Shared benefits if US Fed hits its mark
Australia is unlikely to be affected much by the US Federal Reserve's plan to end quantitative easing, or Japan's "three arrows" of stimulus or Abenomics - unless, of course, they work. That's the consensus of economists in Fairfax Media's half-yearly economic survey. And, for Japan, there was also a consensus that Abenomics will not work.
The floating of the Fed's plan has already affected the Australian dollar. Mark Crosby, of the Melbourne Business School, expects a second-wave impact to lower the Aussie once quantitative easing finally ends, but says that won't be until late next year.
There has been vigorous debate over the Fed's plan, with global sharemarkets tumbling, and Nobel prize winner and stimulus hawk Paul Krugman denouncing it in the New York Times under the heading: "Et tu, Bernanke?"
BT's chief economist and US watcher Chris Caton calls the market reaction "simplistic", saying: "The Fed isn't stupid; in fact, it hasn't been stupid since Greenspan left. The Fed will taper [purchases] only if the US economy is showing clear signs of a pick-up in growth. What's better for the market - 3 per cent growth and a taper, or 2 per cent growth and no taper?"
A faster-growing US economy, our panel agrees, would be very much in Australia's interests. "While markets might find it uncomfortable, the real economy should benefit", says Nigel Stapledon, of the Australian School of Business.
Benefits would include a lower Australian dollar and a bigger US export market. The main cost our panel sees is that global bond yields will rise - "moderately", says Macquarie's Richard Gibbs - as the Fed's bond buying tapers off, making finance more costly for corporates and governments.
Our panel was less complimentary about Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's plan to lift growth by firing "three arrows": measures that will loosen fiscal and monetary policy, and unleash structural reform. Our panel's verdict was almost unanimous: only the last will have long-term impact on Japan's growth, and Mr Abe has yet to unleash it.
Merrill Lynch's Saul Eslake was kindest, musing he might be waiting until after upper house elections.
"The first two arrows can only buy time for the Japanese government to implement the third arrow of micro-economic reform", says Commonwealth Bank's Michael Blythe. "However, Abe has not provided a detailed plan of microeconomic reform yet."
Monash University's Jakob Madsen is aghast that Japan, with a debt:GDP ratio of more than 200 per cent, could embrace a solution that means issuing even more debt. As Japanese baby boomers retire and sell their bonds, he warns, the new foreign owners will force higher yields "and that can be disastrous for the Japanese economy".
Our panel members agreed that the real solutions to Japan's low growth lie in opening its borders to young migrants to offset its ageing problem, and a wide range of reforms including tax reform.
Renegade economist Steve Keen says Japan must write off old private debts: "Excessive private sector debt, and the failure to shut down zombie banks was the main factor that started this slump. The debt has to be written off - with minimal damage to savers - before investment will ever sustainably start again."