Economists reckon the Australian economy slowed sharply at the start of 2017

Sergei SHAKHIJANIAN / AFP / Getty Images

Australian economic growth slowed sharply in the first three months of the year, according to forecasts offered by economists.

Of the 22 polled by Bloomberg, the median expectation is centred around an increase in real GDP of 0.3%, leaving year-on-year growth at just 1.6%.

Individual forecasts for quarterly growth range from a decline of 0.3% to an expansion of 0.7%.

Two forecasters — Morgan Stanley and the National Australia Bank — expect growth to contract for the quarter.

Australian GDP grew by 1.1% in the December quarter last year, seeing the year-on-year rate rise to 2.4%. That followed a 0.5% contraction in the September quarter which was the largest since the global financial crisis.

Quarterly growth has been seesawing recently, impacted on by weather events and changes in commodity export volumes.

A large number of GDP inputs will arrive early next week, including net exports, inventories, government investment, company profits and the biggest of them all, household consumption.

All of the inputs received so far — retail turnover, construction work and business capital expenditure — have undershot expectations, leading to a scaling back of economist expectations for quarterly growth in recent weeks.

“Unless we get some positive surprises in the GDP partials left to come, a negative expectation for Wednesday’s GDP print looks increasingly possible,” said ANZ’s economics team, lead by David Plank.

The National Australia Bank, one of the forecasters predicting a negative growth quarter, warned yesterday that there was a small possibility that Australia could fall into technical recession — defined as two quarters of negative economic growth — given risks of another quarterly contraction in the current quarter due to weather-related disruptions caused by Cyclone Debbie in late March and early April.

Australia has not been in a recession since 1991.

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