australia's economy grew 1.1 per cent in the first quarter, and 3.1 per cent over the past year. Five per cent is probably too fast and one per cent is too close to no growth at all. As mentioned above, the ‘solid’ performance was driven by a big surge in Australia's exports. Other parts of the economy that are meant to be doing “OK” also showed some promise, including financial services, and consumer spending. Again, that’s also consistent with some of the data mentioned above.

But does any of that really mean? Is the economy ok? Can I expect a higher standard of living soon? Well that’s where it gets a bit interesting. The best measure of living standards in Australia peaked when China, and coal and iron ore prices peaked back in 2011. Since this peak it appears that we aare not likely to see any improvement in the standard of living.

5. Real Net National Disposable Income

ABS figures show that during the March quarter, trend Real Net National Disposable Income was flat at 0.0 per cent. Through the year Real Net National Disposable income actually fell 1.1 per cent.

So what do the stats say about you? Well the average Australian’s income is in recession. The data show during the mining boom Real Net National Disposable Income Per Person (how much you’ve got in your pocket) was a stellar 5.3 per cent.

Currently it’s minus 1.4 per cent. The sad reality is that wages growth at present is the slowest it’s been on record ever!

6. Canberra

GDP is growing, but it’s not at this point what economists like to call “sustainable”, or making us feel any wealthier. In other words, it hasn’t got legs.

The Reserve Bank‘s limited in what it can do. The politicians, however, are not. We might be in a “structural deficit” but that just means some tough decisions need to be made. Economist after economist tells me they want to see more courage from the politicians in Canberra. What an opportunity during an election! Whichever party sticks it’s neck out the most in terms of genuine economic reform will likely be the most unpopular party in the short term, but in the long term, will make a real difference.

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