Growth to pick up gradually: RBA’s Marion Kohler

By Our Reporter

In an address at the UBS Australasia Conference in Sydney on 13 November 2023, Marion Kohler, the Acting Assistant Governor (Economic) of the Reserve Bank of Australia, unfolded a comprehensive analysis of Australia’s economic status quo. The speech, titled “The Outlook for the Australian Economy,” served as a navigational guide in understanding the country’s economic journey amidst global upheavals.

Kohler’s discourse was on the resilience and adaptability of the Australian economy. Amidst global challenges, the Australian economy has demonstrated a remarkable capacity to withstand and adapt. This resilience is mirrored in its performance, with notable steadiness in areas such as inflation, economic growth, and labour market conditions. These elements form the bedrock of Australia’s economic stability and are pivotal in predicting the path of the nation’s economic future.

A key highlight of Kohler’s speech was the discussion on the lingering impacts of the pandemic. The Australian economy, much like the rest of the world, felt the ripples of the pandemic, yet it emerged with two significant developments. Firstly, there was a rapid rebound in population growth, which spurred GDP growth without markedly impacting unemployment rates. This phenomenon indicates a robust economic structure capable of absorbing demographic shifts without significant detriments to employment. Secondly, the economy grappled with poor productivity outcomes, leading to increased labour costs. These twin developments are crucial lenses through which the near-term economic outlook can be discerned.

The Reserve Bank of Australia’s recent Statement on Monetary Policy painted a picture of cautious optimism. It projected that Australia’s GDP growth would be below the trend in the coming year, primarily due to subdued household consumption. This subdued nature is attributed to increased living costs, higher interest rates, and taxes. Nonetheless, the Australian economy has displayed more resilience than anticipated, with public and business investment, the influx of international students and tourists, and strong domestic consumer spending buoying the economic sails.

Looking into the future, the RBA foresees a gradual return of economic growth to its trend. This resurgence is expected to be fuelled by a rebound in consumption, as the pressure of inflation on household budgets eases and household wealth benefits from a buoyant established housing market. However, the labour market, which has been exceptionally tight over the past year, is expected to relax somewhat. The unemployment rate is anticipated to rise to about 4.25% by 2025, a modest increase reflecting a stronger-than-expected economic activity outlook.

Inflation remains a pivotal area of focus. The RBA projects a gradual easing of inflation, albeit at a slower pace than previously envisaged. This slow pace is attributed to persistent domestic demand and strong labour and other cost pressures. By the end of 2025, inflation is forecast to settle just below 3%. This deceleration is spearheaded by a reduction in goods price inflation, thanks to improvements in global supply chains and a decrease in raw materials price inflation. However, domestically sourced inflation, particularly in services, remains high and slow to taper off.

Kohler also underscored the RBA’s dual objectives of maintaining low and stable inflation and full employment. Full employment, as defined within the context of monetary policy, is the level of employment that balances demand and supply in the labour market, crucial for maintaining price stability. The RBA’s focus remains on assessing labour market conditions against the objective of maintaining full employment, an essential component for economic equilibrium.

Kohler’s speech was an economic briefing and  a navigation chart for the Australian economy. While the resilience and adaptability of the Australian economy are evident, the path ahead is riddled with complexity and uncertainty. The role of the RBA in meticulously monitoring and responding to these evolving economic conditions cannot be understated. Its actions and policies will play a pivotal role in steering the Australian economy towards a future marked by sustained growth and stability.

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