Is it time to head for the exits? Economists make the call

'Meltdown' was the only word to describe this week's equities price action which combined with plunging commodity prices, led by sharp falls in oil prices, with the CRB index hitting a 13-year low, and near panic across many asset classes.

Offshore markets face renewed risk aversion, extreme volatility and large trading ranges, with mini 'flash crashes' happening in all corners of the globe. The catalyst appeared to be sharp falls in Chinese equity indices. Asian bourses also saw red with pessimism flowing into North American and European equity markets.

"The word 'sluggish' was used throughout our discussion."
Warren Hogan, ANZ Chief Economist

Despite the headlines however, the sentiment among a panel of economists I shared a stage with this week was more relaxed and our predictions relatively benign. The word 'sluggish' was used throughout our discussion. It's a good way to describe the current economic situation.

The major markets including the US, Europe, China, Japan and Australia are all facing slower growth and they have their own idiosyncrasies that will require different types of intervention from policy makers.


China is the great uncertainty right now. There is clearly an equity bust in train but it shouldn't drag down the whole economy. The equity market is simply not big enough nor is the money borrowed against stocks large enough to undermine either the economy or the financial system.

Growth is slowing as the Chinese make the transition from an investment led to a consumption led economic growth model. Global financial markets are worried the equity market is in free-fall and the Yuan depreciating is a signal of more bad news ahead.

But slower growth is both necessary and desirable. The large swings in property prices and now equity prices are telling us Chinese growth has been 'too hot' in recent years. A softening towards 6 per cent would take significant risks out of the economy.

Most importantly, the Chinese need to press on with reform, particularly the liberalisation and opening up of the financial system. This will be hugely important in steadying the economy, via the efficient allocation of capital, while its economic transition continues.

We should not be concerned about slower overall growth in China. Phenomenal growth is still on offer in certain sectors, such as consumer markets, services and finance, in the long-term.

Click image to zoom Tap image to zoom


Unfortunately for Australia the parts of the Chinese economy that have been slowing are directly impacting its major exports, namely, bulk commodities. Commodity prices are lower now than what many expected a few years ago. This is putting significant pressures on the Australian mining and energy sectors and reducing the probability and viability of new projects. The downturn in mining and energy prices haves been more severe than most expected.

This drag on economic activity in Australia is likely to continue for at least the next 12 months as commodity prices remain low and the last of the new projects are completed.

Australia's economy is adjusting with low interest rates and a falling currency stimulating activity elsewhere. The weaker Australian dollar is now triggering some growth in export and import competing industries.

Housing is strong. It is so strong some are concerned about a bubble in Sydney and Melbourne. Importantly, strong housing markets are translating into increased construction and the jobs that come with that. This is the main leg of growth in Australia right now.

Rising house prices are also encouraging consumer spending on discretionary items, holidays and motor vehicles. Overall though, nothing is really strong. The NSW and Victorian economies are doing well, Queensland and WA are not.

We expect this mixed economy to remain in place for much of the next 12-months and are hopeful that as the headwinds from mining fade through the course of 2016, the rest of the economy will improve further. Our best guess is Australia's economy will remain OK for the next few years, unemployment will remain steady and, with that, interest rates should remain about where they are now.


Japan, Europe and the US all look OK right now. Japan and Europe have benefited greatly from weak currencies in the past 12-months while the US is getting set to tighten monetary policy (raise interest rates) for the first time in 10 years. These economies are expanding. The problem for the world economy is the advanced economies don't have much growth potential.

A pick-up in the developed world entails growth rising from around 1 per cent to 2 per cent. For the other half, the emerging economies, a slowdown could see growth fall from 6 per cent to 4 per cent or even 3 per cent. We already have recessions in Brazil and Russia, China and the rest of emerging Asia is slowing down. So despite some better economic growth in the major developed economies, overall global growth is unlikely to pick-up.

This is keeping markets nervous. No one really knows how far the emerging economies will slow, hence the focus on China right now. History shows economic slowdowns and financial crises in emerging economies can be quite severe. Yet there are reasons to believe Asia has much more of a buffer against financial problems than in the past.

We know less growth means the world's economies will continue to face challenges. But despite this, there remain many leavers policy makers can pull to address some of the issues. All eyes will be on China over the next several months. China is changing. The country will require reform and it will need to mobilise its army of consumers. But it's not bust - the bear's not knocking on China's door just yet.

This is an edited version of an address given to the ABF economists' breakfast.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

editor's picks

12 Aug 2015

What’s behind China’s currency devaluation?

Li-Gang Liu | Former Chief Economist Greater China, ANZ

China’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) surprised market by announcing it would use a daily fixing rate method to devalue the Yuan (the Renminbi or RMB). This was an historic decision as it signals a possible shift in short-term economic and financial dynamics across the world economy.

03 Aug 2015

Why ChAFTA is more than just another FTA

Mike Smith | Former Chief Executive Officer, ANZ

The decision by China's President Xi to travel to Australia last year to sign a Free Trade agreement, while largely symbolic, remains one of the most important economic events in Australia's recent history.

07 Aug 2015

Australia urgently needs innovation

Kristin Stubbins & Chris Dodd |

Innovation has the power to drive economic growth, create wealth and lift employment in Australia, as it has done in the past and is currently doing for countries like the United States, China, Germany and New Zealand.