Growth running below trend

Australia's economy has grown slightly more than expected in the past year, but not enough to stop unemployment rising.

Australia's economy has grown slightly more than expected in the past year, but not enough to stop unemployment rising.

Figures released on Wednesday showed an annual growth rate of 2.6 per cent, slightly above analyst predictions of 2.4 per cent. It confirmed the economy has been growing at a "below trend" pace for the past year (trend growth is 3 per cent).

It is the main reason why the unemployment rate has crept up from 5.1 to 5.7 per cent in the past year.

"In a sense that's what trend growth actually means, it means a growth rate that's enough to stop the unemployment rate from rising," Bank of America Merrill Lynch chief economist Saul Eslake said.

"If you want to take a message out of that, it means that whoever wins the election shouldn't be too dogmatic about returning the budget to surplus quickly."

Bureau of Statistics figures showed the economy grew by 0.6 per cent in the three months to June 30, seasonally adjusted, which was slightly higher than expectations of 0.5 per cent growth.

It came a day after the Reserve Bank kept interest rates at historic lows, and left scope for further cuts if economic activity, inflation, or unemployment worsened.

The GDP figures provided that final piece of the statistical puzzle that allowed economists to summarise the past 12 months of economic activity, and to make their projections for future economic growth.

And a breakdown of the figures showed economic growth was spread unevenly across states and territories.

Over the past year, NSW (1.3 per cent), Queensland (1.8), and the Northern Territory (6.6) recorded growth, while Victoria stagnated (0.1).

South Australia (minus 1.4 per cent), Western Australia (minus 1), Tasmania (minus 2.5) and the ACT (minus 1.1) all contracted.

"[It] doesn't really dispel fears that the economy is struggling with its transition away from mining investment," St George chief economist Besa Deda said.

"But it's not all doom and gloom. I think we're just stuck in this below-trend part of growth and we just need to see a bit more in the non-mining part of the economy to be encouraged that we'll get back up towards trend."

The GDP figure is backward looking, providing a snapshot of economic activity that has already taken place.

But forward-looking indicators provide an idea of the type of activity Australia can expect to see in the coming year.

And an important indicator of future economic activity is the number of building approvals. That's because it shows how many dwellings people are planning to build.

Economists say the housing sector is one of the only non-mining parts of the economy that is showing any signs of life.

The most recent building approval figures jumped 10.8 per cent to be above 170,000, which has not happened all that often since the stimulus-driven boom in 2009. That followed another strong figure in April.

"I think there is increasing evidence that the housing sector is stirring," Mr Eslake said.

But business confidence, which in some cases is a leading indicator, is weak.

Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens said on Tuesday the dollar had dropped 15 per cent in value since early April. "It is possible that the exchange rate will depreciate further over time, which would help to foster a rebalancing of growth in the economy," he said.

Related Articles