It now looks like a line-ball call as to whether the Australian economy grew last quarter.
According to figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) on Tuesday, net exports will slice 0.2 percentage points from real GDP in the September quarter.
This indicates that in volume terms, imports grew faster than exports during the quarter.
The figure missed expectations for a flat contribution to growth, and will add to downside risks ahead of Wednesday’s Q3 GDP release.
However, while imports grew faster than exports in volume terms, it was a different story when price movements were taken into consideration.
According to the ABS, exports of goods and services increased by $2.8 billion, or 4%, outstripping the value of imports of goods and services which rose by a smaller $162 million.
That saw Australia’s term of trade — the value of exports divided by imports — jump by 4.5%, the third-highest quarterly percentage gain on record.
That helped to reduce Australia’s current account deficit by 29% to $11.358 billion, ahead of expectations for a smaller decline to $13.5 billion.
Further fanning talk of a negative growth quarter, both government consumption and investment also fell during the quarter.
The ABS said that in seasonally adjusted chain volume terms, government expenditure fell by 0.2%, overshadowed by a 10.4% drop in investment.
Tapas Strickland, an economists at the NAB, notes that the decline in government investment, excluding second-hand asset transfers, was a smaller 2.6%.
At -0.7%, he says that government spending looks set to detract 0.2 percentage points from quarterly GDP.
The net export and government figures, overriding an unexpected 0.2 percentage point boost to real GDP from private non-farm inventories, has some prominent economists questioning whether Australia will record a rare quarter of negative economic growth — it would be only the fourth in the past 25 years should it eventuate.
Negative GDP tomorrow? In Sep Qtr, Govt consumption fell as did govt investment – just think of all that talk of recession!
— Stephen Koukoulas (@TheKouk) December 6, 2016
Prior to today’s data, real GDP was expected to 0.2 percentage points for the quarter, according to a survey of 25 economists by Bloomberg.
Strickland believes a negative growth figure will arrive tomorrow, suggesting that risks to his -0.2% quarterly contraction are now tilted to the downside.
“Today’s data increases the likelihood of a negative Q3 GDP print tomorrow of -0.2% q/q, giving an annual print of +2.1% y/y,” he says.
“Moreover, risks are tilted to the downside, GDP possibly printing as low as -0.5% q/q, pending a possible inventory kick from a bumper grain harvest.”
While in volume terms Strickland is forecasting that economic output will contract, he says that nominal GDP will fare better thanks to the boost to income from higher commodity prices, something he suggests will continue to improve given commodity price movements in the current quarter.