Australia's big banks can't quite agree on Australia's next set of GDP numbers

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Australia’s biggest banks aren’t quite in agreement when it comes to their predictions for the nation’s quarterly growth, ahead of the December figures being released next week.

At least they are united with 21 other economists in believing the country will avoid a technical recession — defined as two consecutive quarters of economic contraction — when the ABS releases its December quarter GDP report next Wednesday, March 1. The economy shrank by the most since late 2008 in the September quarter.

While a number of key data points prior to the Wednesday announcement are yet to be released, research notes from Westpac, ANZ, CBA and NAB are predicting quarterly growth in a range between 0.4% and 0.9%. The median estimate of 25 economists surveyed by Bloomberg is centred around an increase in real GDP of 0.7% for the quarter with forecast ranging from 0.4% to as high as 1%.

Data due next week, including net exports, company profits, movements in inventories and government spending data will skew estimates further. TD Securities said a “massive” range of predictions for net export data due Tuesday (between -0.3% and +0.7%) will upset existing GDP forecasts if results surprise on the downside. It expects a “small drag” on the GDP result from trade volumes.

Housing construction looks set to turn around, although nearing its peak, ANZ said, expecting the first rise in private business investment since Q3 2013 and public spending to also bounce back.

ANZ’s predictions are that inventories look set to subtract from growth in Q4 after making a solid contribution in the previous three months, while the contribution from net exports is also likely to turn around reflecting a bounce in coal exports. The bank estimates GDP to grow 0.6% in the quarter.

The NAB’s view is that higher commodity prices will “have some positive flow-on effect for company profits, while labour income growth looks to have improved modestly due to better employment growth relative to Q3 and fairly steady (albeit subdued) wages growth”.

The following table from the NAB shows each sector’s estimated contribution to GDP growth:

Data showed Australia’s December trade surplus soared to a record high of $3.511 billion in seasonally adjusted terms, smashing market expectations for an increase to $2.2 billion. The ABS said that the value of exports jumped by 5% to $32.63 billion, also a record high, assisted by enormous gains in the value of non-rural exports over the month. They alone jumped by $1.249 billion, or 6% in December, thanks to rising bulk commodity prices and a lift in export volumes, which would support GDP growth.

The RBA this month slashed its near-term expectations for GDP growth after the contraction in September. The central bank now sees GDP expanding 2% year-on-year in 2016, down from its previous forecast of 2.5 to 3.5%. By the middle of this year, it sees GDP averaging between 1.5% to 2.5% before accelerating to between 2.5% to 3.5% by years end. Growth is then expected to accelerate slightly to 2.75% to 3.75% by the end of 2018.

“We expect the overall impression to be of an economy still only growing at a modest pace,” Michael Blythe, CBA’s chief economist said. “But one that is on the way towards a more respectable 3% per annum later in 2017.”

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