Originally published in The Guardian on June 8, 2023

A slowing economy and households closing their wallets is bad news with a Reserve Bank determined to keep raising rates

The March quarter saw Australia’s economy grow a rather pathetic 0.2% and fall 0.3% in per capita terms. As policy director Greg Jericho writes in his Guardian Australia column, the economy is slowing at a pace that normally would see the Reserve Bank thinking about cutting rates.

And yet as poor as these figures are, worse is likely to come as the March quarter does not include the two most recent rate rises and only a small amount of the impact from the rate rises in February and March. Both the Treasury and the RBA estimate the Australian economy will go backwards on a per capita basis over the next year and these figures suggest their estimates are if anything too optimistic.

Households are reducing their savings as wages fail to keep up with inflation. Over the past 2 quarters, household consumption grew at an annualised pace of just 1%. Whenever household consumption has grown that slow the economy has either been in a recession or teetered on the edge.

And yet despite acknowledging there was uncertainty over household spending, the RBA on Tuesday decided to raise rates in order to essentially slow household spending.

All they have done is once again hit households that already need a standing 8 count.

The figures pleasingly showed that total wages are now growing solidly due to both increased employment and better wage growth. But this has not come at the expense of profits, indeed corporate profits in the March quarter rose 3.2% – faster than the 2% increase in unit labour costs. Real unit labour costs rose just 0.2% in the March quarter while real unit profit costs rose 1%.

This again highlights that profits more than wages drive inflation, and raising rates to slow wage growth by raising unemployment is a poor monetary policy that only risks an unnecessary recession.

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