Australia is no longer immune to the stagnation in the West. Despite a resilient housing market, Australia’s economy is slowing. With a worsening labor market, consumption is eroding, along with business confidence.
In the past two years, the benchmark interest rate has been almost halved to 2.5 percent. Still, Australia’s real GDP growth is likely to decrease to 2.4 percent during the ongoing year and will remain barely 2 percent until the mid-2010s.
Australia is at a new crossroads.
In the past decade or so, exported commodities fueled Australia’s terms of trade, thanks to rising commodity prices. While agriculture and natural resources each account for barely 3-5 percent of GDP respectively, they contribute substantially to export performance. True, the service sector of the economy, including tourism, education, and financial services, continues to account for some 70 percent of GDP. However, the country’s abundant and diverse natural resources attract substantial foreign investment.
Before the global financial crisis, the Australian economy grew for 17 consecutive years. As export-led growth collapsed worldwide, then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s Labor government introduced a US$50 billion fiscal stimulus package to offset the effect of the slowing world economy, while the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) cut interest rates to historic lows. Further, China’s 2009 stimulus package sustained demand for commodities from Australia.
Except for just one quarter of negative growth, Australia actually grew by 1.4 percent in 2009. Last year, growth amounted to 3.3 percent, whereas unemployment was 5.2 percent. However, despite past efforts to refocus on increasing economic productivity, Australia’s growth has been driven somewhat narrowly by a mining investment boom, which has rendered the economy more vulnerable to trade shocks.