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Australian market update

UPDATE: Australia Business Pummeled With More Pain To Come

  Australian businesses continued to be pummeled in June by tightening monetary conditions, falling share prices and the effects of the global credit crunch.

According to a survey by National Australia Bank published Tuesday, business confidence in June fell to its lowest levels since the recession of mid-1991, while overall business conditions were at their weakest since late 2001.

Economists said the survey data are further evidence Australia's economy is slowing rapidly as interest rate increases earlier in 2008 quash demand.

The pace of the economic slowdown gives the Reserve Bank of Australia ample scope to lower its official cash rate target, but not until 2009, NAB added.

The RBA aggressively raised interest rates at the start of 2008 hoping to engineer an economic slowdown. NAB said the RBA's tonic is working and rates could be cut to 6.00% by late 2009 from 7.25% now.

NAB's index of business confidence fell 4 points in June from May to -8 points, while its index of business conditions fell 7 points in June from May to +6 points.

An index measuring trading conditions fell 10 points in June to +7 points while profits fell 6 points to +2 points. Forward orders dropped 5 points to -1 points while employment indicators also slumped.

The data meshes with widening evidence of a slowdown in housing construction, lending and retail activity.

Of concern is the fact NAB's survey predates news this week that local pension funds posted their worst investor returns in almost two decades.

The median for the year to June was a loss of 6.39%, compared with a gain of 15.7% a year ago, according to industry analysts SuperRatings.

Moreover, news in recent days of more than A$2 billion in writedowns by banks associated directly with the U.S. housing meltdown is likely to further business confidence in the months ahead.

Commercial banks also raised mortgage lending rates in July, further straining consumer budgets. Investors are also bracing for the annual profit reporting period in August with forecasters expecting profit pain in the year ahead.

"Reporting season will have an impact on investor confidence, which could have an indirect impact on business confidence if the share market is affected," said AMP Capital Investors chief economist Shane Oliver.

"It all combines to some degree because obviously all the bad news internationally along with the falls in share markets would be affecting business confidence," Oliver added.

Recent events have been a wake-up call for the Australian investment community.

"People in Australia are now coming to the realization that financial instability in the global financial markets does effect them," said Stephen Walters, chief economist at JPMorgan.

NAB announced forecast global economic growth in 2009 of 2.75%, down from 3.4% in 2008.

"This reflects further negative wealth effects from lower equity and house price markets, higher oil prices and a view that financial conditions will be tighter for longer," said Alan Oster, chief economist at NAB.

Economic growth in Australia in 2009 is likely to be 2.25%, down from 2.75% in 2008, NAB added. It had been expecting the economy would grow 2.75% in 2009.

Core inflation, a key consideration for policy makers at the RBA, is set to return to the central bank's 2%-3% target band by mid-2009. Core inflation is currently running at more than 4.0%.



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