August economic news: Marvellous for the moguls, miserable for the majority

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It's surprising the lengths some in the Government will go to distract from the economy (Image via @ScottMorrisonMP)

August 2017 has been atrocious for the wellbeing of most Australians. Treasurer Scott Morrison and his cabinet colleagues must be jubilant that other calamities are drowning out mainstream media reports on the failing economy.


Worst infrastructure slump ever

Wednesday’s Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures show full year spending on building and construction for 2016-17 dropped well below that for 2015-16. That was quite a shock – at least to wonks aware of these indicators – as last year was disastrously down on the year before.

This makes three years in a row that the annual infrastructure spend has declined over the previous twelve months. That has never happened before.

Total private and public construction for the financial year to June was measured at just $192.3 billion. This is the first year below $200 billion since 2010-11, at the depths of the global financial crisis (GFC).


Private sector construction

This is where about 80% of the output occurs, and where nearly 9% of all workers have traditionally been employed. This decreased in the 2016-17 year for the third consecutive year — for the first time since records have been kept. Disturbingly, the rate of decline keeps increasing. Private building and construction fell by 4.9% in 2014-15, then by 6.5% the following year. This year’s decline was a disturbing 8.0%.


House approvals

So far this year, January to July, approvals by local councils for new homes have numbered just 124,732. That is 12.1% below the same period last year and 12.4% below 2015. This is despite a housing shortage, an expanding population, plentiful cheap labour and record low interest rates.


People unemployed

In July, 730,600 people were unemployed. This makes two monthly increases in a row and is the ninth consecutive month the total has been at or above 710,000. The last time that happened before the Coalition was elected in 2013 was in 1997.



Percentage of workers with full-time jobs

This fell to 68.37% in July, bringing the total number of months below 69.00% to 22 out of the last 24.

The lowest level this reached during the Howard, Rudd and Gillard years was 69.70% — even through the GFC.


Long-term unemployment

Australians out of work for more than a year jumped in July by almost 7,000 to 163,800. For 43 months straight now – since January 2014 – this has been above 150,000. This statistic never exceeded 135,000 during the entire Labor period, not even during the worst global recession in 80 years.


Monthly hours worked per adult

This is the best measure of jobs any economy generates, as it takes into account full-time work, part-time work and population shifts.

In July this tumbled to 85.04. This brings to 15 the number of months below 85.10 during the 22 months since Scott Morrison became Treasurer and Michaelia Cash became Employment Minister.

The lowest this reached through the Labor period was 85.7.



For the last four quarters, annual wages growth has been stuck at 1.9%, the lowest rate ever recorded. Wages as a proportion of Australia’s total income – its gross domestic product – are now the lowest since records began in 1959.

Retail sales

As happens when wages and benefits are slashed, retailers suffer first, then wholesalers, importers and others along the chain. Retail turnover for the 2016-17 year was just $308.8 billion. That sounds a lot, but is an increase of just 3.17% over the year before. With inflation at 1.9% and population growth at 1.6%, this is a decline in real terms in the sector which employs more than 10% of Australia’s workers.


Two economies

Most August indicators show that the majority of Australians – wage and salary earners, the jobless, retirees, welfare beneficiaries and families with children – are progressively getting poorer.

Under current Government policies, more and more of the nation’s vast wealth and expanding income are going to the rich, the very rich and particularly the foreign corporations.



Record profits

Of the companies which reported full-year results in August, more than 90% announced a profit and 91% issued dividends. Overall profits, according to online stockbroker CommSec, are up more than 62.9% on last year.

Big corporations that have announced record or near-record profits in August include the Commonwealth Bank, Qantas, energy giant AGL, Harvey Norman, The a2 Milk Company, Data#3, Northern Star Resources, Webjet and Wesfarmers.

BHP’s net profit, although below its record, was up fivefold to $7.03 billion.


Executive salaries and shareholder dividends

Most multinational mining companies will pay big bonuses to the bosses and huge dividends to shareholders from the wealth they are ripping out of Australia. Just Rio TintoBHP and Fortescue will pay more than $5 billion in dividends to their foreign and local shareholders.


Governing for the rich

The whole developing world today is enjoying the strongest trade and corporate profit surge in memory. No OECD member country is now in recession.

Yet the Turnbull Government is denying most Australians a fair share in this extraordinary global and local boom.

The broad portfolio areas which foster this are the budget generally, taxation specifically, welfare, employment, infrastructure investment – or lack thereof – and trade. The precise policies require another article.

But here’s the thing: even if the mainstream media were not preoccupied with MPs’ dual allegiances, marriage laws and the tottering test cricketers, they would still have no desire to report accurately on the economy. Being big corporations themselves, they are doing very nicely, thank you very much.

You can follow Alan Austin on Twitter @AlanAustin001.

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