Highs and lows on the economic merry-go-round and we're looking good

I've spent the middle part of this week in New York, returning only on Saturday morning to Australia. I was holding up Australia's cultural credentials at a gala performance of Carousel by the New York Philharmonic at the Avery Fisher Hall. I am still humming June Is Busting Out All Over and by mid-year the northern summer may generate a bit more warmth, but more about that later.

I've spent the middle part of this week in New York, returning only on Saturday morning to Australia. I was holding up Australia's cultural credentials at a gala performance of Carousel by the New York Philharmonic at the Avery Fisher Hall. I am still humming June Is Busting Out All Over and by mid-year the northern summer may generate a bit more warmth, but more about that later.

Louise, however, the social secretary for this column, really wants me to talk about the people who were there. Must say it was a great night, with some of my fellow board members, including the newly appointed Whoopi Goldberg plus the very fit-looking Alec Baldwin and his wonderful yoga-expert wife, Hilaria Thomas.

As you'd expect, we had half of the important bankers of the world attending, so it was a good chance to see how things are progressing with the world's biggest economy. It's worth remembering that without the Americans, Australia would be battling, despite the emergence of China. Last night's temperature in New York was just one degree and we know that if America sneezes we can still get a bit of a cold.

But there is good news. The US, and particularly New York, is filled with optimism. "Indeed," says Charlie, because his summary of the American economy is: "The American people are confident, innovative and optimistic; they just need a bit more good news to start the virtuous cycle. With the stock market now at a 4½-year high, they are just waiting for Ben Bernanke or the President to enthuse Congress and the public."

So we can feel confident as well.

While in New York I often catch up with an old friend of mine, Bo Cutter, who had served as the director of the Budget Office in the Clinton administration.

He has always given me a great insight into the US economy. In October, with the December 31 fiscal cliff looming, Cutter said, "Nah, they'll just do a deal, and put it off."

And so they did. Not good for the American economy but it gave them some time to rebuild. Some say the US economy will be boosted by the discovery and development of shale oil, which they have in abundance. Others say it will be a new wave of good ole Yankee inventiveness by an aggressive young generation.

Cutter is in his 70s and wise as an owl. It made me think that we too could be well served by some older, experienced heads. Charlie is muttering "John Howard" under his breath, and Louise is dreaming of Hawkie.

But over to advertising for a moment. Even in freezing New York, if you get a cold a pill will fix it. And in the case of advertising, the pill is really "the tablet". You see it's the digital revolution of tablets and smartphones that are establishing themselves as the "first screen" for consumers around the world, and as a result advertising in this medium will grow 14 per cent this year in the US and 3 per cent overall. Not bad compared with Australia where our economy is in relatively good shape but advertising will grow only by 1 per cent.

There is no doubt at all that marketers will continue to shift their ad spending to the mobile digital devices which now account for almost 30 per cent of web traffic and expect to be at parity with the PC and laptop within three years.

And the good news for us is that Australia has some of the cleverest advertising people on earth, particularly in the digital field, who are doing their part in building our enviable economy.

So as Carousel closed for the night, and the bankers in the audience headed off to prepare to get back on the Wall Street merry-go-round whistling You'll Never Walk Alone, I realised that one of the reasons I love being in New York is to remind a few people that Australia isn't really "down under".

In lots of things we're on top.

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