It’s February and what a summer it’s been with success on the tennis court and the cricket pitch. Now that the kids are returning to school and we settle back into our ‘’new normal’’ routines, the new year begins in earnest.
January is normally a quiet month on the economic scene, but not this year. Inflation and speculation about rising interest rates dominated the month, sending global shares tumbling. US stocks fell 6% in January while Australian shares fell 7%. After US inflation hit a 40-year high of 7%, the US Federal Reserve is tipped to start lifting rates as early as March.
In Australia, inflation is sitting at 3.5%, while underlying inflation (which excludes volatile items) is at a 7-year high of 2.6%, within the Reserve Bank’s target range of 2-3%. The Reserve has said it won’t lift rates until 2024, or unemployment is near 4% (it fell to a 13-year low of 4.2% in December) and annual wages growth is close to 3% (currently 2.2%). While wages are going backwards in real terms, one third of a panel of 23 economists interviewed by The Conversation expect the Reserve to start lifting rates this year.
One of the big influences on inflation is oil prices, with crude oil near 7-year highs. Brent Crude jumped 15% in January and 65% over the year to US$90.94 a barrel. Aussie motorists paid record prices for unleaded petrol in January, with a national average price of 170.4c a litre.
The ANZ-Roy Morgan consumer confidence index fell 8 points to 100.1 points in January, while the NAB business confidence survey fell to a 19-month low of -12.4 points in December on the back of COVID-induces supply chain issues and labour shortages.
The Aussie dollar fell US2.5c in January to close at US70c as the greenback strengthened on rate rise speculation.