Where there's parties, there's poopers

Mining investment may be soaring but that's not much use for struggling share prices, writes David Potts.

Mining investment may be soaring but that's not much use for struggling share prices, writes David Potts.

End-of-financial year parties might be an occupational hazard, but there seem to have been fewer than normal, or maybe I wasn't invited.

Whatever, you can be sure this financial year is going to be anything but normal. Well, except for the economy, which, if Treasury is right, will be as normal as you can get. This it calls trend growth, or 3.25 per cent a year - a kind of default option.

Few economists believe the budget forecast, but they are really only arguing over a decimal point.

Either way, the economy won't exactly shoot the lights out.

Oh, apart from a record level of mining investment. Don't get too excited - that just means at least half the windfall from high commodity prices will leave the country on the next ship, because all those imported rigs and equipment have to be paid for.

Still, household incomes are rising and inflation has had the stuffing, at least the non-carbon kind, knocked out of it. Such is the state it has itself in over Europe, the market doesn't believe the economic forecast or, more likely, isn't listening.

Not even lower interest rates - and the way Europe's going, it's more likely than not they have further to drop - seem to be making much difference, though give them time.

Meanwhile, wherever the government's $2 billion budget bribes have been going, it hasn't been the sharemarket.

Although DIY super funds have, according to Investment Trends and Vanguard, $50 billion in excess cash, the same survey shows most of their owners are over 55, so having already had their fingers burnt, it would take bigger rate cuts than the Reserve Bank has in mind to drive them back to the sharemarket.

With profits flat because consumers fearing for their jobs aren't shopping in local stores, there's a question over how long dividends can be sustained at these high levels, and every week there's some share price-sapping new capital raising or rumour of one. Commodity prices have peaked, the cost of new mining projects is soaring and there's no reason to expect a surge in volumes shipped any time soon.

Then there's the overvalued dollar. It has pulled down inflation, stretching wages further, only to turn around and bite the sharemarket on the backside. Expect it to stay overvalued in 2012-13 thanks to Australia's lure as one of the few AAA-rated countries left.

For all that, next to property, the sharemarket looks in rude health. Property prices rose too far in the debt-fuelled '90s and early noughties. How long it'll take for them to deflate will depend on whether there are more baby boomers selling their investment properties to fund their retirement or first home owners buying.

This will be a good year for doing nothing, I suspect. But I must be off, something's just arrived in the mail.

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