Welcome to an early Federal Budget edition of our April newsletter. As the Morrison Government clears the decks ahead of a May election, Australians will be weighing up the impact on their household budgets.
The war in Ukraine added a major new source of uncertainty to the local and global economic outlook in March. Economic sanctions against Russia have cut its oil exports, sending crude oil prices surging 6% over the month to more than US$111 a barrel. This puts further pressure on inflation, already on the rise as global economies recover from the pandemic. In the US, inflation is at a 40-year high of 7.9%. The US Federal Reserve lifted official interest rates in March for the first time since 2018, by 0.25 basis points to a range of 0.25-0.50.
In Australia, the lead-up to the Federal Budget added to the uncertainty. The Reserve Bank is taking a “patient” approach on interest rates for now, but with inflation at 3.5% and tipped to go higher it is expected to begin lifting rates later this year. Australia’s economy grew by 3.4% in the December quarter, the strongest gain since 1976 as the nation emerged from lockdowns. Unemployment fell from 4.2% to 4.0% in February, but rising prices are putting pressure on household budgets. Petrol prices hit a high of $2.12 a litre in March, costing the average motorist an extra $66.20 to fill their tank since the start of the year. Consumer confidence is at an 18-month low, with the Westpac-Melbourne Institute index down 4.2% in March to 96.6 points. And a 20.6% lift in home prices in the year to February has pushed the average mortgage on established homes to a record $635,000.
Rising commodity prices – iron ore and wheat were both up almost 5% in March – pushed the Aussie dollar to around US75c.