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Australia's COVID-19 win to help fuel economic growth this year: Reuters poll

Vivek Mishra
·3-min read
FILE PHOTO: People are silhouetted against the Sydney Opera House at sunset in Australia

By Vivek Mishra

BENGALURU (Reuters) - The Australian economy will grow this year at its fastest pace since 2007, driven by massive stimulus and as the country has largely been able to contain the transmission of the novel coronavirus unlike its rich-world peers, a Reuters poll showed.

At a time when most major economies are battling a fresh wave of coronavirus cases, Australia has largely curtailed the outbreak, counting only about 30,000 local infections and 910 deaths since the start of the pandemic. (Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open https://tmsnrt.rs/2FThSv7 in an external browser)

That has allowed authorities to ease restrictions and put the economy on a faster recovery trajectory.

In 2020, on average, the UK economy contracted 10%, the euro zone by well over 6%, Japan by 5% and the U.S. by more than 3%.

After contracting at a much slower pace than its peers at around 2.5% last year, Australia's A$2 trillion economy was forecast to expand on average by 4.4% this year, according to an April 6-19 poll of 34 economists.

That was a solid upgrade from 3.5% predicted in January, but a touch below the International Monetary Fund's projection of 4.5%.

"The key dynamics shaping the outlook are a spending catch–up - the pent–up demand created by the temporary COVID-19 restrictions - and a strong tailwind from policy stimulus," said Andrew Hanlan, a senior economist at Westpac.

"Australia's success on the health front, along with the vaccine roll-out, has enabled the economy to reopen as most COVID-19 restrictions are wound back. Consumers and businesses are upbeat and are showing a willingness to spend, with confidence at historic high."

The Westpac-Melbourne Institute index of consumer sentiment, which measures the change in the level of consumer confidence in economic activity, surged to an 11-year high in April to 118.8 - up a huge 57% from the same month last year.

Marking a remarkable recovery from a high of 7.5% hit last July when coronavirus lockdowns tipped the economy into its first recession since the early 1990s, the country's jobless rate fell to 5.6% in March from 5.8% in February.

The economy has now recovered all the 878,000 jobs lost to the lockdowns, taking employment up to a record 13.08 million - pointing to strong growth over the coming months.

That jump in jobs will likely provide more comfort to policymakers at the Reserve Bank of Australia, which has made full employment a core goal.

The RBA, which has cut its official cash rate by a cumulative 65 basis points to an all-time low of 0.1% since the pandemic began, was expected to leave interest rates just above zero for years, through at least 2022.

And what was also likely to help policymakers was inflation projected well below the RBA's upper limit this year and next.

"With wages growth unlikely to climb above 2% in the next two years, the RBA looks set to keep the cash rate on hold beyond the end of our forecast horizon," said Felicity Emmett, senior economist at ANZ.

"RBA Governor Lowe has noted that 'for inflation to be sustainably within the 2-3% range, it is likely that wage growth will need to be sustainably above 3%'. This hasn't happened in eight years. Given our view on the wages outlook, we don't expect inflation to lift above 2% until 2023 at the earliest."

(Reporting by Vivek Mishra; Polling by Shaloo Shrivastava and Md Manzer Hussain; Editing by Rahul Karunakar and Bernadette Baum)